Too Much and Not Enough

Pinterest, Peers, and Pastel Ranges

For pennies a day, my husband and I sponsored a child through Compassion International, a Christian organization with charitable projects in third-world countries. This young boy wrote me letters, and I wrote back (inconsistently, I’m afraid). Sometimes, I sent him a few extra dollars for his birthday, and he sent me a Crayon-decorated note to tell me what he bought: a live chicken. For food.

It would help me, in my most shallow moments, to remember this.

But I forget that I already have enough when I’m browsing Pinterest pictures of remodeled houses painted all the right colors. Photos of kitchens with custom-made cabinets and retro ranges that come in a rainbow of pastels. Not that there’s anything wrong with having a nice kitchen. But my kitchen is nice enough.

I forget it when my friend shows me the new furniture in her sunroom makeover. When she fills a Lenox teacup from the built-in single-handle instant hot water dispenser, and I think, I need one of those. Need, my foot.

Clutter and the Need for Less

Recently, I read Rick Bragg’s All Over but the Shoutin’, a beautifully-written, heart-breaking memoir and tribute to his mother, who “went eighteen years without a new dress so her sons could have school clothes.” And I recall my over-filled closet where the dresses hang so close, there’s no light between them.

Not that I disdain my possessions. I’m thankful for my clothes and furniture and food. I’m supremely thankful for a hard-working, generous husband, because this English Major isn’t exactly a money-making machine. I’m thankful for family members who have given us so much, relatives who grew up with Not Enough.

But for me, the scales between Too Much and Not Enough tip heavily to one side. And holding on to five black skirts, because, well, you never know when you might need five black skirts, is just a tad irrational.

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Hobbes has a clutter problem.

A Zero-Sum Game

I’m no different from my little dog who isn’t hungry but stands sentry beside his food, growling, for HOURS, to keep the other dogs from eating it. While Calvin and Ollie are chasing toads and digging holes in the yard, Hobbes is shackled to his metal bowl.

I, too, am a captive of my clutter if I allow myself to be. As they say, everything you own, owns you. If, like Hobbes, I spend my limited time, energy and attention on superfluous possessions, I have less of those resources to spend on more important things, such as spirituality, people, or creative pursuits.

“The greatest need of our time is to clean out the enormous mass of mental and emotional rubbish that clutters our minds.”  Thomas Merton

If I accumulate stuff motivated by (let’s call it what it is) envy, or a false sense of scarcity (rather than true scarcity such as that experienced in the third-world), clutter will fill all the corners of my home and my mind.

Hobbes, you and I need a mindset makeover.

 

Empty Drawers and Creativity

 

Help! I’m drowning…

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Photo by Daian Gan on Pexels.com

I have no empty drawers in my house. No empty shelves. No empty closets.

I have too many things. Am I materialistic? As a typical American, the answer is probably yes.

The myriad knickknacks, magazines, and (dare I say it?) even books are suffocating me.

Batteries, business cards, binoculars…

Clothes, candles, cords…so many electrical cords…

Half-dead plants, pencils, papers. An astounding number of papers.

I try to ignore the stacks of stuff when I walk into my den. And my bedroom. And my kitchen. But they dance mockingly in my peripheral vision. The clutter taunts me.

I can ignore a messy room. Until I can’t. Some people have a tipping point. I skip straight to the exploding point. I MUST get rid of some clutter NOW.

Don’t Mess with Creativity

They say that messy people are more creative. That working in a messy environment encourages new ideas. But can it be too messy? Can you have too much of a good bad thing? You know, the Law of Diminishing Returns and all that.

I can’t create while seeing the clutter and knowing that I should be doing something about it — instead of writing.

So, to help my writing — and to help the people I live with and whom I love so much — I will aspire to own fewer things. My new motto? Possess Less.

I will accomplish my goal one junk drawer at a time.

Little steps.

Little steps.

It’s hard to take little steps while you’re exploding.

 

 

 

 

 

A Little Owl Update

Owlex

 

This is Alex, our Barn Owl. We got him when he was only four weeks old, and now he’s just shy of three months. My husband, the Falconer, is teaching Alex to do owlish things, such as flying at night and hunting for mice in grass. Already, Alex has learned to fly away and return to the glove, which is a real milestone in training birds of prey. So far, so good.

