Archive | Sunday Sanctuary

Sunday Sanctuary: Morning Person

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Well beyond my current ability to remember, I have been a morning person.  I awake and most mornings, desiring to bound out of bed, mostly bright eye-eyed.

I say beyond my ability to remember because, of course, there are the stories told by my mother of my ability as an infant to wake early and simply be happy for it. My internal body clock drives me to wake early, ready for the adventures of the day ahead.

As I’ve gotten older, though, a few moments of lingering in bed have become welcome.

On weekends, I still wake early, but now I may lay there and listen to the quiet rise and fall of John’s breathing or on a cold morning, snuggle into his warmth. Sometimes,  I reach for my Kindle and read a bit or listen to a podcast on my iPod.

Weekdays are different as we usually wake to an alarm, set sometime between 5 AM and 6 AM. These mornings can be a little harder to bound out of bed, yet once my feet hit the floor, it isn’t long before my morning-person tendencies surface.  A good thing, considering I often begin my workdays by coaching clients as early as 7 AM.

I hum or dance as I wait for the coffee to brew and anticipate particular moments on my to-do list. Yet, mornings can feel challenging to even this morning person . It’s the pressure of that time crunch, a particular number of tasks necessary before the day can begin in earnest – John getting out the door for work or me preparing for an early morning coaching call.

The secret to loving mornings after all these years lies in my evening routine. Seemingly small details can make the difference between a fabulous flowing and productive day instead of a crappy and chaotic one.

The number one piece of my evening routine is the coffee pot. Yes, the coffee pot must be ready to go at the push of a button. We have ones of those wonderful “grind and brew” pots, which requires the loading of coffee beans in the little grinder, a filter in the basket, and fresh filtered water in the reservoir.

In the last seven years, I have failed to set up the coffee pot before bed about a dozen times and have had what Alexander would call “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day”. Well, maybe that’s exaggerating a bit, but it hasn’t been pretty.  It just sets a tone of unpreparedness for the day, the need to measure water and scoop out coffee beans whilst my eyes are trying to open wider than a squint.

As if the smell of brewing coffee has become a necessity for my middle-aged self to be that bright-eyed morning person.

I’ve always longed to live a peaceful and beautiful life. As with every part of creative living, I’ve discovered that the little things do matter.

There are other little actions that filter into my evening routines, all serving to make my mornings feel more like welcome and ease.

Like the dishes. I hate getting up to a sink full of dishes and I’ve found that I can get the dishwasher unloaded in about the same amount of time it takes that coffee to brew.  Maybe stemming from the memories of breaking a glass on the kitchen floor and the way slivers of glass find their way everywhere. Or maybe it’s in response to no longer living with teenagers who would empty a hoard of hidden and food encrusted dishes into the sink whilst I slept. Just the memory of that makes me cringe.

Mostly, though, dishes in the sink make me feel as if my ability to keep a home that’s organized and beautiful is just out of my reach.

Sometimes, these evening routines take an inordinate amount of effort, especially on a Friday evening as we close a busy week. I want to crawl into bed instead of doing dishes or counting out the ten scoops of coffee beans into the grinder.

But I do it because when I don’t, I suffer.

And purposely causing myself to suffer doesn’t feel  like a beautiful way to live.

“What we do today, right now, will have an accumulated effect on all our tomorrows.”
–Alexandra Stoddard

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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Sunday Sanctuary: When Makers Gather

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I take the Q Train to Brooklyn on a sunny September Wednesday to have coffee with another maker. We know each other the way people know each other these days – mutual friends, becoming Facebook friends, witnessing the ways we each make art. She tells me about an idea she has for a film, confessing she’s only told one or two others so far.

There’s something about the vulnerability of a new idea for a creative – the need to share pieces of it with others, the desire for another soul to see the glimmer of brilliance within it. We need to see the sparkle in someone else’s eye or a nod of the head to let us know that they get it.

There’s also something delicate about a new idea – and we know that we can’t share even a smidge of the idea to just anyone for the idea is too tender. Nor can we overshare, knowing that too much talking about a project can shift us into perpetual talk and no action. Or worse, take the magic out of the idea.

Steven Pressfield confesses to using a code name for each project… so The Devil doesn’t Know The Real Name. We all have our suspicions around art making.

Her moment of sharing is an act of sacred trust, the acknowledgment that she sees a spark within my soul. I treat the moment like a china figurine filled with gossamer light.

I’ve brought her a gift of tea towels, one of which sported a map of Ohio. We spread it on the table between us and talk about the geography of Ohio and the surrounding states.

Her idea for her next movie involves a Road Trip through the Midwest.

***

Five months later, she asks me if I’d be willing to act as a producer for the film. There are too many logistical pieces. I agree and begin leaning into one of my favorite things: spreadsheets!

We rely upon a new-to-me app: Voxer. And over the months, as we talk about the film we do what we humans do best: we share stories. As we discuss our daily moments and confess our strengths and challenges over the months and a deeper connection between us forms.

I talk her off ledges and fill out paperwork for SAG. She talks me off ledges of art making and witnesses the ways in which I serve those I love. I remind myself and her time and again that “life is happening FOR you, not TO You.”

We set the schedule for the road trip to coincide with my partner, John, being away on a business trip.

***

Seven months after we spread the tea towel across a table in a coffee shop in Brooklyn, she pulls into my driveway. She has driven from New York to Ohio and her car is filled with people she loves: another filmmaker, an actor, and an artist. Her car is also filled with clothes and food and computers and cameras.

We hug and I usher them into the house. We have an aggressive time table for the evening, but first: dinner.

Already at my home is a local gent and his daughter. He’s part of the larger Kindred Community and has agreed to serve as a mentor for those in need of connecting with other creative souls.

I’ve reached far and wide to provide film extras. They arrive, one by one. A consultant turns storyteller. A champion of film making in Dayton. A girlfriend from my book club along with her husband. A local coaching colleague who also happens to be a musical theatre actor. Her neighbor.  The mentor’s wife and his middle daughter. A writer and member of the Dayton storytelling community.

We range from fifteen to seventy.

Folks mingle. Migrate to the porch. Connect with strangers. Tell stories. We shuffle folks upstairs and down. A mock workshop on art. A mock workshop on storytelling.  We snack, laugh, connect, and share our own stories of joy.

