The 100 day project: 11 Lessons in art and life

The "best 9" pieces (most liked) on Instagram 

The "best 9" pieces (most liked) on Instagram 

I was on holidays when the idea came…Yep, I would do the https://www.the100dayproject.org/ and I would call it #100daysofartsongs  - I would listen to a piece of music daily and make a visual response in an art diary. I felt very excited about this project – an opportunity just to play and be creative.

I kept it as small and achievable as I possibly could. A small visual art diary, and I would limit each art making session to the length of the piece of music, one or two repeats at maximum. I would invite requests – what a great way to invite connection via social media in the creative community!

What I discovered...

1. Some days I felt like an artist.

2. Some days I felt a fraud, bereft of ideas / motion / positive self-talk.

3. Support comes from unexpected people. Expecting certain people to support you and be interested in your business/creative project etc is risky. Be open to possibilities that support comes from surprising places and people – and turn your focus to them, not on the lack.

4. Prioritising art making and play can be done. Making it a regular item on your to-do list normalises and legitimises creative expression.

5. BUT…some days it can feel like ANOTHER hurdle, and without space/time/freedom…can become oppressive.

6. SO, it’s ok to bend the rules. I believe this project is traditionally undertaken on 100 consecutive days. I broke that rule and stretched it out over a longer period.

7. Collage is my friend. It can hide things I’d prefer to be unseen.

8. BUT, courage is found in having a crack at things that are not my traditional forte (Realism! – although I’m ok with my interpretation of Desmond and his barrow in the marketplace!)

9. Mindfulness was found in producing art that I didn’t love, allowing it to be seen and letting the discomfort move through me.

10. Mindfulness was found in producing art that I DID love, allowing it to be seen and letting the comfort move through me.

11. Watching my children request songs and make their own visual responses in their own journals was a joy. Creativity fosters connection.

©Naomi Morrow, 2018

Your creativity is waiting for you.

This post first appeared online at Happy Mama

My fingers move over the piano keys, more awkwardly than before. I remember the notes but I can tell I have lost skill. It has been so long since I identified as a musician, as a creative. I wondered if it was possible to reclaim that space. I missed it. Suddenly, a little one plonked alongside me, her small sticky hands pounding the keys “Mama, I play too! Old MacDonald had a…farm!”

Strumming the guitar, singing a song I used to know…a little one climbs up on the bed, “MOOSIC!” she chortles and clamps her hand over the fretboard. Suddenly my song doesn’t sound like the one I used to know.

Turning up the Saturday morning playlist loud (Boy and Bear, it goes well with coffee), feeling excited at the promise of a weekend – belting out “Lordy May” when suddenly Bieber is urging “Let Me Love You.” The little ones laugh in conspiracy – they know how to operate Spotify now.

Sketching a floral design with an inky black pen, feeling expressive and satisfied. I notice my shoulders drop and I breathe a little more deeply and slowly. It’s quiet here at the table. Suddenly, a small voice calls “Hey Mum! Can you draw a Ninja Turtle eating a pizza, but with no pineapple on it?”

Painting an abstract canvas at the kitchen table. I have just enrolled in an online painting course. It’s 10pm and the little ones are asleep. I spread out all the paints and brushes. I listen to music on my headphones as I paint. I feel free and creative. Soon though, I tire and need to pack away the materials before another huge day of mothering. I am impatient and don’t let the glaze dry in time. The painting smudges and my careful marks disappear under the wet glaze.

***

Claiming my creative space and nurturing my creative spirit, especially as a mother, feels essential but at times, barely possible.

When I look at how I would traditionally claim space for creative expression – it’s centred on a pre-motherhood life. A life that is spacious, rested and independent.

I’ve learned that I can no longer use my old references and definitions of what a creative life means to me – because now, as a Mama of three little ones – it simply does not fit in the same way.

But, when I am standing in truth, and honouring the true sacredness of mothering and what it means to me – then I can fully access a creative wisdom and knowledge that was not known to me before.

Georgie James Photography

Georgie James Photography

***

Walking home from the park, we slow to halt. Reaching down, we notice the smooth texture of discarded bark sheafs. They will make the perfect canvases for our watercolours. We throw as much as we can into the bottom of the pram. This is noticing.

Zooming around in the art gallery, they stop and giggle at the nude paintings. I chuckle along. This is art appreciation.

Lining up the chairs for a home grown dance and comedy show in the backyard. This is theatre.

Colouring in and out of the lines.  This is freedom.

Turning our sketching ‘mistakes’ into something new. This is resilience.

Singing to Ed Sheeran in the car on the way to school. This is harmony.

Hanging our projects on the wall. This is pride.

Ninja kicking from the lounge room sofa. This is imagination.

Dancing in the kitchen while Dad makes pancakes.  This is fun.

