The many benefits of creativity

Charlene's painting
This is Charlene’s beautiful work in progress. Isn’t it delightful?

My friend Charlene wrote something on Facebook on Friday that really made me think about creativity.

She wrote, ‘I love finding little bits of time to paint. I put my headphones on and listen to a book, while I add some more colour to my painting. I have found it is extremely beneficial to me when I am anxious’. 

I feel exactly the same way about my writing. It is easy to forget and to get hung up on doing other ‘more worthwhile things’ but maybe there is nothing more worthwhile than being creative.

Time is very precious to me right now. I have so many projects that I want to make happen, and I also have editing work that I need to do to get some money in my pocket. I have found that over the last few weeks the admin and the editing and the other little jobs have taken priority most of the time, and writing, my creative side, hasn’t had much of a look in.

But on Thursdays I take two hours to head to the café and write. And that time is set aside, it does not get taken up by anything except the writing of the novel, no matter how stressed I am about anything else. I have committed to others to be there and writing, and they are keeping me accountable. Those two hours are purely writing time.

It is amazing how great I feel after spending that time writing, it grounds me, it slows down my rushing anxiety, it helps me back into my own skin again. It reminds me of what I have made all these changes in my life for. And it reminds me that once this busy time is over (and it should be over by next week) I must set aside more time for writing once again.

The act of creating is so beneficial for us. Therapeutic, even.

I think we remember this when we are doing our own art, creating our own thing, writing our own book, practicing our own musical instrument. But when we see art in a gallery, or read a good book, or attend a concert, do we think about how many ways that art has benefitted society?

Originally, and I hope this is generally true, the creative work has benefitted the creator. We are meant to create and I think in most cases the act of creation has brought joy to the person creating.

Then by being in the world it brings joy and peace, or enthusiasm, or a cathartic experience to us who are viewing or listening or dancing to it.

And finally, by being sold or licensed or borrowed it brings good to our economy.

Creativity is a cornerstone of who we are as human beings. I encourage you to find your own creative outlet and make time for it. You may do it just for yourself, just to bring yourself that peace and joy. You might share what you create with friends and family and bring them joy too. Or you might find that what you create can be shared with an even wider audience. I think that whatever you do, the benefits are totally worth the time invested.

I’d love you to share with me what you do creatively. Tell me in the comments, or write to ruth@ruthamos.com.au and send me a picture or a soundbite or a paragraph. I’d love to see how creative we can get about creativity and have a long list of creative endeavours for next week’s blog.

And if you want to know what I’ve been so busy doing you can head to www.ruthamos.com.au/podcast and have a listen to the very first episode of my new podcast A Quiet Life. I’ll be launching on iTunes and Stitcher very soon, God willing, and you will be able to subscribe and hear an episode each week.

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If you would like to support my writing and the creation of my podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and support me for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

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A gift to gladden the heart

Gold coast dolphin
This is a dolphin we saw at Sea World on the Gold Coast

There is a joint memory that Moz and I have from our teens of a house that made an incredible impression on us. I’m not sure why we were there, we only went once. I think my parents were visiting the couple who owned it but I’m really not sure why.

But this house.

I mean, I like dolphins and whales, I really do, but this house went way overboard.

The couple had dolphin wedding rings, dolphin salt and pepper shakers, a whale on the table cloth and a dolphin Doona cover. The mirrors were surrounded by dolphins, there was dolphin and whale artwork all over the walls and dolphin and whale sculptures on every surface. There was dolphin-themed stained glass on the windows and the walls were painted blue.

It was overpowering. There was no getting away from whales and dolphins anywhere.

I really like seeing dolphins and whales. I’ve been fortunate to have two whale sightings right here in Hobart over the past twenty years or so. One at Kingston Beach (close to my house, where I walk nearly every day) and one further up the river where a mother whale had taken her calf.

