The Tyranny of Busyness

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.
— Anne Dillard
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Day in and day out I hear how busy everyone is. It’s our national compulsion -- we pack our schedules to the tipping point and then share JUST how insane our lives are, if we have time to do so. Despite all of our invocations to be present, to be mindful, to pursue self-care, to spark joy, our busyness is as pervasive as fake news and addictive as the devices that broadcast it. A few years ago I watched some poor soul drop into torpor as I explained how busy I was. I was not only boring the poor woman to death, but was also self-important in the process. I am quick to identify self absorption in others and was mortified by my hypocrisy. I knew better.

Decades earlier, I was regaling my sister with my schedule over the phone. I had to simultaneously move my studio and apartment; I was preparing for a group show; I had so so many unshakeable engagements; I had an energy suck of a boyfriend. The list went on. I probably implied that I was BUSIER than she was. She waited for me to finish and said: “Until you have your own children you have all the time in the world.” She had three young children and I got the message, but only understood it when I had my own children and was up all hours of the night with a sick child or whiling away hours playing chutes and ladders, or wondering if it should take an hour to get out the door. I never stopped apologizing to her for my impertinence.


It’s a hard habit to break. There is cultural validation in being busy and we have conflated human significance with the intensity of our calendar schedule. From an evolutionary standpoint busyness is not going to grow our brains, or safeguard our health. A packed schedule is not going to amplify our stardust. My busyness is not going to single-handedly save the planet. Do I really care if I’m regarded as a flaneur just because I’m not showcasing my path?


Social media reinforces all this agitation around doing and being. It is easy for all of us — producer and consumer —to be seduced by the filtered images and the airbrushed personas. And many users are driven to achieve goals just to have a viable post on Instagram — setting up a sinister feedback loop. Like most creatives, I use Instagram as a professional enhancement to showcase my studio, to reinforce that I am a working artist. But I also use it to suggest that I’m an interesting and nuanced person and attach many ancillary identities beyond my professional one simply to broaden my appeal. I tell myself that it is all part of the process of the reveal, but that could be a justification for garden variety narcissism.


Marie Kondo’s success as the good fairy of leaner living is no coincidence — the antidote to this first world problem of clutter is simplification. Material possessions are easier to purge than a to-do list but last month I decided to stop riding shotgun down the avalanche. I turned off my phone or programmed it so only my family can reach me when I’m working. I restored my written calendar and put a book back in my purse.I got up earlier. I eliminated social media apps to tackle my addiction to Instagram. I return emails once a day, not all day. I sliced my device time in half. The to do list remains daunting and the email pile grew —I still have to maintain the quotidian. I did realize how much of this “labor” is of my own manufacture, and of my own choosing, and that I need a much better “net for catching days.”

The Map is Not the Territory

We rely on maps to navigate earthly and celestial terrain, and I feel grounded, in control somehow, when I am pulled into a fabulous map. Oh here I am! There I will go!  And then there are maps for our internal landscapes and methods we call on to steer through spiritual terrain. Mine help preserve sanity and joy—and trek through heartbreak and confusion. But they were falling short of guiding me through my own brand of American angst.

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Conspicuous Consumption

This year I want to create more, and consume less. I am a somewhat reformed magpie in terms of material stuff, but I want to address other kinds of consumption -- my constant nose diving into the national news for instance. It’s an addiction that is chomping into my creative life as I scramble to look at the news each morning.  My husband is a writer, and pulled me out of this self sabotage by sharing a snippet from a recent interview.

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One Thousand

One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”  Khaled Hosseini 

On the studio walls....

On the studio walls....

