Creativity and Place {Chasing Creative}

Where we are in this world affects nearly every part of us.

It’s easy to forget this in a digital age where our closest friends and family may live thousands of miles away. We’re a mobile people—travel is easy, we want to see the world. With help from Skype and Google Translate and airplanes, the boundaries of countries and oceans and languages don’t hold us back like they used to. These are largely good things.

But sometimes we forget that the ground beneath our feet and the air we’re breathing right this moment can change the way we live our lives.

The place we were born, the place our grandparents were born, the neighborhood we grew up in and the city we left it for, the best vacation spots we’ve ever visited, the oldest cobblestone streets and dustiest dirt roads we’ve ever walked on—every one of these places has touched our souls and left a fingerprint.

The things we create are a mashup of the people we are. So of course, our geography affects our creativity, too.


We’re diving deep with illustrator Jane Heinrichs on this week’s episode of Chasing Creative: Creativity and Place.

Jane is an illustrator who works with publishers around the world. Her first children's book, "Magic at the Museum," was short-listed for best-illustrated book at the Manitoba Book Awards. Born in Canada, Jane now lives in London and frequently travels to South Africa and Manitoba.

Listen in to the podcast to hear how all these places have shaped Jane’s work and how other “geographies” like motherhood have impacted her as well.

Which places have most shaped your creative work? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Castles in the Air: Online Life vs. the Real World {Chasing Creative}

I feel like I live in two worlds sometimes, managing the parallel lives of two people whose realities are totally different. 

In one world, I'm subject to the whims of two tiny people with a never-ending string of needs. I sweep the floor three times a day and still have crumbs stuck to my socks, I don't go more than 15 minutes without answering the question "Why?" and I always seem to be feeding someone else and eating my own meals cold. 

In the other, I'm prepared and put together. I post well-crafted sentences and hold conversations with other adults, conversations I actually manage to contribute to in an intelligent way. I have a profile picture that always looks happy and has clean hair, even when the real-life me doesn't. This is a world of filters that act as rose-colored glasses. 

Take a guess which one is more tempting to spend time in. 

We're all drawn in by the lure of the online world with its promises of connections real people through social media, and building real influence by pouring into an audience, building a platform like a stage with steps as high as you can. 


Sometimes I picture it like the Castle in the Air from The Phantom Tollbooth. Milo, the boy hero of the story, has spent the whole book working to reach the Castle in the Air to rescue two sisters, Princess Rhyme and Princess Reason.

Just before reaching his destination, Milo is distracted by a whole host of monsters: a faceless gentleman who assigns Milo an endless string of pointless tasks that will take hundreds of years to complete, the Demon of Insincerity who proclaims himself to be much more than he is, the Gelatinous Giant who tells Milo that being different isn't safe. 

The monsters chase Milo to the stairs of the castle, where a Senses Taker again distracts Milo from his real goal by asking a series of increasingly trivial questions. Just steps away from the Castle in the Air, and Milo has forgotten all about the princesses and the demons. Only an explosion of unexpected laughter make him snap out of it.


The Phantom Tollbooth is an allegorical children's novel published in 1961. It's nearly 60 years old, but I don't think it's ever been more relevant than it is now. 

The real world, the one that's messy and filled with hard work, is so much less appealing than the promises of the online world. But the real world is where we live, with our children and spouses and friends and family. The real world is where the magic of creativity happens. It's where we're called to be: here. 

Portions of the online world are real, like the genuine friendships we can form and the words we can share that might otherwise stay hidden away in a notebook on our nightstand. But most of it? It's all smoke and mirrors, distractions and insincerity. 


But allegories can never reflect real life perfectly. Social media and platforms have their place, especially for creatives who want their work to mean something and impact others. 

So how do we balance it all without getting pulled away from our real goals? That's the question Abbie and I are tackling in this week's episode of Chasing Creative. Head here to give it a listen: Social Media and the Creative Life. 

We don't have all the answers (or any answers, really), but we do have the hope that Princesses Rhyme and Reason gave Milo: it's okay that the journey takes a little longer than it might have as long as we learn from our mistakes and carry the lessons with us always.

How do you balance creating and living in the real world with the expectation to build a platform online?

Planning an Ideal Creative Retreat {Chasing Creative}

Before we had kids, my husband and I would go up to his family's cabin in February or March for an ice fishing weekend. 

This meant using an outhouse and boiling snow for cooking water, huddling in a blanket and fuzzy socks next to the space heater, and carrying our things through what was often more than a foot of snow up an unplowed, hilly driveway.

It was glorious. Because ice fishing weekend meant my husband would ice fish while I sat in the cabin in blessed, glorious, non-wifi-connected silence. 