Dolphins, on the other hand, tend to stay away from me. I’ve been on two wilderness cruises where we’ve seen seals and albatross but no dolphins. I’ve cruised down the east coast of Tasmania on a yacht and seen no dolphins at all, though we did see some amazing luminescence in the water. I’ve spent hours on beaches straining my eyes without the sighting of even one fin.

Ok, as I write this I see that I’m the most privileged and spoiled person out there. My life has been filled with fantastic experiences. I’m not complaining at all. And I did see a whole pod of dolphins cavorting in the waves off Bicheno once.

I wonder whether the way I feel about dolphins is due to the rarity of the sightings, and if I’d become bored with them if I saw them more often. I know that after being in the dolphin house I didn’t want to see anything about sea creatures for months.

On the Saturday just past I spent most of the day sitting in front of the fire and reading. I was taking a day off and loving it. In the afternoon I felt like going for a walk and Moz came with me. We walked to the beach and bought a coffee and then I said, ‘What next? Will we walk along the beach?’

Moz suggested we just stand at the rail and stare out at the water for a while.

And while I was staring something caught my eye. Now, last time this had happened it was a seal enjoying the water and waving his flippers in the sunshine.

But this time … this time it was a dolphin.

I’ve been going to Kingston Beach for forty years on and off and this is the first dolphin I’ve ever seen there. And it was beautiful. It came quite close so we could see it clearly and then it swam away.

Kingston beach dolphin
This is me, and you can see the fin out there in the water. I promise it’s there!

Then a very light shower of rain passed over us, and all that meant was that where the dolphin had been there was now a complete rainbow over the water. The scene would have fit perfectly into the dolphin house art work, but this time it was real.

It totally made my day and I’m so glad we took a few minutes to stand and stare.

I guess there’s not much of a point to my little story, except for the encouragement to take the time to enjoy days off and to enjoy nature. That sometimes when you just stand and stare for a while you will receive a gift to gladden your heart.

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend.

Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life on WordPress, or you can head to www.ruthamos.com.au and sign up to my newsletter and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

One thing at a time

shutterstock_754946590

I can’t remember where I read this advice, and I really wish I could. It was in a book about calming your days, feeling more at peace, dealing with technology better. The advice was do one thing at a time.

I have been watching myself lately and I haven’t been following this advice.

I have been playing solitaire on my phone while watching TV.

Scrolling through Facebook while eating breakfast.

Listening to a podcast and playing solitaire while eating lunch.

I realised this was really a problem for me when I caught myself trying to play solitaire on my phone while I was reading a book. It doesn’t work.

On Sunday night I decided that I wanted to relax and just watch the program I was watching on TV. The program was Grand Designs (I’m a bit of a tragic) and you’re not going to get much out of that if you aren’t looking at the screen. You don’t see the houses.

I sat back on the couch and I watched.

It was difficult. I wanted to distract myself with my computer or my phone. But I kept at it. And it was refreshing, it really was, just to let my brain do one thing at once.

I think I need to push myself on this one.

I need to eat when I’m eating – not watch TV, not read, not scroll through Facebook. Just enjoy the food, taste it, smell it, really appreciate what I’m eating.

I need to watch TV when I’m watching, and read when I’m reading.

I need to remember to turn the wifi off when I’m writing and allow myself to sink deeply into the writing process (I am a bit better with this one).

Sometimes it’s good to do two things at once – some tasks work well together. I like listening to podcasts while walking because the story keeps me going when I would otherwise get bored and head for home. But at the same time, sometimes on my walks I need to turn the noise off and just let myself think.

I’ve been doing some data-entry work lately and listening to audio books has been great to keep me on-task. But it can’t be a book I care deeply about because if I have to think about the work at all then I miss what the narrator is saying. However, I think that the multi-tasking in that situation has worked well.

This world is so full of distractions that it is difficult to concentrate on one thing for any length of time. But I think that’s a muscle worth developing so I’m going to work harder to simplify.

