Apr 12, 2021

Ep. 7 - Dealing with My Creative Killjoys

In this episode, I identify the killjoys spoiling my creative sessions and talk about what I did to defeat them.

Music Credit: 

Reflection Flow by Doxent Zsigmond (c) copyright 2018 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/doxent/58328 Ft: Javolenus, Rocavaco, Siobhan Dakay


Links mentioned in this episode:

Amy Isaman's Dear Creativity, Let's Play Podcast 

Ep. 52: To Get Creative, Own Your Weird with Jeff Harry

Brené Brown



I have to admit something to you. As much as I like being creative and making things, I struggle during my creative sessions. In my imagination, other artists are playfully splashing colors on the canvas, while when I get to the canvas or work bench, I just sit there and struggle to get something done.

Recently, I was in my studio working on an idea for a painting, and whole time I experienced delays and interruptions. It was late evening. It was after a full day of work and I was tired. And on top of that, I was listening to a podcast on politics and it was making me angry.

I just told myself I need to change something. I'm not being very creative and this just isn't working for me.   

My approach to creative time has been quite haphazard.  I usually try to fit studio time into the cracks and crevices of my schedule.  So my first attempt was to look for a regular time in the evenings.  I thought that shouldn't be too hard because I wouldn't be giving up much except maybe a few TV shows and a bunch of web surfing.

I thought I could just turn that after-dinner time into time for my art, but after a few tries it wasn't working. The evening is often our family get-together time. When I disappeared into my studio, I felt guilty about not spending time with my family.

And even if it wasn't family night, I was still getting interrupted by phone calls and text messages.

Also, I couldn't let go of being entertained in the evening. So I'd listen to podcasts. I didn't realize it at the time, but it was another more subtle form of interruption.

Also being the end of the day, I was tired. My work during the day usually involves programming creative solutions for my clients. So even if I wasn't physically tired, I was mentally tired,

Needless to say, my creative sessions weren't really satisfying.  They usually ended after about 20 or 30 minutes.

And that even put more pressure on me knowing that I had so little time to work with.

So I thought, okay, what about the weekends? I could give that a try. I could schedule some longer sessions where I could spend maybe five or six hours on a project. But that didn't work for me at all.  Weekends for me are unpredictable. We often go out as a family, whether it's  traveling or doing some errands or whatever.

There's also lots of cool stuffthat happens on weekends, so it was really hard to keep a regular schedule. Even if we weren't going out, there's stuff that needs to get done around the house. 

I ended up having so few weekend sessions that I wasn't creating anything at all.

So I thought, well, how about finding more focus for my evening sessions? How about committing to creating something every day and then posting it to Instagram?

I like Instagram, almost all the people I follow are artists, and it's inspiring to see their art. And it feels great to get likes, you know, and the more I posted, the more likes I got that really felt good.

But eventually I was noticing I was creating things that I didn't care about. Instead of making things that excited me, I was asking, what can I make that'll get likes?  My art was becoming performative in, uh, you know, "Hey, look at me" sort of way. 

None of these attempts at having good studio sessions were working for me.  I was really frustrated, and I was feeling stuck. I wasn't creating, and I wasn't learning anything new.

In the past few months, I've been doing some thinking and reading about the intersection of creativity and play. And I wondered if there might be some clues there about having better creative sessions.

I recently came upon Amy Isaman's Dear Creativity, Let's Play podcast.  It's an awesome podcast, and if you're wondering about the process of creativity, I really urge you to listen  to her podcast episodes. I'll put a link to her podcast and the website in the show notes.

In particular, you should listen to Amy's conversation with Jeff Harry. He's Vice President of Fun at Play. It's episode number 52 and it's called To Get Creative, Own Your Weird

Jeff is an amazing person, and he's done a lot of thinking about play. In his conversation with Amy, he really explains how creativity and play go hand in hand.

I want to highlight here what he gave as the definition of play.

His definition of play is:

  • you are fully present;
  • time vanishes,
  • you forget about time;
  • you're not thinking about anything;
  • you are fully you;
  • and you're excited about life.

So, I thought, wow, this, this really resonates with me, and it explains so much of what I'm not experiencing during my creative sessions.

So for instance, instead of being fully me, I'm thinking about how others might react to what I'm making.

Instead of being excited about life, I'm just frustrated by my lack of progress.

Instead of being fully present, there's always the specter of being interrupted.

Instead of not thinking of anything, I'm listening to a podcast.

And instead of time vanishing, I have that pressure of like only having 20 or 30 minutes before I need to do something else.

I decided to call these my little killjoys.  Each of these thieves steal playfulness from my creative sessions. Here's how I'm now approaching each one.

I started with the one that always has me thinking about how others might react to what I'm making, creating. Let's call it the Instagram effect.

Instagram is a great way to share your art. And like I said, I follow a lot of artists there, but I've also found that it it's a lot, like those infomercials on TV. You know, the one that tries to convince you that your life will be so much better with an Instapot.

Just like an infomercial, scrolling through Instagram is a bombardment.  The images go by so quickly, and they only show the bright side of things. Your friends seem to be living beautiful lives and look how productive they are all the time. 

At least for me, it's, it's a little bit overwhelming and I can't help but compare my own experience with all these beautiful images. And I start to feel a little bit inadequate and guilty.

And the other thing that I realized is that Instagram was just reinforcing my craving for likes.

Once I started posting my drawings and creations on Instagram and getting likes, that positive reinforcement made me look at everything through the lens of, you know, how many likes might I get? 

I think that Instagram is a great way to make connections, especially if you're an artist, but there is that temptation to create solely for the like button.

I've stepped away from Instagram for now. I'm trying to build a habit of satisfying myself first, letting my curiosity run and letting my inner voices speak. My goal is to be much more deliberate about the art that I post there.

I want to take care that I'm posting an authentic version of myself, not the version that I think others are wanting of me. And what that's done for me is that I'm already feeling much more playful when I get into my studio.

The next killjoy is being frustrated by a lack of progress or a lack of skill. This thief shows up, particularly if you're a multipotentialite like me, someone who's interested in many topics and enjoys trying out many different skills.

This frustration is one of the major feelings keeping me from feeling excited about life and about my creative process.

I have all the time in the world to create. And yet that feeling of excitement is kept at bay. 

The image I get is me as a kid, looking through the window at a playground where all the other kids are playing and creating and having fun while I need to do my homework.

I overcome this by reminding myself that creating is itself a vulnerable act. Every time I sit down to create something new, I expose my true self. That is, I expose what I'm capable of and not capable of.

And I expose my heart. I expose what I'm thinking and feeling and that vulnerability makes me want to hide.  I don't want people to think that I'm a fraud.

And so here's where I lean on the findings of social researcher Brené Brown.  She points out that vulnerability leads to connection. The courage to be open with another person is where the connection happens.

I've read most of her books. And so I know, like on an intellectual level, I know it to be true and I've actually even seen it happen in my life, many times over.  But I can tell you this particular one, this killjoy, this being frustrated by lack of skills and lack of progress is really the hardest  to get rid of.

So I'm working on it. I just keep reminding myself that it's not just okay, but it's actually necessary to be vulnerable in the stuff that I do, and in the art that I create.

So when those feelings of vulnerability show up, I celebrate, I express gratitude. I know that not everyone will understand the things that I make and the things that I create. But I celebrate those who do. And learning new skills is hard. So I just celebrate the fact that I'm trying.

And here's something that's really helped. For every little bit of progress I make in my creative journey, I celebrate that progress by writing it down in a completion journal. I have this daily completion journal, and every time I do something, even if it's just starting something or making just a little bit of progress, I write it down.

And I celebrate that. That journal has been so incredibly helpful. Every time I open it up, I see how much I have accomplished every day.

If you're someone who likes to dabble and likes to try lots of different things, if you're a multipotentialite, I can't recommend enough having a daily completion journal. It's been so helpful.

Let's move on to that specter of being interrupted, the one that was preventing me from being present.

I think of it like being a prisoner subjected to water drip torture, you know, always wondering when the next interruption, when the next drip will happen.

So the first thing I did was to silence all notifications. Emails, apps, everything, but phone calls.  All my devices have a do not disturb mode and I turn it on from 6:00 AM in the morning to 10:00 PM in the evening for all of them.

No more notifications. I was worried that I might miss something, but it turns out I was missing anything at all. 

As I'm working on a piece of art, I'll often listen to a podcast or if I'm not listening, I'm still kind of carrying on a heated conversation in my mind about politics with that imaginary uncle.

Just like with interruptions, listening or having those inner conversations were preventing me from having my mind open to what's unfolding in front of me as I'm doing my art. 

So I'm no longer listening to podcasts during my studio time. And I'm noticing how nice it feels to be in silence. I'm also using my mindfulness training. I do a 10 minute meditation every morning  to strengthen my mindfulness. And I'm using that mindfulness training to just simply notice when I'm not present.

Before the pandemic, one of my favorite ways to reduce interruptions was to spend some time at a local cafe or at the library. But you know, that hasn't been an option for over a year.

So I thought more deeply about where and when these interruptions came and it occurred to me that most of these interruptions were coming in the afternoon and evening.

I decided to do something radically different. I've decided to schedule all my creative sessions in the morning. 

And what I found is that this is a great time to be creative. My mind is clear, there's almost no interruptions. Most people are still asleep or focused on getting their workday started. 

So scheduling two to three hours of creative time in the mornings has effectively eliminated the specter of being interrupted.

It also eliminated that other killjoy, the feeling that I was only getting 20 to 30 minutes of time  to be creative.

And I'm starting to feel that feeling of timelessness, of being lost in my work, that is so, so essential to feeling joy and play.

So here's the good news. All of these changes that I've just spoken about have been helping me to be more present. And that playfulness that I've been looking for is, is really starting to appear.

Scheduling my creative sessions in the morning has been really helpful in reducing interruptions and giving me that sense of timelessness. 

Being mindful and turning off those podcasts has definitely helped me be more present.  Staying away from social media, especially as it relates to how I think about my art is, you know, it's still a struggle, but I'm working on it and I'm working to be more vulnerable and authentic in my art.

And I don't always get there, but just keeping this in mind has helped me focus on the art that really excites me.

And I just want to say I'm excited for 2021 and beyond.  I think we have an incredibly creative year ahead and I can't wait to see what it's going to be like.

Thank you so much for listening to this podcast. I really appreciate that you took the time to listen. I hope there was an idea or two that will help spark your creativity. And I would love to get any feedback that you have.

You can email me at [email protected]

I hope you will join me for the next episode of Creative Shoofly. Until then stay safe and stay creative.

Feb 18, 2021

Ep 6 - Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) and Creativity with Rayne Dowell

My guest Rayne Dowell and I have a conversation about highly sensitive people (HSPs) and how they approach creativity.


Music Credit: 

Reflection Flow by Doxent Zsigmond (c) copyright 2018 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/doxent/58328 Ft: Javolenus, Rocavaco, Siobhan Dakay


Links mentioned in this episode:

HSP World

The Highly Sensitive Person website

Sensitive the Untold Story, the movie

Alanis Morissette

Podcast episode where Alanis interviews Dr. Elaine Aron


Books mentioned in this episode:

Unmasking: A Page-Turning Espionage Thriller, by Rayne Dowell

The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, by Dr. Elaine Aron

The Highly Sensitive Person in Love: Understanding and Managing Relationships When the World Overwhelms You, by Dr. Elaine Aron

The above are affiliate links.



Thomas: Author Pearl Buck once wrote, "The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: a human creature, born abnormally, inhumanely sensitive. To him, a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy as an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism, the overpowering necessity to create, create, create.

So that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange unknown, inward urgency, he is not really alive unless he is creating." 

Thomas Hello, and welcome to the Creative Shoofly Podcast. I'm Thomas Beutel. This podcast is about my creative process and one thing I've found is that I really get in my way a lot when it comes to making art and being creative. I want to do this podcast because I know it will force me to think more deeply about creativity. I'm hoping that doing this will push me and challenge me to create better art.   

Thomas: Today, I've invited a guest to talk about the relationship between the highly sensitive trait and creativity.  My guest is Rayne Dowell. She is co-creator of HSP world and also an indie author.  She's published a book called Unmasking, a Page Turning Espionage Thriller. I've read it, it actually is exactly that it's, it's definitely a page turner and it's thrilling to read.  

Hello Rayne, how are you doing today?

Rayne: I'm doing great, Thomas. Thank you. Thank you for having me. 

Thomas: I'm so glad to have you here to talk about this. You know, we both identify as having the HSP trait. HSP stands for Highly Sensitive Person. And I'm wondering if you could just speak for a moment about what the HSP trait is.

Rayne: Okay. So what it means to me? 

Thomas: Yeah. 

Rayne: Yeah. Okay. Sure. For me, the sort of the way I find easy to relate to it is, basically having a nervous system that's highly tuned. So as opposed to 80 to 85% of the rest of the population. So having a nervous system that's highly tuned, that's gonna mean noticing subtleties in my environment.

That's going to be noticing temperature changes, subtle smells, You know, can relate to food.  it can relate to hearing. So it's like, say, an HSP and a non-HSP walk into a room. A non HSP, will notice, you know, five things in the first 20 seconds. An HSP will notice, you know, 15 things in the same amount of time. 

So basically their nervous system is just highly tuned and food, all kinds of things can affect that. Other people's energy.  You know, all kinds of things. So that's how I find it easiest to relate to it. 

Thomas: The HSP trait comes out of research done by Dr. Elaine Aron and she's written a number of books about her research.  The main book is the Highly Sensitive Person and I'll put links in the show notes to the books.  

