WORKING ON IT: Living in the gap

A guest post by Sam Elliot

There’s space in life for imperfection. You see imperfection all around you.

Your car isn’t big enough. Your budget is too small for that new pair of jeans and your waist is too large to fit in them anyway. But that’s okay.

Things are allowed to be okay.

If you think about a scale of happiness, think of a one to ten scale, ten is on top of the world. A state where you think you can achieve anything. One is your darkest place. That place that haunts your waking dreams and you try really hard not to think about but it’s there all the same.

I’m very much an all or nothing person. I seek perfection. Sometimes this is really helpful; sometimes it drags me down.

Now I believe in living In The Gap. I accept that nothing I do will be perfect.

A lot of people like me find it hard to come to terms with The Gap.

The Gap is that space between one and ten. It’s about accepting that nothing will ever be perfect, whilst recognising how far you might have come on your own emotional journey. I know I will never be at ten. I will always live with the pain and sadness that my mental illness brings, but that’s okay. I’m not going to lecture you on acceptance but if you can try to accept that life isn’t about seeking perfection in everything, life feels like less of a challenge.

Yes, you should seek happiness and try your hardest. But happiness and constant tens aren’t always achievable.

Look where you’ve come. I hope most of you are far from your ones. Look at what you have achieved, and how you got there.

Looking back is the first step in moving forward. Explore what took you out of your ones and try to use that information to bring you up even higher. Live In the gap. Be grateful that you’re not at a one anymore and try not to be obsessed with getting to a ten. Somewhere in the middle is okay. Let your life be just okay.

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WORKING ON IT: The Artist’s Way, Week 3

I’ve been putting off doing this course for a bit. Life has gotten in the way, but also, this week was about childhood and I was scared because I barely remember anything about my childhood and also it wasn’t the greatest time in my life, so it’s not like I’m keen to revisit it. I dunno if Julia Cameron ever thought about that very much, but here we are. So, I’ve been faithfully doing my Morning Pages, except one day because I was on a plane overnight and the time jump was five and a half hours into the future, so I didn’t really know where I was supposed to write in that journey and also I didn’t sleep well enough to call it ‘morning’. Artist dates have been much less successful – I’ve almost given up on them entirely. I’ve been making time to make things, where I can. I have ‘creative time’ pencilled into my habit tracker weekly as a compromise. It may not be prancing around an art museum or buying myself stickers, but it’ll do, I think. I’m also about to get a job and start living a real life with a real schedule, so hopefully that’ll help me figure this stuff out a bit more.

So, week 3 was about childhood – accessing the play you engaged in as a child. I was meant to answer a bunch of questions about my childhood that I just really struggled with – talking about my old bedroom, which I barely remember. I remember my bedroom as a teenager, but not as a child. I sort of remember some parts of it, but not well enough to think about in detail. I was also supposed to think about my accomplishments and things I would do to treat myself as a child, as well as traits I liked in myself then. I managed this okay, but honestly, I’m not sure how I felt about it. My accomplishments then seem trivial (of course they would be, I was a baby) and also, I barely remember the feelings that came alongside them that even made them accomplishments. Often I just remember the event as a sentence rather than as something I feel – just something I know happened at some point. Regarding that childhood treat, I was supposed to do that for myself, but I didn’t. My treat used to be playing an extra twenty minutes of Super Smash Bros Melee and changing the time on the oven so that my mother’s alarm didn’t beep. But these days I’m not so fond of video games, especially playing them alone, so I didn’t bother with it.

In terms of the present day – tasks for this week were:

  • Observing my bad habits and listing three. Mine are not washing my hair often enough (it never feels often enough), putting off chores for even a minute (I am better at this than most, but I do still have a bit of trouble building up momentum), and wishing I lived alone (I’m making the best of not).
  • Making a list of friends who nurture me – I found this one surprisingly difficult. Perhaps it is because I am young and finding friends who nurture you is difficult when you’re not sure what you’re going for. But I really did struggle to list that – a lot of my friends are great, and kind to me, but they don’t necessarily push me towards my goals. Which brings me to think – does nurturing mean pushing me harder? What does it mean? I think everyone probably has their own conclusion, but for me it’s a combination of me feeling safe and me being pushed to be a better person, to do better and to be better. And that mindset might not be great for me. I do have a lot of good friends, but I feel like a lot more of my growth happens through setting and achieving goals than through hanging out with people. The two rarely intersect, and perhaps I’d like them to do so more often.
  • Reaching out for support – I feel like I’m pretty good at this.
  • Taking note of my inner compass – I’ve been trying to talk to myself more often and engage in some automatic writing. It’s been okay. Listening is hard sometimes.
  • Listing five people I admire, and five people I secretly admire. I forget who I wrote down, honestly. I think the point was to figure out what my actual internal value compass is. The people I secretly admire are mostly fictional – Blair Waldorf for her ruthlessness and passion, Starr Carter for standing up for what she believes in and for being brave. I admire a lot of fictional characters for their bravery. I often feel that it’s unrealistic, but I suppose that’s the point.
  • Listing five people I wish I’d met who are dead, and five dead people I’d like to hang out with for a while, and figuring out what traits they have in common with my friends. I think mostly the thing is that it’s cool to hang out with people I admire, but the frenzy behind those relationships is a lot more to deal with and it can be a lot less chill, and I don’t necessarily want that all the time. I hang out with people I admire all the time – my friends are people I admire on a personal level, whereas some people I admire more on a professional level or on a level of ‘what they’ve done and achieved’. There are some tenets that exist in each plane – kindness, resourcefulness, perseverance.

I’m not sure what I made of this week. Next week I shan’t be able to read, so that will be interesting. I assume that for the sake of modernisation, this maybe means staying away from social media too.

WORKING ON IT: The Artist’s Way, Week 2

The time has come for me to write about The Artist’s Way again. I’ve had some curious moments around this week.  I’ve been daydreaming a bit about how when I live alone/with my partner, I will have a desk in the bedroom with a warm glowing salt lamp and I’ll wake up earlier than him and sit at the desk and write my morning pages. Maybe I’ll light a candle. The point is, it’s a nice way to begin that ritual – a lot nicer than waking up, turning on my laptop to the highest brightness, and scribbling it out then and there in bed because it’s winter and it’s dark outside but the only alternative is to full-on turn on the lights and wake him up. What I’m saying is, I should really get a lamp.

I have not reread my Morning Pages yet (I am not allowed to). I will say that I didn’t find them a chore, and have actually come to thoroughly enjoy them – especially the times where I’ve had to wake up a bit early to plan them in. Which is a little unhealthy in a way, because I definitely don’t ever plan to sleep enough and count on being young and agile. So I wake up after four to five hours of sleep on the days where I have an 8am start, which means leaving the house at 7:40am, which means writing at 6:30am, bearing in mind I probably got into bed at midnight and slept around 1am. And I know that’s not healthy. But with regards to my writing, it’s kind of good. I get this really bleary-eyed fuzzy dialogue with myself going, and I feel like it’s probably very revealing – maybe more so than the more cognisant pages, but I shall have to see. The point is, after two weeks, I really like this routine – I’m quite attached to the step coming before my morning meditation. It really does feel like something I want to carve out for myself.

Next is that I’m coming around to my self-dates. They have been fun! I’ve realised a lot about how my time is taken up by my friends (i.e. I wish I lived alone, a little. It’ll happen in time though). My home has been a social hub for my friends over the past three years because I live closest to the city centre and am also just very welcoming about sharing my space. It’s made me realise that often enough the times I have to make dates are the dead air between things I’m doing out of the house! Maybe that’s not the way things should be. So in these pockets of time between meetings, between activities out of the house – I’ve started doing it, really doing it. Taking myself to little art installations, really sitting to enjoy a busker’s performance. Heck, I’m on a no-buy week, but I did break my rule at a local art show without even thinking about it. I dropped £1.50 on a really cute card that I wanted to use in my art journal. There was one day where I had an hour between things so I pottered. I pottered! I frittered my time!

Something else I’ve been doing, which isn’t really a date for myself, is trying to organise events in my community. I feel a need to do that, and I realised doing that – I can ask anyone for anything! It’s freeing! They might say no, but I’m a nice person and they know that because I said hello and was kind and understanding about them taking a while to get back to me or whatever, so they don’t really want to say no if they don’t have to! All in all, some strides for my self-confidence, for worries that people will say no to me, etc.