Some good books on this subject are Single Tasking by Devora Zack, and Deep Work by Cal Newport. Also, at the end of Women Food and God by Geneen Roth there is a list of rules for eating which includes:

Eat without distractions. Distractions include radio, television, newspapers, books, intense or anxiety-producing conversations or music.

How about you? Do you love to multi-task? Are you addicted to distractions? What do you think about doing only one thing at once?

Reasons to Journal

journaling

(This is not a Moleskine journal, it’s an old picture, but it is a Bic pen)

One of my very favourite books is Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster. One of the reasons I think I enjoy it so much is that most of the book is written in the form of letters that Judy Abbott writes to her mysterious benefactor. Now yes, I want a mysterious benefactor myself, but it’s the slightly naughty delight of reading someone else’s mail, of seeing right into Judy’s mind, that’s the thing I love.

Another such book is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, and Welcome to the Working Week by Paul Vitos (written in email rather than letters, with a fair bit more cynicism and swearing). And then there’s always The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.

All of them have this fun feeling of reading over someone’s shoulder, of seeing a new insight through their eyes.

I’ve been getting the same feeling lately through reading back my journal from last year.

I’m not being totally self-indulgent – I’m writing a book about 2017 using my blogs and I thought it would add some interest if you all (dear readers) had some insight into how I was feeling as the year went on. Ok, maybe I am being self-indulgent but I’m getting a lot out of it anyway.

Journalling is important to me. I don’t remember why, but I do remember that in grade 10 I decided to write a journal entry every day. I remember very clearly sitting in bed in the dark at 1am (I shared a room with my sister and couldn’t turn the light on) writing a few lines on a new page knowing that I would not be following the lines, I couldn’t see the lines, but I had to complete my journal entry for that day before I went to sleep.

I tend to follow rules like that. If I’m journalling every day, then I’m journalling every single day. No excuses.

I’m easier on myself now, I don’t make myself write every day, but I write most days because it’s so helpful.

Sheridan Voysey has some tips for journalling. He says that you don’t have to write every day. That you must not let anyone else see what you’re writing – it is just for you (write in code if necessary). That you date each entry (he records the time as well and I’ve started doing that too). That you write freely and honestly. That you keep it simple and that you write anywhere. His podcast on reasons to journal is worth listening to.

Why do I journal?

I mistrust my memory and love to have a record of my life. I think that part of me feels like I’d lose my life if I didn’t write it down.

I find that journalling slows me down enough to know how I’m feeling. I can be running around (either literally, or inside my own head) and stop to journal and write: ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know what I’m feeling. Oh boy do I feel tired.’ And then I go nap. Journalling gets me in touch with myself. It helps me to see if the problem I’m experiencing is physical tiredness, or just my own narkiness, or whether I have an issue I need to sort out with someone else. In other words, it stops me snapping at Moz when the issue I need to deal with is my own tiredness.

Journalling stops the hamster wheel of thoughts inside my head. Once it’s written down, it’s written and I can move on. If I leave the thought in my head then it can swirl around and never get dealt with.

And finally, I can look back on my journal and see where I’ve been.

I tell many newlyweds, especially those I know who marry young like Moz and I did, about how comforting it was to read my journal from our first year of marriage. You see, no matter how bad things were in the next few years, it never got as bad as the first year. (Our first year was hard work, but worth it).

And looking back at last year I can see objective evidence that the days were hard and busy but I can also see the record of cosy nights in front of the fire, peaceful walks along the beach, little pockets of peace and joy through the hard times. It gives me strength and encouragement for what I’m walking through now. Which, by the way, is nowhere near as bad as last August.

It doesn’t take much to journal, you don’t need a fancy book or a fancy pen. I have a very fancy Moleskine journal at the moment – a Christmas present from my parents – but I have a motley arrangement of journals on the bookshelf to my left, all colours and sizes that I’ve used through the years.

