Make Your Creative Space Now

Everyone should have a creative space. It could be a nook under the stairs. A corner of a quiet, unused room or the basement. A covered porch. A quiet kitchen table when your people are away or asleep. Even a corner in a closet will do.

I would know. I’ve carved out my creative space in many places over the years, in dorms, apartments, houses, even hotels when I travel for work. I’ve made do with what I had and worked around running a mid-size business from home with two kids, two dogs, play dates, neighborhood kids descending on the yard, our union employees, babysitters, everyone coming and going at any given time. It was chaotic, but creativity thrives in chaos. You just need a space to process, harness and translate it.

Wherever this space may be, it should be sacred.

Your people should not be traipsing around in there, looking over your shoulder, asking what you are doing, poking around in your creative business. When you close the door or the drape or disappear into your space, you should feel safe to create. Think. Write. Paint. Dream. Read. With no interruption. Without fear of criticism. With no instruction or redirection. Just – you. For 5 minutes, if that’s what you can spare. Longer when you can. Even 5 minutes a day is enough to satisfy the soul. More is better, but some days you just have to make do with what you can.

As I have always told my kids, especially after the divorce, home is wherever your people and your dogs are. (And lizards and snakes in our case – no offense to cats, we’re allergic.) But your creative space – the place where you go to recharge, refresh, do creative work and thinking – this requires a different approach.

This is my space today:

My “food for the family” office. Need to figure out how to fix that drawer from opening. Book on my reading table is “”How to Win Friends & Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie. Re-reading for the third time. An oldie but a goodie if you want to understand people and how to be a better human.

I’m lucky now. I have a dedicated room with a door for my office/creative space. I work from home when not traveling, so it’s essential if I have any hope of actually getting things done and conducting 4 million Zoom calls in a week. While my office stays here, my creative space moves around the house, depending on my mood, what’s going on in my life, and the season. My kids are used to it, they are on the cusp of moving out and have never known any different than a mother who moves artwork, furniture, and work/fun spaces on a regular basis to keep things fresh. They think it’s normal. They do the same. Yay?

My ex-husband used to joke/complain that he would come home late at night and trip over a couch that was in a different place than it was when he left that morning. Amuses me even more now. 🙂

Where to start: Define your creative goals.

Listen, if you want to carve out your own creative space, first you have to understand your own process and what you’re trying to do. You have to know what environment works best for you. Some people like to work in libraries or coffee shops or bars. They need noise, people, activity. Hey, go for it! (Unless it’s COVID-19 times and things are shut down, like now as I’m writing this.) But if you’re like me, someone who needs quiet, private space at home, here are five ideas to help you get started. Disclaimer, I am a writer – not a photographer, an interior designer, or any kind of artsy person other than with words, so, it is what it is, from my heart to yours.

Lighting. I have horrible vision. I had one of the very first corrective eye surgeries back in the 90’s and while I had perfect vision for 20 years, ever since I turned 40, it all turned sideways. (Lesson learned, don’t be the “first” to get anything and for God’s sake don’t let anyone mess with your eyes!) It’s complicated but all you need to know is – good lighting is super essential forever, for everything. Evaluate your space and how you’ll be using it. Will you be reading? Painting? Playing music? Writing? Where? Where are the windows? What is the quality of light? At what time of day?

Try out different lighting to see what works best, at different times of day, given the light in the room at any given time. I rely on Target for task lighting because it’s inexpensive and 5 minutes from my house (I’m lazy and hate to drive and certain things I can’t shop for online, I have to see it in person and touch it). All the task lighting in my office – two near my computer and two on my writing desk, plus one on my glass table near my writing chair, have three-way LED lighting, so I can go super bright on dark Chicago winter mornings or nights when I’m reading or writing.

The Tiffany-style lamp on my office desk is a treasure found at TJ Maxx, one of my favorite places EVER. It’s like a garage sale on steroids!! When I was my most broke, garage sales and places like Once Upon a Child were my saving grace. While my kids are grown now, TJ Maxx will always hold a special place in my heart. I love this lamp for the gorgeous colors, the lovely design, and the fact that I paid less for it than I would have anywhere else. I turn it on after I’m done working, a symbol that it’s time to switch from “work” to “home” mode.

2. Seating. Right now, I have two desks in my office. One is my work desk (the first pic above). It’s all about function: task lighting, post-it’s for jotting down quick notes, a good camera for Zoom meetings, speakers, all the “functional” stuff. You know, fuel for what feeds the family.

My other desk is that which feeds my soul. It’s where I journal at 5AM or write early story drafts by hand (earlier if insomnia strikes – I’ve come to look at as “found time,” a term I saw referenced in an article that I can’t find now. I bet it was Tiny Buddha!) All I know for sure is that it resonated and I’ve made it my own.

