This past year, my creative life has been sputtering and stalling like an old car. I’ve been distracted and lacked the energy for my daily creative processes and practices.
So, 100 days ago, I joined a 100 day challenge hosted by Sulieka Joauad, author of Between Two Kingdoms, about her struggles with leukemia that was diagnosed when she was 22. “During her treatment, she wrote a column for the New York Times, “Life Interrupted.” She created the Isolation Journals, “a community creativity project founded during the Covid-19 pandemic to help others convert isolation into artistic solitude; over 100,000 people from around the world have joined.” The group encourages creativity and gives voice to those who are dealing with long term disabilities and illnesses. It’s a website and has a facebook page. Soon after I joined the group, Suleika found out the leukemia had returned and she would have to endure another bone marrow transplant, hospital isolation, and again an interrupted life.
So, as she dealt with this devastating health challenge, she started a 100 day project for herself and the followers of the Isolation Journal, as a way of keeping creativity flowing through a difficult time. It was something I felt really drawn to, because I want to get back into the habit of drawing or painting daily, as well as doing my daily morning write.
These creative habits have slipped out of my life, as if the shelf that held them has lost its support. and everything has piled into a mess on the floor. I can’t seem to get that shelf reattached.
So I started sketching and writing, and then I quit. It wasn’t a hard goal I’d set up, just to do something creative each day, not to put too much pressure on myself. Everything creative counts.
But I couldn’t get my process and practice back to where they were. So, I felt like a failure.
As others were writing about what they’d done in the days before the end of the 100 days, I wondered if I’d lost some essential way of opening my heart.
But one morning, I woke up and looked at a painting I’d been working on that I thought was almost finished. (My studio and bedroom are the same room.) And an unusual inner voice of authority and kindness said, What if this had been your 100 day goal? You wouldn’t feel like a failure, you’d be proud, because you did it. And remember that painting you donated to the Memphis Area Women’s Council a month ago, you painted that, too. Why not make that your goal, in hindsight?
At first, I dismissed that thought, out of a sense of playing by the rules. But whose rules? I’ve proved to myself over and over again that I work better if I don’t put a lot of rules and deadlines and definitions on what my process is. In the past 100 days, I’ve had a few health scares, I’ve had bereavements, I’ve had to process all the chaos of our changing world, I’ve experienced loss and confusion. In the past, when I faced challenges, the structure of a daily practice helped. But not this time. I needed room to process things. I needed empty space not a full shelf.
Being part of the group was so helpful in coming into this new insight. I didn’t fail, I just didn’t understand what I needed to commit to 100 days ago. Having a creative mindset got me through a lot of days that seemed too challenging. The surprise is that the100 days, for me, were meant to develop that more confident inner voice.
Avoiding what I thought was my goal made me spend more time with friends. It made me seek new facets of my identity. I found a way of working that resulted in 2 pieces I was happy with. And I did do my morning write some days. And some days I sketched.
I gardened. I read. I lived.
I think my take away from this challenge is a new sense of maturity and more gratitude for hindsight. A goal interrupted is not a failure. It’s the lesson I was meant to learn. It’s the way to honor the creativity and mystery of what life is offering when I open my mind and heart enough to see it. Life is rarely linear, and hindsight is a gift I will more easily treasure now.
So thanks to the Isolation Journal members for that.
Have you ever recognized what you thought was failure as actually a success?
I highly recommend the Isolation Journals and Suleika’s book Between Two Kingdoms. The book is full of grace and light, with many insights on illness, isolation, connection, life and love.
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