The Slump / by Vanessa Longacre-Wilcox

Figure  1 : The canvas just  looking  at  me .    Blank stare.    Blink, blink.

Figure 1: The canvas just looking at me.  Blank stare.  Blink, blink.

“Fall seven times and stand up eight” – Japanese Proverb

Since my last post, I have driven 1500 miles on a ten day road trip, had a 4 day stomach flu, nursed children through the stomach flu, then head colds, and then rounded it out with my own midnight trip to the E.R. (I’m fine now.)  I think I’m supposed to be telling you about all the sketching from the passenger seat I did on the road trip or how when you are dehydrated from stomach flu colors are so much more vivid, or how the 5 hours in the fluorescent lighting at the E.R. gave me inspiration for my next painting.  Yeah…none of that.  Instead, still struggling to get back on track, life’s minutia has taken me over and I am exhausted.  Each morning I negotiate the exact minute I get to get back in bed as a way to pry myself out of bed.  As in, “Get up now and I promise that in exactly 14 hours you can get back in bed.”   I have been tired and unmotivated, with projects backing up as April turned into May and now May is threatening to turn into June.

It’s not that I’m not creating art, I am. Just at a much slower pace and instead of bounding down the stairs to my easel at every opportunity, I’m finding it difficult to stay motivated.   

My mind is a swirl of ideas as to what has caused this slump.  There are some reasonable explanations for some of the slowing down, like, it is legitimately difficult to paint while puking.  I will give myself that.  But the not getting back up? Not starting again? That is where the days turned into weeks and excuses began to fester.

So let’s do this.  Let’s crack open this here excuse-o-meter 2000 (my brain) and get down to the nitty-gritty.  What are the excuses I'm using against myself and how can I combat them?

Excuse number 1: I’m too tired to paint/write/create
This is a tricky one.  Because it seems legitimate, I am actually tired.  I mean really tired.  But why am I tired?  If I’m so tired am I going to bed at 9pm to get un-tired?  No.  I’m watching television, reading depressing news stories on my phone before bed and then lying awake half the night mentally moving our disaster preparedness kit from place to place theorizing which way the house would fall down in an earthquake and wondering if tuna and chili were really the best ideas for rations.  Excuse combat fact: I am actively participating in my tiredness and I can make better choices here.

Excuse number 2: I have too much to do and not enough time
Well, yes, that's kind of the human condition, right?  If I am lucky, I'll always have exciting things waiting to be done.  Right now, I have several projects going at once.   I’m using oils and rotating pieces as they become too wet to work on.   I think I’m discovering that even though that seemed like a good idea, it doesn’t work very well for me.  The constant switching is keeping me from feeling emotionally invested in any one project.  Also, I’m sharing a palette between the paintings and that feels wrong too.   I’m ruining carefully developed colors for one painting by shifting them in a different direction for the other.   Excuse combat fact:  Take my own advice from last month, and simplify. 

Excuse number 3: Life has no meaning
This actually started off as a joke but I have to leave it because there is truth in it.  This last 6 weeks has been pretty intense in the world (it’s actually been pretty intense since around humanity starting but…).  The events in Baltimore, the earthquakes in Nepal, wars, important cases in front of the Supreme Court, the news has been shaking me pretty hard.  For some people, tragedy inspires great art.  For me, right now, I’m operating on a level of sadness about the world that I’m exhausted by.  Excuse combat fact:  I’m overloaded.  Time to stop obsessing about stories that make me sad.  Read something funny, watch videos of puppies yawning, turn off the news least for a little while. 

Excuse number 4: I need to get it together before I show my face again
This is probably the hardest one to combat.  Especially given that my last blog post was such a call to action to get over any bullshit and just do it.  Part of me is embarrassed that almost as soon as I clicked publish on that post, all my systems fell to pieces.  My ego wanted to be better than that.  To get it together before you were the wiser.  But a large part of me thinks that this is perfect.  This is life.  We have to get up, work hard, eat right, love each other, exercise our minds, bodies, and creativity, every single day.  It's a tall order.  Sometimes it's harder than on other days.  Sometimes we fall.  But we have a choice every single day, in each moment, whatever our failures.  There is beauty in that.   Excuse combat fact:  It is okay to fail.  When you fall down, get back up...every time.

The funny thing about writing out these excuses is that articulating them helped diffuse my need for them.  Once I had a draft of them out, I immediately felt lighter and more motivated.  I highly recommend it as an exercise if you are feeling stuck.

Now for a plan.   (As you probably can tell by now, I love it when a plan comes together.  And yes, I just quoted the A-Team.)

  • Look over my project list, quit bouncing from item to item and pick one. 

  • Get some sleep.

  • Focus and finish one piece.

  • Report back.