Gazing at the sky and seeing elephants in the clouds. This is peaceful.

Playing the wrong note at the piano. This is process.

Guessing the instruments in the orchestral piece. This is listening.

Scribbling, then colouring in the gaps. This is creating beauty amidst chaos.

Sharing our favourite songs. This is understanding.

Describing the events from our days. This is storytelling.

Crafting a thank you card. This is connection.

***

Georgie James Photography 

Georgie James Photography 

As a mama, I see the gift and responsibility that is bestowed to me. I can choose to role model a creative life to my little ones. They are watching me.

I let them see me daydream. I let them see me choose creative pursuits, to wonder at beauty in nature, in an art gallery, in their own creations and projects. I let them see me try. I let them see me trust the process and detach from the outcome.

But I know it is they who are teaching me. They are my creative role models.

Together we learn, that creativity is our birth right. We learn that creativity can be expressed freely and without judgement. We learn that it is a portal to deeper connections, within ourselves, our relationships and our communities. We learn that creativity offers us a sense of magic, wonder and mystery – in both the sacred and ordinary. We learn that creativity means taking risks, being brave and innovative in thought, imagination and action. We learn that being immersed in creative expression enters us into a state of ‘flow’ which relaxes us, reduces anxiety, boosts self-esteem and happiness.

Creativity is not waiting for us, in our rare moments of mama solitude.

It is within us, and our children. Shared together, creativity is ignited to be both real and magical.

©Naomi Morrow, 2017.

Embracing Uncertainty

The things that make life worthy and magical: love, wisdom, creativity + spirit – they all spin on an axis of uncertainty.

But for many of us, uncertainty can be an uncomfortable and unwanted experience.
The desire for certainty is strong, and feeling in control is like an anchor in uncertain waters – but it is an illusion and it does not last.

Life is supposed to unfold with some mystery isn’t it? Are we really supposed to have all the answers all of the time? Are we really adrift if the plan or the path ahead is unclear?

When we try to avoid or fight uncertainty, we risk an existence that is devoid of colour, deeper meaning and connection – and indeed, more painful.

In my journey from desperately seeking certainty to a new openness to the unknown – I have felt inner peace, re-awakened my creativity, more connected relationships and lasting joy.

Here are my stories and my five lessons on embracing uncertainty.

It’s December 2015 and my mother will die next week. My soul suffers, but I hear its call for me to finally embrace uncertainty.

I hold a new vision for living more boldly.

I know that uncertainty is inevitable and necessary.
I quit my safe job and start my braver life.

It scares some people, this shaking of the status quo. But it inspires others.
Me? I’m equal parts inspired and terrified, but at least I know I am living.

I learn that the most devastating uncertainty can be a source for our greatest growth.

I learn that uncertainty calls us inward to create what we need most.

The lesson is to be creative and curious.

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It wasn’t always this way for me, embracing uncertainty – I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been referred to affectionately or less so, as a control freak.

It’s 1992. I’m 12 years old. I’m deeply certain of two things: Firstly, when I grow up, I will marry Joey McIntyre from New Kids on the Block.

And secondly, when I grow up, I know exactly what I want to do for a job - a Music Therapist. I read about it on a careers day, and I feel it instantly, the knowing, this is what I am meant to do. This is who I am.

From then on, I know exactly what is required of me. There is a clear plan. I study hard, I practise my instruments, I do work experience, I even change schools to be in the right music program. I am certain this is my path.

And so it is. I am accepted into the course, graduate four years later and my career is rewarding.

In 2004, Joey McIntyre and I move to the country.

Oh wait, no not Joey McIntyre. That didn’t work out. Despite my pre-teen certainty!

In 2004, my partner Shaun and I move to the country. And that’s when everything changes.

Music therapy jobs in the country are not falling off trees. He leaves every day for his fulfilling new career and I sit at home, waiting and watching a lot of uninspiring TV. I don’t try anything new because it does not fit with my plan or my tightly wound image of who I am and what I do.  I realise that I have made my career such a big part of my own identity that without it, I feel lost, unimportant and uncertain.

It’s only my growing frustration and time that move me to the next thing. A job in an unrelated field. I rally and resist because it does not fit with my plan, but I do it anyway. It takes me half an hour each way but the country scenery is breathtaking. As I drive, I sing Joni Mitchell’s entire Blue album. The people are good and I learn well beyond the world I have so far inhabited – about culverts, potholes, grazing permits, grants for the tennis club and resilience. Being in flow in this new chapter creates space for openness and curiosity which allows me to realise what’s possible.

I learn that releasing the grip on control allows something new to emerge if we are open to it.

I learn that hankering for the past steals us from living in the now.