I have a chair from Pier One next to my desk that is small enough to work in a tiny house and perfect for reading on cold mornings. Add a throw pillow and blanket – priceless and comfy! My favorite is when my kids, over 18 and almost ready to fly but still in the nest, come sit and tell me about their day, ask questions, or just hang out with me. <insert big heart here> I positioned it that way intentionally and bonus – I can look up from reading and see the windows, the light, the trees, and whatever weather Chicago is throwing at us that day.

I am super picky about my pens. That’s a whole other post. But the mug they are in is handmade pottery from a studio in Hayward, Wisconsin. The hearts say “believe” and “create” and came from an independent bookstore in my town. The book is “The 12 Secrets of Creative Women,” which greatly influenced and inspired me. I’m re-reading it now. I’m also working through the 12 Secrets Journal, which inspired this post.

3. Objects. Objects have special meaning in stories and in real life. They should in your life, too. Sprinkle them into your sacred space where you can. Move them around from time to time. We tend to stop “seeing” things when they are in the same place 365 days a year. Here are a few of mine to get you going:

My candle, my journal, inspirational books, great lighting, and stone artwork purchased at a farmers market a few years ago. The colors spoke to me. I often stop writing to look up at this piece of art and appreciate the detail and the colors.
I can never find my glasses. But apparently my son listened when I shared the touted philosophy that everything has a place and there is a place for everything, as he gifted me with this giraffe for holding glasses. It always makes me smile no matter how crazy my day becomes.
This is a ceramic bird from Chile that a friend brought back for me more than 20 years ago. It is for good luck, from what I was told. When I see him, I think of my friends Becky and Barney, who brought it back for me. How lucky am I to have this love and positive energy in my writing studio. #grateful

4. Scents. One word: candles. It goes without saying that your creative space should not smell like a dirty sock that was buried in the backyard with the dog’s bone and leftover fish dinner from 20 years ago. Make it smell yummy, like you want to lick the air and actually want to be in there, doing important creative work. And make no mistake: any work that you do in there is important. It doesn’t matter whether it’s published or shown, sold, shared – it can be just for you, to make you happy. I prefer Yankee Candle. I’m not getting paid to say that, I have allergies and their candles are the only ones that don’t trigger asthma attacks that take me down for days.

5. Privacy. Shortly after I moved in, my elderly, retired next-door neighbor, who is very bored with a front door that faces my office (it’s unincorporated where I live, so some pretty goofy house setups and property divides around here), told me he saw me sitting at my desk typing, and added some exaggerated typing motions to reinforce his story. Apparently I type like Patrick from Spongebob SquarePants on crack?

So I invested in Wallpaper for Windows. You can see it in my first photo. I found it at Lowe’s and Home Depot. There are a lot of different patterns and types, all very pretty, and it’s easy for people like me with no mechanical ability to apply.

As mentioned early on, a door, a drape, boundaries (“When the door is closed, stay the hell out!!”), incense, whatever you can add to your space to keep it quiet and private, is essential. Unless you like to be interrupted nineteen times with questions like, “Is there milk in the fridge? Where are my pants? How do I set up my retirement fund?” or worse, big stuff like, “The (100-pound dog) is puking everywhere in the house again!”

Establish a rule: when the door or drape is closed, when you are in your creative space, unless there is blood or bones protruding from skin – it can wait. Even (gasp!) for the dog.

Get your creative space together now or refresh the one you have

Whether you’ve been eyeing up your living space to find a dedicated spot for your creativity and solitude or just need a creative reboot for the space you do have, it’s so worth it to commit the time and thought to building a spot that work for you, your process and your creative work. Have fun with it and kick your creative mojo into high gear!

So there are five things you can use to build your creative space – so get on it! 🙂

What My Stroke Taught Me – Part 2

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May is National Stroke Awareness Month, so it feels like the right time to talk about what I learned from having a stroke – someone with zero risk factors. In part 1, I shared the moment the stroke happened. Here in part 2, I’ll share what came after and what I learned from being a stroke survivor.

So where were we…

I had a stroke in the parking lot of Whole Foods 42 minutes after a great 10-mile run on my favorite trail. I had been training for a half marathon. I painstakingly made my way back to my truck. The symptoms seemed to subside. I drove myself home. In hindsight, not the brightest idea of mine but we’ll put that in the bucket with the rest of them.

I walked into the house feeling out of sorts but keenly aware that my kids were home. My 19-year-old son was on his way out the door to work. I waved bye and told him to have a great day with a new lopsided smile. My 17-year-old daughter came around the corner and asked how my run went. I said, in what was I hoped was a neutral voice, “I think I had a stroke. I’m going to call an Uber and go to the hospital. Just to be safe. Nothing for you to worry about. But I have to shower first.”

Needless to say, she said absolutely NOT to the Uber and insisted on driving me. I didn’t argue with her. But I did shower. I’d just run 10 miles in 65-degree weather. I figured I had time, I remembered reading you had 3-4 hours to get to the hospital and get the “stroke drug.” Rightly or wrongly, as a runner, I am extremely dialed into my body and trust my instincts. I knew and felt in my bones that I had at least time for a quick shower. (If, in fact, I was even having the stroke that every fiber in my being told me I was having, which seemed inconceivable, given that I ate healthy, ran 30 miles a week, and did all the right things.)