She's also done a lot of work around parenting and especially highly sensitive parenting.  She's also written books about HSPs or highly sensitive persons in relationships.  

So she's developed a fairly large body of work around this trait and there are a number of other researchers that are starting to pick up on it and do research on it as well.

Rayne: There's also a movie that I found when I was running an HSP meetup group. We would have showings of her movie called Sensitive the Untold Story,  which is an amazing resource for people who maybe aren't sure if they have the trait or not. Or if they have recently discovered they have the trait and they'd like to know a little bit more information on it, but they don't want to dive into the book yet.

Sensitive, the untold story is a great movie to watch. And it's not really that long. I think it's about an hour long, something like that, but it's on Amazon, so you can rent it and stuff. 

Thomas: I'm glad you mentioned that because one of the people in the movie is a singer songwriter Alanis Morissette. And she identifies with the HSP trait and has talked about it quite a bit. 

And for people who are interested in learning more about  the HSP trait, she has a wonderful podcast episode where she interviews Dr. Elaine Aron. She and Dr. Aron go over something called the D.O.E.S. acronym, which stands for Depth of processing, Overstimulation, Emotional responsiveness and Sensitivity to subtle stimuli. So I highly recommend that. 

And again, I'll put this in the show notes so you can listen to it.  

Alanis is an amazing artist and this sort of is a good segue into my interest in creativity and how the HSP trait relates to creativity.

How do you relate creativity to the HSP trait? 

Rayne: Well, to me from what I can gather so far when I look at how creativity kind of works for me, and how I've noticed it work for other HSPs are, one of the things HSPs are good at is noticing patterns and then noticing anomalies in patterns.

And sometimes those anomalies are subtle. HSPs process information differently. So I think that's something to...  You know, it took me a little while to kind of feel into that one and, and understand it.  Because we're always coming from only our own perspective. Right? 

Thomas: Right. 

Rayne: So realizing that oh, okay so everybody else doesn't process information like this. But maybe, you know, 15 to 20% of the population processes information somewhat like this, similarly, essentially. So I just find that, to me, because HSPs process information differently, so noticing the subtleties, noticing any anomalies and patterns, gives way to such a rich plethora of ways that they can then express that. 

So if you think of it in terms of music, there are music chords or patterns essentially. Right? 

Thomas: Right, right. 

Rayne: And sometimes those anomalies add really interesting twists and can bring up really,  powerful emotions in us.

A lot of the things that resonate with HSPs are things like music and plays and movies and books and things like this.  Because I think that's part of the, um, I don't know what you could call it. That's part of the creativity. There's a level of angst that comes with it.

Thomas: Yeah. I would say that's an understatement!

Rayne: Because,  you know, we can feel it when we're creating it, that no, it's just, it's not capturing what I know is there. And so going back to it or sometimes leaving it because it's like, no, it's just not the right time for that particular piece of art, whatever that is, whether it's a song or lyrics or a poem or whatever it is.

So yeah, there is the level of angst that comes with it as well. 

But it's also really cool in that it's exercising your creative muscle.  It’s actually really fun because it's about being curious and experimenting. And seeing where that takes you. 

And that I think is, that's one of the things we tend to lose. When you look at children they're intrinsically happy and curious and creative and so that's one of the things that I think is so wonderful about creativity is it can, it can bring us back into that state. 

Thomas: Into that playful state. 

Rayne: Absolutely. Where we don't have any expectations and we're just doing it for the enjoyment of it.  And just being, being in it, you know, 

Thomas:  We're not thinking about social judgment. 

Rayne: No, no, not at all. No. 

Thomas: I'm curious about something you said, you said noticing patterns and anomalies. I'm curious about the anomaly part. What are you thinking about there when you're saying that? 

Rayne: Okay. So one year for three or four months, I drove to Alaska and  I worked there for about four months during the late spring and in the summer because I don't want to spend a winter there.

So with that of course there are different smells there. There are different trees, there are different plants. So some are similar, you know, and some are the same as where I'm from, but some are different. 

Of course, different humidity levels, which you can smell in the air. You know, all that type of thing.

And one day I was working in a cabin and I could smell propane and it's smelled quite strong to me know.  And I noticed it about two minutes after I walked into the cabin and I thought, Hmm. So I waited a moment because I knew that someone else was going to be coming along shortly. So I could ask them because you know, that's a danger sign.

And a few minutes later, someone came along and opened the door and I said, can you smell propane? They said, no, they couldn't smell propane. And I thought that's really odd. And I knew another person was going to be coming along shortly after. So they came along and I asked them, can you smell propane?

And they said, no they couldn't smell propane. And they were both really good. They both, you know, stood there and, you know, really smelled the air and they couldn't smell it. So after the second person, I thought well, this is ridiculous because it's all I smell. So strong that I just don't understand why they're not smelling it.

So I told both of them, there's a propane leak. I know there's a propane leak and I can smell it really strongly. And, you know, can we check it out? 

And so they went and got some water and some liquid soap and the propane tank was sitting outside the cabin right next to it, but outside of it. And using a bit of water and some soap, they put it where the cones connect to the propane tank. And sure enough, there were big bubbles, big bubbles. It was really, it was leaking very badly. 

So that's what I mean by anomalies. 

Thomas: When things are out of the ordinary, 

Rayne: Out of the ordinary. Absolutely. 

And it can be noticing things out of the ordinary in terms of sight, smell, sound, taste, all kinds of things. You know, you'll sometimes hear people with the HSP trait saying, “I just knew something was off by the way they text.”

Thomas: Right. 

Rayne: You know, so it can even get as subtle as that. Because it's that's energy essentially, you know, somehow,  getting that understanding from how long it takes that person to respond to you. The exact words they say and how they say them and you know, all of it, to come to the conclusion, hmm, something's off. That's an anomaly for this person essentially. Right? 

So, yeah, that's how I understand it.


How do you understand it in terms of HSPs and creativity, Thomas? 

Thomas: Yeah, for me it relates to subtlety. I notice that in myself, I tend to notice very subtle differences when I'm out and about when I'm in nature.  

Or even when I'm painting or whatnot. I'm very much paying attention to what let's say, I'm painting with watercolor and I'm really paying attention to what the watercolor is doing, how the pigments are flowing. 

And for some reason, this is funny to me, but I like gradients and I don't know if that has anything, you know, I'm just relating it sort of freeform right now in my mind.

But one of the beautiful things about watercolors is that you get these wonderful gradients where things can go from light to dark. And so there's something for me about subtle differences and those seem very interesting to me, you know? 

Rayne: It’s interesting because when you talk about gradients in relation to watercolors, that reminds me of emotions and the gradients of emotions, we can feel. And how that must be such a wonderful medium to express yourself, you know, depending on how you're feeling, the gradient can be really bright and rich or more subtle and soft.

Thomas: Well, one of the things that I know that I struggle with is how to translate all those emotions, whether it's a painting that I'm doing, a drawing, or if I'm writing, how do I tell a story?  

So there's something to that, about how you translate all this great emotional material that you feel that you're picking up all the time from having the HSP trait.

How do you translate that? 

Because I think there's always that desire to explain your experience and have other people see it, as a form of connection. 

Rayne: Yeah. Yeah. I can see what you mean by that. 

Thomas: So I want to explore the topic of inspiration because I think that has some relationship to the HSP trait.

Do you think about how inspiration arrives to you? 

Rayne: Well, yes I do. Because, you know, it's funny, I believe a lot of artistic people are like this or, draw their inspiration from this. 

And to me, it's about states of consciousness because I believe I'm just a vehicle.

I'm just kind of a physical vehicle here and that's coming through me. It's not really mine... like it is, but it's not, you know? 

Thomas: I have read so many artists say that exact thing. Like they're just the vehicle. They're just almost like the translator. 

Rayne: Absolutely. And it's a very different experience to, I guess you could say, devote yourself to that.  Because it does take discipline. Because I have to say my understanding of different states of consciousness.  

And I didn't realize it at the time, but it came at a young age from when I drowned.

So when I had a near-death experience and I drowned, I left my body. My NDE is a little bit different from what I've heard. Other people say similar things though. 

But essentially when I drowned, basically everything went black around the outside of my vision, and then it kept closing into a white pin. You know, pinhole type of thing. 

And then that pinhole started opening and that light kept getting brighter and brighter. 

But at the same time, I felt like I was being hurdled forward really fast, like really fast. And then I was just in this other place and I didn't have a form, you know, there were no physical bodies.

There were no trees and whatever, it wasn't like that. It was pure energy, pure energy,  pure, enlightened consciousness.  

It was like unconditional love that hopefully more people understand what that means, but it was just, it was amazing. It was just amazing.

Thomas: Yeah. 

Rayne: And then I was sort of told that I had to go back. Meaning back to my body. 

And I was like, no, I like it here because you're not constrained there. Right?

You're not constrained by anything so. But anyway, that was one consciousness I experienced. 

And then when I came back through that tunnel, I was essentially hovering over my physical body, which was laying on the deck by the Lake.  

Thomas: And at that point, you have been pulled out?

Rayne: I must've been, yeah. Yeah. But I mean, I wasn't aware of it because I was in that other consciousness. 

But when I came back to the second set of consciousness, I was kind of like ghostlike, and I had a brain and I was hovering over, like I was looking over the top of, down on my body and my grandmother was giving me CPR.

Yeah. And I was very detached like, “Oh, Is that me?”, you know, what's happening? 

Isn't that interesting? Like not worried, you know, not concerned at all, but it was also a different form of consciousness, right? 

To then all of a sudden feeling like that spirit part of me had been slammed into my physical body.

And that's when I regained, I don't know what you call it because I guess the third form of consciousness, right, where I was inhabiting my body, my physical body and rolling over and heaving and throwing up water and all that unpleasantness. 

So it was kind of confusing to me growing up because  I knew I was different and I knew part of that was the HSP trait.

But I think also part of that was from having experienced those different types of consciousness. 

Thomas: Right. 

Rayne: When I am like that with my practice of connecting to that state of consciousness,  where I was actually, where it was just all energy. 

For me, that's where a lot of it... It doesn't, it doesn't happen. The inspiration doesn't come when I am actually enjoying myself there. 

But it might be afterward when I go for a walk. And I'm just on a walk, not thinking about anything, and then all of a sudden an idea will pop up, right? 

Or I'll see something and it, or I'll read something or have a chat with somebody or whatever it is. And it'll be like, Oh, wouldn't this be cool?

And that's where the different inspirations pop up. So it's not like I expect these inspirations to come to me when I'm in that state of consciousness, because I don't, I'm just enjoying that state of consciousness. And using it as a way to allow that energy to use me as a medium, I guess, or a tool. 

Thomas: But it sounds to me that you are very open to hearing the inspirations when they do come. 

When you're not thinking about being inspired when you're just doing your walks or whatever you might be doing, you say, “Oh, look at that. There's something that came out of nowhere!”

Rayne: Yeah, absolutely. Yep. And it'll usually come up, “Oh, wouldn't that be cool.” You know? “Oh, do I want to try that? Yeah, let's try that.” 

And then, and then trying it. Yeah, absolutely. 

Thomas: Do you, do you perceive any downsides to having the HSP trait and creativity, you know, like burnout or... 

Rayne: Well,  I think the most common thing for HSPs is that they try to behave and live their lives as non-HSPs. 

Thomas: Oh yeah. 

Rayne: And that is a big creativity killer to me because we require a lot more downtime, a lot more processing time.  

You know, being highly creative, you have to create those pockets and enough space for you to actually do nothing. As weird as it sounds, do nothing. 

I think there have been studies done whereby reducing work weeks down to 30 hours a week, employees are far more productive than employees working 40 hours a week. 

Thomas: I've heard that.

Rayne: Right. And, you know, these are scientific studies that are proving it. And so you add that on top of...  because that essentially is telling us that that's an unhealthy lifestyle basically, right? 

Because to be productive, you know, if you're productive, that's what we want.

Right. And for an HSP, you might as well double that. You might as well double that because,  they can be highly, highly productive. 

I mean, when I get on a creative thing, I'll go for 16 hours a day, like nothing will stop me. It was just 10 minutes to eat maybe, you know what I mean? Because I am so enjoying what I'm doing and I'm so loving it. And I'm so just in it, you know what I mean? 

So that after that whatever has been created, that's it. I'm exhausted. I'm done for a while. I'm gonna relax, you know, I'm going to relax and rest. 

And then connect to know higher consciousness and that next inspiration will come to me.

And then away we'll go again. You know? 

So it's, it's very different from,  say a nine to five job where you do-do-do-do-do, you know, it's not like that. That's very kind of monotonous, whereas when you're in a creative way of being, it's more like waves, you know? 

Thomas: Yeah.

Rayne: They really are more like waves that you go up and you're highly, highly productive. 

And then it's like, okay, because it's like, it just has to burst out of you. 

It's like, it's like, Oh, this is so cool. You know, and all these ideas are coming to you. And so you're just so excited and it's just so cool.

Thomas: That's pretty much me all the time.

And you really hit the nail on the head. I know for myself, I do not give myself enough time to just sit and do nothing. Because there's just that energy that's just there. 

Rayne: Yeah, that expectation that you must be productive at all times or producing something or whatever it is.

Yeah. I could produce something, but will it be the quality that I know I'm capable of? That I'll be like, “Oh, this is so cool!” Like that. I know I won't care what anybody else thinks about it. I'm just in love with it. Like, I think it's the coolest thing ever.

And then, you know, like doing it for your own enjoyment.