Folks leave and I shift into nurturing mode: ensuring everyone has a bed, a towel, and the WiFi password. We talk about future film days and locations. We review the morning schedule, agree to a 9 AM breakfast, and I ensure that both coffee pots are full of beans and ready to go. There are tea bags and teakettles filled with water, just waiting to boil.

We make adjustments to the filming schedule for the next day sitting side-by-side at my dining table.

By midnight, each of us is snug in our bed for the night. Less than six hours after they arrive, the first full day of the road trip and filming is officially complete.

***

It never matters how late I go to bed, I wake around six each morning. The morning after is no different.  Yet, my world is different. I’ve spent the last twelve hours immersed in the creative lives of others. My house is quiet as I toss on clothes and a long sweater. I start the coffee and join her on the porch.

Everyone else is still abed so It’s just the two of us as we talk about the previous night, the day ahead, and life. And how life is affecting our art.  We begin to look ahead to the rest of the road trip, the schedule, and I pull out my laptop to fire up a Mailchimp note with location details for two nights away.

She leans into me and smiles.

“I hope we get to do this again. Sit on your porch and work together.”

Others begin to rise, float in and out. More coffee and tea. I warm a breakfast casserole and set out fruit. And before long, the food disappears and it’s time for them to go.

What began as an inkling of an idea has begun to be born as a film.

***

“If we could make our house a home, and then make it a sanctuary, I think we could truly find paradise on Earth.”
— Alexandra Stoddard

When we create art, we must make it from a space of vulnerability. And safety. We need a sanctuary from the rest of the world and that safety comes from people we connect with, a favorite piece of equipment, and a port in the storm.

I am reminded that a roof and walls is a house, but what makes it a home is the choice to curate a nourishing environment. I’ve taken the best of who I am and proven to myself that creative a life includes curating a sanctuary.

As such – both an extension of my creative spirit and my safe haven – I protect it fiercely. I know that the wrong energy can damage or taint it, so it was with great care that I open my home – my sanctuary – and provide a safe haven for folks to land, be themselves, and create.

And I am also reminded that though we are often alone when we create, we are always a part of something more.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Sunday Sanctuary: Bringing Copenhagen Home

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I don’t think there’s anyone who hasn’t thought  – or at least fantasized about – running away from home. While I don’t believe there’s magic pill that can fix whatever’s going on in our lives, travel has a sort of unstoppable power to help break us out of our ruts and illuminate changes we can make once we’re back at home.

For six months, I’d been struggling with any kind of consistent routine. Nothing I tried was as nourishing, supportive, or just right for where I was in my creative life as what I needed it to be.

A recent trip to Copenhagen changed that. In fact, by the second day of our time there, I felt as if a magical veil had been lifted, allowing me to find something that worked. My morning routine while there helped me write three times as much that week than I had in the previous three months.

Here’s what it looked like:

Each morning after rising, John showered and got dressed for the day while I did the basics of care: brushing my teeth and slip on some yoga pants and a tee. I’d scrape my hair back into a ponytail and we’d head downstairs to breakfast with his colleagues.

I had a typical European breakfast: hard-boiled eggs, veggies, fruit, and a thick piece of rye bread slathered with jam. And coffee, of course. After they headed to work, I went back upstairs to shower and get dressed. As I took my time putting on my make-up, I hopped onto my Voxer account and left a message to a couple of my friends – another writer and a filmmaker. My filmmaker friend was in the middle of a challenge on her next project, and my messages to her explored her options while also talking about what it is to be a maker.

Being hooked up to earbuds and my app while I looked in the mirror carefully applying cosmetics became a ritual of sorts, forcing me to voice what it is I do. Not just as a “life coach” but as a writer, a partner, an editor, a friend, a woman. I have this theory that extroverts aren’t as good at articulating these things as introverts; because we talk to understand what we think, often what spews forth sounds like nonsense. Yet, having this lifeline to friends, knowing that no one would hear my words for hours, morphed into something holy and needed.

Then it was time to leave the hotel, so with laptop and journal in hand, I walked the block from our hotel to the Baresso, a Danish coffee chain.

I’d head to a corner booth and shed my coat and scarf. I’d plug in my adapter, set up my laptop, and pull out my journal and a couple of pens. Then, I’d head to the counter to pay for my Triple Latte, which the manager, upon seeing me walk through the door, had already begun making.

We exchanged pleasantries, sometimes sharing little details about our life or day so far.

I shared a photo on Instagram

I would begin writing. I wrote letters on paper. I wrote in my journal. I wrote blog posts. I worked on my book. Every day, words flowed like a river.

Some days, I’d order lunch before I left. Some days, another latte or Americano.

I left between noon and one each day, back to the hotel to either coach a client on Skype or drop off my laptop before heading out to shop or explore. Often, my filmmaker friend had left me a message at this point of the day, sharing stories and details and talking about art making and life.

Each day felt satisfying. Like making progress and finding my way, something I’ve been struggling with since before September.

I actually lamented this to my writer friend and her question to me – wise as always – asked me what I needed to do to bring Copenhagen home with me.

On my flight back home, I began the process of analyzing what it was that worked so well and here’s what I’ve come up with.

Breakfast right away. I always wake hungry, but more often than not, don’t bother with much beyond coffee, at least not right away. Yet, my brain needs protein and my body needs hydration. To make this easier, I do a little prep on Sundays: boil eggs, slice bell peppers and cucumbers, and chop fruit.

Getting Dressed. It’s not unusual for me to wait to shower until late in the day. I get up, and get busy. Yet, devoting just a half-hour to ready myself for the world as a loving process went a long way towards my confidence. Working from home gives me freedom to dress however, yet sweats or yoga pants all day don’t add to my productivity ever. Though I go downstairs to my office to work, I’m dressing as if I’m heading out into the world.

Articulating Who I Am. Though my Voxer messages aren’t as long as they were whilst in Copenhagen, I’ve kept this ritual at least a couple of days a week.

Not being constantly connected. While we were in Europe, my phone stayed on “airplane mode” and I only connected when I had a WiFi signal. I’ve begun putting my phone on “Do Not Disturb” AND I no longer allow my email to auto-sync. These two tiny shifts mean that my phone isn’t constantly distracting me. And, when I go to check for email or even messages, it’s a conscious choice.

A Beginning and An End. When you run your own business, it’s so easy to slip into the mode of always being “on”.  But having a set beginning and end to my “work” time forces me to focus rather than dawdle. By committing to a start to the day – after I’ve had breakfast and gotten dressed – as well as the end of the day (when John texts that he’s on the way home) focuses my time.