Taking time to shower was a bad idea, as I was later told by the healthcare professionals who treated me. If you even THINK you are having a stroke, get your ass, no matter how sweaty, to the hospital ASAP. Call 9-1-1.

Duly noted.

The Hospital

It was a reality TV montage of moments forever seared into every fiber of my being that I can never run fast or far enough to forget.

Continue reading “What My Stroke Taught Me – Part 2”

What Having a Stroke Taught Me – Part 1

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Grateful to be here with these goofballs

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. The COVID-19 pandemic is at the forefront of the world’s concerns at this moment, rightly so, and all the more reason to highlight how important it is to listen to your body when you are not feeling well or right.

As they say, life is what happens when you are making other plans.

It was Saturday, August 10, 2019 and my plan was training for my half marathon in October. I had just finished a 10-mile run at my favorite trail. I had been traveling a lot for work domestically and internationally. I had a million things to catch up on now that I was home for a whole week before I had to fly out again. I was elated to be home with my kids and my dog, out running on a beautiful sunny day, surrounded by trees and blue skies.

It was the bestest day. 🙂

I sat in my truck afterwards, like I always do. I drank the right amount of water, consumed my favorite gluten- and dairy-free Evolve chocolate protein shake, ate my banana. I was doing all the right things. I was happy with my run. I even posted this on Instagram:

Twenty minutes later, I drove to Whole Foods as I always do after a Saturday long run. It’s my reward – once a month I splurge on my favorite organic vegetables, fruit, salsa, and pre-prepared meals like grilled rosemary chicken. It’s nice to have someone else cook for me. 🙂  I had a craving for organic oranges that day.

I parked, put my glasses on, got out, and began walking toward the store entrance. The sun was so bright it hurt my eyes. I felt like I was standing in a lava lamp. The world shifted and morphed in goo. If you’ve ever had vertigo, it felt kinda like that. But different. Worse. Sickeningly worse.

I thought – oh. Maybe I put my glasses on too fast and the change in perception is making me nauseous. I went to take my glasses off. But nothing happened.

“My arm won’t move. That’s weird.”

Continue reading “What Having a Stroke Taught Me – Part 1”

New Year Wishes and Other Lamb Tales

sheep-1822137_1920As the year draws to a close, I find myself not thinking about the usual things: resolutions, themes, goals, expectations, things I’ll do or change, things I’ll give up, lose or find. I am thinking instead about acceptance.

While I’ve focused a lot on letting go in previous years – letting go of a marriage, a job, behaviors, things and people that no longer work for me – I’ve found that this year, I’ve had to learn to accept a lot, too.

This hit home for me recently as I sat on the couch across from Yoda (code name for my trusty therapist). I was lamenting why I couldn’t be tougher in a particular situation, as tough as the others in it seemed to be. Yoda resorts to his lamb/wolf analysis – that some people are lambs, more gentle and sensitive in nature, hating to let others down or see them upset, while others are wolves, more driven, aggressive, direct, challenging, not caring as much about others as the lambs, etc.

The conversation went something like this: Continue reading “New Year Wishes and Other Lamb Tales”

Losing Weight, Getting in Shape and Living the Life You Deserve

 

I remember the day I decided to commit to getting back into shape. It was March 18, 2011, a day like any other day, except that on THIS day, I sat up on the couch, put down a box of Lofthouse Sugar Cookies, and silently said to no one in particular:

“I’m so sick and tired of feeling this way! ENOUGH!!”

I was 41 years old, 20-some pounds over my ideal weight – ideal being what my doctor suggested at my annual checkup earlier that day – and I felt miserable. I told him how tired I was all the time and felt old AF, everything hurt, and it felt like I was wearing a heavy blanket of sad, anxious and…meh. I remember saying – I’m too young to feel like this. Right??

My doctor said, “Well, things do start changing in your 40’s.” We talked for a while as he wrote up an order for all the regular blood tests, including checking my thyroid (I’ve had Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis since I was 23; weight gain and sadness/anxiety/meh are often symptoms). Then he handed me a prescription for an antidepressant. As I stared at it in disbelief, he said, in a kind, non-judgmental way, “You know, you always felt better when you were working out.”

When he left the room, I sat on that exam table and tried really, really hard not to cry.

This was the first time I had ever opened up to someone about this particular struggle. It’s interesting how, when someone tells you (however kindly) what you need to hear rather than what you want to hear, it strikes a nerve chord. On the way home, I thought about how I’d gotten here. Sure, I’d been busy with life like everyone else. And I’d always been a six-month on, four-month off kind of workout gal. I’d get good momentum going, but then life would happen and working out became a “nice to have” and disappeared from the list of priorities.

And Yet…
I knew the exact moment that I’d fallen off the health/fitness wagon hard this time. Continue reading “Losing Weight, Getting in Shape and Living the Life You Deserve”