Yeah. I think that's one of the things that's the biggest thing for HSPs is to just understand that, giving yourself that time. 

Thomas: You need that downtime. 

Rayne: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. It's downtime because you're actually processing information in that downtime.

There's a lot of information we're taking in that we don't realize we're taking in that we're, processing. And giving ourselves that space where we can just to allow ourselves to do that. 

And that could mean just relaxing, doing nothing, listening to music or not listening to anything or reading, or, you know, like you say, painting or drawing.

 Or I recently got a calimba the other day and it sounds like this.

Thomas: And that's great. 

Rayne: Isn't that cool? 

Yeah. So just giving yourself different things to play with that you enjoy, in your downtime and just enjoying it. 

I think that's the thing is, we feel pressured to produce something, 

Thomas: That sense of obligation. Wherever that comes from. We make it up, you know, we make it up in our mind, but it's, it's there. 

Rayne: Yeah. We make it up in our minds. Or comparing to other artists, you know, or whatever it might be. 

I mean, it's all basically just finding what works for you, you know? Finding that nice, nice, good rhythm. It's a rhythm, really? 

And then when you find that rhythm, you know, stick to it, stick to it, which means having good, healthy boundaries and saying no to other things. That kind of thing, because creativity is just an absolutely amazing outlet for HSPs.

Thomas: It really is. 

Rayne: It is, it's healing, it's engaging, it involves our imaginations and involves our senses, all the things that were... I mean, everybody's blessed with those things.  

But HSPs, basically if we have to put up with the downsides of having the trait, which is,  getting overstimulated and you know, all these kinds of things, then we might as well enjoy the good things about it.

Thomas: That's right.

Rayne: Absolutely. Yeah. 

Thomas: Well Rayne. Thank you so much. This was a wonderful conversation. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me about this. 

Rayne: Oh, thank you, Thomas. I really, I really enjoyed it. I like talking about it. We haven't chatted about this before in this way, so I appreciate it.

Thank you. 

Thomas: Thanks, bye. 

Rayne: Okay. Bye-bye. 

Thomas: And thank you so much for listening to this podcast. I really appreciate that you took the time to listen. I hope there was an idea or two that will help spark your creativity.

And I hope you will join me for the next episode of Creative Shoofly. Until then stay safe and stay creative.

Oct 13, 2020

Ep 5 - Multipotentialites and Creativity, a conversation with Melissa Dinwiddie

Hi, it's Thomas. I'm continuing to explore the concept of multipotentiality and in this episode, I have a conversation with author and creativity instigator, Melissa Dinwiddie. and we talk about what it's like to be creative when you have so many different interests. I learned some new things in this conversation, and I think you'll enjoy it too.


Music Credit: 

Reflection Flow by Doxent Zsigmond (c) copyright 2018 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/doxent/58328 Ft: Javolenus, Rocavaco, Siobhan Dakay


Links for this episode:

Melissa Dinwiddie - melissadinwiddie.com and creativesandbox.solutions


Books mentioned in this episode:

The Creative Sandbox Way, by Melissa Dinwiddie

Refuse to Choose, by Barbara Sher

The above are affiliate links.


Thomas: Hello, and welcome to the Creative Shoofly Podcast. I'm Thomas Beutel. This podcast is about my creative process and one thing I've found is that I really get in my way a lot when it comes to making art and being creative. I want to do this podcast because I know it will force me to think more deeply about creativity. I'm hoping that doing this will push me and challenge me to create better art.    

Thomas: Hello, Melissa. How are you doing?

Melissa: Hi, Thomas. I'm doing pretty good today. How about you?

Thomas: I'm doing great.

For my listeners, this is Melissa Dinwiddie. She is the author of one of my favorite books on creativity. It's the Creative Sandbox Way, Your Path to a Full Color Life. Melissa's art includes drawing and painting, calligraphy, singing, dancing, music loops, animation, stage improv.

And I'm sure there are a lot of others.

Melissa: It's kinda, it's kind of neat hearing them listed out.

Thomas: Melissa, I've been thinking a lot about, and learning a lot about this concept of the multipotentialite.  And you refer to it as passion-pluralite, which I love the term because it really gets to the core of the way that I see it. And that is having lots of different passions. 

And one of the things that I've been wondering about, and the reason I wanted to have this conversation with you is about, how do passion-pluralites stay creative when they have so many passions?

Melissa: I like the way you asked the question, because so often what happens for people who have lots of different creative interests is we get paralyzed and we end up doing nothing because I think what a lot of us do is we feel like, well,  if I pick one of my creative loves, then that necessarily means that I'm saying no forever to all of the other ones, all of my other loves.

And so, it feels like you're killing all of your darlings, and that of course, that's paralyzing.

And, and so you either, it's kind of like this black and white thinking makes you feel like you either have to do all of them all the time, or none of them. Which is like somebody is holding a gun to your head.

Nobody's actually holding a gun to anybody's head. 

But I remember a moment. I was in my mid-thirties, maybe early thirties, and I was living in an apartment. And I remember I was, I was going out of my mind because I think at the time I was taking fiddle lessons. I pulled out my Viola after 28 years and I was playing viola, I might've been, I've been borrowing a violin at the time. I can't remember, but I was taking a swing fiddle lessons again, or, you know, for, for seven years and years and years playing violin again, or voila whichever one.

And I was sewing. And I think I was signed up to take like a couture sewing workshop or something, and I had a calligraphy business and that was really important to me.

And I think at the time I had gotten, I think this was right at the time when I was starting to get into jazz singing, or I hadn't been before I was getting into jazz singing, but I was doing a lot of singing.

And I was, I can't remember all the other things that I was doing, but it was just like, there's so many things that I was trying to do at the same time.

And I was going completely bonkers. I mean, there was no way I could do all of them.

And I suddenly had this realization that, it seems so simple now looking back at it. But it was like, this epiphany, it was like this light bulb moment when I realized, "I do get to do everything, just not all at the same time."

And it was like, bing!

And so I thought, I thought, okay, okay.  I know that I can’t limit myself to one because I'll be miserable. Cause I've tried that in the past.

For years, I had thought to myself, if only I could just focus on one thing and become, you know, like the best at that one thing, then I'd be happy, but I could never do that cause I couldn't be happy. I would get bored and I would just be miserable.

So I knew that one was not the answer. So I thought, well maybe I could pick two, and that, no, I knew that that wasn't going to work for me.

So I thought, okay. Maybe, maybe I could limit myself to three.

And I was in my kitchen and I looked at my stove and it was, you know, a typical traditional stove that has four burners.

And it occurred to me that there’s a reason that your typical stovetop has four burners. 

I mean theoretically one could make a stovetop that had, say 20 burners. Or a hundred burners. I mean, you couldn't really fit a hundred burners in a typical kitchen, but let's imagine that you had a stovetop that had 20 burners on it.

Your typical person, chef, let's say, cook. There's no way that you would be able to keep track of 20 dishes, whatever, pots on a stove. With 20 burners, you couldn't keep track of all those pots.

But four, you can actually kind of manage, you could have, I don't know, pasta boiling on one pot in the back and a sauce simmering on another pot in the back and something else,  I don't know, another, a pan of something cooking on one burner on the front.

And then the front-right burner of the stove that I happened to have in that apartment, the knob said high-speed, it was the high-speed burner. It's the big one. And it cooked hotter than all the others. So guess where I did most of my cooking? It was the high-speed burner.

And that's the only one that I could be actively like holding the pan and moving it around and stirring it. Cause I have two hands, that's the only one that I could actually be actively engaged, cooking, at that moment, but I can have other things simmering at the same time.

And so that became my metaphor and.

And I thought that, you know, maybe I'll, I'll try that. That seems like that might work for me. I could have four things going on my metaphorical stovetop at any given time. And I really liked that metaphor a lot because I could also have things in the refrigerator and in cupboards.

Thomas: Right. Ready to go.

Melissa: Ready to go and I can move pots around. We talk about putting things on the back burner and you can move pots from the back burner to the front burner at a moment's notice. And I could take a pot, put a lid on it and put it in the fridge at any moment and bring something out of the fridge and put it on the stove at any moment.

And I could pull ingredients out from the cupboard and pour those into another pot and put that on the stove and swap pots out.

So that has been a really useful metaphor for me. And I call it the stovetop model of life design. So I can have four pots on my stove at any given time.

And, you know, four sort of areas of adoration as it were, where I'm, you know, really putting a lot of energy into those sort of pots. And there's one thing that at any given moment, there's only one thing that I can actively be doing and really focusing my active attention on at any one moment.

Thomas: It’s a beautiful metaphor. I really like how you narrate this metaphor, because...  well, for one thing, I totally identified with you when you were describing how you were doing your swing fiddling and, calligraphy and all the other things that you were doing all at once.

I felt like, yeah, that's me all the time.

And then you also mentioned about only having that one thing that you can go deep into. And to me, that’s sort of that cultural thing that says, "Here, just have this one main burner, the high-speed burner, and that's all you get."

Melissa: Right.

Thomas: Our culture sort of, tries to impose that, or at least tries to say that's the best way. And for those of us who know that we have so many interests, that just doesn't work.

Melissa: No, it doesn't work. I think it was Barbara Sher who wrote Refuse to Choose. She hypothesizes that this idea that we're only supposed to have one big thing that we specialize in, and we're not supposed to be passion-pluralites. We're not supposed to be Renaissance souls. She calls people like us, she calls us scanners. I don't really like that term, but that's what she calls us.

She hypothesizes that this started with the cold war in the West, at least that’s when people were encouraged to really specialize down in, into the sciences and math.

And I don't know if that's the case or not, but if you look back, Benjamin Franklin was a Renaissance soul and,  you know, Thomas Jefferson and a lot of people that we look at as sort of cultural icons  were passion-pluralites, and that was considered to be a really good thing.

And not like this weird, like flaky thing that it's kind of considered to be now.

Thomas: [I tend to think that it kind of started with the Henry Ford production line where everybody was like, okay, you're going to do one thing. And then a lot of companies took a look at that and said, “Oh, how can we apply that production line to everything?”

Melissa: Yeah.

Thomas: You know?  I want to go back to the burners though, because... and also something you said before about,  saying no and saying yes. 

Recently I had an opportunity… a friend of mine asked whether I would participate in an upcoming art collective show.

And of course my answer was, "Yes!" My answer is always yes to new things.

And it forced me to basically clear the stove top completely.

I had to take a lot of stuff that I had simmering and I was working on the stuff that I had in front of me.  It was really like, putting all that stuff away in the refrigerator and in the cupboards, it really was like that. And I sort of made the decision on a dime.

Now I have a process where I review, every Thursday, what I want to do, for my art. I review it every Thursday and, and write a, sort of a weekly plan.

And that sort of keeps me aware of  what's on the stove for me. And so I'm wondering if you also experience this... if you experience saying yes a lot to things.

Melissa: Oh, yeah.  I am challenged to say, "No." That, I mean, that's, that's sort of a leading edge for me, as they say.

Thomas: Oh yeah. that. I know that feeling.

Melissa: But when you were talking about saying yes, and having to clear the decks, having to clear your stove top, that reminded me of when I wrote my book, The Creative Sandbox Way.

I realized I had a goal of finishing the book by the time I turned 50.

And when I suddenly realized. Oh, shoot. If I'm going to keep that commitment to myself, that means I have like three months to do this. I suddenly realized that I was going to need to clear a lot of my sort of day-to-day activities that I was doing. I was going to really have to change my schedule around and get rid of a lot of the things that were taking up my time if I was going to get the book done.

And so I like, for example, at the time I had this kind of little competition with myself to see how quickly I could build up an Instagram following. I created a brand-new Instagram account around calligraphy and I was just making little calligraphy videos every day, just to see how quickly I could build up this Instagram following.

And. You know, I thought, well, maybe I'll maybe I'll build a, sort of a side business, sort of a side hustle around this. And start doing calligraphy courses and stuff like that.

And I realized that had to go.

Because it was taking, I don't know, an hour or two every day to, make these videos and post them out and stuff.

So boom, immediately gone. That was it. I had no time for that. I had to get this book done.

So, you know, that was just one example. And, you know, I needed to spend four hours a day working on this book and there was no way that I was going to be able to get it done if I was spending time on Instagram or anything else.

Thomas: I find that's the beauty of deadlines, right? Deadlines are one of the things  that  can get us focused when in reality we want to go everywhere else.  I know for me that I feel bad when I'm working on one thing and I'm not working on all those other things I want to work on.

I have that sort of down feeling. You know, it feels good to be working on one thing. And I am making progress. In fact, now I have a  book that I update every evening. I call it my completion diary. And I write down what I completed that day.

And then I have a little stamp that says COMPLETED! And I go and stamp it, you know? So there's actually a physical motion  to seeing that I'm completing things. So that feels great.

But I still have that regret in the background's like, well, I'm not working on that. I'm not working on that. And I'm not working on that.

But that's the beauty of deadlines. Deadlines have that lovely way of focusing our minds and allowing us and  giving us the space to actually finish things.

Melissa: Yeah, absolutely. You know, very little gets done in my world without a deadline. But what you just said about the, of this sort of regret that you feel when you're working on one thing and you feel good about getting that done, but sort of regret that you're not getting something else done. I really resonate with that.

And, you know, Thomas, I will be at say one of the retreats that I lead. In the non-covid times, retreats that are in-person and I spent five days and I'm off and I'm, you know, with people that I'm so enjoying being with, and I'm making art and out walking on hikes and laughing with people and just like, my favorite time of the year and it's wonderful.

