Rekindling the Creative Spark: An Experiment Upon Myself, Part 2: Proposed Treatment


Yesterday,  I detailed a problem not only with my writing, but with my imagination overall: 

I’ve allowed the pump to run dry,  so even if the well has water,  and even if I go up the hill to fetch a pail, I’ll have to do some serious priming to get anything drinkable. 

And if I’m not careful, I might fall down and break my crown 🙂

So what am I going to do? Metaphor aside, an imagination isn’t like a water pump or car engine. 

Well, I  have a few ideas: 

Listen to music that fired my imagination the past, musicians whose lyrics were poetic,  with imagery,  metaphor,  and complexity. 

  • Sarah McLachlan
  • Bob Dylan
  • Peter, Paul, and Mary 
  • Wyclef Jean 
  • Sting
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter
  • Rosanne Cash
  • Maria McKee
  • Leonard Cohen
  • Bruce Cockburn
  • Sarah Brightman
  • 10000 Maniacs
  • Beth Patterson
  • Rich Mullins
  • Jennifer Knapp
  • U2
  • And many others 

Seek out more music by musicians who’ve caught my attemtion once or a few times in the past:

  • Amanda Abizaid 
  • Amanda Ghost
  • Martin Page 
  • Nina Gordon
  • Charlotte Sometimes
  • The Pogues
  • Shakira
  • Sara Evans
  • Annie Lennox, both solo and in that band my auto-correct won’t let me write. 
  • even Guns N Roses

(It occurs to me how white this list is,  with the exception of Wyclef and Shakira. Maybe I should look in some new directions as I seek out new material)

    Seek out new music that may have the same qualities.  This is harder,  because it involves spring through a bushel and a half of disposable pablum. The old stuff comes pre-sorted.

    But this is not just about music. I need to read actual poetry. I also need to constantly read fiction, fiction with imagery, fiction that plays with language. 

    Perhaps most importantly, I need to take better care of myself. I need to get enough sleep. I need to get more exercise,  and I need to eat less refined sugar. 

    I need to clear space my mind. This isn’t about excusing myself from doing the things that need to be done. 

    It’s about clearing out the clutter, watching less tv, wasting less time on Facebook, Slate, etc. 

    It’s about doing one thing at a time. Multitasking isn’t just inefficient; it’s frustrating and depressing, too. 

    It’s about regeneration. But mostly about getting enough sleep. 

    I hypothesize that two weeks of adequate sleep, limited attention-splitting time wasters, and reaquaintance with nearly forgotten favorites will have back to my old self. 

    I’ll collect data and get back to you with the results. 

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    August So Far: Sleep, Exercise, and Rekindling a Creative Spark


    I’ve outlined some writing goals and life goals for August.  I’m writing this on August 7, so I thought I’d report  on how the first week went. 

    I’m still struggling with sleep, but I have determined that 7 hours a night is not enough for me.  My next test will be to see whether I need 7 1/2 or 8 hours. 

    I did manage to exercise three times the first week. I swam twice,  I did chair squats once,  and we took a walk the park once.  At this rate,  I won’t be ready for the 2020 Olympics,  but it’s a good start. 

    As far as writing fiction goes, I’m beginning to wonder whether planning plots is really the best move at this point.

    After I finished my dissertation, I immediately started writing what I thought would be a novel or novella,  but ended up being alongish short story. 

    It’s rubbish, of course,  and by the end I just wanted it to be over. I only finished it at all because giving up so close to the ends would have been a self-sabotaging defeat. 

    And I’m still stuck right there, in a mess of my own making. 

    I get enough sleep to do well at work, but not enough to have any energy or clarity left after we’ve put the little one to bed. 

    Honestly,  I don’t have any desire to write our do anything else after we put Daughter to bed. Most of my experimental cooking is on the weekends, even.

     and I’m not getting to bed early enough to get up an hour early to write or do  whatever before work. 

    Still I’m simplifying my goalsfor August:  Forget everything else.  Sleep matters. 

