Sunday, July 13, 2014

Returning to Summer, Zero State, and Guarding Against Creative Burn Out

As it has every year, my summer officially begins with the conclusion of the Summer 1 Semester of Creative Thinking & Problem Solving which runs for six weeks beginning in late May.  In the final weeks of the intensive schedule, I find myself in a unique state of flow, brimming with solutions, next steps and ideas for my own projects—and, even more important, on the cusp of actually having time to work on them.  It is an exhilarating place.  I will go so far as to call it sublime. 

This is because the one thing that I almost always neglect to take into account every semester is how exhausted I am when I do finally reach the end of six weeks of working full time in addition to teaching twice a week on a subject that is my passion.  In the first weeks of July, I unfortunately, do remember.  It is The Post Semester Funk.  It is not the blues, and not the Mean Reds, but is somewhere in between and filled with a lot of internal dialogue “what should I do now?” “I don’t know” “what should I do next?” “I don’t know.”  Other symptoms include moping, staring off into space, not being tired but being exhausted, misplacing objects around the house, and a sudden lack of productivity that involves opening email and FB about 10 times a day looking for a distraction.  

I have come to be very respectful of the P.S. Funk because I learned the hard way after my first semester of teaching, that it is a sign that I am on the cusp of Burn Out, one of Creativity’s greatest enemies.  The good news is that all of the creative tools that author Julia Cameron teaches, and which I share with my students, become my path out of the Bog of No Energy.  I go for walks, I return to yoga, I diligently do Morning Pages (even if most of the time is spent staring out at the morning sky), I sit on the porch and flip through summer magazines, I watch brainless TV and enjoy it.           

There is an upside to being depleted.  “Just let yourself sink to the bottom,” my yoga instructor said to me in her kind voice as I lay in a flat mess on the floor of the training room, in a posture that could only be called Ready-for-Sleep, “let yourself get back to Zero State.”  I am not very good at Zero State, especially knowing that it is a place that is far away from the energy that I had when I promised myself I would bring All My Ideas To Life! only the week before. 

Zero State is part of the path to getting out of The P.S. Funk.  In it, I am able to see clearly the truths that I need to manage for as a creative.  Creativity is a process.  More importantly, it is a slow process.  From feeling like I am super human, I “come down” from class and realize that I can’t do everything.  Or at least I can’t do everything and sustain it. 

However, at this place, this Zero Point, when there is nowhere to go but up, my energy returns.  I begin to savor it and my personal moments of creativity that are not part of any greater purpose than expression.  I take on small projects like trying a new recipe.  I go on Artist Dates to my favorite haunts.  I gradually “work” my way back through morning pages and walks, from “What is the point?” to “You know, I’ve really missed writing for my blog” to “Today I want to write a blog post.”

So here we are.  It is summer.  The days are long and perfect for creativity.  They are good for daydreaming and doing.  I have decided to write spontaneously this year, so while there will not be any set Summer Challenges, there will be musings and new inspiration. 

Michael Boodro, Editor in Chief of Elle D├ęcor opens the summer issue with a beautiful little essay called “Summer Isn't What It Used to Be.”  He ends with a sentiment that called me back to the blog and to myself in my wonderful recovery from The P.S. Funk:
The season is never predictable, and no summer will probably ever seem as glorious as those we remember from our childhood, when it seemed as though it hardly rained and every night was full of fireflies.  But if sunny days and soft, lingering twilights seem more rare than ever, then we need to treasure them all the more when they do come along.
In creativity there are highs and lows.  Moments of exhilaration, moments of inspiration, moments of doubt, and moments of burn out and blockage.  Recognizing your own patterns of work and energy are important to nurturing yourself as a creative.  Learning your own symptoms of the beginning of what could be burn out before it sets in can help make you a smarter creative, allowing you to consciously choose to integrate the patterns and habits that allow you to rejuvenate your energy and creativity.

How do you nurture yourself and your energy after a big project?  If you have experienced burn out, what tools or tactics did you use to bring yourself back to a healthy state of creativity?  I would love to hear your own experiences or even your ways of rejuvenating yourself this summer here on The Paper Compass.