And I feel like, Oh my gosh, I want to be, I just want to live here. I don't want to go home. It's wonderful.

And also at the same time, I'm missing the things that I'm not doing, while I'm at the retreat because when I'm at the retreat, I'm not able to have my regular, you know, I don't know workout routine. I'm not able to be with my cat.

I'm not, if my husband's not at the retreat, I'm not able to be with my husband.

I'm, you know, there's so many things that I'm not able to do when I'm at the retreat. If I, you know, I used to go to jazz camp every year and spend eight days making music and singing, and I would feel like, Oh my gosh, I never want to leave.

I want to be here all the time. I love being able to dive into my music and just really focus on that. And also I'm not making any art. And I really miss making art. I'm really frustrated that not making any art while I'm here. And also, I love that I get to dive into my music.

So yes, it's both things at the same time.

And you know, there there's a community of applied improvisers that I'm part of. And right now during the time of COVID, we have every Friday an open space on zoom that I participate in.

And when during the non-COVID times, there's an annual in-person world conference somewhere around the world.  And where there is as part of the conference, there's an open space section of the conference where the participants lead and create the sessions and you choose where you want to go.

And. Anyways, it's kind of magical.

And one of the principles of open space at the applied improvisation network is, you've heard of FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out?

Well at the applied improvisation network conference and at these open space events on zoom, we talk about COMO: Certainty Of Missing Out.

Cause you can't clone yourself.

These events are not recorded and you are going to want to go to many of the sessions. You can only go to one at a time. That is the way it is. And there, you are going to miss out.

That's the reality of life. That's the reality of being a human being. That's the reality of the day space, time continuum...

Thomas: Yep.

Melissa: ...as it is right now. Yeah. And so, you know, we talk about embracing the COMO, embrace the fact that you are going to miss out and just lean into it and be where you are in the moment.

Really enjoy it. And then wherever you are in the next moment, really lean into that.

Embrace the COMO that yes, you are missing out on the other thing and just be where you are right now. And if you don't want to be where you are right now, leave, go into the other thing.

Thomas: I mean, you have choices.

Melissa: [Yeah. And which is hard.

Choices are hard.

It's easier not to have choice. We don't like not having choice, but having a lot of choice is hard.

And I mean, that is, what's so hard about being a passion-pluralite because we have so much choice. It makes our lives, you know, gives our lives, that extra layer of challenge that, that we have to learn how to manage.

Thomas: And I would also say it also gives us a certain sparkle

Melissa: Oh, yes, absolutely.

Thomas: There something about being passionate in itself. That is, that is so sparkling.

Melissa: I mean, I wouldn't choose to be any other way. I love being a passion-pluralite. It also drives me crazy.

Thomas: Yeah, I know.

Melissa: And yes. Um, I, I love it. I mean, I love having so many different things that I love and it's challenging. I won't lie.

Thomas: I want to ask you something related to improv. 

So I've been to several of your in-person Sunday retreats and also online retreats. And you do some improv exercises at the beginning.  The purpose of which is to get out of your head,  and one effect is to help your gremlins go away for a little bit.

And one thing that I found that it also helps me, is that sometimes I get so hyper-focused on an idea or thing, or in an interest that it blocks out everything else.

And so one of the wonderful effects that I experienced when we do these  improv exercises, that it helps break that as well. 

And so I was wondering if you could speak a little bit to that, about how it seems to me that doing these exercises before you start a creative endeavor is really helpful because it scrambles the brain, or it clears the brain in such a beautiful way  that it opens up more creativity when you actually sit down and start.

Melissa: Yeah. Yeah, definitely.

I think we have a tendency to get kind of stuck in our ruts, you know, stuck in our patterns our ways.

Think about a horse on a trail ride. And they kind of fall asleep as they're walking along.

I went on a trip. I went on a cattle drive many years ago on the big Island of Hawaii, actually on a working cattle ranch, you can pay, I dunno, it was something like 150 bucks or something. It was not cheap.

And you, they put you on a real working horse. And they assigned him to you depending on your level of skill of horseback riding, and they instruct you to not let your horse follow another horse. 

If the horse starts to follow another horse, then it will kind of fall asleep and it will get into that, like we're going on a trail, right, duh, duh, duh, duh, plodding along.

And they do not want the horses to do that. They want the horses to be awake and they want you to lead the horse across that. You're just on a field. You're out there on this like wide-open field. And they tell you, “Okay, now we're going to start trotting.”

“Okay. Now those of you who are more advanced, you're going to take your horse into a canter,” and stuff like that. And it's very rare that you get the opportunity to do just kind of run wild with a horse.

Usually, if you're like a tourist, you go on a trail ride and you're just plodding along and super boring.

And that's like, that's what we want to do with our brains. Our brains are used to them plodding along like a horse on a trail. Right?

We don't want to do that. We want our brains to not know what's coming next so we can think of something unexpected, right? And I mean, this is what we want for our creativity.

Our creativity... creativity is by definition something that hasn't been done before. If it's been, it's unknown. If it's been done before, it's not creative.

That's, you know, by definition you're doing something that's been done before, it's not creative, by definition.

So we want to treat our brains like those horses. We want to take them off the trail out from behind the other horses, so it doesn't get into that trail ride rut and the improv games are kind of doing that same kind of thing.

It's like jolting the horse. It's like yanking the reins and going, Nope, we're going this way. Nope. We're going that way. Nope. We're going this other way. Nope. We're turning you around. Nope. Okay. Now we're taking you into a trot. Nope. Okay. Now we're taking you into a canter. Nope. Nope, no, we're stopping. Nope. Now we're going this other way.

That's exactly what they're doing.

Thomas: And it has that, the wonderful effect of just waking the brain up.

Melissa: Yeah.

Thomas:  And getting it out of where it was. And that's what's so that, that I'm finding so useful for me in those exercises is like, Oh, now I can, now it can be much more open to whatever may happen creatively.

Melissa: Yeah, absolutely. My favorite ones are the ones where if I feel like my brain has just kind of been. Fried a little bit

Thomas:  Yeah.

Melissa: Because I so in present time, like I'm, I'm out of the, whatever I was thinking about before. You know, whatever, whatever I was ruminating on, it's just gone.

I'm so like, wait, where are we? I'm like, I'm like, I'm trying to figure out what, what we're, what, what we're dealing with in this moment of improv craziness.

I was so fully present.

And that is where we want to be. When we're working on something, you know, some creative project. We want to be fully present.

Thomas: I do have a practice every morning.  It's basically a daydream practice that I do right after I meditate.

So I do a breathing meditation, you know, 10-minute breathing meditation every morning,  which helps by the way.  For the letting go process. Right?  It's very useful for, we were talking before about, about having regrets about not doing this and that. And so meditation in itself seems to help a little bit along those lines. 

But in the, in my dream practice, I find that I am most successful if I close my eyes. And just let everything drift away, including like even myself. I just, I sort of tell myself I want to drift away completely, so that I'm in nothingness.

And that seems to be the most successful way for me to attract wonderful, crazy, silly, stupendous ideas, which then I write down. Once the ideas form and they appear, I write them down in my bullet journal.

I'm wondering though, if there's something that I can do, even in addition to just closing my eyes and trying to disappear. I'm wondering if there's maybe a, I don't know. Improv sometimes it's a little hard to do just by yourself.

Melissa: You know, the closest thing to improv that I do is my doodle practice.

And I mean, I was, I haven't been doing it consistently lately, but I did for a few years, every morning, a doodle practice. That really, I mean, it is improv because I start from nothing and I just… I like to talk about letting my inner four-year-old inhabit the tip of the pen and I give my inner four-year-old free reign to do whatever she wants to do.

And, you know, I also talk about how we all have fear of the blank page.

And the way that I deal with fear of the blank page is I just make it un-blank.

And how do you make an un-blank?

You just make a mark and it doesn't matter what kind of mark you make, because once you make a mark, it's no longer a blank page.

Now you can have fear of the mark, but you can't have fear of blank page anymore.

So, whatever you got, we all have that pristine journal that somebody bought you, or that you bought yourself on a shelf sitting somewhere or that beautiful piece of watercolor paper that you're afraid to touch because you're afraid you're going to ruin it because it's so pristine and you're waiting until that time that you have such time as you're good enough to, you know, to, to put pen to paper or paint to paper.

And you're never going to be good enough. So you're never going to touch that journal or that piece of paper.

And I say, pull it out! Make a mark on it!

And then your inner four-year-old is inhabiting the tip of that pen or that brush or whatever you're using, your pencil or whatever.

And let her play. And let her or him just... now her job is just to play.

And your job, your sole job is to be vigilant and watch for gremlins. And those gremlins are going to appear, just like your breath, just like your thoughts are going to appear as you're breathing, as you're doing your breath meditation, and every time your thoughts appear, you notice them and you let them go.

And every time your gremlins appear you thank them for their concern, and you send them off to get a pedicure.

That's it!

So your inner four-year-old is inside the tip of that pen and just responding, just reacting to that mark. However she wants to.

And your job is to let her have free reign and to watch for gremlins thank them when they appear and send them off to get another pedicure.

And that is the practice.

Thomas: I'm going to try that actually, I'm going to try, because it never occurred to me that that is really an improv practice that can help clear the mind, but it, I can see how it is.

Melissa: Yeah, it's um, it's so related to meditation to me. 

And it is improv because you are... it is completely improvisational. You start from nothing, you are responding. You're making an offer. Improv is all about offers and building on offers, accepting offers, and building them. The shorthand in the improv world is Yes, And.

But we're not necessarily literally saying yes, we're accepting the offer and building on that offer.

And an offer can be in the world of improv when you're on stage, an offer can be anything, somebody walks on stage and does something, or they say something and your job is to accept the reality of what they just endowed. And to build on that reality somehow.

And with your pen and your paper, or your paintbrush and your paper, or canvas or whatever it is you're working on.

Or if you're, if you're, you know, playing your guitar, it's the sound that you made with the guitar, whatever. Your job is to accept that, whatever just happened, whatever mark was just made, except that.

That's the reality.

You're not going to cross it out. You're not going to erase it. You're not going to... your gremlins might say that sucks. You're not going to accept that. You're going to thank them for their concerns. They're just trying to protect you, send them off to get a pedicure, protect your inner four-year-old. 

And so this is the reality, your inner four-year-old made a mark, and now your inner four-year-old is going to, you are accepting the reality of that mark. Your inner four-year-old is going to respond to that market in some way and build on it.

Thomas: I want to ask you about a variation on that. And that is once you start drawing and once you start making a mark, there's a variation where you don't lift the pen. Where you just keep going. 

I started doing a little bit of creative writing and one of the things that I'm doing is once I start writing, I don't stop. Like I don't, I try not to, I don't stop to think or to edit or to criticize or critique what I just wrote.

And I've been finding that very useful in, in sort of breaking through and finding new ideas in terms of creative writing. And I've also noticed that in sketching and drawing that sometimes that is useful because you allow yourself to accept whatever the mark was. Even if, the Mark didn't land where you wanted it to land, you just accept it.

Melissa: Yeah. I love that variation.

Thomas: Well, that's cool. I'm going to try this. I'm actually going to sandwich this (doodling) between my meditation and my daydream practice. I'm going to sandwich doing this to see specifically to see how it affects my daydreaming and see what kind of ideas show up. 

Because sometimes some days I come up with 10, 11, 12 ideas that get into my journal, and some days it's like one or two.

And you know, there are reasons for it, whatever they are. My mind is present or not as present as it could be. 

But I'm always looking for ways to be more open, particularly when I'm giving myself that luxury of having, I usually give myself 20 or 25 minutes to daydream.

That's a luxury and I really like it. I enjoy it.

And the ideas that I've come up with are just crazy and wonderful. 

I'll be curious to see how this turns out. How it affects that practice.

Melissa: Yeah, I'll be curious too.

Thomas: And I'll be sure to post all my stuff on my Instagram feed. Of course. I mean, if I'm going to doodle, I might as well post it.

Melissa: Oh, yeah, definitely.

Thomas: Well, Melissa, this has been a wonderful conversation. I really appreciate that you took the time today to have this conversation with me.  I hope that it resonated with you.

Melissa: Well, I appreciate you inviting me. I always enjoy chatting with you, Thomas.

Thomas: Well, thank you. And thank you so much for listening to this podcast. I really appreciate that you took the time to listen. I hope there was an idea or two that will help spark your creativity.

 And I hope you will join me for the next episode of Creative Shoofly. Until then stay safe and stay creative.


Sep 16, 2020

Ep. 4 - Being a Multipotentialite, a Conversation with Robyn Penney

Hey, it's Thomas. Welcome to Episode 4 of the Creative Shoofly Podcast. In this episode, I'm doing something a little bit different. I have invited a good friend of mine, Robyn Penney, to have a conversation about being a multipotentialite.

This term was somewhat new to me and I learned a lot in this conversation with Robyn.

I really enjoyed having this conversation. And I hope you'll like it too.


Music Credit: 

Reflection Flow by Doxent Zsigmond (c) copyright 2018 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/doxent/58328 Ft: Javolenus, Rocavaco, Siobhan Dakay


Books mentioned in this episode:

Refuse to Choose, by Barbara Sher

How to be Everything, by Emilie Wapnick

The above are affiliate links.


Links mentioned:

HSP World Podcast


Intro: Hello, and welcome to the Creative Shoofly Podcast. I'm Thomas Beutel. This podcast is about my creative process and one thing I've found is that I really get in my way a lot when it comes to making art and being creative. I want to do this podcast because I know it will force me to think more deeply about creativity. I'm hoping that doing this will push me and challenge me to create better art.  

