I took two months off from mural painting starting mid-November 2019. I set parameters for myself during this time: no errands, no daytime socializing, just show up to my studio from 9-5 every day with no agenda. I imagined I would paint, write, and create to my heart’s content without any commercial motivation, and just see what came out of it, which I assumed would be prolific. In retrospect, I wish I had spent that time on mural projects and making money because little did I know I would have had plenty of time to try that experiment out just a month after it ended. I know I’m not the only one thinking “if only I knew then what I know now…” “Ha.”, says Life.
My “self-isolation” experiment was a failure if measured by the metrics I had aimed for when I started. It was not an ostensibly productive time at all. It was just life moving along at quarter speed. I learned a new phrase, “productivity shaming”, which is what I did to myself at the beginning. It was uncomfortable to slow down. It took about three weeks before I began to open up into the gift of time, and started to deeply enjoy myself, and “the slow life”.
Right now, if you isolate out economic and pandemic fears, we share a rare opportunity for slowing down and recalibrating our priorities. I learned during my own self-isolation experiment that slowing down is actually much more difficult than our mind thinks it will be. The first couple days of the “shelter in place” order (ten days ago?) I was making comprehensive lists about all the business operations tasks I would move forward, things my kids should learn during their time off from school (How to cook, properly clean their own bathroom, manage their time, etc.), how organized my garden and closets would get, how I would take up the guitar and piano again and of course make amazing portraits of all my family, and on and on. It took me a week of low productivity on all fronts to remember the lessons from my “Phase One” self-isolation experiment last year: The opportunity of taking our hours and days back for ourselves is not to become more productive but to fully inhabit our lives without hurry and without a capitalist/ productivity-driven agenda.
We all intuitively speak and seek our own medicine. Similarly, what I share in my blog is what I most need to learn. I am much more comfortable doing than being. I typically measure my success on external metrics, and mete out my sense of “worthiness” based on what I can accomplish in a day. Anyone outside my own limited personality type can intuit immediately this is a terrible way to live! So, while I was not ostensibly productive during my “self-isolation” months, the discomfort of slowing down illumined a mindset that needed dismantling in my own life.
Towards the end of my break, exasperated that I hadn’t created my own equivalent of the infamous Great American Novel, I lowered the bar considerably and collaged together a small “Take a Break” book. Initally, I made it for myself, but I ended up sewing up a bunch of copies and giving the little art book out as a Christmas gift to some friends. All images in this blog post are from pages of my “Take a Break” book.
It’s a cross between a love note and a self-care activity book. Would you like one of these books to curl up with? Maybe to share with a friend? I would love to send you one or ten. I have started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for Second Harvest of Silicon Valley. For every $40 you donate to my campaign, I will send you a handmade “Take a Break” book. I am so grateful that my husband has a salaried job that he can do from home. Work is so much a part of our identity and thriving. My heart goes out to the families who have lost their jobs or cannot earn money right now. I would be so happy to use this “downtime” sewing up the artful self-care books to raise money for groceries for those who need it. I had my time-out already, I’m ready to get back to work. If I don’t find a project to keep me busy soon, I am in danger of spontaneously combusting into a puff of rainbow sparkles. Put me to work!
The fact that we are all in this discomfort together is unifying the community, country and world. Evidence of human ingenuity, creativity, and care is organicially bursting out through the metaphorical cracks in the sidewalk is everwhere. From virtual dance parties, distant socializing, solo-hikes, and a 5000% increase in “family time”, there is disruption in all aspects of “business as usual”. If you are feeling productive, and are thriving working from home, great! Work away. If not, be gentle with yourself. These are challenging times.