The pen I use is a Bic biro. Nothing fancy there! But I like the way it writes. But you know, you can use anything. Some people like to use a really fancy pen, a fancy journal, do drawings and so on and make it a special part of their ‘me time’ and others like me just like to get the words down on the page. Whenever and wherever I find myself.

Some people like me keep all their journals. I hope to go through my boxes soon and find the one I wrote in in grade 10. I think it will be interesting to read. Others like my mother-in-law destroy them. That can be really cathartic. A nice journal fire when you’re saying goodbye to some particularly dreadful part of your life could be an excellent symbolic gesture.

Words are my thing, obviously. But I think a lot of us can find joy in journalling.

Do you keep a journal? What have you found best or worst about it? Or have I tempted you to try? Let me know in the comments.

Introvert weekend

This weekend just gone I had an excellent adventure.

My adventure I had came about because of the adventures my husband and son are having. Moz (the husband) has taken off to Fiji with a group of 11 students and 3 teachers (himself included) for a two-week adventure. They have taken medical and school supplies and are travelling all over Fiji by plane, boat, and truck, to deliver said supplies. They are also doing presentations at schools and churches and Moz may be even giving a sermon.

Both our kids have taken this trip in previous years and I’m very excited that Moz could go. It’s really a fantastic thing to do, and the kids got such a lot out of it. It was life-changing for both of them, I think. And I’m sure it will be rejuvenating for Moz.

Moz left on Thursday morning at stupid o’clock and I had to take him to the airport. We had to be there at 430 am. We made it by 445am but no harm was done. After waiting for them to check in their baggage and waving the team through the security I turned my head for home and tried to convince my body that it was still night time and I could sleep some more. I managed a bit of a nap and then got up and started the day again, heading off to work. At the end of the work day I drove home, gulped down some take-away, swapped my beautiful mini for a civic that was full of computer gear, and headed off again. This was because of my son’s adventure.

Caleb (the son) was leading on a camp. It’s a computer camp run by Scripture Union. The kids that come along are all gamers and the camp involves a lot of sitting around the tables racing each other or doing other computer game type things. I don’t know – I’m not a gamer! But I do know that they also pull the kids away from the computers (“Come outside! The graphics are awesome!”) and much fun is had with engineering challenges, deep conversations, and other camp stuff.

Usually Moz would go with Caleb and would take a car-load of computers and gear down to the campsite. But Moz was in Fiji by the time the camp started so I took the gear down instead. It made for a long day on Thursday – both ends of the day taken up with drives and not much sleep. I travelled the same highway in the dark both times. But I made it through and back home without any misadventure.

So both boys were gone, and with Jess (the daughter) on her four-year-long adventure in Canberra getting a teaching degree, that left me at home alone for the weekend.

It was wonderful to be alone for that stretch of time. I went for walks, long lonely walks along beaches and cliffs. I baked a rhubarb and apple crumble (but I didn’t eat it all). I headed to a cafe and had a yummy cake and coffee (that was after one of the long walks so I didn’t feel too guilty). I made myself a fire each night. I watched the Swiss murder mystery show on Netflix that I seem to have got addicted to. I listened to classical music and to pop music and to no music at all. I did some housework and washing. I read a whole book from start to finish and finished off another couple of books that I was part-way through. I did not look at social media at all.

Most of the weekend was reading, actually. I decided not to do much book writing but just to read and write in my journal what I was thinking about. I had such long stretches to think. It was luxurious.

I feel so refreshed now that I’m back at work. It was a glorious weekend. An adventure at home in comfort and warmth in the arms of a book. My kind of adventure.

Does my weekend sound at all adventurous to you?

Or is adventure the wrong word?

What kind of adventures do you enjoy?

Brownie points

On Thursday nights there is a prayer meeting at church that I want to want to go to. There is no typo there. I find it hard to get there – it’s the end of the day, I’ve usually used up all my emotional energy, I don’t want to leave my warm and comfortable house and have to talk to anyone anymore. This is no reflection on the people who are there – they are some really close friends of mine, or on the quality of the meeting – it’s an awesome time (in the true sense of the word). I just often find it hard to lever myself out of the house and go.

