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  • Elise V Allan

Spring Cleaning The Routine

first posted April 17th 2019

A man will enjoy today what exasperated him yesterday, wrote Jean Metzinger. I would add, and vice versa. On Monday I led a student workshop asking them to explore the restrictions or limitations, in their lives, that are creatively enabling and those that are disabling, bearing in mind that the same limitations can do either in different contexts, or at different times. Painting by numbers is an example; invented in the late 1940s by Dan Robbins, these kits enabled many individuals, who wouldn’t otherwise have had the confidence, to take up painting. And eventually some of those people chose freedom from the restrictions of the kits and began to paint their own compositions.  One limitation we all have is time. Our days and our lives are finite. The desire that persists in my life is to experience the luxury of enough unpressured time and space with the quality of timelessness. This last two weeks, I noticed something in my own daily rhythm that had shifted from enabling me to keep my life flowing, to feeling like a trap – my daily to-do list. So I’ve been taking a break from it. It’s served me well, letting me keep track of everything I wanted and needed to do. But I’m tired of seeing the big notebook on my breakfast bar – I’ve been gradually reducing physical clutter too - and the lists had started to build rather than lessen pressure. Maybe it’s the spring light, but it’s definitely time for a change of rhythm. One of the things I loved most, as a child, was arriving home from school to find my mum had moved my bedroom furniture around, just for a change. The difference in perspective,  on waking up in the morning. Inspired by reading Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit, where she writes of giving herself periods of time with no news, phone, TV, or coffee shops, so that she could do nothing but focus on her choreography, I’m working on reducing the distractions in my own life. A guided visualization that I led in my coaching group brought up an image of having my laptop on my studio desk, and writing in my studio. This was a surprise, as I’m often frustrated by the limited space in my studio, but it’s created more flow between both activities. Now that the transition from one to the other doesn’t involve moving location, focused energy from one feeds directly into the other, rather than dissipating, and there’s less likelihood of being distracted in the space in between. So currently, on my non-teaching days, I’m in the studio immediately after coffee and writing morning pages. I’ve been leaving the piles of dishes, ironing, and admin jobs, and getting straight to painting or writing first thing. I’m still the cook and housekeeper in my family, but delegating a little more, and whatever is not necessary is going on the back burner. Coming to the studio first thing in the morning feels good. I’ve felt frustrated by the difficulty of carving out more time for a while – what, I’d been asking myself, could I cut out of my life?  But the odd thing is, re-arranging my day and deciding to drop the to-do lists even for a few days, has given me the felt experience of being time rich. I even found enough time to tidy several of the areas in my studio where the mess had felt oppressive. That done, the space began to feel considerably better, and a painting that had been at an impasse for a while suddenly opened up with a lot of new possibilities while the day was still young. Clutter, chores and admin jobs will always pile up, and I don’t like the mental pressures or visual chaos of them. So I haven’t given up lists altogether, and I’m continuing to explore systems for maintenance. There are things I don’t like doing, and there are consequences to not doing them. I will ‘forget’ about them if I don’t remind myself. I got to preview an exercise on another coach’s blog a few weeks ago, and inspired by that, I’ve got every project on an Excel spread sheet, with separate columns for painting and writing projects, allowing me to prioritise, with another column for playful projects like sewing and my rag rug, which is currently ‘on hold’.  Each category of admin gets its own column, arranged by order of importance and/or urgency.  Meanwhile, my inbox is no longer being allowed to soar up to the 100s. I’m filing emails quickly every day. I’ve included a file for stuff that’s not priority but that I’m not yet ready or willing to delete, with the idea that I’ll read it later. Later is a very flexible word, and acting on ideas is optional. (I’m learning not to use ‘later’ for anything that matters.) And a relatively clear inbox does make a difference to keeping track of what’s essential or important. The dishes did get done yesterday. And surprisingly, energised by my day, I felt able to tackle the ironing just before bedtime last night. Image: Paint by numbers, designed by Dan Robbins

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