The lesson is to be present and curious.
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It’s October 2015. I see her and my knees feel weak. She looks old and in pain, but she wears a defiant smile. My suspicions about the cause of her pain are finally confirmed. Yes, it is, she says and stretches up from her wheelchair to hug me.

I ask How Long? But she doesn’t want to know. Only God knows, darling, not the doctors.

The TYPE A in me is raging. I want answers, I want more tests, I want explanations, I want treatment, I want control.

But there are no answers and no control. And there sure as hell isn’t any certainty.

I wait until I’m in the hospital lift before googling ‘adenoid carcinoma.’

The bottom drops out and I’m floating. There is nothing for me to hold except my breath.

My dear Mum shows me how to surrender and how to accept– even on the very worst day and on all the very worst days that are yet to come.

I learn that I must keep breathing even when it hurts, especially when it hurts.

The lesson is to be accepting.

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It’s 2009 and I’m in hospital. I’m sore, beaten and bruised but here I am, singing and dancing.

My new baby is in my arms. She doesn’t sleep, I fear she will never sleep. But I’m determined not to press that call button. The midwives told me to not hesitate if I need help, but they’re just saying that. They have to say that. I won’t press the button. I’m not weak, I know what I’m doing. I’ve got this.

She cries now. She’s still crying. I’m rocking, I’m singing. She’s still crying. Maybe she doesn’t like my version of Mockingbird. I look at the buzzer and then quickly look away – I’ve got this. She still cries – louder now. I sing louder – thank god for a private room. She cries. I cry. I don’t have this. I still don’t press the buzzer.

For a control freak like me, becoming a parent is rife with uncertainty. Gone is any sense of control about my body, sleep, time or interior decorating (I never thought I would need to clean honey from my dog’s fur. Yes, when you hear “MUUMMMM….he’s honeyed the dog! – it means exactly that).

I feel huge uncertainty when they are sick, when I am sleep deprived + in my ridiculous quest to be a “perfect” mother.

Yet they teach me more about life than any other relationship, Zen Master or text book. When I finally admit that these experiences are difficult and I am not a mythical superwoman, I show myself greater self-compassion.

I learn that when we seek to control our environment in attempts to preserve self-image, we miss out on opportunities for support and growth.

I learn that rewards of sharing vulnerability and uncertainty with those we trust outweighs the risk.

The lesson is to be forgiving of ourselves.

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 So, to revisit: here my 5 lessons on embracing uncertainty:

Lesson 1. Be creative

I don’t want to hear you say you’re not creative. You are, simply by being human. The way you think, speak, live, love, work and create is unique. No-one else is like you. Be creative with your language. Notice the words you use. Are you saying: This is awful! When will this end? When will I know? I hate surprises! I hate uncertainty!

Your mind and heart are always listening. Experiment. Use language such as “This is interesting, this is a chance for growth, I can handle this, I can learn to handle this.”

Being creative is also about becoming more comfortable with living outside black and white, right and wrong. There is beauty and growth in the grey. Experiment with your own creative voice – journalling, painting, writing song lyrics, dancing, making a vision board, redecorating your room, planting a garden – find ways to tap into your creative spirit and express yourself.

Creating boosts your well-being and resilience, making you someone who can better thrive in uncertainty.

Lesson 2. Be present

Uncertainty makes us want to run away, either back to the past or into the future, anywhere but now. Yet it’s right NOW that is our only real thing. Learn to be present. Be aware of your senses, notice what you can hear, see, smell, taste and touch. This helps you ground into the present moment. Be deliberate in your daily tasks. Being present and mindful is about paying attention without judgement. Simply observe.

Lesson 3. Be curious

It helps to ask questions. What can uncertainty teach me? How might it feel to loosen my grip on certainty and control? What other things could I be doing if I wasn’t wasting all my time and energy on trying to control everything?

Lesson 4. Be accepting

You don’t have to love uncertainty, but it’s time to drop the fight + create room for it.  Pay attention to where you feel uncertainty in your body. For me, it’s my stomach. Breathe deeply into that space and imagine making even more room for uncertainty to stay. Accepting it doesn’t mean you have to like it, but you can make room for it.

Lesson 5. Be forgiving

Learning to embrace uncertainty isn’t going to be easy. So make a committed ongoing practice. Show compassion for yourself. Celebrate even the smallest steps you make toward living more wholeheartedly with uncertainty.

By embracing uncertainty, we are saying yes. Yes to risk and reward. Yes to love, wisdom + spirit: within ourselves, our relationships, our work, our creativity and our communities.

Uncertainty is inviting you to let go and lean in.

Go and dance with its magic.

You have one life, embrace it all – even the uncertain, ESPECIALLY the uncertain - and be in bloom.       

© Naomi Morrow, 2016.

**THIS post was first presented at the speaking event, On The Rise, Melbourne, December 2016.