I went last night though. I put on my jacket and walked down to the chapel in the dark. Past the supermarket with the final remnants of Easter shoppers stocking up for the public holiday, past the small group of people waiting in the council carpark for the Vinnie’s van to come and give them free bread, and down to the chapel with it’s beautiful windows all lit up from the inside.

The door was locked.

Well, that was ok, the leaders usually walk in through the big church and up into the chapel, I’ll keep walking around the courtyard and to the other door and…

That door’s locked too.

At that point I smiled, and turned for home, grateful for the walk and grateful for the night off.

When I got home I told the boys that it was cancelled and said, ‘I get all the brownie points for going without having had to stay’. Then we all laughed. It doesn’t work that way. It just doesn’t.

Sometimes we think that all our good works are like a bridge to heaven. But if they are like a bridge across a chasm, they are like a rope bridge that is slightly too short. No matter what we do, we will not be good enough to reach the other side. And a rope bridge that is only attached to one side of a chasm is more like a ladder down into a pit.

That’s the good news. That is the news I celebrate each Good Friday. My works are not good enough and God did something about it. Something that cost him everything, that caused him intense pain such as I will never experience, and something that is enough.

Because of Jesus’ death on the cross I have a way to cross that chasm. I can talk to God now. I can know his love for me.

I no longer have to ‘scrabble, scrape and scrooge’ my way through. I don’t have to be in control. I don’t have to beat myself up for every little error I make. I don’t.

It’s not a licence to be evil, not at all. But now, when I do good, when I try to be good, I am coming from a position of gratefulness and wanting to return to God just a smidgeon of what he has wonderfully done for me.

Sometimes I forget and I start to try to work my way into God’s good books. But folks, that is really not how it works. The bible talks about our names being written in the book of life and that’s the only good book that matters. The only thing I had to do to get there was repent and believe.

I don’t know where you stand today. But if you’re not in that book of life, I want to encourage you that it’s wonderful to know that you’re safe. And if you know your name is written in the book, let’s rejoice in what our wonderful Saviour has done for us and forget about boasting in our good works.

No brownie points needed here.

Take the time

I know that much has been said on this subject before, but to be honest, I have a gripe and I want to let it out.

I went to the supermarket the other day and the check-out chick (sorry, the register operator?) was a nice enough girl, she was trying to do the right thing I’m sure, but she wasn’t. She was asking all the right questions, but she wasn’t listening to my answers.

‘How has your day been?’ she asked. And I started to tell her. I had quite a funny story to tell, that would have made her day, brightened her afternoon. I wanted to tell her that I’d gone into work, despite it being a public holiday, and I’d given an online tutorial. And all the way through the tutorial I’d said things like ‘for those watching the recording…’ or ‘I’ll go through this quickly, it will be on the recording’ and right at the end of the hour, I realised as I said goodbye to the students, that I hadn’t pressed record. There was no recording.

As I started to tell my highly amusing (ok, mildly amusing) anecdote, I looked at the girl, her eyes had glazed over. She was no longer listening. I think I stopped talking after telling her I’d gone into work.

So we were quiet, and she tried again.

‘Doing anything special for Australia Day?’

Now I had all sorts of interesting things to say about that. I could have discussed the conversation that was happening among my Facebook friends about whether there was a reason to celebrate Australia Day or not. I could have talked about the fact that we’d just come back from Adelaide a couple of days before and how the public holiday meant that I only had a two-day work week. But once again, she wasn’t listening. I gave up. I am not that much a fan of my own voice.

I don’t mind quiet at the register. I think I would have preferred quietness over this almost conversation.

She brightened up a bit when the supervisor told her she could close the register. I asked ‘is that it for you?’ ‘No,’ she said ‘I’m going until 530pm’ it was the most conversation we’d had. We were almost connecting there for a minute.

