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creative process

Not That I'm Complaining...

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Not That I'm Complaining...

I came home to silence, the kind I needed — the whirr of the refrigerator, the click of the ceiling fan. It’s been two months without a day alone.

Not that I’m complaining. 

My husband — the beloved husband who crossed an ocean for me, for our life together, who is adored by his mother-in-law, adopted by his sister and brother-in-law and tolerated by his twenty-three-year-old autistic ‘step’ son — is training into a new restaurant which means a nine to five schedule with weekends off.  Same as my schedule. A departure from his two weekdays off and evening shifts.  How wonderful it’s been to spend time together. 

Well, spending time together isn’t really right — he was studying and fretting and exhausted from the ungodly regular person experience of a 6:30 a.m. alarm.  Also he’s Egyptian (Middle Eastern, man, traditional, blah, blah, blah) so requests for dinner and pressed clothes and his coffee were more like orders this month.  

Not that I’m complaining.

He’d do the same for me if I was learning a new job with all the executives in the company watching my every move. I’d do the same for you.  

His training was going on during the time that my parents were preparing to go north for the summer. While they are a very capable eighty-fourish, they are, well, eighty-four.  Requests for help with the thing on the thing (cable box) or the thing that won’t (internet) were coming rapid fire until they left.  They made it to the cabin and the Russians delivered their car. I kid you not, a family of Russians have a car delivery business and drive a rig from Spokane to Orlando for them.  So, all is well.  Except for the phone call last Thursday, “Can you stop by the house and look on the shelf upstairs, over the computer for my Powerball numbers and in the closet on the shelf above the shoes for the Bose noise cancelling headphones?”  One assumes that if dad wins, mom will need the headphones to cancel out the partying with the Russians.  

Not that I’m complaining.

It’s just of note that also my daily lunch hour for the last three weeks was devoted to picking up Henry, who is in a job training program. They needed to change the schedule last minute and I didn’t have the emotional ability to call Access Lynx and update his disability services van. Somehow mustering the strength for a daily drive across town was more doable than being on hold for forty-five minutes. 

Not that I’m complaining.

No. The complaining came when I stepped into my gloriously silent home sure that the husband would not be back until 11 p.m., knowing that Henry was with his dad until the next day and the parents are being cared for by the Russians.

I dropped my bags on the kitchen bar, stepped out of my clothes and headed to the sliding glass door.  I stepped into my bathing suit, opened the door and heard, no, it wasn’t thunder. It must be the neighbors rolling out their garbage. My feet hit the heated concrete porch and I heard it again. The roll. The boom. Then the pool which was reflecting the sun turned to gray in front of me.  

I started to feel the complaint rise up in me.  How could you, God. Universe.  Thundercloud.   How could you?  I stood looking at my beautiful pool, thinking about my how I hadn’t complained for two months. I wanted to scream but instead said to no one, since I was actually alone, “Well. That hurts my feelings.” 

With that admission I somehow moved from complaint to the understanding that I was tired, my energy poured out on people I love and on their well being.  And now I had a choice.  I could sit in the rain speaking out loud my What Have You Done For Me Lately complaints or I could choose me. 

I sat down at the piano, the one my parents bought when I was six or seven and showed an interest.  The interest waned at fourteen but not because I was fourteen, rather because I was terrible. Really. Very bad. It’s possible I haven’t played the piano in 20 years.   

I pulled out the Easy Classics and played. Mozart tepidly, Bach badly and found a Couperin that wasn’t horrendous. Then I made a BLT (turkey bacon, of course, Egyptian in-laws) and sat under the cover on my porch while it rained, amazed by what life is like when I can’t complain.  

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Are you your own difficult client? 

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Are you your own difficult client? 

Create an environment for success with your most difficult client — even if that person is you. 

Step two in planning a Creative Retreat is setting the expectations. 

You’re the Client

I started writing about the Creative Retreat I gave myself as a gift. To make sure I got the most out of it, I needed to set the right tone. The first thing I know about myself is that I’m rebellious.  (So difficult!, as my husband loves to say.) If there are rules, I’m going to find a way to rebel against them.  This is a good thing in a creative setting, that mutinous attitude can produce all sorts of great ideas. Two things I need are structure and fluidity: A plan that is too open, I’ll wander aimlessly from room to room wondering what to do. Too rigid and I’ll reject it all and end up doing nothing. 

You’re the Guest 

I decided the best way to handle this difficult client was to create distance between me and the plan.  So I treated myself like I was a guest to the retreat and sent myself a PDF welcome letter with a schedule.  

Here’s the welcome letter I sent to myself, from me the Creative Retreat Director: 

Creative Retreat 

Welcome to the Creative Retreat! Your time here will be spent renewing your intention towards a project and recharging your creativity. We expect great things! 

We encourage you to participate fully and to be fluid. Be aware of when you need to stop. Be aware of when you need to keep going (even when you feel like stopping.) Identify the difference between fatigue and fear. Start each day with stretching, meditation, a walk or a swim. Center yourself. 

Here is your plan for the week. We hope and expect that you will stick to it and simultaneously make it what you need it to be in the moment.

You’re the Director 

You are in charge of your creativity and your energy.  When you put a little distance between yourself and your plan for your creativity (i.e. your NaNoWriMo schedule) you establish your own authority over your energy.  Planning and executing a Creative Retreat as the Director and as the Client was really helpful to getting the most out of the experience for me. 

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