Why Artists Need Structure, Part 2, or What To Do When Life Isn’t Perfect

by Laureen on October 18, 2012

Dark morning

I went to bed full of plans for the next day. Get up early, catch up with some freelance work – maybe I could be done with that by mid-morning. Then walk to Ireland and go on with this metaphorical artist’s retreat I’ve got happening.

It didn’t quite turn out like that .

In the morning my little battery-operated alarm goes off at 6:30, and I reach to turn on the lamp beside my bed. No light. Wiggle the switch a few times. Bulb must be burned out. Funny, bulb was fine when I shut the light off. Slowly, consciousness returns and I realize it isn’t just that this one lamp isn’t working. There are no lights working. No streetlights, no nightlight in the hall, no light anywhere. The power is out. Again.

At 6:30 on a mid-October morning in Val Marie, when there’s no light it’s really dark. Where I live, no electrical power means not just no light, it means no heat, no running water, no Internet, no radio. No breakfast! The bread’s in the freezer and the coffeemaker is electrical, like everything else. I shut my eyes and go back to sleep. At 7:30 I wake up again. Still no bedside lamp. By now though, I can see to feed my cats, and if I use a flashlight I can see to phone SaskPower and find out what’s up. What’s up is that the power is out in a really wide area and it’s expected to be back on “by mid-morning”.

Well, I could drive over to feed the cats who are waiting in what might in other circumstances be my virtual Ireland. There I could eat home-made granola from my friend’s cupboard, with the milk that I laid by for afternoon artist’s retreat lattes. The morning is cloudy, cold and threatening rain. Even when the sun comes up the world won’t be bright. The car’s a good place for me. It’s got heat.

Off I go. The Irish cats are glad to see me. They go out and in a few times while I eat cereal, then I sit on the couch with a book, with finally almost enough natural light to read by. All of a sudden the electrical appliances beep and whir and the power comes back on. Light. Water. Promises to keep. I head for home, where the freelance work I planned to be halfway through by now is still waiting. I launch in. It’s 9:30 a.m.

By 1:00 p.m. I’m caught up. I’ve had lunch and even a shower. And I feel like I’ve had a day. Maybe it’s the disrupted schedule. Maybe it’s the prolonged morning dark. Maybe it’s the gloomy sky. Whatever it is, I don’t want to accomplish one more thing. I don’t want to do anything.

But I had plans for this day. I was going to walk to Ireland. I was going to step back into my artist’s retreat, work on a painting that is very close to being finished, complete a preliminary drawing for a new piece. Trouble is, all I want to do is sit.

Then I remember. Walking to Ireland is one piece of the structure that supports my creative work. It helps me be and do what’s important to me. This is the promise I really need to keep, on this dark and disrupted day. I put on my walking boots and go.

The day never turns back into the one I’d planned. In the few studio hours and the energy I’ve ended up with, I would never see anything but small progress. But here’s the thing:  I see small progress. By keeping to this structure I made to help me be and do what I wanted, I’ve managed a little bit more than I would have if I’d let the structure go. And a little bit is a lot better than none.

So I’m thinking about structure. I wonder why walking to my retreat-like setting seems to set up productive time better than driving would. I wonder if a commitment to someone else creates a special kind of support than, say, just a commitment to myself. Does it make a difference that I’ve made that commitment publicly? I wonder what pieces of this structure I can bring back to my own studio when my friend returns from her travels. How can I help myself do more of what means so much to me?

What do you think? What pieces of a structure might help you do more of what means the most to you?

To Part 3…

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{ 4 comments }

Melissa Dinwiddie October 18, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Amen to small progress! Some days it’s all we get, but those baby steps add up. Forward movement is forward movement, baby!

Commitment to someone else has an almost magical affect in my world — gotta love accountability. And although I’ve resisted structure for most of my life, I’m finding that the more I’m able to incorporate it into my day, the happier and more creatively productive I’m able to be.

Of course, I fall off the wagon constantly. But as I always say, the most important practice we can engage in is the practice of getting back ON the wagon. :)

Laureen October 18, 2012 at 5:11 pm

I know. And thank you hugely as always for you support :-)

Gail Kesslar October 21, 2012 at 9:55 am

Thanks for this second great piece on structure. My writing life has been spent bouncing from one project to another, each better than the next, yet somehow I never seem to get further ahead monetarily. When I look to the types of stories I wrote in the beginning of my career and I look to those I write now, despite being so different I still make within a $50 window, the same amount I made the previous year. Seven years without a raise is too long…so I think I need to set some structure for myself. Not in terms of hours worked. I’m very self-disciplined in that way. But in terms of a business plan and a blueprint to follow that can help me break the barriers, monetary and otherwise, I seem to set for myself.

Thanks for the reminder that despite being self-employed creative types, “free” to do as we please, we also need structure to be successful.

Laureen October 21, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Gail, wow! I’m so pleased you’ve been able to find what you need in this. Please keep us all posted about where you get to next.

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