Moving onto the exercises this week. Julia wanted me to engage with the affirmations at the beginning of the book. These affirmations are:

I am a channel for God’s creativity, and my work comes to good.
My dreams come from God and God has the power to accomplish them.
As I create and listen, I will be led.
Creativity is the creator’s will for me.
My creativity heals myself and others.
I am allowed to nurture my artist.
Through the use of a few simple tools, my creativity will flourish.
Through the use of my creativity, I serve God.
My creativity always leads me to truth and love.
My creativity leads me to forgiveness and self-forgiveness.
There is a divine plan of goodness for me.
There is a divine plan of goodness for my work.

God, I suck at affirmations. I sort of engage with them, but they definitely don’t stick with me. And that’s something to observe in itself. Maybe by the end of this they will, or I’ll find some that do stick with me. I don’t really understand how saying something and believing it are the same thing. To an extent, I think it is about finding something that fits me and is positive, so that I can believe it. But that is work, and maybe this is helping me do the work. I wouldn’t know, I’m not reading ahead. Alas!

Next – I had to write twenty things I love doing. This was not difficult. I had to also think about when I last did them. I’m quite lucky in that most of these things were relatively recent – I think the one that was furthest from me was probably three months ago, and to be fair, it was the seasonal ‘crunch through some autumn leaves’. I mostly do things I love. I haven’t been ice skating in a while, though. The problem with things like ice skating is, you think you love them, but then you do them and you paid £8 to be there and you only skate for twenty minutes and for that time it’s wonderful and then it starts to feel like a big chore. Then it becomes repetition and practice, rather than twirling for the sake of it, jumping for the joys of being able to jump. Ice skating was not on my list, but it is something I consider myself to like, and I need to think about it. In general, I’ve been having a hard time making room for the sports in my life right now; it’s all been walking. I haven’t climbed in a month, or gone to a dance class in a while, or gone skating in quite a long time. It’s all stuff to consider. I think things will settle, but not quite yet. Probably in March or April – I’ve been producing a festival which ends then, and that’s when I get my Tuesday evenings back, which means I can shuffle choir back into my life, which means I get Wednesday evenings back, which means Thursdays are dance and Mondays are climbing and can you tell I love routine? Having a new project to work on has been good, but I really will be glad to see the back of it and get my life back in order. It’s probably why the whole morning routine thing stuck with me

I am supposed to use these as examples of artist dates, but I think my problem is that a lot of the things I love are social. But I think I can probably play guitar in my room more often (my roommate sleeps at 11pm, though). Going off that, I was supposed to set goals for the week – so I decided to wear an extremely cute outfit (I lived up to that), and find a new hidden place (sorta did this by accident – stumbled on a very cool co-working space, and also an extremely good waffles place, but it certainly wasn’t the climbing-over-a-wall-running-through-a-closing-gate experience I had in mind, so let’s try again on this).

I had to come up with five more imaginary lives! This time I was an artist (coming fresh off the Barbican’s Basquiat exhibit with all the inspiration in the world to just MAKE STUFF), a horticultural therapist (career quizzes place me on this one), a piano tuner (in high demand), someone who makes natural skin care products and flogs them on Etsy, and a cabaret dancer. I have no idea where the last one came from, but I’m good with it almost being me but not quite.

Another task this week was to come up with a life pie, which you can download worksheets for (the link uses eight categories instead of Julia’s recommended six) instead of doing it the way I did. Julia says that it might look like a tarantula at first, but might move into looking more like a mandala, hopefully! But if you want to DIY it, you can draw a circle and divide it into six, then label each sextant with ‘spirituality’, ‘exercise’, ‘work’, ‘friends’, ‘romance’, and ’adventure’, and draw a line – closer to the middle means you’re feeling it less and need to improve. I did mine on a scale of 1-10:

  • Spirituality – currently a 4. Feeling kind of blocked, a bit scared with regards to my position in life (about to graduate yada yada terrified yada). Want to Just Do Me and not be scared. Want to help everyone in the whole world but know I somehow need to figure out a healthy approach to myself before I do that in a large capacity or I’ll just unbalance and fall over.
  • Exercise – currently a 5. Walking loads, but missing classes for dance and climbing left and right, and I want to get back to it! Things have been incredibly busy, starting a business is like that. I want to start doing them – I’m happy to go to dance alone, but climbing is something I’ve always loved doing in a pair and I lose motivation quickly without a partner. I’m working it out. Slowly. I’ll probably get back into climbing faster than I get back into dance. That’s usually how that works.
  • Work – 5. Kind of falling into running a business, sort of on purpose, sort of on accident. Money isn’t really a concern for me, thankfully. But I feel the pressing capitalist need to GET A JOB, to TOIL, to work for the man (but also have the man be someone who fits my ideals and won’t overwork me). Trying to be open on this, but lacking certainty. Having a job I hated would certainly be much worse than being in the position I am in of nearly working for myself and also volunteering a lot and generally doing things I believe in.
  • Friends – 7. All good mostly, but I have some resentments to handle and I need to work out my engagement with others in a group, and take a serious look at how I handle not necessarily being knowledgeable about a topic. A lot of my friends studied History and discuss it in a way that’s not super accessible, and it makes me feel not smart, and I need to look at that.
  • Romance – right now, an 8. Things are good! I wish we had a bit more privacy, and also that the walls in my apartment were thicker.
  • Adventure – I’m starting so many new things. Exploring less, but starting new things. So let’s put a pin in this one at a 6, but really, I need to explore new areas more. I’ve been trying new restaurants, and going to talks alone, but I just don’t feel quite like I’ve come upon that sense of discovery.

So all in all, some changes to make, some progress to move through – I think this will be the year of figuring stuff like that out a bit, of figuring out my relationship with work and capitalism. And also, of moving into another place, and being able to step back a little from living with other people, and get a routine going again. I’m normally very good at routine, but starting a business really does take that stuff away from you a bit. I need to recommit to sports and stop prioritising meeting people over them, but at the same time, it’s really tempting to do so. It’s all work.

Next, Julia wants me to list some tiny changes, and do one of them this week! Here they are:

  • Dress for summer/more ‘me’
  • Spend more alone time with my partner
  • Start climbing regularly
  • Cook more
  • Eat vegetarian 2-3 days a week
  • Go on more exploratory walks
  • Read more fiction
  • Paint on canvas
  • Compliment one stranger every couple of days
  • Wash my hair more

Some of these things are okay. I was meant to only implement one, but I ended up painting on canvas and taking three days out to just be at home to just paint and write and meditate. I also got a massage during that time. It was good for me. So I did a painting, I ate veggie three days, I went on plenty of walks during my impromptu retreat, I wore a crop-top (though I would say I need to start making the segue towards skirts again to really feel like I’m doing me). I didn’t go climbing yet. I cooked a couple of times! Normally I’m out way too often to eat anything proper at home, so I keep snacks and raw foods stocked up. So that was big news for me. I haven’t really read much fiction this week, but I have been complimenting people quite often. So I’m halfway there. I also haven’t washed my hair more often, because I have a tiny bathroom and doing it is the worst. It used to calm me a lot at my parents’ house, but not so much here. Someday!

Overall, I’m not really sure how this is going yet, but I expect that’s how I’m rather meant to feel about it.

WORKING ON IT: The Artist’s Way, Week 1

The Artist’s Way is a book I have not finished yet. Expect a book review when I actually finish it – I’m normally a very fast reader, but I’m doing this one a week at a time, and it spans twelve weeks, so we could be waiting a bit on that.

A summary of the first chapter is:

I’m creatively blocked.I make stuff a lot. I work on my art journal at least once a week. I write poems…often, ish. I make zines a lot. I haven’t touched my guitar in a while but I would estimate that I play music about once or twice a month, minimum, excluding lessons. Things come in fits and starts, I thought. Julia Cameron whacks a lot of people who make a reasonable amount of things with the ‘creatively blocked’ stick. From what I can work out, it’s not being able to make the things you want, because of some unsavoury internal beliefs. So there’s that.

Incidentally, Julia Cameron describes her biggest creative blockage like this:

I have an inner critic, a sensor, whom I call Nigel. Nigel in my imagination is a gay interior decorator, who is British. Nothing I ever do is good enough for Nigel.

It all feels a bit airy-fairy – the book very quickly and heavily invests in the idea of creating being a channel for a higher power, which is something I’ve heard a lot about from some people, and less from others. I’ve rarely felt that way about my own art – I’ve definitely felt like my art comes from my feelings and surroundings. But perhaps that is my blockage talking.