I typically got a lot of writing done, not to mention plenty of reading. Though I never called it this at the time, I realized that those weekends were my version of a creative retreat.

 

Spending a full weekend on creative work feels nearly impossible nowadays, and I know I'm not alone in that. We've got little kids or full-time jobs or financial limitations or all of the above. It's hard to justify time spent on purely creative things when you've got a million other responsibilities on your plate. But I still think taking a creative retreat is important.

No one else is ever going to prioritize your creativity for you.

A creative retreat is not only your chance to spend time recharging and doing something you enjoy, it's also your chance to tell the world, "Hey, this is important to me. This thing I do just because I love it is worth it, and I'm going to start treating it that way."

Creative retreats don't have to be some big mountaintop experience (though wouldn't we all love if they were?). A creative retreat could be

  • spending two days in a row at the library with your notebook and a pen
  • an afternoon at your favorite park with a sketchbook
  • a calligraphy workshop you've always wanted to take
  • letting your spouse get up with the kids so you can spend the morning in bed teasing out an essay idea or doodling in your journal

Creative retreats are accessible to you if you keep an open mind about what that looks like. Listen in to this week's Chasing Creative episode for ideas on planning a practical creative retreat that fits your lifestyle. You also won't want to miss our season one episode when we interviewed Jennie Moraitis on taking a mini creative retreat.

What would your ideal creative retreat look like?

 

Creative Communities {Chasing Creative}

Most creatives wander around their real lives feeling like no one really gets them. Oftentimes this suits us (at least those of us who are introverted). Then we come online and find that camaraderie is just on the other side of the screen, where we can join the vast circle of other creatives who understand and support our work.

Having people who can mentor and encourage us is essential to our creative lives. But how do we find these people? Is it healthy to live this double life where many of the people who know us best live on the other side of a screen? What sorts of creative groups and mentorships are best, and is there ever a point where they do more harm than good? And of course, the question every introvert dreads: How can I find a creative community in real life?

Abbie and I are hashing through all these questions, plus sharing our own experiences with creative communities, in this week's episode of the Chasing Creative podcast. Head here to listen, or download it wherever you find your podcasts!

Lessons from the Bread

There is a spectacular science to baking bread. The basic formula is simple: flour + water + yeast + sugar = bread. It's the basis for everything from crusty ciabatta to soft sandwich bread, dimpled focaccia filled with herbs and butter to quick-rising hamburger buns. Somehow, miraculously, those four ingredients produce breads so different, you'd never know they were all cousins at heart.

In four years of baking our weekly sandwich loaf, and just about every other type of carb-y dough known to man, I've never bothered to acquaint myself with the mystery of the process. I'd find a recipe and follow it. I wouldn't tweak. I wouldn't wonder about how these ingredients came together to make that result.

  Photo by  Nikki Tran

Photo by Nikki Tran

I used to try harder, in the early days. Jacob and I had freshly returned from a trip to Europe, and our tastebuds were less than thrilled at coming home to American fare after being delighted by Italian olive oil and Austrian dumplings for three weeks. Bread and cheese seemed particularly lacking, like eating a cardboard-flavored sponge or chewing a slice of rubber that was a closer relative to plastic than to anything produced by a cow.

Making my own cheese seemed a bit out of reach for someone who had only recently stopped serving Hamburger Helper for every other meal, so I settled on bread. 

One week later, I was watching the UPS deliveryman drag 40 pounds of wheat berries up the steep cement stairs that curve toward our house (a trip he's made every few months since then). I tied a blue flowered apron around my neck, my newly pregnant belly not even making a bump in the fabric, and I poured a measuring cup filled with light brown, oblong wheat berries into the top of my new electric flour mill. 

The recipe I consulted was written for white flour, and I succeeded in making a dense brick that refused to rise. I baked it still sitting a quarter inch below the top of the loaf pan and ate every crumbly, bitter slice myself as peanut butter toast. I was proud of every crumb. 

I spent the next six months experimenting. I found a recipe made for wheat flour, and I hunted down additives like vital wheat gluten and citric acid (difficult to find because, the Whole Foods store clerk said, Dr. Oz had just advised women to put it on their face). I kneaded my dough by hand rather than in the mixer because I liked the feel of it, even though it made my hands ache. I jotted notes on scraps of paper until the recipe I had copied from Pinterest was so crinkled and scratched out, it was impossible for anyone but me to read. 

The bread got better but never great. And then I had the baby. 

Hadley cried anytime I set her down for the first four months of her life. She hated her baby swing, her car seat, her stroller, her bouncer, and at times, even the baby wrap I tucked her into. 