I know that I’ll never recapture the feeling of Copenhagen exactly now that we’re settling into our regular days. It’s hard to maintain the energy of Hans Christian Anderson, Hygge Comforts, Castles, and tales of Vikings. Yet, I was reminded that while home is always my favorite place to be, sometimes you have to leave the sanctuary it provides. In order to find the path to keeping our home a sanctuary for creating, we have to find our answers when we’re off exploring.

What about you? What do you find essential to good routines? When has travel helped you find a missing link?

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Sunday Sanctuary: The Picky Details

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I was reading Lauren Graham’s I’m Talking As Fast As I Can and found myself nodding in agreement, saying “me, too!” and realizing that according to the advertising world, I am a woman beyond their preferred age and spear of ideal influence. Why? Because I have a favorite / preferred / won’t-choose-anything-else brand of paper towels.

She tells the story of how, despite the fact she needed paper towels, she turned down a huge pack of free ones from a friend because they were the wrong brand.  Lauren Graham of Gilmore Girls fame and I share a love for the exact same paper towels. Bounty. Select-A-Size.

On the rare occasion I accidentally pick up the full-sized-sheet ones, I almost recklessly go through them and make sure Hope uses them when she cleansI don’t like the full-size sheets. I only use a half-sheet to clean the grinder when I make my morning coffee. And three halves is just the right size to cover my 2-cup Pyrex Measuring Cup when I heat a can of John’s (almost daily) can of tomato and basil soup. And when I pack his lunch, that perforated line is perfect so that I can provide two neatly folded lunchtime napkins.

But it isn’t just the paper towels I’m particular about. I only like the Glad Force Flex trash bags, Charmin toilet tissue, Tide Laundry Detergent, and Cascade Action Packs. And the best scent to indicate a freshly cleaned bathroom is PineSol, like my mother and grandmother used.

The tending of my creative life also plays favorites. Though I’m not too picky on the color of my ink, I only use Uniball 207 Gel Pens (medium tip) when I write letters or write in my my Leuchtturm 1917 Hardcover Journal.  (The A5 size with dot grid paper. )

From this little litany you might be thinking that I’m both picky and spoiled. Or wound incredibly tight with a series of anal rules for the way I choose to live my life. And while I admit that all three descriptions might fit me, the selection of individual elements that populate my daily life are deliberate choices I make in order to cultivate a kinder, more nourishing home environment. As Alexandra Stoddard writes in her book Living a Beautiful LifeWhen something small is right you can then forget about it and think about more lofty ideas.”

The little things matter because it allows me the grace of creation. When those seemingly small details are automatically tended, I have brain space. When those tiny physical needs are  met, it gives me the permission to get uncomfortable when it comes to my creative work.

I have learned in my almost forty-nine years that attention to these small details matters to the overall quality of life. Some choices are due to nostalgia and the deeper parts of my DNA. Though I rebelliously flirted with Gain in my twenties, deep down I know that my mother chose Tide for a reason. Realistically or psychologically, I believe that Tide makes my clothes cleaner.

Sometimes, tactile reasons drive our choices, drawing in a particular scent or feel. Pine Sol in every bathroom smells like my grandmother’s house. Soap & Glory’s Righteous Butter Body Lotion is the perfect example of that mix of tactile and scent with its silky texture and soft scent of roses.

When John first moved to Ohio and couldn’t find his preferred bar soap for the shower (Coast) I didn’t hesitate to search in every store until I found it. It mattered to me because it mattered to him and this seemingly small gesture was a way to choose the creation of a beautiful daily life.

Just like my day runs more smoothly when I have those perfect Bounty paper towels, his day begins swathed in the scent that means both clean and comfort. As a bonus, I now have the olfactory magic of connection any time I get close to him, that scent that is uniquely him: Coast Soap, Old Spice Deodorant, and freshly starched shirts.

No matter what your art may be  – writing, painting, film making, fiber arts – tending the tiny, seemingly insignificant details opens the door to feeling safe and comfortable. The magic of comfort is that it allows you to be uncomfortable when it comes to your art. Because, as we all know deep down, doing the hard stuff and choosing to expand and grow our art will always present us with scary and uncomfortable moments.

Cultivating my home has provided one of the least stressful ways to give me that safe space of expansion. And, outside of the ways we are makers, we are also in the midst of making in each moment of our day.

“Intimate, necessary details add up to one’s private life. Select them with care because they are your life.”
–Alexandra Stoddard

What about you? What details matter to the quality of your life? How does seemingly picky details enhance your creative life?

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Sunday Sanctuary: The Mystical Power of Words by Mail

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Writing is a mystical process. You sit with pen in hand – or fingers poised over a keyboard. Words flow from your brain into your hands. Ink and paper help words become flesh. Words transform themselves into stories when they are birthed into the world.

In our 140-character social media society, we may have forgotten how this mystical process of writing is the embodiment of the ordinary magic when the words are then read.

It doesn’t matter who the reader is. Maybe it’s only you, rereading words in your journal. Maybe it’s anyone who passes by your blog or Facebook page. Perhaps you are seeking an audience that isn’t exactly countable as you send your words into the world by writing a book.

Or maybe you’ve leaned into the sacred space of love, connection, friendship, or advocacy by writing a letter intended for one, single individual.

I’ve been in love with the mystical process of turning straw into gold in the form of stories for as long as I can remember.  While the miller’s daughter may have never found joy when confronted by Rumpelstiltskin’s wheel, for me, spinning individual words into an essay, a piece of fiction, or a letter gleams as brightly as any precious metal.

I’m also in love with receiving mail. Opening the mailbox to find a card or letter is a physical reminder that somewhere out there, someone cares enough about me to go through their own ritual of turning their thoughts into snippets of their own story – just for my eyes. It’s proof that in the sea of humanity, I am valued. It’s a reminder that someone chose to connect with me by taking some of their precious time to not only write a few words in a card or pen a long letter, but also address an envelope, stick a stamp on it, and send it out into the world knowing that their precious words won’t be received for any number or days.

Yes, this can take place in a reply to a Tweet, a ‘like’ on a Facebook post, a comment on a blog entry. Emails can convey real sentiment. I will never tire of sharing real-time words via phone calls, nor will I ever undervalue the way a telephone call with a friend brightens my day.

A handwritten letter, though, holds a different kind of magic.