Thomas: Hello Robyn.

Robyn: Hi.

Thomas: Hi! This is Robyn Penney, Robyn. You are my first guest on my podcast, so thank you for that.

Robyn: Oh, what an honor. I didn't know. That's fun.

Thomas: I'm so glad we're doing this. I wrote to you a while ago and I said, I am learning about, and I'm reading about this idea of being a multipotentialite and you responded by saying, “Great, let's have a conversation about that.”

So that's what we're doing right now. So thank you.

Robyn: Yeah. Thank you.

Thomas: I'm going to start by going over what a multipotentialite is. A multipotentialite is someone that has lots of interests and creative pursuits, and there are many different names for a multipotentialites:

Polymath, Renaissance man or Renaissance person.

Renaissance soul is actually the term that I like to use. It's gender-inclusive, I think.

Scanners another term for it.

Generalist, multi-hyphenate, multi-passionate or passion-pluralite. That's another one that I like a lot.

And some people that are identified as multipotentialites:

Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Beatrix Potter.

Hedy Lamarr, Julia Child, Geena Davis, Maya Angelou

Queen Margrethe of Denmark

Probably any of the MythBusters, but for me especially Adam Savage and Kari Byron.

I really like Tom Lehrer, the satirist, singer, songwriter, mathematician and professor.

And of course Leonardo DaVinci. He's sort of the prototype Renaissance person because he lived in the Renaissance.

And so that's just a small sample. Obviously there are many many people that I left out. What do you think of that list? Did I miss anybody that you want to mention?

Robyn: I think that, no, that's a nice comprehensive list. Well I mean comprehensive… it gives us a lot of good ideas across the ages and you've got men and women in there.

I was wondering maybe you'd like to do it in your own words how you would actually define the concept? So you heard a few names for it, but like how would you explain briefly what is meant by multipotentialite?

Thomas: I think for me is just someone who has lots of different interests and doesn't specialize in any one thing. Maybe to sort of broaden the concept I would say, someone who has more interests than typical. Is that a good way to put it?

Robyn: Yeah, because I think it's more than just like what we would call a well-rounded person. Like a well-rounded person who's maybe a person who has their job and then a couple of hobbies and interests that they occasionally do. Right?

But these are I think there's a level of passion and perhaps even commitment and skill that would come out in more than one of the person's area of interest.

Thomas: There's a Russian term I think it's called Ras which means passion. It's often used in terms of people who go on mushroom hunts or foraging for mushrooms. They're said to have a Ras for mushrooms and that term, I hope I'm saying it right.

(Editor's note: the Russian term for passion is страсть, pronounced strast')

But that term sort of speaks to me in terms of the passion that I feel for all the different things that I like. Like it's not just a passing interest. It's like, “Oh yeah I get into it!” Yeah. How about you?

Robyn: Yeah, I would say so. I think having multiple interests that almost feel like viable career opportunities or business opportunities. They aren't all, right? Because I don't have the time energy or expertise to devote to every single thing that I'm interested in.

But I would say probably every one of my passions is something that at some point I seriously entertained, “Okay, you know how in-depth can I go with this?” Right?

I had a moment… and maybe for example if I think of maybe dance… I was not very likely that I would get to a professional level of expertise there, but I do remember having a little moment of grief one day. It's around when I turned 30 and I was like, “Oh I guess that's it! I guess I'm never going to be a professional dancer!” Right?

So even if I kind of knew on some level that I didn't really have the skill to become a professional dancer, my interest in it was such that it felt like a very important part of me. And it didn't feel like something that I was… it didn't feel like just a fleeting interest that I would do for fun.

No, it felt like something very very central to what I want to do and how I want to spend my time like there's no one center.

That's the thing that's so tricky about this, right? It's ever-elusive and there's not necessarily one center. That's certainly not at the center of my life but it's an important piece.

Thomas: And you know here's the thing. You could easily find a partner and find a place at a local studio and say, "I'm going to give lessons. Come show up!" and people will show up. So you know that you could do it.

Robyn: Yeah. I did have… well there was a point actually when I was working with one professional dancer and he said, “Yeah, you should get into teaching.” Because I am a teacher by profession, just not in that area, that, “Oh you should get into it.”

And so I think I probably could have so I could have. Yes, I could have had some level of professional or expertise in it. But it didn't feel… it felt like that would then it would make it too close to my other job. So I didn't want that, but I do have lots of friends actually who become dance teachers kind of as a side gig.

Thomas: Right.

Robyn: So yeah I guess another way to describe multipotentialite is someone who actually kind of likes having a bunch of side gigs. The gig economy got several downsides to it, but one upside is that if you are someone who wants to try different things often and wear different hats and use different skillsets, you can be benefited from this economic situation. That definitely allows for it.

Thomas: I think so And that that would definitely describe what I do I been self-employed for 16 years now doing basically whatever clients come and ask me for, whether it's setting up a website or working on databases or creating APIs, application programming interfaces, or combining it all, integrating them.

It's kind of neat because I don't advertise myself as just one thing. People, just by word of mouth, come to me and say, “Thomas do you think you could do something like this?” And I look at it and say, “Well let me give it a try. You know, why not?”

Robyn: It's that creative spirit, right?

Thomas: Yeah

Robyn: Yeah, it's wanting to find ourselves in situations where we get thrown in and someone says, “Okay, I trust you to just use whatever skills are at your disposal to figure it out.” Right?

And I think if you are a multipotentialite I think there's a kind of thrill that comes from being like, “Oh, okay, I'm in this relatively or even totally new situation. Can I figure out what has to be done here? And then comes the really cool part which is, you start drawing on your diversity of experiences and knowledge and training and saying, “Okay, how can I approach a situation uniquely?” Right?

Thomas: I'm curious, when do you did you first sort of sense that you had all these interests, that are more interests than other people did?

Robyn: Yeah I can't put my finger on one specific place. I think I actually knew for a while. I think I even knew as a teenager.

I'm reminded of how when I was applying for different programs at university or thinking about what I would apply to a university. A lot of people were telling me, “Oh, you should go into med school. You got good grades going to med school. Be a doctor.” Right? Because people equate good performance at school with an ability to succeed in the medical world and it’s not necessarily the same thing but that's just kind of a stereotype that was floating around.

I remember my dad when... he is really quite a laser-focused specialist. He's a scientist and he said, “No, Robyn shouldn't go into medicine. You need a lot of passion to be in that field. And she doesn't have it.”

So he was right about one thing and he was wrong about one thing. He was definitely right, I mean, I don't know, right. So it's a life I didn't take… I didn't go to med school.

I think he's right that I didn't have the single-minded focused that it would have, and commitment that it would have taken for me to get through med school. I mean I see people who even just the process of applying who will spend years of their life doing whatever it takes to get into the program and that's just to get in. Right?

And so I mean that's a level of commitment to one area of expertise. He's right, I just did not have that but where I think what he said wasn't correct. It's not at all true that I don't have passion. I just have too many passions to necessarily translate into one career, that would take me in different directions.

And I was more passionate about seeing what connections can be made. I used to love doing that, you know, when you're in school? One thing I liked about school is that they would allow you to take all sorts of different courses.

Especially in pre-university courses, where I was in a science program. But I had to take philosophy classes, English literature, language, sports/ We had to do all of that. And, yeah, I remember I'm really enjoying that mix and wanting to think, “Oh, okay, here's this question about the human condition. How did the psychologists answer it? And how did the philosophers answer it?”

And I would love like playing with the same idea back and forth and seeing it from different angles. I ended up going into university in a program that was half arts, half science. And then I finally settled on psychology, which for me was like a nice marriage of the two, but then you know I didn't settle on that either.

And then, I mean I won't get into my whole story just yet, but I think right around that age that you start having to think seriously about what your career path is going to be.

I was already resisting uncomfortably. I didn't feel good about it. Right? I didn't want to be someone who was doing multiple things… I wanted to be the single-minded expert type.

It probably would have been easier if I had just said, “Oh, okay, it's very clear, chemistry is for me. And I'm going to stay with that forever.”

I'm not saying that it's easy to study chemistry. Just it would have been clearer and simpler, but there are still are advantages.

And I think they crop up later. I think it takes longer, right? When you're planting a more diverse garden, takes a little bit longer for everything to grow in. And to see what shape it's going to take, and how the different.

I can't keep going on this metaphor. I don't garden. But maybe just see how the different colors fit together. I don't know.

I think it takes longer to reap the benefits, but they are definitely, there are definitely some.

What about for you? When did you put your finger on that narrative?

Thomas: For me, it's been sort of slow in coming. Although I already sort of knew when I started work out of college that I was a generalist. I wanted to be a generalist.

What's so funny about how you were talking about you know getting that laser focus… When I went into high school I was absolutely convinced that I was going to go into some sort of life science: biology, zoology, something having to do with animals, maybe microbiology, I don't know.

But it was like, that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to work with animals. That was it. And I had sort of designed my high school coursework in that way to be heavy on the sciences and all that kind of stuff.

And in my sophomore year, a friend of mine pulled me aside and he says… so this is now 1976… He pulls me aside, “I got to show you what's in his closet over here!”

And so this is on the third floor, which is like the math and science floor in our high school, and we go in this closet. There's a teletype and it's connected to a computer across town. A bunch of kids got together and formed a computer club and they were renting this so that we could actually sit on a computer, a real live computer in 1976. Right?

This is you know in the era of mainframes and stuff like that and it didn't take me like a week or two to decide, “Oh! This is what I'm going to. I'm into computers now. Forget biology! I mean who's going to make money in biology!?”

That was one of the things that was in my mind. Right? Because I was sort of steeped in that, you know, go get a job, a career here, whatever.

And by the end of high school, I had already started tutoring other kids how to program and all that. And when I got into college I decided, you know, I've had enough of software… I'm going to get into electronics. So I actually got my degree in electronics.

So now that I'm thinking about it, I definitely had that multipotentialite flexibility of just like, changing on a dime. Ooh, this is interesting, let's do this… And then, oh look over here…

So I ended up working in Silicon Valley as a test engineer, as opposed to being a hardware designer. And test engineers are generalists. We basically get whatever we get and we have to figure out how to test it so that we can sell it. And so there was a lot of MacGyvering and working up solutions on your own to figure out how to do this.

But it was around that time when I was in maybe a couple of years into my career and I thought, “This is what I want. I don't want to become a specialist in anything. I want to actually stay a generalist.”

And I was able to parlay that into vastly different jobs. I went from test engineer to software configuration management. Then I became a consultant and then I became an I.T. director and then went on my own. And now I'm everything. Sort of.

Robyn: There’s a couple of things that stand out there for me. One is I think kind of a good takeaway for anyone listening, who identifies with this profile, is you know pick up a generalist skill.

In your case, I guess it was being a test engineer. Right? And then in my case, well it's teaching.

These are things that you can then kind of pour out, into different contexts, and keep it interesting without starting entirely from scratch each time.

I feel like if you are embarking on a career and you're like, “Well, I don't see myself fitting into one thing where I get interested in so many things…” If you can pick up a skill set that can be used in more than one context, I think it gives you a good chance to feed that side of yourself.

Thomas: And I'm making a conjecture that being a generalist is actually more and more important nowadays. In the sense that jobs are changing so fast. I kind of think that (the focus on) specialists were sort of emphasized in the 20th century.

Whereas before, I mean we talked about the Renaissance era and times before. The people that really stood out in those times we're the Renaissance people, the Renaissance souls, the people that sort of did a whole bunch of different things.

And then now we're sort of getting back into the time where, I think again it's just sort of a conjecture, but being a generalist is not a bad thing to be.

Robyn: Well it might be a little bit too early to say, but I think you have a point that there's some reason to think given the current global situation that people who have adaptable skillsets, transferable skill sets, and who actually excel at moving quickly from one context to another one, would be an advantage right now. Right?

Because we're living in a very quickly evolving time that's full of uncertainty. Right?

I'm thinking back to the beginning of the pandemic when some people who are used to having stable employment and the stable paycheck are quite worried about, “Oh, this is awful! I don't know when I'm going to be paid next! I don't know what I'm going to be doing in six months!”

And I think a lot of us freelancers we're sitting there going, “Welcome to the club!” We've been doing this for years. I mean, I go through periods of being paid more regularly but I go through periods where, okay, one contract is up and I don't know in six months what project I will actually be working on. Right?

Yeah, I don't know exactly where the money's going to be coming from. It all always sort of seems to work itself, out especially the more you build the client base with a series of contracts that are related to each other and you have a good network.

That definitely makes it easier to get consistent work, but underpinning that you know… and not every multipotentialite is a freelancer either or self-employed… But I think it's a lot of us and so when that happened I was like, “Eh, this again.”

Now I'm not the only one. At least that aspect of it, the uncertainty aspect, right? Which is never pleasant but I think you do build up a certain resilience. An ability to deal with it, or if nothing else, just a familiarity with it.

And I think more and more people are going to be faced with that. So yeah it does give us an advantage.

Thomas: I don't want to argue that that being a generalist is in any way better than being a specialist. We need both.

I guess the only thing I wanted to point out is that I think there was a little bit of an overemphasis of specialization and I think we're now getting to understand a better balance, I think.

Robyn: Right. I mean specialists will continue to be extremely valued, I think. Yeah, in any context, especially the more that we do have particular problems with climate, with epidemiological problems. Right? I think that that will take a lot of specialist knowledge.

So it's not as if expertise is going away.

