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Top 5 books for a creative walkabout

Whenever I hit an obstacle, my first inclination is to read all about it. Rationally, I want to read and learn in order to do better. (The “do better” part is the most difficult by far.) So yes, I’ve heap upon heap of books.
Here, I list 5 books I love and keep returning to in my creative walkabout. These books inspire me, help me keep my humor and optimism intact, and provide expert advice.
1: The Joy Diet – Martha Beck
Martha Beck is a genius! Whether you are in an emotional slump or just looking for a pep talk, Martha is for you. My volume of the Joy Diet is dog-eared, flagged, underlined, and scribbled in. In 10 menu items she describes the steps to a happier life. During my creative walkabout, the Joy Diet has once again become a fixture on my bedside table. I’ll leave you with a bit of Martha-wisdom:

“Every time you voice your thoughts to a loved one, or cook a meal, or choose a new bar of soap for the dish by your bathtub, you are creating a modification in space or time that would never have existed without you.” (p.69)

2: The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron
The Artist’s Way is tried and tested by millions of creative spirits around the world. It was first published in 1992 and is a creativity classic. The most important exercise is writing Morning Pages, every day. Morning Pages are three pages longhand to be written every morning, before you do anything else. The Artist’s Way is a 12 week course, which I’ve completed in around 9 months. I’ve loved, liked, appreciated, hated, loathed, despised the Morning Pages, but I also see a wonderful progress towards greater creativity.
3. Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert
You know Elizabeth Gilbert with the bestselling “Eat Pray Love”; In Big Magic, she explores creative living beyond fear with an amazing perspective that is all her own. Contrary to the two first books on this list, Big Magic doesn’t include exercises, but fret not, it holds great, down-to-earth motivation to spice up your creative mojo.
4: Finding your own North Star – Martha Beck
Yes, this is the second book by Martha Beck on this list, but the two books are very different. Finding your own North Star is navigating the storm and finding the life you were meant to live. I appreciate that Finding you own North Star isn’t described as an easy 3-step plan, but a path that requires hard work – because that is the truth. The books includes plenty of exercises including a life profile that is solid gold.
5: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying – Marie Kondo
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, known as the KonMari Method, takes a practical approach to creative living by helping you declutter and tidy your material baggage. It is a little addictive to tidy and organize with the sole question of “does it spark joy?”. It works! While my closet and the walk-in closet under the stairs were decluttered, my thoughts were as well.
Do you agree in my list or are there essential books missing? I would love to hear from you.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying – Marie Kondo

Quite the nifty and humble title, isn’t it? The Japanese expert declutterer and professional cleaner spills the beans on her KonMari Method of tidying. There is a red banner down the cover, saying: a simple, effective way to banish clutter forever. Even with my cautious optimism, I thought, not likely. But I must say, I am now convinced and have recommended the KonMari Method to others.
The starting premise for Marie Kondo is a blank space and this is monumental. Discard first, she says, and then choose what to have in your home by a simple question:
Does it spark joy?

She has a lot of other pointer in her easily read book, like tidy by category and not by location, tidy alone with “advisors”, and start with the easiest categories such as clothes and leave sentimental items and heirlooms for later.
I read “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying” during my creative walkabout, where everything – my home, my life, my thoughts – was cluttered, and there is a certain magic about tidying. It has a meditative feel when you make it occasion instead of something you should do before the in-laws arrive for dinner. And I see now, why it is paramount that others do not interfere. You must shrug off some social prejudices that you inadvertently follow like: It’s too nice to throw out. So and so gave it to me. If I lose five pounds… I don’t like this, but so and so always likes when I wear it.
After reading the book, I started with my own closet. I emptied it completely (and even washed off the shelves). Turning to the clothes, I held each piece in my hands and asked, does it spark joy, before putting it in the “yes” pile or the “no”/charity or the “no”/trash pile. After getting the no-piles out of the way, I folded and hung the rest in my closet.
The process surprised me. It wasn’t a chore of “doesn’t fit’s”, and the finished result was an organized closet, full of clothes I love. I feel more beautiful when I’m getting dressed in the morning and I appreciate and care more for my clothes now.
“Does it spark joy?” is really a pretty appropriate question, not only regarding T-shirts, but this in your life in general. What do you do, that sparks joy?

Curiosity is your first star (creative walkabout)