I had the same thing happen at a conference once. The professor had asked a question at the end of a presentation, and it pertained to my field of research. Stupidly, I thought he’d asked the question because he wanted to know the answer, so I sought him out in the break to further elucidate the quick answer that had been given by the student giving the presentation. But he didn’t want to know. He shared in-jokes with the man standing with us, rather than listen to what I had to say.

I must admit, I like being heard, and like most people, I hate being overlooked. And so I am as guilty of not listening as the next person. I usually want to be listened to, not to take the time to listen to others.

I think that listening, truly listening, is one of the greatest gifts we can give one another. Listening to understand – not listening to build our own argument, or rehearsing our own story while waiting for a chance to get a word in, or making conversation on automatic. Everybody has a story to tell, and you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find when you take the time to listen.

That locked in feeling

I’m having a little problem with my car. She’s a lovely car, very reliable, totally fun to drive and I don’t want to say anything against her really but I think maybe she loves me too much and is being over protective.

You see, although I have very politely asked many times for her to stop, she will still lock the doors whenever I start the car, locking me in. I think she is concerned that someone will car-jack me at a traffic light or something but I feel that’s unlikely to happen.

Also, once the doors are locked, they are very reluctant to open again. I click the button and I hear the mechanism unlock but then the door immediately locks itself once more. At the moment, when I wish to get out of the car, I must wind down the window (that’s manual by the way, no electric windows in this car – which may be a good thing the way things are going) and find the lock with the key and turn it to unlock the door. The lock catches inside the doors broke years ago. They just flap uselessly.

And I have a fear that the driver’s door will start to act like the passenger door. That one sometimes can’t even be opened with the key. It immediately locks again as soon as you release pressure on the key. If that happens on the driver’s side then I will be reduced to climbing out the window Dukes of Hazard style. That will not be graceful!

So I can tell you what DH will be working on this weekend!

Now unlocking through the window is a reasonable work around and most of the time it’s ok. But I have to admit that this morning when I turned up to work and parked and found myself locked into the car again, I almost decided that it would be easier to spend the day in the car. Almost.

I think that like most people, my ability to handle small frustrations like this is totally dependent on how I am feeling about everything else in my life. If life is going smoothly and I am not feeling overwhelmed then I can handle the little things, I can laugh at the little things, they are small pebbles in the road of life and I am glad to have them happening because they give me something to write about. But  when I am having an off day, when I have not slept well and my head hurts and I have a busy day ahead, then these little issues become pot holes at the very least, jarring me, shaking me up. And sometimes they are pebbles in the shoe, constant small irritations. Or they are mountains in the road. Enough to stop me from moving forward.

The car locking mechanism has been playing up for a few weeks now. No-one has had the time to work on it and I haven’t worried about it. It’s been an intermittent problem and I’ve been fairly intermittent in how I’ve responded to it. Some days it’s been amusing, some days irritating, and mornings like today it’s been almost enough to send me back home and back to bed. (The day got much better, BTW).

Many of the letters in the bible start with the words ‘Grace and peace to you’. If you know you’re forgiven and loved, if you are surrounded by that grace, then you can extend peace to those around you. You are able, from your place of forgiven-ness and unconditional loved-ness to respond peacefully to these irritations that come your way. If you know the supernatural peace that comes from knowing that there is a plan, that you don’t have to be in control of every circumstance, then you can extend grace to those around you and allow others to be irritating within the cushioning that comes from the grace.

I think it’s like breathing in grace and breathing out peace. Then breathing in peace and breathing out grace. And laughing at the little things, the imperfections in life. Because this side of eternity there will always be imperfections, even if it’s something as small as an overprotective car.

So for you my readers I pray ‘Grace and peace to you’ and I hope you pray the same for me. And I hope that after tomorrow I will be able to jump out of my car easily again and will never take it for granted!