The Convoluted Contents of My Head

“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”

— Nelson Mandela


This year hasn’t been what I expected it to be so far – pretty much not at all.

I’m not sure if this is good or bad. It’s certainly turned out to be a more complex, more question-filled time than I was expecting.

What I was expecting was that this would be a period of accomplishing things – tangible things. I expected “less thinking, more doing.”

Like, I’d expected to really plow through a bunch of the writing-related projects I have in my queue, and pursue (hopefully with success!) several more. And what am I doing instead? I’m finding myself more and more dissatisfied with everything I write. I’m feeling more and more limited by language, and most particularly by the writing styles I’ve previously had success with.

And it’s not the kind of frustration that spurs you on to be better. It’s the I’m-not-interested-in-this-and-feel-like-it’s-a-waste-of-my-time kind of frustration.

I’m finding myself drawn more and more forcefully toward alternative modes of expression. Text-based mixed media work, for example. And most especially photography. I’m like a magnet for this stuff – particularly with projects that utilize imagery + text. I’m finding myself suddenly remembering, strongly, how attracted I was years ago as an undergrad to the work of Barbara Kruger and especially Jenny Holzer. And to Cindy Sherman and even Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt – and others (particularly women artists) who were making visual statements.

It’s like I’ve opened up some kind of door – and now I can’t close it again. And it’s altering my perception of everything I’m doing.


And yes…this is a problem. Because time spent on this stuff is time spent away from the writing projects that have a much better chance of actually, say, earning me money. Not to mention showing that sort of tangible progress that gives one some sort of standing in the world. (I’m trying not to worry so much about that last one…but it’s hard.)

And it’s a problem because I’m a huge novice when it comes to actually producing visual art – and this isn’t comfortable. I do have a degree in Art History, so it’s not as if I know NOTHING about the visual arts – even if I’m engaging in them in a way that’s new. I actually technically have two Art History degrees (though my M.A. was more of a history degree in practice.) But the truth is, I do know something about the historical cycles of art. I know something about composition and form. I have a general understanding of style and media.

But the fact remains that there’s a HUGE difference between intellectually understanding these things and actually PRODUCING them. I’m totally new at this – and clumsy and ignorant and all of those other things that come with the territory when you’re a beginner.

What am I supposed to do with this? Should I be doing anything at all? Do I follow my nose and jump in to new things – like I want to? Or do I try to stay to the course I’d outlined last year – which is very writing-centric?

Maybe there’s not an either-or situation here; maybe there’s a balance that can be found. But where should the lines be drawn?

This is all very perplexing to me. And I wasn’t expecting to have to be figuring out this sort of thing right now. (As I said: “less thinking, more doing” was what I was anticipating.


That quote, when I came across it, provided a useful bridge for thinking through some of this stuff.

I realized for one thing how much I’ve been judging myself. And I started questioning if that was something I should be doing. Am I just unfocused, and in need of getting my act together? Or is something else at play here?


I don’t feel unfocused. I don’t think that’s it. It’s more that I’m feeling like I thought I understood what my situation was – and I’m now facing the fact that it’s actually MORE than what I’d thought.

Kind of like in the quote: I fought my way over one gigantic hill for a couple of years and DID truly get over it by the end of 2013. That’s all valid. My mistake was in assuming it would follow that the terrain on the other side was going to be predictable – or familiar at all.

That’s what I’m grappling with now: the reality that the landscape ahead is full of a whole new host of challenges.

But that also means adventures, right? And unexpected beauties.

And maybe that’s not something to be stressing about. Maybe that’s something to embrace – and be grateful for. Even if it’s a little daunting…a little intimidating.


Kind of like this video is terrifying – but also AMAZING

I was actually, literally, shaking watching this! But…WOW:


I don’t mind unexpected mountains. I don’t mind challenges. I don’t mind being a little intimidated or even getting a little scraped up traveling new terrain. Because there are things like this out there. And this. And if you plan too much and stick too much to what you’ve planned, you close yourself off from opportunities to explore. And I don’t want to do that!

Not that I want to flail around unfocused (and I don’t think I’m doing that), but I want to be free to go with the flow of things – to experience, to explore, to try things, to experiment. And you can only fully do that if you’re open to the idea of change and flux – to surprise twists and turns.

I need to work on not worrying so much when that flux and change actually occur.

I seem to say this a lot when I blog (so maybe I should do a better job of remembering it??), but it all comes down to just putting one foot in front of the other, breathing, and savoring the moment – all the moments, as they come. Putting my energies toward living consciously and thoughtfully – and not getting hung up on things like “what people say” or “what that looks like.” That’s my challenge. That’s what I want. That’s what I have to have, to live the kind of life I want to live. I know this.