“To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.”
― Phyllis Theroux

I know that I’ve mentioned it here before, but since August of 2015, I’ve been writing letters with a girlfriend focused mostly on our creative lives. We are both devoted to the process, honoring the fact that we each have daily lives full of responsibilities. Sometimes, there are weekly letters, our creative minds unable to stop the flow of thought. Other times, the letters lag and we eke out only enough energy to write a single letter a month.

As with all the various pieces of our creative life, letter writing ebbs and flows.

No matter which part of the cycle I’m in, I look forward to each letter. I experience a thrill upon opening my mailbox and finding a cheery envelope with my handwritten name upon it. I set each new arrival aside until I have dedicated time to sit and savor it.

I give myself time to reread and digest, and then I take up my pen once more. I begin afresh, putting more ink on paper, collecting thoughts, arranging words, filling pages or note cards either to save, or to send away. Sometimes, I tuck in a magazine article or a thin bar of good chocolate.

Whether I am writing letters or reading one, I find myself deeply connected with my own creative energy and better connected to enduring creative spirit of humankind.

  “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.”
― Clarissa Pinkola Estés

We are living in challenging times. No matter what side of the aisle you may find yourself on politically, you’ve probably felt frustrated, angry, irritated, upset, fearful, exhausted, or disheartened in the last few months. I have felt all of those things at differing points, and the number one solace I’ve returned to is words.

Well, not just the solace of words, but the magical power of stories.

I purchased a beautiful copy of Beauty and the Beast purely for the illustrations by Angela Barrett. I read biographies of strong women. I’ve read books some might consider fluff, yet know they are secretly disguised as medicine. I’m reading a passage a day from the last journal written by a Catholic priest. I purchased a Sunday Missal. I’ve reread letters.  I’ve unsubscribed from folks that harp on politics, be it on Facebook, Twitter, or their Blogs. I’ve immersed myself within my journal, and sought new blogs to read that don’t focus on politics.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across the concept of InCoWriMo. A nod to the familiar NaNoWriMo where you commit writing a novel in November, InCoWriMo is a commitment to write a piece of correspondence per day in February.

What if I were to take up the challenge of writing a letter per day next month? I’ve already learned that receiving a letter makes me feel as if I matter. I’ve experienced the way a letter that arrives just when I’m feeling most discouraged can soothe my soul.

More than that, though, I’ve discovered that putting ink to paper in letter-form has shifted my creative DNA. It forces me to slow down, invites me to think differently, and encourages me to trust the mystical power of birthing my thoughts into the flesh.

The process of sending and receiving physical correspondence has it’s own tinge of magic. For how else can I explain receiving an encouraging letter about my body of work on the exact same day I got an email rejecting my application for a writing residency?

What if someone out there just needs to open their mailbox and find an envelope with their name on it, written by hand?

I can write letters of encouragement and letters of compassion and letters of love to friends, acquaintances, and even strangers.

I can write thank-you letters to those who impact my world for the better, like authors, soldiers abroad, and the Postmaster General.

I can write a mushy love-note to John, for far to often we forget to appreciate those living under our own roof.

I can also use the power the written word can yield by taking up my pen as if it were my sword, writing letters to my Senators and Congressmen.

I ordered a fresh supply of stationary, readied my supply of postcards and greeting cards, and have stocked up on stamps. I’ve begun gathering addresses. I have committed to at least one piece of handwritten correspondence every day in February. (If you want to receive a letter in February, just leave a comment below or email me at debra (at) debrasmouse.com)

 “Our lives are made up of time, and the quality of our existence depends on our wise use of the moments we are given.”
–Alexandra Stoddard (from her book Gift of a Letter)

If writing is a mystical, magical process, then letter-writing must be one of the wisest uses of writing time. We must nurture and tend our creative life. And sometimes, we must fight to ensure that the outside world doesn’t encroach on our sacred need to create.

What might unfold in your creative life if you were to take your pen in hand for the sole sake of connecting with a single individual? How might taking up your pen as a sword be the best way to be an advocate? What magic might you open yourself to if you were to open your heart on paper? Might an age-old approach to correspondence tend the sanctuary of your own soul?

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Sunday Sanctuary: Crisis of Faith

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I sent a one line email to one of my most trusted friends:

“I almost applied for a secretarial job today.”

It was a distilled synopsis hiding behind the deeper truth: I was smack-dab in the middle of a crisis of faith.

Weeks earlier, I had completed the process of turning two of my digital coaching courses into hold-in-your-hand books. It should have been a pinnacle moment for the year, but once I got beyond the first giddy experience of seeing five years of my work become flesh, I felt like the gardener who’d made the mistake of planting too many zucchini plants in her garden and was secretly leaving baskets of veggies on her neighbor’s porch in the dead of night.

In my office was an unopened box from Amazon containing the book of a friend. I left the box untouched for days, lost in feeling both aggravated and downtrodden. I had been a strong supporter of every book written by friends and happily touted – and often purchased – the many digital courses created by friends and colleagues. Yet, in the midst of that week, I was feeling that no one was willing to step up and support me.

I knew for a fact that none of my friends or colleagues had purchased either of my books because I had zero sales. Everyone was “zucchini-ed” out and I couldn’t even give the damn books away!

Being a maker of any sort is often a solo act and can easily lead to the feelings of aloneness and isolation. My partner, John, is a huge supporter of my work, but he doesn’t quite get what my work is, let alone what it feels like.

So, the morning an email from a head hunter arrived in my inbox touting the “perfect” job for me, instead of the immediate “no thank you” I had penned dozens of times over the last six years, I clicked on the link and read the job description:

“Executive Assistant to CEO of COMPANYNAME. Need project management skills (preferably with PMP Certification), top-notch communication skills, both verbal and written, flexible attitude, be a great problem solver, and posses a deep understanding of the demands and stresses of an executive of a multi-million dollar business. Pet lovers only. Great benefits, including health, dental, and 401k. Bonus: bring your dog to work.”

I began to imagine going to an office and being around people. Every Day. I envisioned the need for sheath dresses, skirts, pantsuits, and high heels. All clothing I have loved wearing in my past life when I was a full-time consultant. I fantasized about an office Christmas Party! And though we are currently pet-less due to our frequent travel, daily affection – given and received – from well-behaved dogs whenever I wanted!

Not only was the fantasy I was imagining fulfilling, the job fit another requirement of mine: close to home. So close to home, in fact, that I could easily bike to work if I wanted.

I went as far as sending a quick response to the head hunter that I would give the job a strong consideration. I also dug out my resume, which hadn’t been updated since my last Government Contract seven years earlier.