I have broken through to the other side and have a thousand followers on Instagram.  It seems like a pyrrhic achievement. What’s the big deal? It’s not the affirmation that people might think I’m cool, successful, hot, or hip. After all, there are plenty of Instagram stars. Taylor Swift probably has the same number of followers as Warren Buffet has dollars. I'm not interested in convincing anyone that my life is glamorous or that my thigh circumference is perfect. My feed is simply about my studio and the visual delights that I stumble into, and  inspire me, and my creative life.  And occasionally, something personal that intersects with my virtual visual cabinet of curiosities. So my pleasure in hitting 1K is about connection to, and with, a creative community  who want to swap images and ideas like baseball cards.

Here is what I’ve observed:

  1. I have discovered that there is a rich community of artists and visionaries that proliferate outside of the sanctioned art world who make exceptional work. Most of them have tidier studios than mine. There are many interesting voices out there that I would otherwise miss. 

  2. I can now toss around phrases like organic reach, influencer and audience engagement with impunity and earn eye rolls from my teenager.

  3. I'm still baffled by the “follow / unfollow” trend!

  4. I'm still baffled by all the thong selfies who follow me -- not a fit.

  5. I’m not sure it's such a good thing to have this quasi literacy, and not, say be fluent in Italian instead.  

  6. Launching on all of these social media platforms takes a great deal of time.

  7. To preserve your time as an artist, you need to consider hiring someone who is a professional in this world. I did this instead of buying likes. My words and images are my own of course, but I would never get anything done as a wife, mother, artist, gardener, advocate, farm manager, writer's residency host,  to name a few, if I had to market and post everything.  If you can afford it, do it. If you cannot, consider a trade or possibly using a virtual assistant! I found Maria Brannon--Lightning Flash Creative, through my friend Sissy Yates and never looked back! She's been my trustworthy spirit guide in this rather baffling social media universe. 

  8. I take the weekends off and observe an internet sabbatical. I found I was getting hooked on the endorphin of being "liked" and this was the remedy.

  9. I have results. I sell a great deal more work than I did out of my galleries or my studio, and so many of my family and friends now understand the extent to which I am a professional since they follow my narrative online.

  10. This process has reinforced my love of writing. I am now writing outside of my journals and have written a book.

  11. Finally, and most importantly, I feel gratitude to all you good people who are engaging with me in a sincere and thoughtful way. I am delighted by it. I really do feel that the world will be a better place if we all tend to a creative impulse. Truly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flower Stalker

Rocky Mountain Penstemon

Rocky Mountain Penstemon

I am a wildflower stalker, albeit a haphazard one.  My dedication falters when learning proper nomenclature.  My mother started me on this path when I was a child. We hiked in the same hills where I now live --the Colorado Rockies --  and before each hike she would load the nylon hunter orange drawstring  backpack with sunscreen, sandwiches ,water bottles, army surplus rain ponchos and always, always the battered,  thumbed wildflower guidebook. The sandwiches would be smashed and inedible by lunchtime but we weren't allowed to complain. How could we with those views, these mountains, that meadow of flowers?

False Dandelion

False Dandelion

 

My mother  taught me all the quaint names -- bread and butter, monkshood, elephant pagoda, false sunflower and Indian paintbrush. We had to stop on each hike and peer at flowers and ponder their identification. Of course she was also teaching us reverence, but I only cottoned on to this as an adult. Now it's karmic payback as my own kids suffer my abrupt roadside pullovers to snap a photo for later identification.  In their minds, I think the needle of my eccentric scale is now well beyond unusual and has leaned into embarrassing. 

Scarlet Gilia

Scarlet Gilia

But the bottom line is that my mother slowed me down and taught me how to look, really look and notice the ant on the stamen, or how the wind moved the leaves on a stem or how to be astonished by how many hues one blossom can capture.  She developed my artists's eye as we explored the natural world.  Someday I will get to thank her. 