    As for my creative side, I’ll be taking some concrete steps to refill the old gas tank,  beyond just getting more sleep,  but I’ll talk about those in an upcoming post. 

    August Life Goals

    Yesterday, I shared my progress on my July writing goals and announced my August writing goals.  Today,  I’m setting out my August life goals.

    • Get at least 7.5 hours of sleep each night.
    • Get to bed early enough to write,  read, pray, exercise, or otherwise greet the day
    • Exercise 3 days a week, rain or shine
    • Continue eating a plant-based diet
    • Try to do something actively helpful for someone (family can be included,  but ideally this should reach beyond them)  each day
    • Listen to music, go outside,  and do other things to rejuvenate myself

    Well,  that’s more than enough to do for one month. I will  let you know how I did at the end of the month. 

    Resistance

    Every time I’ve tried to get my stuff together, I’ve always faced resistance. 

    When I started exercising,  I would soon get sick or hurt. 

    When I started trying to go to bed earlier, 1,000 things would come up to keep me up (a student distraction each night,  it seems).

    And when I do get to bed earlier, I always feel worse at first, moody, as if sleep deprivation were an emotional anesthetic. 

    When I started writing consistently,  life seemed to explode with physically and/or emotionally draining mini-crises, until I was so ragged I could hardly even think straight. 

    Resistance.

    It’s why we don’t succeed, why we let our dreams remain dreams instead of bringing them to life. 

    Resistance. If I am really going to get my act together before this year is out, I’m going to have to learn to resist back. 

    Steven Pressman literally wrote the book on overcoming resistance – two books,  actually: The War of Art and Do the Work.

    Kicking Darkness, Bleeding Light  


    I have been feeling a little depressed lately,  for a number of reasons. 

    It’s nothing clinical or health –  threatening,  but is unpleasant,  and it makes me just not want to talk to anyone.

    As a part of getting my stuff together (In case you haven’t heard, 2016 is The Year Tim Gets His Stuff Together), I’ve been going through the houses in our storage room, or at least my boxes. 

    And tonight, I found a scrap of paper, probably a decade old or more, a scrawled note from a novel that never really came to fruition.

    And it was just what I needed to hear. 

    “Sorrow lasts for the night,  but the dawn will break.  You can choose to live under the night,  become a part of it, turn your back on the hope the sunrise brings.  And then when the dawn comes, where are you?”

    “I’m sure you’ll tell me,” Ashe said, glancing over his shoulder at Jack. 

    “If you don’t fight the darkness,  don’t allow yourself to suffer,  you can lose your love for the light.  And then dawn finds you crawling deeper into the shadows,  huddled I’m fear of the joy you once longed for.”

    Okay,  so it’s a bit unsubtle,  but I think i needed to hear it. 

    This has been a rough summer,  all around. I need to admit that,  and not start resenting a job I genuinely like 90% of the time. 

    Time has been right, but mostly, I just haven’t felt up to calling and starting better touch with my friends.  This is a vicious circle,  because it is a symptom of feeling down and a major cause of it.

    I have gotten hurt and sick a couple of times this summer, and that has put me off of exercise,  which is always a struggle for me. It is so much easier to just let it slide.

    And with the later hours and earlier mornings, of course I haven’t been getting enough sleep.

    But as I said yesterday, I am drawing the line on that.  

    The only way out of anything like this is through.

    As Bruce Cockburn sang, you’ve “got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight.”

    Sleep Deprivation Is a Moral Issue


    Well, mine is at least. 

    Some people are sleep deprived because they have to work multiple jobs, maybe 80 hours a week, just to survive. In a nation as rich as America,  that’s a moral issue of an entirely different sort, a matter of basic decency and justice. 

    That is not why I get sleep deprived. I get sleep deprived because I stay up too late. 

    Doing what?  You might ask. Well,  that it’s the thing… It always seems to be something different.