Baking bread turned into the worst chore of the week. With my newborn's screams in the background of every loaf I made, I started taking shortcuts. I tossed yeast into water without waiting for it to sponge, and I cut the kneading time in half (how much could it really matter, anyway?). I skipped the shaping and instead plopped the lump of dough unceremoniously into the loaf pan, then stuck the whole thing into a 170-degree oven in the hopes the warmth would make it rise faster. 

I wanted better payoff with less work. I lost sight of the process, and I didn't get it back for years. 

The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

The Italians don't have better bread than we do because they rush through a set of instructions. They take their time. They find the best ingredients. They press their hands into the dough and respond to what it needs.

This is what I'm remembering this winter, largely with the help of The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. It was in this book I learned that my shortcuts were literally killing my bread. The very things that keep yeast happy and growing can also kill it dead in one fell swoop. 

Yeast needs warm water to activate, but not too hot. Yeast needs sugar to eat, but don't let it touch honey directly. The same goes for salt, which adds to the bread's flavor but has the potential do harm if you're not careful. And don't let the dough rise somewhere too hot! Warmth is good, but nothing more than what the glow of the oven light provides.

I read all this and immediately started applying it to myself instead of the bread, like the good English major I am. 

I am the yeast. I've been trying to give myself the ingredients necessary for an intentional life, but I take shortcuts in the process. I do more harm than good. My ambition is killing my creativity, not feeding it. Social media is causing me to burn out, not to rise in the warmth. I need more time to rise, more opportunities to be carefully shaped into what I'm meant to be.

In just six weeks of owning this book, I've gone from flinging together a haphazard dough in ten minutes to committing to a bread-baking process that begins at 10:00 a.m. and wraps up around 8:00 p.m. It includes making a sponge to get things started, kneading the dough in the KitchenAid for seven minutes at least, and giving the yeast time to work through three full rises plus a rest period. 

It's more work than it's ever been before, and yet, it no longer feels like a chore. Checking the dough is a restful reminder to be present to what's happening in my own home. Moving it from step to step is practical art in the middle of a long day. 

And, of course, the bread tastes better now than it ever has before.

Here's to hoping the lesson holds true for the rest of life as well.

Overcoming Things that Drag You Down

Vacuuming. Dusting. Washing dishes. Thinking of food to feed the people in your house for three meals a day . . . then actually shopping for it, cooking it, and cleaning it up. 

Just reading this makes me want to sit down and watch something mindless on Netflix while ignoring the filth in my house. But ignoring the things we don't like doing isn't a good option. It's the adult equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and singing la-las to yourself while the things that have gone undone only continue to pile up higher.

These things that drag us down in life are almost always necessary responsibilities that need to be dealt with, but they're also the things that steal our time and energy away from our creativity. Luckily, Abbie and I are masters at finding solutions (or creative ways of just NOT adulting) so we can get back to the things we actually want to spend time on.

Join us in this week's Chasing Creative episode to find out which tasks we hate dealing with most and how we overcome them. 

What are your most hated responsibilities as an adult? How do you deal with getting them done?

What's Saving My Life This Winter

We've all got those small but important things that help us keep our lives on track in different seasons. Is it too dramatic to say that those little things are saving my life? Probably. But they're definitely saving my sanity, and I have no regrets about any of these. Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy to share the small things that are saving my life this winter. 

Saving My Life Winter 18.jpg

Knitting

I'm in a season of facing a lot of big Adult Life Decisions, and it leaves me feeling fried at the end of nearly every day. A lot of things are up in the air right now, and not only does that mean lots of decision fatigue, it also means living with a mind that won't stop racing because I can't handle not knowing the future.  

It's a stressful place to be. When I don't even want to pick up a book to unwind, knitting is a strong second for keeping my hands busy and letting my anxious brain focus on something with soothing repetition. I can even use knitting to deflect some of my stress while my husband and I are debating Big Life Decision options, which is a big plus for helping me stay grounded in logic and not let my emotions take over the conversation.

Root Vegetables

We try to eat seasonally, in part because non-seasonal fruits and veggies are absurdly expensive and not great quality here in Minnesota. That means winter is all about root veggies. And they're kind of the best, aren't they?

You can put them into any sort of soup, stew, roast, or just toss them on a sheet pan in the oven. Kids will eat them. They last for-ev-er. Winter dinners almost can't go wrong, and it's all thanks to carrots and potatoes.

Homemade Iced Mochas

Okay, so my espresso machine is pretty much always saving my life. But it's extra appreciated in winter that I can have a home-brewed iced mocha without needing to brave the cold and wind with the kids. (Or worry about getting in the drive-thru line only to discover that your car's window is frozen shut . . . not that that's happened to me more than once or anything.)