And it's also not to say that generalists don't have expertise. They do. It's just not necessarily condensed in one area. It's more about being multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary as well.

I think you're right. That there will be hopefully, maybe we'll see how it goes, but there may be more room and more appreciation of that skill set.

Thomas: There there are a couple of books that I've been reading. One is called Refuse to Choose, by Barbara Sher

And the other one is How to be Everything, by Emilie Wapnick, and I'll put links to these in the show notes.

I haven't gotten very far in Emilie's book yet. At least in the beginning it's more focused on careers.

But I'm really, really enjoying Barbara Sher's book Refuse to Choose. Because one thing we haven't spoken yet Robyn is about the challenges of being a multipotentialite which there are many.

Robyn: Oh yeah.

Thomas: And the Refuse to Choose book has really been an eye-opener for me because Barbara Sher goes through and describes so many variations or styles of being a multipotentialite.

And there's one style that I particularly identify with. She calls it the cyclic scanner. (She refers to multipotentialites as the scanners.) And that is someone who will go back to certain interests over and over again.

And that describes me so well. For me, it's trains and then it's fishing and then it's mushrooms and it's music and dance, and I'll always come back to them. I'm always coming back to them.

Robyn: I can relate to that too, in my case, I've always had an interest in psychology, philosophy, language, literature, education and teaching and personal development, and then also dancing and music. And these have always come back in different forms.

When I was saying that it may take longer for us to reap the benefits of this profile, I think sometimes it's because it may just take us a while to notice the pattern and see the cycle. Right?

I'm actually coming back to... I'm closing a loop that has been kind of open for a long time. I spent the last eight or so years as a language teacher.

And just this session, I got offered a contract to teach psychology, which was my undergrad. So, you know, several years later I'm actually drawing on this. I had never lost my interest in it. I was continuing to read books and listen to podcasts and lectures on the side.


But it was always like this weird, you know, painting my room and listening to lectures on ADD, and my roommate was like, “What are you doing?” Yeah. Okay. That's weird! But it was because it was an enduring interest, that now I don't do. Now I'm not listening to psychology podcasts because I'm preparing a course on it.

So then I've cycled away from that habit because I've put it somewhere else in my life.

I think that that pattern is there. I am a familiar, a little bit more with the Emily Wapnick book. I've read that one and I've started getting into Barbara Sher's book. I think Barbara Sher says more specifically, or it goes a little bit more in-depth about the different profiles, with the different types of scanner that you could be.

I think they both share a general message that people may have a sense that there's something wrong with them. Because it comes with certain challenges. And then both are trying to say, here's maybe a different way to look at this profile.

So instead of just saying, Oh, you can't commit, or you're scattered, or you never finish anything, instead of saying that saying like, well maybe... I like the way Barbara Sher puts it. She says, well, maybe what your objective, your goal, or your reward in doing something is different than what a specialist would be looking for.

A specialist would be looking for, how can I find out as much as possible about this? How can I reach a certain level of knowledge or skill or expertise that most people don't have, because I love this thing so much?

Whereas for the scanner, the objective could be very different. It could simply be, you know, let me find out everything I can about this area. And then once I've found everything, I move on to the other thing.

So if you have a more general interest, let's say in, in learning and education. And so you stay in one area and you think about, “How does knowledge about biology affect this? What does that tell me about learning and education?” Okay, great.

Now let me go find out. I don't know, let me go look at arts education at home. Okay. “How do you, how do you learn art? How's it different from learning science at home? Or where do I learn as someone who's becoming an artist?”

“What do we notice about my process of education and growth in this area?”

So it's less about, let me learn about biology and more like, let me take what I need from this.

I think this is a really good metaphor…

So I think my reading habits reflect what it's like for me to be a multipotentialite. Even, even the fact that I've often internalized a negative view it, so I've always said I'm a bad reader, in the sense that I have so many unfinished books on my shelf or books that have kind of, you know, meant to read, but didn't really get to.

I'll just read a couple of chapters at the end, you know, or in the middle and then kind of left for something else.

And then I realized, I noticed at some point that it's not that I was, you know, picking up a book, getting bored and leaving it. Sometimes that happened.

Oftentimes times I keep coming back to a book and I would say, okay, now I'm going to read chapters three and four. Okay. I'm done. And then, ah, chapters, I don't know, six and seven are catching my interest. Oh, let me go read it.

And then two years later, I said, you know what? I really want to read that book religiously. And then I'll go back and read the whole thing, start to finish.

And I noticed I did this with a lot of books. And again, I think it's that cyclical nature coming out. And I think it's because I often I was, I was looking for whatever was relevant.

I was getting whatever I needed from the book. I wasn't a slave to the book, you know, I wasn't there to say, Oh, what does this author have to say about this point.

I was trying to take what was relevant to me from that book. And if something wasn't relevant, Okay. Maybe I'll it's noted in my mind. I know it's there. Maybe I'll come back to it and maybe I won't and often I do.

Thomas: I so appreciate that she (Barbara Sher) put it in that language to, she put it in that way, that you go get what you need and you get out.

And that describes me to a tee. I don't know about you, but I have probably close to 30 books that are lying next to my bed. And they're all partially read. Right? I haven't read, I haven't completed a one.

I mean, I've completed a few. So sometimes there's something that's so wonderful and it reads well that it holds my interest. It's just a joy to read.

But for the most part is like, yeah, I'm getting in there. And, and I'm reading this one chapter about this specific thing. And it's like, Oh, that's interesting. That leads me to think about this other thing. And now I'm in a different book, you know?

Robyn: Yeah, exactly.

Thomas: So Barbara Sher's book has been a great help for me, specifically in the suggestions that she gives in how to make the most of this profile. I used to drive myself nuts with making plans like here, I want to do this project.

And then I would make a checklist and all that kind of stuff. And lo and behold, I would start out and do some of it and then put it away and it'd be sitting for two months, three months.

And I would feel bad because I'd looked at all these checklists that were just, you know, a few things checked off and now I'm doing something totally different. I'm taking just a portion of all these different things that I might want to complete.

For cyclical scanners, she says, develop a 15-month goal calendar.

Fifteen months!

But I did that and sure enough, I have maybe a dozen things on there that I'm wanting to accomplish in the next year.

And so the metaphor she uses is like the school day. Like, you get to go to different classes, like five different classes. Right? So I do it in the terms of a weekly, I call it my weekly sprint.

But I pick just certain tasks from all these different goals, my 15-month goals, and put them on my weekly list.

And now I'm finding that I'm I have a lot less stress about it because I'm am completing stuff. I'm actually going through and, let's do this little chunk here. And let's do that little chunk here. And tonight I'm going to work on this. And tomorrow night I'm going to work on something totally different, but it all comes from my 15-month calendar.

So I really appreciate some of the suggestions that she's come up with to work with it.

Robyn: Yeah. One that I got from the book was the idea of having this, I think she called it a day book, but you can call it a dream book or a potential project book.

And I have this book that's just full of little tabs and every time I have a new idea for a project, I start a new tab and I jot down what I think would be involved. And potential resources that might be in there.

And then I leave it and I come back to it as often as I want or need to. And it's nice because it feels like everything… It feels like there's a place for it. And it allows me to worry less about, “Am I going to get there?” Right. Because it's there, it's written down. So in case I do come back to it.

Thomas: It's not going to get lost.

Robyn: Exactly! It's there for safekeeping. But also when I see the number of projects that I have there, it also is a nice reality check.

And I tend to not beat myself up as much for not doing it like, oh, okay. I came up with 10 projects. I only got two of them done this year. That's okay. You still got something done. Did you really think you were going to do 10 projects in one year?

Depends who you're talking about right. I know some people can accomplish 10 projects in one year, but I think that's something that helps as well is just seeing how many places our mind is taking us and accepting that it's okay not to get everything done at once.


So doing this method, like on the one hand, it's a reality check. It allows you to not feel bad about not doing everything. And then it also gives you a more workable way to come back to the things that are important, because I have seen that when things come up again and again and again, I do find ways to get to them.

I had been thinking about doing a podcast for a couple of years and I was taking notes and basically it's just timing, right? It's just waiting for the right opportunities to come along. Sometimes we have to go out there and seize those opportunities. But other times, especially if it's something creative, you kind of have to let go of the control a little bit and let it come to you.

And actually, interestingly, that's what happened with our other podcast there, HSP World. I was starting to look around at ways to get it off the ground. And Rayne just came to me and said, “Hey, I'm getting a podcast going. And would you like to be a cohost?”

So I think had I not already been clear with myself and had a section in my book, dedicated to that, it would have been maybe a bit harder. I would have had to think about it more.

But, yeah, it was easy and it was like, huh, okay. I guess this is done, you know, and I know also one day I'm going to move on.

This is another thing, right? You start building in this expectation one day, “I don't feel like doing this anymore.” Or I don't feel like I'm this topic anymore. I don't feel like doing this in this medium anymore.

And it's not, I already know that it's not personal. It's not a failure. Right. So maybe setting a goal about, you know, how far would I like to get, but then also not really having your, in your head yourself into it too much, either.

Right? Thinking about thinking more, more broadly, maybe not quantitative, right?

Maybe it's not about saying like, okay, I'll get out when I've done a hundred podcasts, but like, I'll get out when I feel like.

Thomas: You're done whenever.

Robyn: Yeah, whatever it was. Right? Like, whatever it is, whatever your reason for getting in, once you accomplish that reason.

And sometimes you can't necessarily put words on it until it happens.

Thomas: Right. It's just a feeling it's like, Oh, you know, this is done now.

And it may just be because there are so many other juicy, wonderful things pulling at you, at your interests. You know, and that's, that's been one of the things, one of the wonderful learnings for me is, this is who I am. I'm interested in a lot of stuff and there's nothing to apologize for.

Robyn: There's nothing to apologize for. And I am going to be, I know that if I move on, I'm not moving on because... I'm not moving on for bad reasons. Like I have valid reasons and I'm probably moving onto something else that's also worthy of my time and interest. Right?

So I agree. That was a very, that was a very helpful realization to say, well, it's not something to it. It's not something to fear. It's something to start building into your life.

Thomas: Yeah.

Well, Robin, thank you so much for having this conversation with me. I'm delighted to be able to share this with you and just to know that you are also sharing this journey that's similar to mine.

So I appreciate that.

Robyn: Yeah, my pleasure. Happy to talk about it.


Thank you so much for listening to this podcast. I really appreciate that you took the time to listen. I hope there was an idea too, that will help spark your creativity. And I would love to get any feedback that you have.

You can email me at [email protected]

I hope you will join me for the next episode of Creative Shoofly. Until then stay safe and stay creative.



Jul 12, 2020

Ep. 3 - Getting Back On The Wagon

In this third episode I explore why I haven't been creating much in the past weeks and how I'm getting back to creativity.

-Thomas Beutel


Music Credit: 

Reflection Flow by Doxent Zsigmond (c) copyright 2018 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/doxent/58328 Ft: Javolenus, Rocavaco, Siobhan Dakay


Books mentioned in this episode:

The Creative Wound: Heal Your Broken Art, by Mark Pierce

Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment, by George Leonard

The above are affiliate links.


Links mentioned:

Scrum for One, by Dustin Wax



Hello, and welcome to the creative shoofly podcast. I'm Thomas Beutel. This podcast is about my creative process and one thing I've found is that I really get in my way a lot when it comes to making art and being creative. I want to do this podcast because I know it will force me to think more deeply about creativity. I'm hoping that doing this will push me and challenge me to create better art.

Why Creative Shoofly?

When I started this podcast, I was casting about for a title that would represent the idea of getting out of my own way. I mean originally I just was going to call this podcast Thomas Gets Out Of His Own Way. Which was you know I thought that was okay but it didn't have the word creative in it because this is really about my creative endeavor.

One day I was talking with a friend and for some reason that the concept of a shoofly popped in my head and I thought, yes that's it! Creative ShooflyThat's exactly what I want to call the podcast.

I'm using the term shoofly the way railroaders use it. A shoofly track was a track that was built around a problem. Like a maybe there was a washout on the main line, or maybe a tunnel collapsed, or maybe there was a wreck or something like that. And they had to build a temporary track around that problem.

And that temporary track is called a shoofly track and the shoofly track is used just as long as it takes to fix whatever the problem is.

For me a creative shoofly is a way to get around myself sometimes. Sometimes there's something standing in my way and it's usually myself. Something that I'm making up in my mind or or whatever distraction that whatever it may be. And so the idea about the shoofly is to find ways to get around that and get back to creativity.

Getting Back On The Wagon

One of my all time favorite writers on the subject of creativity is author, creativity instigator and friend of mine Melissa Dinwiddie and people often ask Melissa, how do you stay so creative? How do you do it? How do you do this day in and day out?

And as she writes, she says her answer is not very glamorous at all. It's a very simple principle of just getting back on the wagon and she says you're gonna fall off the wagon often. And the idea is not to make a big fuss of it, not to thrash or anything like that. Just go go back on and don't make a big deal of it. Just go back and get back to whatever you're creating.

I really liked this concept and that's what I'm going to be talking about today. It's about getting back on the wagon and finding out a few things along the way about myself.

Off The Wagon

So the first thing I have to say is I feel like I've been off the wagon for a good six to eight weeks. I've just I've been feeling very low energy. I feel like my energy's drained and and I couldn't quite figure out why I was not feeling good about creating. You know, where did the motivation go?

And I know that many people have been dealing with this. There's a lot that's been going on in the world and it all made what I was doing and what I was thinking seem so small and insignificant. And of course all of this was happening during the damn pandemic when we're stuck at home. When we can't go visit our friends, we can't just go where we want to go. It's been very frustrating!

