02.14.17 Project Status Update

As of today I’m on time based on steps I need to take to turn in our taxes by mid-March.

In a few cases I needed to print statements I thought were already printed but that didn’t take too much time.

It also looks like we have all the 2016 reports like W-2s and interest statements which will make it easier to compile documents.

I’m happy about being on time with taxes because this isn’t my favorite project. The sooner I complete it, the sooner I can move on to something that’s more fun.

Why Do Some Many Great Works Have Troubled Backgrounds?

When I’m doing a project, I’ll listen to music I love or leaf my collection of inspiring images. This isn’t unusual. Creative people will tell you they use all kinds of rituals and practices to get into the flow of their work.

Today, many companies that depend on innovation focus on creating fun, stimulating environments for their employees. I’ve worked at a few such companies. The ad agency I worked for placed large bowls of candy in common areas for employees to enjoy. Another employer did away with set hours; it was up to each project team to decide how to meet their commitments.

And yet, creative work…often superb creative work…has been created under conditions which were anything but ideal.

This morning I was listening to Pink Floyd’s The Wall. There are other albums by Pink Floyd I like more, but there are moments in The Wall when, as I listen, I think to myself, this is just freaking brilliant.

Like many people, I assume that profound and remarkable things must have been occurring to have inspired such a wonderful musical work. And being a curious kind of person, I checked out the album’s history in Wikipedia to learn more.

Wrong. It turns out that The Wall was created during one of the band’s most acrimonious and chaotic periods.

To begin with, the band was in a financial crisis because of poorly managed investments and tensions were high. Band members refused to record together and parts had to be recorded individually then arranged later. Various production staff quit or were fired and had to be replaced. The Wall was the last album for Richard Wright, the band’s keyboardist who was fired after falling out with other band members.

So how does something so beautiful result from something so ugly and dysfunctional?

I think it’s important here to make a distinction between the creator and what he or she is creating.

As a creator I have so often wondered at the things I have created. I’ve looked at things I’ve drawn or read something I’ve written and asked myself “Really, did I do that?”

This isn’t an expression of arrogance. It’s the exact opposite. It is an expression of appreciation and deep humility because somehow I produced this lovely thing.

My personal belief is that creative work is a kind of collaborative effort between myself and a Higher Power. When I’m creating I feel like I’m like the tuner In a radio. I am necessary to the process no doubt about it. Yet there is something about what I create that seems so much finer than me. So much finer than anything I could do using my own devices.

This is why I think so many great works have come out of painful, ugly situations and why many great artists are often troubled individuals.

This not to say that great art cannot come from happy circumstances and from good-natured, content individuals.

But I find it very interesting that creative work is not dependent upon ideal circumstances being in place. That remarkable work can come from the most unlikely conditions.

If you or I approach or work as artists…as creators…this means we do not have to be victims of circumstance when it comes to creating what we want. Something that gives me hope and inspires me to keep creating.

Learning versus Performing

One of the most valuable ideas in the creative process is its emphasis on learning.

Our culture focuses on performance. We look at results…the bottom line, test scores, demonstrable achievements. That often works in our favor.

The problem is that we tend to be impatient with doing what it takes to attain those results. And results often require long hours, patience, and a lot of persistence.  For example, the picture of the performing dog looks really cool but how many hours did the dog and trainer spend together to make the performance possible?

Up until recently I was usually impatient and frustrated with myself and my circumstances. It seemed like everything in my life was conspiring against my achieving what I wanted. But the real problem was I didn’t appreciate how much I was learning and growing in the process.

For example, I love graphic design and I regularly clip layouts and illustrations I especially like. I get very inspired by these examples. The problem is my skills just aren’t up to recreating or adapting these ideas. I can get so upset when my work doesn’t measure up to what I want to create.

What I keep going back to is that mastery requires consistent practice. Mastery which is the expression of unconscious competence requires spending a lot of time in the phases of conscious incompetence and conscious competence. Both phases are uncomfortable and often frustrating.

Currently, I create designs for my own pleasure. I don’t have the goal of earning money through my artwork. I think becoming a professional designer could be a great career but I’m not yet sure it’s for me. As long as my enjoyment is greater than the attendant frustration of learning new skills I’ll keep creating artwork. At some point, my skills will be strong enough so I can make the decision about whether I want to sell my work.

Pursuing mastery feels like a better goal to pursue than pursuing a living because mastery is about learning. If I make this about the money I’m concerned it will somehow lessen what it is that I’m creating. And I want to allow myself to enjoy the process of learning and gaining mastery. It feels luxurious and nourishing to do so.

02.07.17 New Project: 2016 Taxes

I doubt there are many people who consider doing taxes an act of creativity..maybe a few tax accountants out there.

However, any project that occupies 20 hours of my life deserves consideration in the creative process.

I wish I could be one of those persons who brings a shopping bag full of papers to their accountant each year and says “Here ya go, have at it.” But I’m a control freak by nature and I actually try to keep track of what’s coming in and going out.