I will be frank with you: it wasn’t about the money. I am in the position that every writer I know desires to be in: no need for a day job to ensure the mortgage gets paid.

It was about the potential to escape the desolate isolation and deeper loneliness of being an extrovert living the life of an introverted creator.

I walked away from my desk. Showered, dressed, and left the house to do one of my go to activities for lonely days: errands. I got a coffee at Starbucks and had a nourishing exchange with my favorite barista, Chase. I strolled through Pier 1 Imports and complimented the manager on the remodeled store. I picked up light-bulbs and giant bags of salt for our water softener (the most awkward bags ever). And then it was off to the Dry Cleaners to drop off John’s suit pants, pick-up of previous left pants and dress shirts left, and to hear the update on the owner’s wife’s cancer treatment and his daughter’s soccer tournament.

Though these errands can seem unimportant or mindless, the last several years of working exclusively at home have taught me to channel my extroverted need to interact with people by seeing the management of household needs as a form of ministry. I have learned to cultivate a connection with strangers that I meet through this tending of our life. I know the names and a few personal details of my favorite grocery store folks. I know that Chase, my favorite Barista, collects Starbucks Cards from faraway places and have brought him cards from DC and Hawaii for his collection. I know by sight, if not my name, the cashiers at my favorite stores. The ladies at the post office all know me and are genuinely happy to see me when I walk in laden with packages or just to buy some stamps.

Yes, I plan the occasional lunch date with girlfriends, but everyone’s lives are busy and few have the time for spur-of-the-moment lunches. Most of them work day jobs.

I forced myself to step back from my surface emotions and examine the deeper, more vulnerable thoughts and feelings.

Did what I do even matter? What was the purpose of what I did each day? Was there a point to continuing toiling away over words that few might ever read? In the sea of the thousands of life coaches these days, did my voice matter? Where was I keeping myself from being happy? How was I squashing my own joy? Was considering a day job just an escape? Was it an excuse steeped in fear of my writing and work?

The Kismet of timing, my phone rings. My girlfriend had finished a work call, gotten my email, and called to confess that she, too, has applied for a job here or there over her decade of being an entrepreneur.

She gives me the permission I need: go for that day job if that’s what my heart is needing. She talks me through the options and reminds me that I am not alone. Despite the fact that I felt so isolated just hours before, I am reminded that every single maker of any sort has moments of fear, doubt, isolation, and a loss of faith in their purpose and work.

I step away from the very lip of the ledge and to a safer distance from diving over. But I keep the edge in sight.

Everyone who chooses to live a creative life will have their own crisis of faith. Though money isn’t everything, having my work seen holds value to me, so where is that balance I need?

Who am I to add my voice to the world? Don’t more important people have something better to say than I? Who am I? Do I matter? Does my work even matter?

My logical side encourages me to get out a pen and paper and review the list of pros and cons of A Day Job VS This Creative –Out of the Box – Life I have worked so hard to create.

My choices over the last seven years have not been in any way unconscious.

Each decision has been calculated carefully with my big goals in mind and the clear understanding of what sacrifices I make, measured side-by-side the trade-offs and advantages of each one. Most of the decisions I have made have come down to the core question: how will this affect the quality of our daily life?

Last year about this time I decided to cut the time I spend on my coaching practice in half. There were two reasons: to have the space to write differently and to have more time to keep house.

Yes, you read that right: I wanted more time to keep house.

No, I didn’t get swept up in a time warp back to the 50’s. You won’t find me vacuuming the couch attired in a dress with stockings, heels, and pearls. However, one of the biggest contributing factors in the quality of our daily life is the way I manage our home. I take pride in the creation of beautiful meals that appear on our table. I love that in the evenings, we can cuddle up by the fire with a glass of wine and talk about the day instead of scrambling to pick up the dry cleaning or groceries. Because I manage all the tasks it takes to care for our home, we sleep in, make love, and leisurely enjoy coffee on a Saturday morning instead of me waking with my brain cluttered with a big to-do list.

I know myself well, and I know that if I were to take a day job, my home life would suffer.

One of the biggest shifts in my ability to create has occurred over the last seven years because, for the first time in my life, I am safe. Safe to be myself. Safe to be vulnerable. Safe to write whatever bounces around in my brain. As a child, my mother criticized and even destroyed years and years of my journal writings. Both my ex-husband and my children pried into any written journal – physical or digital. John never peeks and would never pry.

When Virginia Woolf writes about a woman needing a room of her own, this is the core meaning of that: in order to create, a woman must have privacy. The work needs to be safe from prying eyes until we are ready to share it. That’s one of the paradoxes for me in this creative life: I want my work to be seen, yes. But I need the safety of not having it seen until I make it ready for the world.

There is another side of this crisis of faith that I know to the depths of my soul: a crisis of faith is a sign that you are on the edges of an important evolution. Our brains sense that our souls are trying to change, and because our brains try to keep us “safe” from change, it convinces us, through fear, that what we are about to embark upon is dangerous.

My desire to escape the isolation is sign. And a test.

Do I really desire to live a creative life? Am I really brave enough to take that next step? Am I willing to try new ways of creating? Am I willing to fail? Am I willing to deal with the painful emotions associated with creating so that I can access that deeper sense of joy and happiness?

I may not have all the answers to these questions, but I do know that the almost-fifty-year-old version of Debra has more patience and a deeper sense of hope in the value of a creative life than thirty-year-old Debra ever imagined. The thirty-year-old me – heck, even the forty-year-old me –  would have taken the day job. After a few days of sitting with the decision, I tell the head hunter that I am honored. And will not be interviewing for the position.

I have weathered this crisis of faith and recognize three distinct truths. One: I am still in the shadow phase of my crisis and will need to diligently tend my bruised heart and tender soul. Two: this isn’t my last crisis in faith. The flip side of this wildly invigorating and profoundly rewarding decision to choose my own creative soul is that with each stage of evolution, there will be seeds of doubt sown side by side with each seed of faith I plant.

And the third truth is one I hope you take with you as well: a crisis of faith means that life is about to get interesting.  Very interesting.  Because it’s a sign that my creative soul is ready to grow beyond my wildest dreams.

No matter where you may be in your creative journey, know that however you are feeling, you are not alone.

“Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself.
Do not lose courage… ”
–St. Francis de Sales

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and  Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Sunday Sanctuary: The Cracks and Creativity

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I have stopped and started several versions of my November 2016 Sunday Sanctuary. My original intention for this month was to share a deeply personal experience in my creative life as we were on the edges of shifting our theme from “Wisdom” to “Mystic or Magic”. That isn’t what you’re getting today.

Modern Creative Life is about honoring the pursuit of joyful creation and celebrating what it means to live creatively. From before our inception, it was important to me as the Editor in Chief to make this a safe space – free from political discourse. I believe that each and every person, no matter how entrenched in the issues facing the world, needs a place to escape both the vitriol and the intelligent dialogue.

We all need respite and what better respite than poetry, stories, and beauty?

That’s why I’m writing to you two weeks early.

I switched places with another editor so that she could have more time to process what’s happening in the outside world. Part of the responsibility as Editor in Chief to is to step in when others have challenges and take the brunt of the burden. Even if that means discomfort for me.

Especially when it calls for me to dig into my own creative well when I am feeling parched one moment and somewhere-in-the-atlanticdrowning in ideas the next moment. As I shared with you in September, I am in evolutionary waters. I am adrift in a vast ocean of those ideas, but like being at sea, I can’t drink the salty water and have my thirst quenched. Evolution is beautiful once you emerge from the cocoon and your new wings are ready to soar. But this part? The middle part? It isn’t very pretty to observe.

That story that I long to share with you is about a pinnacle moment in every evolution, but it needs more time to incubate. So that draft is squirreled away until next month when it’s had it’s incubation time…and when I’ve had the time to get a little more support from my friends. I’ve told two by voice, one by email, but only just confessed the moment in a letter, which wasn’t mailed until yesterday.

It was back to the drawing board yesterday.

I wrote about the late arrival of autumn here in Ohio. No matter how I tweaked it, that story was boring, especially in light of the most recent Sunday Salon.

Our chipmunk experience is a story I’ve been wanting to share here as it’s the trifecta of perfection for what I want to write about as a part of Sunday Sanctuary. Charlie, our resident chipmunk, antagonizes John and he now identifies with Donald Duck. I downloaded a few screen shots of Chip, Dale, and Donald. But I don’t have the flair for humor you get to witness in Sunday Brunch and knew that that story will have to wait until I have time for it to be edited by another before I polish and share it.

I have at least three other drafts here inside the circuits of my computer and none of them are ready, either.

I went to bed last night hoping that by morning, I could breathe a bit more life into one of the pieces sitting in the limbo of creativity: draft mode. I woke at 1:30 this morning and was sorely tempted to come downstairs to my office and take another stab, but instead laid in bed and read The Little Paris Bookshop until I was sleepy again.

For the first time since we launched Modern Creative Life, I missed my deadline. That’s not my norm and I promise bananapancakesyou it won’t become my norm here.

As I made banana pancakes for breakfast, I pulled at my own threads of wisdom. Though he doesn’t quite understand my creative brain, I was able to share my challenges with John over those banana pancakes, topped with more bananas and walnuts and maple syrup. As I cleaned my kitchen, I made the decision to come back to the page and share some straightforward advice as my last column in the Wisdom issue.

As a creative being, you have a sacred responsibility to your creativity.

I have spent many years giving up creative endeavors due to the influences of the outside world: ballet, singing, crafting, and acting to name a few.

I have witnessed multiple times that when creative souls don’t create, they wither and become dry and brittle.

In her research on what it took to live a wholehearted, authentic life, Brene Brown discovered that the opposite of creativity is depression. So, when we feel depressed, we have a responsibility to ourselves to create.

When you are too distraught to paint, you need to paint. When you are too angry to write, you need to write. When you believe the world is an ugly place, you need to make your immediate surroundings as beautiful as possible.

This does not mean that what you paint or write or sculpt or play is ready for public consumption, but the process of creating will always be healing for the person creating.

Even when it feels hard and even when, like me, you feel as if you are dying of thirst, surrounded by water that you are unable to drink.

You may not be able to change what is happening in the world, but what you can control is how you use your creativity to enhance your daily life. You can bring flowers into your home, create a delectable meal for people you love, and be kind to strangers in the grocery store. You have the power to cultivate rituals to nourish yourself and your own creativity. You can choose to turn away from vitriol and anger and deepen your understanding of your own gifts.

As the great Leonard Cohen, may he rest in peace, wrote in his song Anthem

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Everyone, no matter what side of the aisle they are on, feels as if the world is full of cracks. That’s why you must honor your responsibility to your creativity.

letting-the-light-inWhat you create in the coming weeks will likely not be a perfect offering, but by creating it, you will allow the light into your own soul.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision.  She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams. When she’s not cleaning the shower drain as a way to avoid writing,  you’ll find her reading or enjoying the antics of her neighboring chipmunk. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Sunday Sanctuary: Lessons in Cosmetics

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“Stipple, stipple, stipple!” the lovely young woman in front of me chants as she demonstrates the proper way to put foundation on my face.

I’ve been wearing foundation for thirty-five years and am wondering how many of those years I’ve been doing it “wrong”.

Like many southern women of my age, my first exploration in the world of cosmetics was the Avon catalog and tiny white lipsticks the Avon Lady would leave with my mother. I still recall those little white tubes and mourned the day they changed their sampling to little plastic bubbles.

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My first introduction on being instructed how to properly wear makeup was a Mary Kay demonstration, given by my 6th grade Sunday School teacher. She decided that as young ladies with maturing bodies, learning about etiquette and ladylike things – including the proper way to wear make-up without looking over done – was part of her Christian Duty. She wouldn’t sell us the Mary Kay, but she did give us a list of three women in our church who sold it.

My mother allowed me to try a little eye shadow, which we ordered from my cousin Susan, and a fresh package of Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers (in Dr. Pepper!) instead of the foundation I believed I needed. She promised she’d take me when I was a little older. That next summer, my mother hustled me to the local Merle Norman, where, after much deliberation, I was rewarded with the proper pancake foundation and translucent powder.

Oh, wearing cosmetics made me feel all grown up, like I had finally been inducted into the secret world of women.

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Over the years, I experimented with different brands of make-up, but I never felt like I was all together without some sort of heavy foundation finished with powder. Always applied with a sponge and a little powder puff.

I would go to those cosmetic stores with one of my daughters or walk through the make-up department at a department store and cringe at the thought of spending $50 on any kind of cosmetic, except my favorite perfume.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more comfortable in all the stages of myself. I’m confident enough to run to the grocery store without my “full face” on (something my Mother never did) and my daily routine, even for dressy occasions, means getting out of the bathroom in under half an hour. Well, unless I need to deal with my hair.