I know it's all a part of it.

However as I mentioned in a previous episode I'm kind of a planner. And I've built these structures around creating that were very helpful to me this past year and I was wondering why aren't they working? What's what's going on here?

Tools I Use

There's a number of tools that I use in my creativity. Prime among them are mind maps and doing a weekly sprint with scrum check-ins. It's a technique that's called scrum-for-one. And I'll put a link in the show notes if you're interested about that.

I'd been doing my weekly sprints in the weekly sprint I basically decide here's something that I want to work on this week and I was going through the motions and I would put down, oh you know, I want to work on whatever it was, maybe tinker with some music or Design an automata or something like that.

And I was going through the motions and yet I was not doing any of it. So you know imagine this checklist with nothing checked. And I was thinking, what's that about? What in the world?

I mean this really hadn't occurred before. I'm usually pretty good about deciding on what I want to do and getting a good portion of it done. So I needed to I needed to really dive into this and try to understand what is it that is getting in the way here - how am I getting in my own way.

And what I found was actually a number of small things. And this is when it's tough, right? It's like when it's not one big glaring thing, you can just look at it and say okay I can work on that.

So the first thing was just basically about the scrum-for-one. And one thing that I had to remind myself about scrum-for-one it isn't the sprint plan.

What's most important about scrum for one is that you actually do the daily check-ins. That's the beauty of the scrum process is that you do these check ins and you can ask yourself what's going on, what do you need, what's blocking you?

Again it's it sounds kind of weird to do it just by yourself but it really does help me. I find it very useful.

So what I was not doing was sitting down every day writing about how I feel and asking myself is there anything in the way. That's the important part of scrum-for-one. It's really important. And it only takes five minutes each day at most to sit down and think about it write about it.

But by asking that question every day it keeps you focused on the project at hand and it also keeps you focused on what may be getting in the way and it's very useful, and I wasn't doing that, so that's one thing that I discovered.

Instagram Algorithm Trap

The other thing that I discovered was this I had fallen into what I call the Instagram algorithm trap. Some of you may know what I'm talking about but the idea is that you post something, and then like 10 minutes later you look and to see if anybody liked it, and then you check again 10 minutes after that.

And the algorithm is designed for that. It's designed to make you post things that will get more likes. So it becomes performative. It you're you're no longer posting the things that you want to do or you want to work on.

You start thinking about, oh you know, if I made this then people will hit the like button. So I was starting to make things and think of ideas and think of things that weren't necessarily sparking joy in me, because I was thinking about how they might spark joy in others.

Wow! What a dangerous path to go down.

The Creative Wound

In this process of reflecting I re-read a book called The Creative Wound by Mark Pierce and it was actually quite illuminating. The first time I read it I did it to sort of get some ideas for being more creative.

But now I was reading it from the point of view of being stuck and being drained and I think it actually spoke to me more effectively. The main things that I got out of it was, one, to spend more time daydreaming and, two, to commit to a project, full stop.

I want to talk a little bit about daydreaming and why it was so nice to get it reinforced when I was rereading the Creative Wound book.

I have something that I call a daily dream practice. The purpose of the daily dream practice is to set aside a small amount of time and empty my mind and come up with new ideas and new inspirations for being creative and for making art.

And here's the thing I was only giving myself five minutes to do it. What I would do is I would do a 10 minute breathing meditation. And then right after I would say, okay now I have five minutes to come up with an idea or two, and most often I would come up with one or two ideas and then I would write them down in my bullet journal.

But Mark Pierce in his book made a pretty good argument for why we are not giving ourselves enough time for this free and open creative time away from distractions. And in his idea it's absolutely necessary to make space to daydream.

And of course I immediately recognize this as my dream practice. I wasn't calling it a daydream practice, I was just calling it the dream practice. But it's really the same thing. It's letting my mind just go wherever it wants to go. s

So what I'm doing different now is that I'm giving myself 25 minutes for daydreaming. I certainly could give myself longer but I'm finding that 25 minutes is a good expansive amount of time. And in that time I usually come up with anywhere from five to sometimes 10 ideas that I then I'm write down in my bullet journal.

The only thing now is as I have to I have to commit to to actually doing it every day. I've been sort of I've been falling off the wagon again in terms of doing the daydream practice, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and say I don't have 25 minutes to do this. I gotta do this other thing.

Well just like everything, you have to make choices about where to put your time. But I really do think it's important too, to set aside that time to daydream to come up with new ideas. I do listen to a little bit of music in the background sometimes, you know, usually it's instrumental but it needs to be distraction-free.

And it needs to be a gift that I give to myself in lieu of say surfing the web or whatever.

So I've recommitted to myself to have a longer daydream practice.


Mark Pierce makes an effective argument for fully committing to your project. Seeing it from beginning to end.

Hoo boy, there's one that I find difficult! I'm the type of person that likes to start lots of projects but not necessarily finish them. I know this is something that I need to work on and I'm still exploring why that is. Why is it that I get excited about so many new ideas and start many of them but not necessarily finish them? I'm still working on that.

I think there's a part of me that is fundamentally curious and likes to find new things. And there's also a part of me that likes to be distracted or allows myself to be distracted. I don't know.

But I've now restructured my weekly sprint plan to commit to a specific new project. One of the things that was happening with my sprint plans was that I had five or six things going on. And you know what was nice about that, is that I could at any one time I could look and say, Oh yeah I'm going to work on this one here. And then I'm going to work on that and whatnot.

So now what I'm doing is, my sprint plan is about one specific project instead of being a major project and five minor projects. I'm looking forward to seeing how this works out. I have a pretty good feeling about it though. I think it will really help me stay focused and it will help me to finish a project.

Comparing myself to my past self

The last thing that I wanted to mention that I found out through all of this reflection was to remind myself that even though I feel like I'm stuck and I'm just on a plateau, that's not true. I'm actually growing quite a bit right now. I had to remind myself to avoid comparing my current self to where I was last year and early this year.

So last year I had the good fortune to put on an art show and to be artist-in-residence at a local art gallery. And what I tell people is this like you know it's like winning your own personal Superbowl. It's just it's an amazing experience. You get so much validation, you meet so many cool people and cool artists and it's really out of this world.

And then once it's over you think of yourself as like hitting this peak. And then there's nowhere else to go but down.

Of course it's not really true, right? You haven't hit a peak. What you've really done is you just hit the next plateau and I'll talk about that in little bit. But it was important for me to realize to stop comparing my current self with that previous self.

It's not entirely fair to do that. What I was doing is I was comparing how productive and how much art I was making last year in the run up to the art show, compared to what I was doing now which was feeling very aimless and just not finding something that I could sink my teeth into.

As I thought about this I came to realize that I am still growing. I'm still creating. After all, I started not only my own podcast, but I was asked to collaborate with another podcast called the HSP World PodcastAnd I've been busy collaborating on Coffee and Creatives.

So even though I felt like I reached a pinnacle with my my art show, the truth is that I had simply reached a plateau and then almost immediately started climbing again. I wasn't giving myself any credit for the work and the growth that I was doing.


I use this metaphor of climbing a mountain a lot when I speak about the work that I do in computer programming and also in my creative life. It really does feel like I'm climbing mountains when I am learning something new, when I'm doing something that I haven't done before.

And that reminds me a lot of a book that I read many many years ago by George Leonard called Mastery. In it he talks about martial arts and aikito. And he basically points out how important practice is and how you will feel like you're not making much progress for a long long time as you do practice.

He likens it to climbing up the mountain and then being on a plateau for a long time before you are climbing. Your progress is a sort of a series of spurts where you climb a little bit and you're on a plateau for a long time. And then you climb a little bit again and then you're on another plateau.

And this series of plateaus is in his mind where you want to be, right? You want to be on that plateau doing the practice because that's what's going to eventually get you to the next level, the next plateau.


So as you can see I think I covered a lot of ground during this time that I was off the wagon. I now feel much better having done this reflection. And again, this is one of the reasons that I love doing this podcast is I get to think out loud and I get to figure out where those shooflies are that let me get back on the wagon.


  1. Making sure that I do my daily checkins for my scrum for one process,
  2. Avoiding the Instagram algorithm trap,
  3. Extending my dream practice so that I give myself enough time to find new ideas,
  4. Committing to projects,
  5. Redesigning my scrum for one so that I'm working on one project, not a bunch of them so that I can actually commit to it and finish it, and
  6. Not comparing what's happening now to what happened in the past.

So that's it for this episode.

If there's something that you liked or, or didn't like, or want more of, let me know, send me an email at [email protected]creativeshoofly.com and let me know what you think. I'm really curious get your feedback and I do appreciate it.

Thank you so much. And thanks for listening. Stay well and stay creative.



May 23, 2020

Ep. 2 - Me and the Fabulous Tim Toady

Welcome to the second episode of my podcast! In this podcast I explore the principle of There's More Than One Way To Do It, and how that helps me get around creative block.

-Thomas Beutel

Music Credit: 

Reflection Flow by Doxent Zsigmond (c) copyright 2018 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/doxent/58328 Ft: Javolenus, Rocavaco, Siobhan Dakay

Books mentioned in this episode:

Crash Test Girl, by Kari Byron

Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell, by Deborah Solomon

The above are affiliate links.



Creative Shoofly Podcast, episode number two,

Me and the Fabulous Tim Toady

Hello, and welcome to the creative shoofly podcast. I'm Thomas Beutel. This podcast is about my creative process and one thing I've found is that I really get in my way a lot when it comes to making art and being creative. I want to do this podcast because I know it will force me to think more deeply about creativity. I'm hoping that doing this will push me and challenge me to create better art.

Waxing and Waning Energy [00:00:39]

One thing I noticed as time goes on is how my creativity waxes and wanes. I have these ups and downs that I go through. Sometimes I'm full of creative energy and other times there's just no spark whatsoever. I wonder about this. I'm kind of driven in a way. and I know sometimes that drive is at cross purposes with, a certain amount of relaxation and calm and presence and patience that creativity really requires.

In this past week, I found myself on the waning end of energy and there's a lot of reasons for that. One is all the work that I did to produce the first episode of this podcast, was a challenging experience. I also have had plenty of client work, so by the time the end of the day rolls around, my brain is just tired. It's all used up.

I find when I get into these lower energy States that it's easier for me to come up with reasons. Why I can't just sit down and work on something. I have all these voices in my head that say, “I don't have the materials to do what I want, or I don't have the tools or I don't have the knowledge. I don't have the time.”

I think it's just a way of my mind not wanting to work too hard. I don't want to figure out how to do stuff. I find excuses of why I can't start a project.

Tim Toady (TMTOWTDI) [00:02:15]

I've been thinking about the different tools that I can use to get out of my own way, to help me get unstuck. And there's a number of tools that I borrowed from the practice of computer programming.

And this one comes specifically from the Perl programming language. It's a programming acronym and it's pronounced Tim toady, but the actual letters are TMTOWTDI, and it stands for, There's More Than One Way To Do It.

Perl is a very expressive language and I used it for many years. I really liked using it. Perl, was created by Larry Wall, who is an amazing computer scientist and also a linguist. And that has a lot to do with how he designed the language.

This idea of There's More Than One Way To Do It is a little bit controversial. Perl is extremely flexible and that can sometimes lead to programming that is somewhat incomprehensible. One of the practices and in computer programming is to make your code maintainable. So the ability to express yourself in so many different ways is not necessarily a good thing for maintaining a computer program.

On the other hand, for the purposes of creativity, I think it's a really useful principle.

Making Drawers [00:03:49]

I did some more thinking about Tim Toady, about There's More Than One Way To Do It. And it can encompass all aspects of creativity.

One aspect is the tools you use. Certainly in painting and drawing, you can use different pens, fountain pens, different inks, watercolor pencils, crayons, oil paints, acrylics. There are many, many different ways to approach a painting, for instance.

When it comes to making something that's three-dimensional, oftentimes what I find is that I don't necessarily have the exact tool that I need, but again, There's More Than One Way To Do It.

An example of that is I needed to build some drawers for holding freight cars on my model railroad.

One thing that you need to do when you're building drawers is to have good straight edges. Normally the way you do that is you have a table saw. Well, I don't have a table saw and I don't have room for table saw, but I did have a Skilsaw power saw. So I built myself a jig and the jig basically helped me cut very straight edges.

And I was able to put together a set of six drawers that fit perfectly in the space that I had available. They pull out and push in really smoothly.

There's another example of There's More Than One Way To Do It. I love building jigs. It's another aspect of creativity, isn't it? It's like I need to build something. I need to build something to build something. I love it.

In terms of my model railroad, there's definitely so many different materials that I can use and I have used so many different things. I've used paper maché. I've used paper clay, I've used real clay. I've used plaster a lot. Of course, wood, paper, cardboard.

One of the bridges that I'm building as this large steel arch bridge with what looks like I-beams and whatnot, and I've been building it all out of paper and cardboard.

It'll be painted silver, so it'll look like a steel bridge, but in actuality it's just a façade. The actual part of the bridge that carries the track is the structural piece and the arch itself is just decoration.

Crash Test Girl [00:06:13]

Another example of Tim toady is something called kitbashing.

In model railroading, we do a lot of kitbashing. The idea is to take a kit or several kits and then use the pieces in a new and different way, for instance I've kitbashed several buildings, by not following the directions, but actually taking the walls and cutting them apart and then recombining them in different ways.