Rosemary Mint Candle

When the kids are behaving at Target, I almost always take a trip down the candle aisle. That's where I found my new favorite candle, Rosemary Mint by Smith & Hawken. (It's already out of stock online, so I'm definitely stocking up if it's still in the store the next time I go.) It smells light and soothing, and it immediately calms me down if I'm feeling stressed. It's my current go-to scent anytime I'm at my desk.

Runner ups in the "things that smell good" category is Bath and Body's Works' Aromatherapy lotion line. I hate going to their store because all the smells mingling together gives me a headache, but I love these so much I'm confident ordering them in bulk online. My favorites are Eucalyptus Spearmint to feel like you just walked into the spa and Lavendar and Cedarwood for an instant dose of calm.

Remote Start Car

I live in the tundra with small children. This is self-explanatory. Let's just say there's a world of difference between loading two kids into an ice-cold car when it's -10, and a slightly warmer car that's been running for five minutes.

Making Friends

I'm introverted to the core, but one of my not-quite goals for 2018 was to find more of my people and put in the effort to engage with them and grow strong friendships. In my head, I want this to look like finding those friends that are more like family, who can stop over or call anytime and it will always feel energizing rather than draining. The reality doesn't look anything like this (after all, friendships like that take time), but I've done better than usual at putting myself out there and finding people to connect with.

I've spent a surprising amount of time chatting with other writers this month, and it's been so good for my soul. Talking with people who get me has been like a giant exhale. I'm also (kind of? sort of?) starting to make more mom friends for the first time ever, which is the most awkward thing in the world but has the potential to be so good down the road.

What's been saving your life this winter?

 

Trying New Types of Creativity {Chasing Creative}

We're always trying new things as little kids. Our parents, teachers, and friends are always encouraging us to sign up for that class or go to that summer camp or "just give it a shot."

And then we enter high school, where everything is more competitive (and more expensive), and the implicit message becomes "Only try this if you're going to be good at it."

In adulthood, you can pretty much forget about trying new things. You've got your hobbies and the things you're known for. No need to branch out now! At best, you'll embarrass yourself, and at worst, you'll fail miserably and waste a bunch of money.

But as per usual, my cohost Abbie and I disagree with this mindset. Who says we can't try new things as adults? Whether it's signing up for weekly piano lessons, taking a one-time watercolor class, or tackling a new project in the privacy of your own living room, we think everyone should make space for new creative endeavors in their lives. 

New creative projects can fill us up in so many unexpected ways. Getting uncomfortable, starting from scratch, learning something new, and even failing can all help us grow as creative people. We strongly believe that trying new creative projects is good for the soul, even if it's awkward.

Listen in to this week's Chasing Creative episode to hear more about the types of new projects we've given a try in adulthood, how we make room for them in our everyday lives, and the things we'd like to take a shot at in the future. 

When was the last time you tried a new creative project? How did it go?

Building Creative Habits {Chasing Creative}

In this season of life, I'm not a fan of setting goals. I don't like the pressure of tracking things that are barely attainable in my real life (and let's be honest: when you're seven months pregnant and have two young kids at home already, even basic things start to feel impossible). 

My solution for this in my everyday life is the more and less list. And in my creative life specifically, I prefer to focus more on making creativity a daily habit that just happens rather than inventing specific goals. 

I don't want my creative life to be a SMART goal with a finish line. I want it to be something that's part of my life forever, even when it looks messy and unclear. But without those specific goals, how do I make progress on my creative work? 

Abbie and I are chatting all about it in this week's episode of Chasing Creative: Building Creative Habits. We're less about setting and tracking goals, more about using our daily rituals and routines to build in space for creative work wherever we can. Click here to listen!

How do you form creative habits? If you're more goal oriented, how do you set and track goals for your creative projects?

What Counts as Creativity? {Chasing Creative}

What do you think of when you think of creativity? Do you recognize yourself as a creative person, or do you think your brand of creativity doesn't count because you're not a painter or a starving artist?

winter decor

In this week's episode of Chasing Creative, Abbie and I are taking down the myth that creativity only counts if it looks the way people expect it to. If you've ever struggled with doubts like these, this episode is for you:

  • "I don't make new art, I just reproduce what others have done from patterns or recipes."
  • "I don't get paid for my art, so any creative work I make doesn't really matter."
  • "My work isn't good enough to be considered real art."
  • "I only dabble in things here and there. I'm not creative, I'm just a hobbyist."

Click here to listen in (or subscribe!) and be encouraged about your own creative journey. Your version of creativity counts, we guarantee it!

How do you define creativity? Have you ever struggled with thinking you're not creative enough to count?