    I may not watch one bit of tv or play one minute of a videogame,  but  something will come up,  something I forgot to do,  something I need to look up,  something I want to talk about, an idea I want to write down …SOMETHING.

    It is not any one thing. It’s a million different things. Which means it’s me. 

    And I am going to fight back, starting today. 

    Starting tonight,  it’s no excuses.  If I miss a night on the blog,  you will know why. 

    If I fall short of another July goal,  that’s okay.  This matters more. 

    Sleep deprivation dulls my wit and clouds my creativity.  It is damp wood for my creative spark,  producing far more smoke than fire. 

    It makes me less effective at work,  shortchanging my department and the students we serve.

    Sleep  deprivation takes me  away from my loved ones now by making me drowsy and grouchy.  

    It will take me away from them permanently if I let it, maybe not this year,  but far sooner than I want to go. 

    So starting tonight, I will fight back. I will start getting ready for bed by  10, and close my eyes by 11.

    I am drawing a line.  Please pray that I will be able to hold it. 

    Empire of Static and Noise

    Earlier today, I realized I’d been feeling washed-out and uncreative. This blog was lying fallow, and my fiction inspiration was as dry as California underbrush.

    If I had a cause, a central idea, a unifying point to what I’m doing, then I would be so much better off. I’d have my writing drive back, my thinking drive back, my mojo back. But all I have is noise.

    And so it occurred to me: noise. Maybe my main point for now is noise.

    I don’t mean noise as in decibel levels, like the neighbor’s barking dog (though that’s certainly a part of it, just ask Schopenhauer or the New York Times. I mean noise as in “signal to noise ratio.” I mean static.

    Like it or not, as modern Americans we live in an Empire of Static and Noise. Televisions blare from every corner. The instant gratification of a thousand status updates bubbles up through our phones like swamp gas.

    Those same phones hold a variety of video games and grant access to a wider Internet filled beyond any one man’s imagining with articles, blog posts, and endless arguments across a multitude of forums.

    We like our lives like we like our hash browns: scattered, chunked, smothered, covered, and served with coffee at three a.m. And even if we don’t like them, that’s how we live them.

    • How much of what we experience serves not to carry meaning, but to obscure it?
    • How much of what we experience serves not to inspire or provoke new thought, but to scatter our attention so that we can barely think?
    • How much of what we experience serves not to challenge us to new levels of compassion and humanity, but to distract us from the hard questions?

    A very wise man once said, “Don’t watch the hand with the wand. The trick is in the other hand.” How much of our lives is just a wand waving on a stage?

    I can’t answer that for you. But the answer for me is, “Too much. Way too much.”

    So that leads us to the question, “What do I do about it?”

    The first thing, the absolute first thing I have to do is start self-enforcing an earlier bedtime. I’m not getting enough sleep, and so many studies have proven that’s bad for you that I don’t even feel the need to cite them here (the Earth is also round, and it orbits the sun, by the way).

    Basically, sleep deprivation makes you stupid, and I’ve been neglecting my eight hours since at least when my daughter was born.

    Beyond that, I’m going to have to take a fast from certain technology. I will have to use Facebook only to check important messages, and encourage people to call, text, or email me instead.

    I will have to stop reading Slate and all online forums. I will have to stop following all those interesting links in the articles that I do still choose to read.

    Will this be permanent? I doubt it, but it will have to be for a while, at least. Addicts don’t moderately use, and I’m pretty much addicted to new information and short, nonfiction articles.

    I’m going to limit not only my “active” television watching, but my “passive” watching. If Katherine is watching TV and I’m just passing through, I’m going to have to force myself to keep passing through, not stop and “just watch this scene” … and be there half an hour.

    I’m going to have to uninstall the games from my Kindle Fire. It’s great for media, and it has potential for productivity, but I won’t get anything done if I’m feeding Om Nom candy.

    I’m going to have to clear out some space and time in my life for thought, for reflection, for praying and writing and daydreaming.

    I think I’ll be smarter and happier. I think. Heh. At least I’ll be thinking again.