Structural Tension Chart

All projects to which I apply the creative process begin with a Structural Tension Chart which includes my goal, current reality, and action steps.

Goal (which is it I want to create?): An accurate, timely tax return. An accurate snapshot of our finances.

(Note the first sentence isn’t terribly exciting but it is accurate. The second sentence is more interesting because we’ve been thinking a lot about retirement and an accurate snapshot of our finances is required as a starting point).

Current Reality: Before turning things over to our accountant I make sure the numbers in Quicken match the numbers on our the numerous financial statements we receive from our credit cards, banks, and other places with which we spend or receive money.

Last year I kept current until June then got behind and began printing statements and filing them in a 3-ring binder. So I have six months of statements to reconcile with receipts I added to Quicken.

I scan and file my receipts so I have backups of all my tax-related receipts.

And it looks like we’ve received most of the tax documents we need to include: W2s, interest statements, and mortgage interest.

At this point, I have all of the numbers and documents. I just need to make sure the numbers are in Quicken so I can send an electronic file to our accountant.

I’ve estimated I’ll be ready to send everything on or before March 15. I’m hoping I don’t need to beware of the 2017 Ides of March.

Action Steps:

Actions steps fall loosely into the following categories:

  1. Reconcile Quicken with statements
  2. Generate reports
  3. Organize documents
  4. Send to accountant who files electronically
  5. Pay if we owe money

I’ve already begun reconciling statements and expect the process to be completed in early March.





Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts

When You’re Just Not Feeling Creative

There are days when one thing after another seems to make a tiny paper cut until it feels like I want to curl up and go catatonic.

Today has been one of those days.

First I discovered moths have gotten into my sweater drawer and several beloved sweaters are beyond repair.

Then I pinched a nerve in my foot while getting groceries which hurt like hell. It was hard to walk without putting pressure on my sore foot.

I got into a fight with my son because he wouldn’t do an errand for me. It was such a trivial thing for us to get so angry over.

The vet office called to tell me my 11-year old cat’s bloodwork “showed abnormalities” leaving me to imagine the worst while waiting for the doctor to call me back.

None of these things are fatal singly or taken together but oh how my heart hurts at this moment.

As I contemplated the question, “what do I want to create?” My response is “be in the habit of choosing peace over hurt, fear, and anger.” Because I know I’m capable of choosing peace and when I do life feels better.

There are other things I would create which more directly address some of the day’s issues: a relationship of mutual respect and cooperation with my son; great-feeling feet; a safe, clean environment for my woolens, etc. But it’s difficult to address these specific results without more peace in my heart.

New Project: Completing Previous Project

I decided to break down the actions needed to complete the how to article into smaller, easier pieces and create a fresh project to complete these pieces.

Making things “as simple as possible but no simpler” seems to be something I need a lot of practice with. I continue to learn that what I think I can accomplish is a lot more than what I do in reality.

I also think there’s wisdom in limiting the number of hours I have each day to do what I see as productive, creative work. 5-6 hours is really good. 4 hours is more realistic. Not only is some time spent on admin work but there’s time driving, doing errands, and dealing with unexpected crisises like bringing my Mac in for repair and using my iPad as my makeshift computer for work.

I created a new Structural Tension chart on Google docs. Once I have a working computer I’ll upload the new chart as well as images of my latest Daily Creations.

11.30.16 Project Status Update


Yesterday, when I sat down, pen in hand to edit the how to article I’ve been working on since late October, I found myself rewriting paragraphs and in one instance, deleting out an entire page.

When edits are this extensive, there’s a larger underlying issue—often structural in nature. In this case, I realized that my How-to article was actually several separate how-to articles. Not only did I have multiple articles, the articles had different audiences: some technical and some general.

For example, one audience to whom I was writing were people looking for good gift ideas. Another audience were crafters. And another were people who wanted to do something using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.

I now understand why I’ve felt so much resistance finishing my article.


So I’ve been thinking about how to move forward and here’s what I decided:

  1. I’m going to proof read what I’ve written and break the article into separate blog posts so it’s easier to navigate. Then I’m going to publish what I’ve written knowing it’s a mashup that may not work for any one group of readers.
  2. I’ve made notes of my ideas on how I can rework different parts of the article as future possibilities.
  3. I’m going to call this project complete and move on to other things I want to do.

I considered several other possibilities but at this point completion is what feels best. There are projects that feel more compelling and I generally like to go where I feel the most energy.

Although completion feels best, it still doesn’t feel great. I feel like the guy in the picture here who has tried fixing his computer, has removed lots of pieces, and isn’t sure how to put it back together again. Rather than replace the pieces he’s just throwing the pieces back, and putting on the lid, and calling it “done.” That’s how I feel about this project.

I’ll be writing a Creator Moment of Truth post as well and will probably have more insights on what I’ve learned.