Seeking the Grail: Interruption and Creative Flow

Seeking the Grail: Interruption and Creative Flow June 6, 2016

The past years I’ve practically made a science out of my own creative process. I know what works for me, what doesn’t work. I know the kind of stress that motivates and the kind of stress that halts me. And I have a confession; I haven’t written in months. I’ve written blog posts (like this one) but I haven’t written anything longer. I have half a dozen books that I’m close to having finished, and dozens of articles that I could finish up and send out for publication. This time last year, I had a clear and focused plan for my writing, both fiction and nonfiction.

a raven in gold on a field of red
Courtesy of Shauna Aura Knight

But focus really is the name of the game, and I’m definitely one of those creative types that gets thrown by distractions and interruptions.

Interruptions snag me in the short term as well. I really loathe conversations with people who are habitual interruptors. In fact, because I’ve done so much work with my own boundaries and working to say “no” to things in life that don’t serve me, I’m pretty quick to cut people out of my life these days if saying “yes” to time with them means I’m signing myself up for frustration and irritation. And I actively work to avoid being around people who can’t seem to help interrupting during a conversation. A pet peeve I have within that is people who ask me lots of in depth questions and when I’ve spoken about as many words as I can get into a Twitter post, they switch subjects and talk about something else or ask a different question.

I find it intensely jarring to not be able to finish speaking a though, particularly when I was asked a question. My brain gets into a groove and when that gets cut off…the sensation is disconcerting and difficult to describe. After one of those conversations, instead of feeling more connected to someone, I feel anxious.

Now, sometimes this happens in the context of being talked over because I’m a woman (and mansplaining is part of this) but I admit, I don’t run into that a whole lot. As a web design/information design consultant, I tended to hold my own even in a room full of men by asserting my expertise. In my life these days, if I’m being mansplained or habitually interrupted, I’m far more likely to just walk away from a relationship with someone or at least avoid them.

If there’s one thing that has really served my life (and my creative process) well these past years, it’s realizing that I have the power to say “no” and that I don’t need to waste my time on interactions that are counterproductive.

Except, that’s perhaps been a bit of my problem in the past months. Not quite a year ago, I started working on the decorations for my brother’s wedding. I kind of went a bit overboard, because I admit it; I love event planning, and I love fairytale-themed events. I spent a lot of time and money on the project, and more than that, I spent a lot of life force and energy making it happen, and then recovering after the event itself in October.

Last summer I was also dating multiple men; I was (and continue to be) in an open relationship, but I’m not currently actively seeking new partners or trying to sustain a relationship with more than one person. As an introvert with social anxiety, dating has always felt like a huge time and energy suck.

I did a week-long tour as well as a number of Pagan festivals and events in September, another event in October, and my brother’s wedding in October. It took me over a month to recuperate from that. I’d planned to leave the winter months open for me to finish writing projects, and while I did finish the Pagan Leadership Anthology, that’s about all I had time for and other book projects had to sit on the back burner. The months before “Pagan Conference Season” also filled up pretty fast since I was scrambling to make enough money to pay for my travel expenses to Pantheacon and other conferences.

Most of that money was earned by me selling my artwork online as well as a few book packages, but I also earned money by doing some side work helping people organize and declutter their homes.

And then I started the process of moving in with my boyfriend and his wife and kids right as my travel season started back up. Add to that the anxiety of being an introvert dealing with a new living space, a household full of noisy humans when I’ve been used to living alone, and all the work of moving in and organizing things and getting my new storage unit set and negotiating relationships with said humans…emotionally and physically, it’s been a lot that has just taken up huge heaps of time.

Looking at my (rather overwhelming) travel schedule for the next months, I don’t even have more than a couple of weeks between trips. Given that it often takes me at least a week to physically/mentally recover from a trip, I don’t foresee getting any focused writing done until my tour season is done in the fall.

What I am getting done is a lot of painting. The textural artwork that I do is one of the ways I decompress from the anxiety of travel. It’s also my primary source of income at the moment, and I feel the pressure to paint instead of write because the art brings in more money. At least, in the short term.

And, having moved into a much smaller living space, I’m trying to make my space a bit more livable by finishing up a horde of half-completed paintings and shrine boxes. I know I’ll always have art pieces in process, but my plan is to get the bulkiest stuff finished over the course of the summer. I literally have a pile of paintings looming over me while I’m writing this post; there just isn’t room in my bedroom for all of this.

Knowing that I don’t deal well with interruptions, at least for the heavy focused writing work, I suppose I should at least be grateful that working on these textural paintings is a little easier for me. In fact, it’s usually stress relieving to work on them. What does have my brain spinning at the moment is trying to figure out how to have the time and focus to write again. The constant travel makes writing nearly impossible for me, but traveling is the only time I have any real income. It’s where I sell most copies of my books, it’s where I sell most of my artwork, and I get paid to teach. The past years, I had almost zero income from November through January because I wasn’t traveling and teaching or vending.

Somehow, next year I need to travel less but make more. Somehow, I need to bring in more income while I’m not traveling so that I have the time and focus to write.

With all the work I’ve done in my life to cut out distractions, it’s frustrating to have also simultaneously found enough success as an author that I’m asked to travel–which adds in entirely new distractions. I take it as a good sign as a professional author and artist, but somehow I have to learn how to navigate very new waters.

I also have to recognize that–even as I’ve learned all sorts of great ways to deal with depression and anxiety, I’m getting older. My body doesn’t recover as well, and travel really does stress me out on a physical as well as emotional level. I can still pull 24-hour days, but it has a cost it didn’t have a decade ago. I consistently work 12 plus hours a day as an artist/designer/author/teacher. I’ve taken more days off in the past year for time with my boyfriend, and that’s carved into my productivity as well. Yet, I feel that’s a good decision because it actually makes me happy, and for me that’s been a rare thing.

Balancing my calling to spiritual service (particularly in the form of traveling and teaching) with what I need to sustain myself isn’t easy work. But I’ll keep trying to figure out a way to make it all line up.

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