A Comic Book about the Artist’s Mindset

brick by brick cover

Creating is hard.  So is trudging through the Sahara without a canteen. If you’re in need of a cool drink, pick up a copy of Cartoonist Stephen McCranie’s book, Brick by Brick: Principles for Achieving Artistic Mastery.

Beautiful and wise, Brick by Brick has taught me about the creative mindset in a way few other books have. It’s packed full of insight and whimsical artwork drawn in soft shades of peach, brown, and aqua.

The title comes from the idea that a tower is built one brick at a time. “That means your measure for success is not how tall your tower is, but whether or not you’ve laid your bricks for the day” (p. 16).

In the introduction, McCranie says the comic essays stemmed from what he’d learned in his first two years as a professional cartoonist. He realized his experience might help other artists, but rather than tell artists how to create, this would be a “book about how to be a creator.” More than a “how to” manual, it’s a “how to be” book.

The comic format, a harmony of illustration and prose, grabs me in a way other books on the creative process have not. It’s written with honesty about his own failures, his struggles with self-doubt, and the principles that got him on the right track.

With a hearty dash of humor (I love his “deadlinosaurus rex”), he warns us to set realistic goals, break them down into small steps, and plan “backwards so you can live forwards” (p. 29). He offers tips to improve your craft and stay motivated while avoiding potholes along the journey.

The most helpful chapter for me (though it’s difficult to choose just one) is “You Are Not Your Art” – a pep talk for anyone who has invested too much of their identity in their creative pursuit.

“Hug the Elephant” is an insightful peek into the nature of beauty. “Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect” explores how to improve your skill by studying the experts in your field, and he gives tips to learn through imitation.

Other section titles include:

  • “Turn Your Pain into Plans”
  • “Planning for the Possible”
  • “Two Fallacies to Watch Out For”
  • “Taste is your Teacher”
  • “Be Friends with Failure”
  • “Know Your Artistic Lineage”
  • “Diversify Your Study”
  • “Get Stuff Done”
  • “Fun Gets Done”
  • “Divide and Conquer”

When I flip the last page of the “Conclusion,” my vision is sharper, and I’m motivated to follow McCranie’s advice: “Go outside and look for dragons.” Creatives of all types will find Brick by Brick amusing and inspiring.

Writers, artists, dreamers, read this book. It’s nothing short of powerful. You can buy it on Amazon or on McCranie’s website doodlealley.com where you’ll find more resources and see a sample of his drawing style.

Update: Yesterday, I received a copy of McCranie’s newest book, Space Boy. If it’s half as honest and uplifting as Brick by Brick, it will be well worth the read.

A Baby Owl: A Small Excuse for Not Writing

Yes, I’ve been too busy to write much this week. And here’s the reason why:

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This is Alex, aka Owlex. A four-week-old Barn Owl that we got from the Avian Conservation Center near Charleston, SC.  My husband is a falconer, so he knows quite a bit about birds of prey, but this is his first owl. So far, Alex is eating well, taking small bites of mice from the Falconer’s hand. And he sleeps a lot (the owl, not my husband). It was easy to fall in love with this little guy.

Maybe one day, Alex will look like this:

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Image by DannyMoore1973 on Pixabay

Writing What You Don’t Know

As a budding writer, I was utterly dismayed by one of the first pieces of advice I received: write what you know.

Write what I know? Where’s the fun in that?

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I wanted to write about England, which I’ve never been to but I’m in love with.

I wanted to write about portals to other worlds, like Narnia. Visions conjured from clouds and wind. Erupting, sentient volcanoes with agendas, and evil wizards disguised as noble leaders. None of which I knew.

Here’s what Roz Morris, author of Nail Your Novel, has to say:

“You don’t have to write what you know — you only have to write what you can GET to know. The chances are, if you’re interested in a subject, a place or an era, you can find out enough to convince a reader. “

That was good news. Research was important if I was going to write about a place I’d never visited and a time I’d never lived in. As for fantasy elements, I’d need to flesh out my settings with sensory details and backstory.

“Writers do this all the time…If you should stick only to what you know, we should worry about the thousands of authors who write about murder.”

Indeed.