Maybe 2014 is really about working on that.

And so maybe 2014 is going exactly the way it’s supposed to go, after all!

(A comforting thought!)


8 thoughts on “The Convoluted Contents of My Head

  1. I don’t know that there’s much to add. I think you summed it all up succintly at the end of your post.

    “it all comes down to just putting one foot in front of the other, breathing, and savoring the moment – all the moments, as they come. Putting my energies toward living consciously and thoughtfully – and not getting hung up on things like “what people say” or “what that looks like.”

    Umm. Yes. I think it’s fabulous that you’re finding so much joy and inspiration in visual arts. I see that as further enhancing your creativity and ultimately allowing you to express yourself in the best way possible, and on a practical level I think this will give you more creative opportunities in the long run.

    I empathize with some of your struggles even though mine are different. Academic writing has always come fairly naturally to me, but it often directly conflicts with my creative writing. Very often if I’m engaging in both I wind up doing neither well and I’ve had little luck striking a balance. My academic writing has been criticized for being “fluffy” and my creative writing has been called “stiff.” Academic writing pays more in the short-term, but I have reached a point where I hate it, and I’m afraid it’s hindering me creatively. Plus, I’m not good with all the rules involved with academic writing. They make me feel caged.

    Part of why I’ve been pushing myself with the Artist’s Way is because I desperately need to get back in touch with my creativity. It’s helping.

    Anyway, I think it’s obvious that you have a passion for photography. You’re an excellent writer, so cultivating your visual interests can only further you creatively. I’m exited to see where this takes you.


    1. Thank you for this: “I see that as further enhancing your creativity and ultimately allowing you to express yourself in the best way possible, and on a practical level I think this will give you more creative opportunities in the long run.”

      I mean, thanks for the whole comment! But especially for this part – and especially the second half of that sentence. It’s the idea of “practical” (or not) that is bothering me the most about being pulled in these new directions, I think. It shouldn’t be as much as it is, probably – but it really is. I have a pretty nice arrangement worked out with my ex at the moment that will continue for at least the rest of this year – which means that, while money’s rather tight, I don’t have to prioritize bringing in a steady paycheck (and so I actually DO have the time to follow a “bend in the road” like this one.) But I’m not financially self-sufficient right now – and that bothers me. I want to be – and I’m nervous about putting time toward things that don’t have as clearcut a financial result.

      Of course, I also want to put my creative/entrepreneurial goals front and center…and I also want to spend lots of time with my kids while they’re little. So I have plenty of other things that are even more important to me than immediate financial self-sufficency (which is why I’m doing what I’m doing right now.)

      I just want everything basically! I want a self-sufficient, creative, and flexible existence. Preferably something entrepreneurial…and with lots of time with my kids. And the ability to travel frequently wouldn’t hurt. That’s the goal – some (or all!) of that. And I want to compromise on as little as possible.

      There IS the idea that the more authentically I can express myself the stronger will be any artistic statement I want to make – which will have to help me in any creative endeavor (which you touched on too.) I think that makes sense. I WANT to think this is true. I hope it is!! (Not being able to know for sure bothers me.)

      In my better moments, I do think this is all part of an evolution, and I just have to roll with it and ride it out and not let things like “I think I can make more money from THAT rather than the other thing” determine what I do (and the Artist’s Way has been massively helpful to me with finding a comfort zone with that.) But I fret (I can’t help it) that I’m wasting my own time and I’ll look back (from some horrible cubicle job in some meaningless and superficial field of business) and just kick myself for allowing my focus to splinter and hence squandering my opportunities.

      Of course I also don’t want to look back and feel that I shut myself off from exploring creative avenues I really want to explore. That actually might be worse than the cubicle job fear. (So many fears!)

      I guess I’m just trying at this point to sidestep the anxiety and not allow it to keep me moving forward with these new ideas – wherever that ends up taking me.

      Anyway, thank you SO MUCH for your encouragement!! I really, really appreciate it.


      1. You are certainly welcome. I do understand your frustrations. I have many of the same. Gil and I are married, but it REALLY bothers me that I’m not pulling my weight financially. He really doesn’t care at all, but that’s always been a big thing with me. I was WAY more comfortable when we first got together and I made more money while he was finishing school. I just want to be able to support myself and the kids — even though he and I are much better these days. At the same time the thought of working at some life-sucking job makes me crazy. I would love to write more, but I simply don’t have the energy today. More later…


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