Being comfortable without make-up has also translated into being comfortable with bolder make-up, too. Heavy, smoky eyes and a bold lipstick!

While killing some time waiting for a lunch date in DC this summer, I wandered into a Sephora and fell in love with a urban-decay-vice-lipstick-rock-steadylipstick, and God help me, it was from that Urban Decay brand. It was the perfect red, and though I didn’t buy it that day , that perfect blue red kept coming to mind time and again.

I made the decision that indulging in a $17 lipstick wasn’t crazy. I’m a grown up woman and besides, is there an Avon Lady around anymore?

So, here I was in the middle of Sephora and I was smack dab in the middle of my own midlife crisis: not only did I need the RED LIPS; I needed to find something to cover those spots on my face that may look like freckles, but were big enough to be called – gasp – AGE SPOTS.

I gave myself over to the sweet and beautiful blonde young woman and let her make me over.

She not only made me over, she educated me on better ways to apply make-up. And let me tell you, cosmetics have come a long way since the late 70’s!

Rather than swipe a heavy foundation over my face with a sponge, she reduced my skin back to its alabaster color with that “stipple” action, liquid foundation, and a brush. Translucent powder made its way into the routine, but instead of a little velour powder puff, she produced yet another brush.

The she introduced me to the big guns: the world of “Bobbi Brown” and something called a bronzer.

I left with a little bag of (expensive) goodies. And no, I didn’t forget the red lipstick, that beautiful perfect red: Rock Steady.

I’m thrust back in time to other make-up memories.

My first dance recital, and in addition to ballet pink tights, I am wearing lipstick from Avon and a swipe of blush, Clinique Extra Clover, my dance mate Becky’s.

I’m on the Drill Team and am applying the prescribed combination of cosmetics: blue eye shadow and a Maybelline red lipstick, combined with L’eggs Suntan Pantyhose.

I’m in the high school musical, L’il Abner, applying Ben Nye cosmetics and using a “stipple” action to age a fellow classmate.

I’m in college and applying my beloved Ben Nye foundation with lots of pink rouge as I prepare to play a maiden in the Pirates of Penance.

And you may be wondering what THIS has to do with living a creative life. And you may be wondering how I connect my theme of “keeping house” with this exploration into the modern world of cosmetics. And, honey, let me tell you, that just as I need to tend my home so that it is a sanctuary, aren’t I also supposed to tend myself?

We must be willing to invest in ourselves, be it time or money, in order to tend ourselves and our creative lives.

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As creative beings, we must also be willing to evolve.

How can we continue to evolve our art, if we, as humans, aren’t willing to shift and evolve the pieces of every day living?

And evolve, I have.

I’ve used my new foundation since July, and each day I still hear the reminder to “stipple” and “layer” over swiping. And, though I confess it took extra time in the beginning, I can still be done with my make-up routine lickety-split.

Each morning as I prepare to face the world, or just feel pretty for myself over an average Tuesday dinner with John, the use of all the brushes and cosmetics reminds me that I am a creative being. Though my words are my art in most cases and I can’t draw my way out of a paper bag, I can play with brushes and colors and create the visage I present to the world.

Enhancing the vision of myself, looking back in the mirror at me. It’s a part of the way I tend myself and nourish my creative life: the permission to expand how I see and use cosmetics.

Yet it goes beyond the foundation, bronzer, and lipstick. It’s also about the approach to living: to be willing to not just evolve, but take a risk. To do my make-up differently invites me to try to new spices in the kitchen and experiment with a different kind of writing.

To create new things – to evolve creatively – means we must think differently in order to create differently. Changing things up in cosmetics gives me permission to play with words in different ways.

Ways which are unfamiliar now, yet with practice will emerge from me. Lickety-split.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire. She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Sunday Sanctuary: The Discomfort of Evolution

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It’s disconcerting, sometimes, to learn about yourself. Especially when you consider we humans are ever evolving creatures.

Those of us who are drawn to be creative – to make things,  to have the need to bare our souls through our art of choice, to desire to make our mark upon the world on canvas, paper, or the stage – dig deep into what allows us to do img_20160723_092630our work. The rituals, the routines, the discipline, and the support structures  that serve us and allow us to create the work we are called to make?

We cling to them.

What works for us when we are twenty no longer works for us when we are thirty. The routines that fueled our discipline to come to the table daily when we were forty fall flat when we are forty-eight.

As we evolve, what we need to fuel us, support us, fill our well and allow us to dig into our depths… Those must mature and shift, too. The challenge to this transformation and, frankly, demand of our need to make art, comes when we cling to old ways or realize we are a beat and a half off of what works.

After two weeks away from home – some solo time in The Big Apple followed with a cruise with my partner – I find myself not just a beat off of the rhythm, but in the midst of the maelstrom.

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My creative life is shifting. The call to my work spinning like a record on a 78, yet I’ve been tending my creative life as if it’s spinning at 45. My routines, my rituals, my tried-and-true tricks no longer fit me as they did, even six months ago.

It’s uncomfortable. It’s frustrating. It’s infuriating.

Yet, it simply IS. It’s a part of evolving as a human being, and evolving as a creative being. To cling to old ways doesn’t serve me, even though I wish it could.

The biggest discovery for me during the past few weeks is that I need solid pockets of silence.

Yes, me, the girl who, from second grade to seventh grade wrote the sentence “I will not talk in class” hundreds and hundreds of times needs to be quiet.

I have lived in Ohio now for six years. Where my world was once filled with drama and chaos and both physical and auditory noise, now my daily life is mostly peaceful. Though we don’t live a Spartan nor minimalist life, my environment is mostly uncluttered.  I always desire a space of beauty, but in order for my home to be my sanctuary, I have discovered I crave the elegance of solitude.

timesquareThere’s nothing like Times Square or a Cruise Ship full of 2000 souls to bring crystal clear clarity to the truth that in order to create, I need both solitude and silence. Where I once thrived on drama to fuel my creations, I now need the contrast of tiny bits of input with huge doses of calm for output.

Home from my travels, faced with the reality that in learning about myself, I am once again the space of facing the uncomfortable and disconcerting feelings of evolution. To realize that in order to tend my creative evolution, I need time to find my equilibrium.