 

Multiflowered Phlox

Multiflowered Phlox

Service Berry Bush

Service Berry Bush

Alpine Lupine

Alpine Lupine

High Alpine Meadow

High Alpine Meadow

Beast of Burden

“They are all beasts of burden in a sense, ' Thoreau once remarked of animals, 'made to carry some portion of our thoughts.' Animals are the old language of the imagination; one of the ten thousand tragedies of their disappearance would be a silencing of this speech.”  Rebecca Solnit

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I have decided to join the drawing/painting/collage a day challenge  for many reasons, not the least of which is to force my hand. And it gave me an excuse to buy a honking big sketch book that just went on sale at our local art supply vendor. I decided to commit to a year’s time and be flexible with venue. Maybe the drawing/painting/collage will be in my tanker size journal, maybe it will be in my planner, or on a cocktail napkin. But I wanted to have a theme to get me out of the gate and keep me on course.

 Pyrenean Ibex R.I.P.

 Pyrenean Ibex R.I.P.

Last month I attended a lecture on climate change given by the renowned scientist Tom Lovejoy. Among his many, many accolades, he has been crowned the godfather of biodiversity. Currently he is a Senior Fellow at the United Nations Foundation and University Professor in the Environmental Science and Policy Department at George Mason University. He also works on the ground  in Brazil. He was also a good friend of my mother’s, an avid conservationist, who turned me into one. Since he stayed with us, I had the opportunity to get to know him outside the context of their friendship. Tom is wry, gentle and humble, despite the fact that he occupies a very big stage in the environmental arena and wages a constant battle against ignorance and greed in his quest to save the Amazon, and with it, our earth.  His visit and lecture inspired me to to research extinctions --  particularly in the last century --most of which were precipitated, or at least, enhanced by mankind’s reckless behavior. I decided to memorialize some of these fauna and flora to begin my personal challenge. I started with the Pyrenean Ibex. Celia, the last of her subspecies, died in the Iberian Peninsula  in 2000. There was a brief attempt at cloning her, but this failed.  You can learn more about this wild goat by clicking HERE

or pick up Elizabeth Kolbert's excellent book, The Sixth Extinction, at your bookstore.

Performance Anxiety

It seems I am still doing homework. When I was in  elementary school, my parents never went near my homework. They may have proofed some papers in high school, or noodled around with a math problem, but I was on my own if anything crafty surfaced. 

It’s a different matter these days, and I find myself manipulated with the line: “But, Mom, you’re an artist, you can do ANYTHING.” And off my ego and I go.

It started with a quick sketch in my calendar...

It started with a quick sketch in my calendar...

The fourth grade is studying ancient Eygpt  and its mythology.  Our son was assigned Seth, or Set, the God of chaos, and for those of you who do not know him, this was a good match. However, Seth has both a complicated personality, and visage.  He has a bright red jackal head with menacing devil eyes. 

In the beginning

In the beginning

If you need a blow by blow of Egyptian mythology, our son is your source.  If you want to talk for hours about anything random, bingo. If you need to know the nuances and differences between DC comics and Universal comic characters, he can take hours of your time. But building a jackal head from hell outfit?  Not so much. 

Getting in character

Getting in character

So I bought  paper mache mix and built an armature and got to work covering it and recovering until the whole thing weighed as much as Jay Defeo’s famous painting The Rose. It took days to dry.

It cracked when our son tried it on, and I cracked with it. I had crazy glue in odd places and I had several deadlines lurking in front of me, and spending hours mastering this new sculpting material was not what I had in mind. 

 I skulked and whined. I behaved like a three year old. I wrote a grumpy email to his teacher. My daughter snapped me back to attention: "Mom, you need to calm down, this is fourth grade we're talking about here. FOURTH GRADE. No one cares." 

And then I  started over. I rebuilt the armature and used old fashioned newspaper strips and methyl cellulose and came up with this.

The final product -- Seth's head.

The final product -- Seth's head.

It was fun, campy(our son added the blood smears on the teeth) and best of all, he was delighted and aced his presentation.

Egypt in Aspen

Egypt in Aspen

I hope I get an 'A,' but I'm nervous because one of the front teeth fell off......