Artist and author Kari Byron talks about this in her book Crash Test Girl, she says, "We appropriated the model maker concept of kitbashing to create our prototypes. This is one of my favorite tricks I learned from working in Jamie's shop. It's the process of taking a store, bought models and kits or using random objects to create a new custom project. You can pull apart a model train and some plumbing parts, take some copper cables and a tire tread and kit bash them together to build a robot. As an artist, I thought could bashing was the perfect expression of creativity and doing it alongside a bunch of guys who worked in the industry for so long was like a dream come to life." End quote

Kitbashing is another example of There's More Than One Way To Do It because if there's something specific that you want to build and it's not available as a kit, you don't have to create it from scratch. You can take existing pieces and put them together. 

One of the plans I have for my model railroad is to build a small model of the San Francisco ferry building. And I already have collected four kits to represent the various parts of the building.

Joseph Cornell [00:08:03]

I recently finished a biography of Joseph Cornell, and I think he was an amazing artist, and one of the reasons that I was so interested in reading about him is he created collages and also box assemblages. It's the assemblages that interested me the most, where he would create a box and then place items and in a certain way to express an idea or to elaborate on on an interest that he had.

So for a while now, I've been thinking about making my own assemblages. I have a few ideas of what I want to make. I've been feeling actually quite stuck. I've started a couple and then abandoned them and I've had another idea in mind and I've never started that one. But you know how certain ideas stay with you and in some way or fashion, they're begging you to make them.

Part of my morning practice is to invite inspiration and imagine new ideas. This particular morning I was thinking about this idea of There's More Than One Way To Do It. I was thinking of Tim toady and it occurred to me that I could build this assemblage fairly easily and fairly quickly using cardboard.

The idea is this is not intended to be the final artwork, but sort of a study just as you do with paintings, you'll often do a sketch or a study before you do the final painting to get the values down and things like that.

And I was thinking, boy, cardboard is just a wonderful material. It cuts easy. There's lots of it. I've never run out of cardboard. There's always new Amazon boxes or cereal boxes. Cardboard is almost an unlimited resource.

So that's how I decided to build my first assemblage in miniature form using cardboard and paper and little bits of wire and things like that. And I had a blast. I really enjoyed it.

I was able to finish it in just about an hour. I'm really happy with the way it turned out. That it was a quick study. I do plan to make it sometime this year. That's now a goal, but now that I can see it, it's easier to envision the final product..

Conclusion [00:10:37]

By using the principle of, There's More Than One Way To Do It, I can find ways to make things quicker and simpler and using easy materials.

So Tim Toady shows up for me a lot in the art that I do and the things that I create.

And it's one that I'm glad that I was reminded of. I now know that as I approach things and I have ideas, I don't necessarily need to struggle to figure out the final idea right away, or how to make something or how to get time to make something.

So that's all I have for Tim toady. I really want to thank you for taking the time to listen to my podcast. I hope that you are able to take something from what I talk about today and use it in your creative works.

If you have any suggestions or any feedback, I would greatly appreciate it. You can contact me at Thomas at creativeshoofly.com I look forward to hearing from you.

Stay safe and be well and put your creativity out in the world.

- Thomas



May 4, 2020

Ep. 1 - Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru are still alive

Welcome to the first episode of my podcast! In this podcast I explore the role of not knowing in the creative process. I'm finding that as I practice letting go of what I know, the process of creating art becomes easier. I hope that you might find something in this podcast that you can use in your creative process.

-Thomas Beutel

Music Credit: 

Reflection Flow by Doxent Zsigmond (c) copyright 2018 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/doxent/58328 Ft: Javolenus, Rocavaco, Siobhan Dakay

Books mentioned in this episode:

Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art, by Stephen Nachmanovitch

Wired to Create, by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire

Improv Wisdom: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up, by Patricia Ryan Madson 

The Wisdom of Not Knowing: Discovering a Life of Wonder by Embracing Uncertainty, by Estelle Frankel 

The above are affiliate links.



Lead-in [00:00:00]

I have to admit to you, I have a real love hate relationship with not knowing. I am an engineer. And so I just don't like not knowing. But you know what, it shows up all the time.

Intro [00:00:15]

Hello, and welcome to the creative shoofly podcast. I'm Thomas Beutel.

This podcast is about my creative process and one thing I've found is that I really get in my way a lot when it comes to making art and being creative. I want to do this podcast because I know it will force me to think more deeply about creativity. I'm hoping that doing this will push me and challenge me to create better art.

Sunset Sketchers [00:00:49]

Back in the fall of 2018 I discovered a Facebook group called Sunset Sketchers and it was a fairly new group. I think it was started in the middle of 2018. It's an urban sketching group, and they go out to various venues and parks and open spaces cafes and bars, wherever, you simply pull out your sketchbook and you sketch, what you see right there.

Now I've been sketching, but I wouldn't consider myself an urban sketcher. But I had been sketching mostly mechanical things because the type of things that I create are usually mechanical. But I'd never really sketched from outdoors and from real life.

So when I found the group, I said to myself, yeah, that's something that I want to do. And other people around me, he had noticed it as well and suggested it to me.

But I felt so much resistance. I can't tell you how much anxiety I felt about joining this group. Why did I feel that anxiety? A lot of it has to do with not knowing. First of all, I didn't know the people, but I also didn't know what is expected and what would I be doing and how would I be doing it and with what materials. So it took me quite a while before I got up the nerve to go to the first sunset sketcher event.

Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru are still alive [00:02:24]

It reminds me of a scene in the original star Wars where Luke is called to go on a great adventure with Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan asks him to come along and help fight the Empire and save Princess Leia, but Luke hesitates. He has all these reasons that he can't go.

There's a point though where he realizes that his aunt and uncle are in danger and he goes back and finds out that Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru have been killed by the Empire, and it's at that point where Luke realizes that there's nothing holding him back from joining Obi-Wan, and so he does join him. It's a dramatic storytelling tool to show the audience that Luke is just like us, that he hesitates just like any of us would.  

Of course in real life, it doesn't happen this way. There's usually no great dramatic turning point that forces us to go and try something new.

In my version of Luke story, my inner Luke goes home and he finds that Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru alive and Uncle Owen will probably cuss him out a little bit. And then my inner Luke hides in the garage and comes up with eight more reasons why he can't join Obi-Wan to go on a great adventure.

Not knowing [00:03:44]

I have to admit to you, I have a real love hate relationship with not knowing. I am an engineer, and so I just, don't like not knowing. But you know what it shows up all the time.

And boy has as it come up a lot lately with all that's going on in the world right now with the pandemic, with staying at home, with not knowing if there's going to be work.

Not knowing when I can go out again. So not knowing is showing up quite a bit, and I'm sure it's showing up for you as well

But there's an aspect of not knowing that is deeply bound to creativity, and that's what I want to explore. Not knowing comes up a lot for me in my creative process, almost every creative project that I start starts with how am I going to do it? How am I going to build it? How will it turn out? Is what I create going to look like the idea that I have in my mind.

I actually like this. form of not knowing.

The reason that I like the subject so much is the natural tension that I feel when I start a creative project. There's that tension of, Oh, I can, I can sort of see it. I can sort of taste it. I sort of have an idea of what it might look like or I sort of have an idea of how I might go about doing it, but I really don't.

And so I just have to trust in the process. I just have to trust that as I do the creating, as I build or I paint or I write, or as I'm creating this podcast right now that, it'll turn out to something interesting. .

But boy, it's so frustrating! And here's the thing that I've learned about this is that it's uncomfortable and I have to sit with it even though I don't want to sit with it. It really sucks.

But, It's, it's a faithful partner...

Free Play [00:06:16]

I've been reading a lot of books on creativity, and all of them touch on this idea in some way or another. But it wasn't until last year or so that I really started to understand what it meant. In his book Free Play, Stephen Nachmanovitch has a whole chapter called Disappearing, and this is what he says. He says, "For art to appear, we have to disappear... And when we disappear in this way, everything around us becomes a surprise, self and environment, unite attention and intention fuse, we see things just as we and they are, yet we're able to guide and direct them to become just the way we want them. This lively and vigorous state of mind is most favorable to the germination of original work of any kind."

What I like about Nachmanovitch's idea of disappearing is it speaks to this idea of getting out of my own way. And just letting the creative ideas come forth, from wherever they come from.

And I also get a sense that I disappear from the final result as well.

Wired to Create [00:07:41]    

Another book that I've been drawing inspiration from is Wired to Create by Carolyn Gregoire and Scott Barry Kaufman and they have a chapter about intuition, and they write this: " Reflecting on their biggest breakthroughs, many innovators have described elusive solutions as coming to them in a sudden flash of insight, while artists often described their best ideas arising as if out of nowhere."

In another section, they quote Ray Bradbury, and here's what they say, "Author Ray Bradbury even insisted that a writer ought to avoid developing his rational thinking skills for fear that they get. In the way of his intuition.

“The writer himself kept a sign above his typewriter for 25 years that read, Don't Think! As Bradbury explained in the 1974 interview, the intellect is a great danger to creativity because you begin to rationalize and make up reasons for things, instead of staying with your own basic truth, who you are, what you are and what you want to be." End quote .

This idea for me has been one of the hardest things to incorporate into my creativity practice, because I love to figure things out. I love to think, and so I've had to make a conscious effort to not know and to be open to not knowing when I am looking for new ideas.

I find that I'm most successful where I can turn my frontal lobe off and get into that state of not knowing and just see ideas for what they are. What I've learned about this is that I can do all that figuring out later.

And that's part of the fun of creating is figuring it out, but I don't need to figure it out when the creative impulse first arrives.

Improv Wisdom [00:09:37]

Another book that has been very helpful to me and one that I reread often is Improv Wisdom: Don't prepare, just show up. It's by Patricia Ryan Madson and in her chapter about not preparing she talks about letting go of our egos as part of the process.

She says, "When we give up the struggle to show off our talent, , a natural wisdom can emerge. Our muses can speak through us. All of our past experience, all that we have ever known prepares us for this moment."

For many years, I have enjoyed watching improv, particularly here in San Francisco at Bay Area Theater Sports. And I've always thought, boy, wouldn't it be great take a class in improv? You know, what a kick that must be getting up on the stage. And for all those years, I just couldn't do it.

I just felt so much anxiety and fear about going up and getting on that stage. Last year, I finally did it and I can tell you it was a blast. You can't really imagine what it's like. You just have to go and do it.

And that's what I that's why I liked this book so much. And it really is true. You need to get up there without preparation, without any planning, without any thinking. You just go up and respond to whatever's in front of you.

And so I've been working on taking some of these ideas from improv and incorporating them into my creativity practice. But it's hard because again, I'm a planner. I love to plan things.

Wisdom of Not Knowing [00:11:23]

There's one more book that I want to mention, that really speaks to this. it's called the Wisdom of Not Knowing by a Estelle Frankel. The book pulls, many ideas and stories from the Torah and from Jewish mysticism. She talks about the many ways that not knowing shows up for us in our daily lives, in spirituality, and also in creativity.

In her chapter about not knowing and creativity, she says this, "Since the heart of the creative process involves bringing previously unconnected things together to form something new, this can only happen when we let go of what we already know and embrace the unknown. In the spacious state of mind of not knowing and not thinking new connections easily form.”

For me when I read this, it was sort of a startling revelation but it made sense as soon as I read it. It's like you can't make connections that form between unrelated ideas, unless you unlearn what do you know about how those things are connected.

Roaming Eyes [00:12:31]

I recently made a kinetic art piece that I call Roaming Eyes. It started with a test tube. I often go to Michael's and just roam the aisles and see what's there. And out in front they have a sale area where they're getting rid of little knickknacks for $1.50 or whatever it might be.

And in one of the bins I found this test tube was about three quarters inch diameter and maybe six inches tall. And I picked it up and I had no concept yet of what I might use it for, but I thought, well, it looks interesting. It looks a little bit , like a cloche jar, a bell jar that you can put over art pieces.

In one of my dream practices, I was imagining this test tube, and for some reason an image of an eyeball appeared. And that stuck with me. It's like, what's an eyeball doing inside of a test tube? But I wrote it down in my bullet journal and a while later I came up with this idea of having several eyeballs that would, you know, move around.

I guess my subconscious was working on it. I had no idea how was going to put it together. but that's when the fun began. And so I took that idea and eventually I built it with a few motors and some electronics and a little bit of programming.

And it turned out even better than I imagined it would. It's an example of where I can go if I just allow an idea to happen and just let my subconscious work on it over days and weeks.

Sunset Sketchers [00:14:26]

I finally did go on that great adventure. I joined Sunset Sketchers and it's been great. I've made a bunch of new friends. We've been getting together just about every weekend. Especially now with this pandemic, we've been doing our meetups over zoom. And that's been working out really well.

What I learned, it's all about just showing up. My better sketches are the ones where I don't overthink it too much, where I just look at shapes, where I'm just looking at light and dark. It's really helped me to see in a different way.

And here's what happened, in May of 2018, Sunset Sketchers held their first art show, and I displayed some of my art there. While I was there, I asked the program manager if I could use the venue for a workshop that I've been thinking of giving, and the program manager suggested, why don't you just be an artist in residence?

And I'm thinking, what? I don't know how to do that.

But guess what, I did. And it was, it was great. It was all great learning.

Outro [00:15:44]

Thank you so much for listening to this podcast.

I really appreciate that you took the time to listen. I hope there was an idea or two today that will help spark your creativity.

I would love to get any feedback that you have you can email me at [email protected].

I mentioned a number of books and I'll put links to those in the show notes at creativeshoofly.com.

Stay safe and stay creative.


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