I am in the space of searching for those new routines and rituals. To seek new paths to what works  and what doesn’t. Though it was made clear to me during my time of travel, the only way I can bring discipline into the mix, to shift the filling of my own well and, in turn, create the work I am called to make will happen here.

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This kind of work is done best in a place of safety. So, as we are thrust back into the “real world” of work schedules, laundry, and making dinner, I also have work to do. Yes, here. At Home.In stretches of silence and solitude. In what has become my Sanctuary.

Because my creative life depends upon me dealing with – and working through – this discomfort.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Create a Life You Love: Straightforward Wisdom for Creating the Life of Your Dreams. She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Sunday Sanctuary: Tending My Instrument & the Advice of Virginia Woolf

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When I look at my creative history, I realize that I’ve left behind many of the ways I’ve been creative in my life: dance (except the occasional wedding), singing (except in the car or the shower), and theatre (which was my minor in college). As we age, we leave behind many of our creative pursuits for seemingly right reasons: not enough time to devote to a craft thanks to real life demands and sometimes a loss of interest. Or, sadly, the belief that grown-ups a birthday cake for Johndon’t play act or dance en pointe.

But that may be a story for another day.

A few years ago, I fell back in love with food. Oh, well, maybe I always loved food as a way to soothe the soul and commune with other souls, but this time, I fell in love with the process of taking the best raw ingredients I could find and creating something with them.

It is a way to be creative in a way which is practical. It is a way to use my creativity in a way that enhances our daily life, providing not just nourishment for the bodies of those in my care, but also a setting for which to share the stories of our days.

Creating in the kitchen fuels my creativity, nourishes my body, and yes, also nourishes my soul as cooking for others is one of the ways I show love.

And I will confess that one of the necessary tasks of creating a meal – sourcing the ingredients (aka Grocery Shopping) – is a task that I love, too. It’s like a mini-artist date with myself, pawing through local summer tomatoes for the ripest ones, sniffing the cantaloupes to choose the sweetest, and discussing the possible ways to prepare a piece of wild caught salmon with my favorite fishmonger, Paul.

“The human frame being what it is, heart, body, and brain all mixed together, and not contained in separate compartments as they will be no doubt in another million years, a good dinner is of great importance to good talk. One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well”

― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

I’m sure you’ve seen the last line of this quote by Virginia Woolf many times. Recently, I re-read her book “A Room of One’s Own” and caught onto the deeper meaning of this: women colleges were feeding the students not-so-glorious foods while the men’s colleges, like Oxford, were feeding their students lovely, elaborate meals.

In addition to needing money and a private space to write, Woolf knew that in order to create, women must also be well fed.

Just as my house is not just a home, but my sanctuary from the world, my body is also my sanctuary. It houses my soul. It is my instrument. Yes, my mind is where the creative ideas are born, but it relies upon my body to birth the ideas into the world.

They need each other and,  like it or not,  my body is my instrument.

Earlier this year, I had moments where the act of holding a pen was excruciating. I’d be slicing strawberries and all IMG_20160527_181536the pincer action of holding a berry and a knife caused severe cramps in my hands. And sitting for hours meant stiffness in my hips that was unbearable at times.

No matter how unbreakable we believe we may be, sometimes we have to make peace with the fact that we have been hard on our bodies during our youth. Many of the creative pursuits of my youth, like dance, can be hard on a developing body. And how can I neglect to look at what all the years of typing and writing have done to my wrists and hands?

Though fifty is on the horizon, it’s not here yet, but facts being facts, I have the beginnings of arthritis.

While my doctor offered to treat my developing arthritis in a pharmaceutical way, we agreed to first try a holistic approach: an anti-inflammatory diet.

I am not a big fan of pills. Yes, I take my blood pressure medication and an aspirin for my heart. I take the supplements my doctor recommends. But the thought of relying upon medication to do the things I love to do was unimaginable.

I thought back to the wisdom of Woolf and while I believe the meals I have been creating are lovely, I had to admit that when my body – my instrument – is trying to communicate with me, I had to ask myself if I was fueling it in the best way possible.

There are a lot of foods considered anti-inflammatory: fish like salmon and halibut, good fats like olive oil and IMG_20150509_183947avocado, tomatoes, spinach, nuts, and other such delicious ingredients. Our daily diet is pretty heavy on these non-inflammatory foods.

But I also know that other foods that exacerbate inflammation: heavily processed foods, gluten, sugars, and dairy. We don’t really eat a lot of processed foods, but dear God, do I love good bread and cheese and the occasional piece of chocolate or carrot cake.

One of my all-time favorite ways to create in the kitchen is baking, that beautiful mix of science and art.

And I must be honest:  I’m not a fan of demonizing any food group. Unless you are lactose intolerant and can’t handle dairy, it’s not “bad”. And gluten is such a hot no-no these days. Most science still points to the fact that the average, healthy person will thrive on a well-balanced diet including ALL of the food groups.

Yet, when your body is telling you that things aren’t running 100%, it’s time to take a step back and say, hey, I’m not a 16-year-old girl with a daily dance practice barely weighing 100 pounds.

All the research told me that experimenting by eliminating food groups known to add to inflammation for at least thirty days to see how your body feels is a worthwhile experiment. That meant: no gluten, no dairy, and no foods with added sugar.

I couldn’t imagine coffee without cream or eggs without crusty,  sourdough toast slathered in butter. But just as my creative life deserves to be romanced with beautifully made notebooks, didn’t my creative life also deserve me fueling the instrument in a way that not only nourished, but supported?

In May, I began a (modified) Whole30 as an experiment, to see if eliminating potentially inflammatory foods helped. No gluten, no grains, no dairy, no added sugars except a tiny spoon of turbinado sugar in my coffee. Oh, and no pseudo foods, using cauliflower to make a pizza crust and such.

IMG_20160725_203751By June, I noticed that my hands didn’t ache or cramp up. My hips felt better.

Yes, I’ve experimented with a little cake here and a little cheese there, but my body has shown me that abstaining from these foods makes me function at my best.

Choosing to see food as both a creative outlet and a way to best fuel my creative instrument allows me to also fuel my ability to create.

Just as I must birth stories at a keyboard and share secrets by writing a letter to a friend, I need to create a meal from the ingredient up in a way that nourishes me spiritually and fuels my instrument to create.

We must tend all of our sanctuaries to fuel a creative life.

Even if that means taking a hard look at how we are choosing to fuel our minds, our souls, and our bodies.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Create a Life You Love: Straightforward Wisdom for Creating the Life of Your Dreams. She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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