The Artist’s Way: Chapter One states that I have to do a few things:

The Morning Pages

This is something you can read about people doing all over the internet. Every morning, you sit down and you write three full pages – my book is A5, so I’ve been shooting for three to four pages. But in general, I think the consensus is three pages of as close to 8×11 as possible. The point of it is very specifically to write, not to write well, not to create art. You’re just supposed to do it, and build the habit of doing it.

You’re also not supposed to read through these for at least eight weeks. So expect to hear from me about re-reading them in eight weeks.

The Artist Date

You set aside some time for yourself to do something alone. What ‘something’ means is very personal. Something that is for you. For me, this means something that isn’t for anybody else, I think, because I do so much to look good. A lot of my struggle is with constructing the image of myself as a Good Person, someone who volunteers and works for charities and Makes A Difference. The pressure is high. I am a good person – I do more and more every day to become one. But I can never live up to the Good Person. So my ‘something’ is something that contributes to no one. I’m on a no-buy year, so Julia’s suggestions of things like buying stickers aren’t for me – but I have a list of no-buy activities, including going ice skating, journaling, reading in my local library, playing an instrument at home, signing up for an open mic night (some day!), going for a walk around London at night and pressing every crosswalk button because I like the shade of orange that they put out.

You’re also meant to look at how easy it is for others to encroach upon the time that you set aside for yourself, why, and how, and what your thought process is around it. A little non-judgmental observation.

Those two activities make up the bulk of the book’s curriculum, but the week’s activities are as follows:

  • Write down three old enemies of your creative self-worth
  • Write down three champions of your creative self-worth
  • A monster hall of fame incident – an incident where you were vulnerable (creatively vulnerable, I think) and someone totally destroyed you
  • A letter to the editor in your defence – I took this to mean a letter to the inner critic
  • A thank you letter to someone who encouraged you (it’s advised that you mail this, but I have not)
  • If you had five other lives, who would you be?
  • Dealing with blurts.

That last one. What’s a blurt? A blurt is something that comes when you write something good about yourself. I found it a bit confusing, so I’m gonna include mine below, for an example. Julia works with affirmations a lot, and suggests that you do the same. So you’re meant to write an affirmation, something nice about yourself, over and over again, and figure out what that negative voice in your head is saying, and then respond to it with something that works and is actually true.

Mine went like this:

I, Ishani Jasmin, am a brilliant and prolific artist.
I, Ishani Jasmin, am a brilliant and prolific artist.

I…am not so brilliant, really. I do stuff anybody could do – a lot of people are far better than me. No one would ever pay me for my work, and why should they? Prolific, sure, but I can’t even write prose, really, or if I can it’s not long enough to be a novel or anything like that. I’m not really very good at any of the instruments I play, and I have no sense of improv, and most people have naturally prettier voices than mine – mine is trained, but not pretty, and I wish it were! I love to sing and I wish that I had a prettier sounding voice.

I have my own unique voice, and it is good in itself.

I, Ishani Jasmin, am a brilliant and prolific artist.
I, Ishani Jasmin, am good. I’m a good person. I make a difference.

I don’t make a lasting one, though. I don’t really lastingly touch people through my art, nor through my writing. I don’t really touch people in my work, either, despite working in a place where you probably could move someone if you tried.

I receive affirmation that my work moves people.

I, Ishani Jasmin, am a brilliant and prolific artist.

Or I would be, if I had any idea what I’m doing. I don’t have any direction, and it’s scary.

I am going in the right way.

This was an interesting way to think about the things I tell myself, and to catch my thoughts.

I’m not sure what to make of this book yet. I like the morning pages, and find it a pleasant alternative to waking up and immediately engaging in insight meditation – now this comes first and I pull my meditation shift shortly after. I actually skipped my first Artist Date. I was meant to go and take some time for myself on Friday, but lunch with my dad got in the way. So I justified it to myself by saying I’d speedread a book in the library the day before and gone for a talk alone the day before that, and I’d make some more time for myself on Sunday. I feel a little indignant about it, actually – like, I spend a lot of time with myself (when no one else is around)! I do things for myself! It may come in pockets between other things but it still comes! I’ve had to pause on that and sit with it and figure out where it’s coming from, this constant insistance in my head going whatIdoisenoughwhatIdoisenoughnoreallyitis.

So, all in all, week one has given me a lot of food for thought. I haven’t felt any drastic changes yet – really, it’s frustrating that change takes time. But twelve weeks is long enough to change, so I’ll see how it goes and take it as it comes.