From my first post regarding my creative walkabout, it may sound like the storm calmed the moment I became curious in throwing clay. Sorry, weathering the storm isn’t that easy.
My clay-throwing was the first spark of curious creativity and it lasted the very first class and the drive home. When I woke the next morning, I was tattered and frayed in the storm once again. Hello Despair, old friend! This was the classic, pessimistic case of one step forward and two steps back. My inner neon billboard screamed FAILURE!
However, that inner billboard doesn’t know anything. One step forward and two steps back is a change from whirling around in a tornado. It is progress. I know, you only saw a flicker of light, happiness, achievement, and joy, but trust it, you just saw a star that you can use to navigate the storm.
Celebrate the moment! Cherish it. Remember whatever it is that sparked your curiosity.
Curiosity is a curious term. No pun intended, even my trusted friend, Merriam-Webster says so.
Curiosity: desire to know:
a: inquisitive interest in others’ concerns: nosiness.
b: interest leading to inquiry: intellectual curiosity.
We all know, that Curious George was a cheeky, little monkey, who always caused some kind of trouble and of course, curiosity killed the cat. Curiosity and its synonym, nosiness, is often a negative attribute, like the nosy neighbor, always lurking to see what’s happening. Forget this definition of curiosity.
Curiosity is a spark of interest, leading to inquiry, change, innovation, and development. Curiosity is letting go of the “why” and playing around with “what if”.
I purposefully use the term “playing around”. Curiosity requires a playfulness. This is the reason, we can’t plan or logically think ourselves out of the storm. You need a little playfulness; you need to listen to your inner child.
You were really smart as a kid. You knew what you loved to do. Maybe it was sports, something creative, board games, algebra, catching frogs, please continue in your own words. And if your parents asked you to do anything else, like take out the trash or do your homework, you were very vocal about pausing what you loved to do.
Finish this sentence, just for fun. As a kid, I loved to ________________________________________ .
Now do it! I mean it. Leave Inertia and Passivity and do it. It doesn’t matter how silly or childish, your pursuit is. If you loved to play in the sandbox, go to beach and build a sandcastle or buy some kinetic sand and play around with it.
This is your first star.

Signum – a treasure trove in Florence, Italy

signum-firenzeWhen you step out of the scorching Florentine heat and in to the stop Signum, your eyes will glisten and your heart flutter. As you take in the decked shelves from floor to ceiling, you have ample opportunity to say, “Be still, my heart!” with the knowing smile that you are experiencing something special, almost magical.

Signum is an artisan marvel, selling hand-made journals, calligraphy inks, quills, calligraphy supplies, wax seals, post cards, and stationery. I can’t help comparing Signum to a shop in Diagon Alley; it has the same atmosphere and otherworldliness. Signum inkDark shelving with beautiful bound journals galore, quills with colorful feathers, antique maps of Florence, and tantalizing vials of ink of a wide range of colors. I literally lose track of time, when I visit.

I first visited Signum around 10 years ago and bought these handmade acquaforte bookmarks made of thick woven paper. They appeal to adventure and history books. This time around I found a beautiful ruled journal, ready to frame in my thoughts and stories and monogrammed stationary for those special letters. IMAG5126

I highly recommend that your trip to Florence includes a visit to Signum. From the jewelry shops of Ponte Vecchio, you walk under the arched way along the river Arno towards the Uffizi Gallery and find Signum on your left-hand side. Be careful, the storefront is tiny and you can easily miss it, if you are enjoying the view and don’t hear the begging whisper of pages aflutter. The address is Signum, L. no. Archibusieri 14/R, 50122 Firenze. There are two other Signum shops in Florence.

Signum also has an on-line shop. Unfortunately, the webpage is only in Italian and German – and of course it doesn’t have the same flair as the shops.

Walkabout

The traditional walkabout is a rite of passage to manhood for indigenous Australians, where a boy would walk into the wild for a period. It is a spiritual journey of self-discovery and faith, taken in solitude in the harsh but magnificent environment of the Outback.

Creative walkabout

Without walking boots and a period of time dedicated to this one achievement with the rest of my life on hold, I am taking a creative walkabout.
My starting point was my everyday humdrum life. My life at that point wasn’t without joy nor happiness, but I was frustrated and left with a sense of emptiness every evening when I went to bed. Pretty much everything was a chore, even reminding myself of 3 things I was grateful for before going to sleep.

1. Roof over my head.

2. Food on the table, chocolate in my belly.

3. My son, my son above everything else.

(Repeat)
I was in a bad place, not do to some devastating blow or traumatic event, but I had lulled myself into the dual cities of Inertia and Passivity.
Now, I should warn you. The starting point to my creative walkabout isn’t hopeful; it is more like staring into an abyss. You cannot chart a path and you have no idea where you are going. The first step over the edge is pure faith.
I didn’t go willingly over the edge. I came back to work after New Year’s and almost fainted as I stepped into the office. I was in a very emotional state, I couldn’t control or explain, but I told my boss. That was my step over the edge.
The last couple of months, I’ve read a lot about change and motivation, where the general consensus is, that the first step is your first achievement. And I agree – in hindsight, using binoculars.
That first step of mine was literally over the edge and into the abyss. What followed were a couple of months of pure chaos. The fragile framework of Inertia and Passivity crumbled around me. The positive elements in my life were up in the air, whirling around with all negative elements. It felt like I was stuck in a violent tornado. I had no idea, if I had solid ground beneath my feet, but the only thing I could do, was ride the storm. By riding the storm, I do mean holding on for dear life, not standing at the helm of a ship weathering the storm heroically.
During this chaotic storm, I kept asking myself big questions, none of which I knew the answers to. What is your passion? What do you want to do with your life? Who do you want to be as a person? Every time I answered with “I don’t know!” my frustration and anger became even more pronounced. I was by no means a kind person at this point. I was angry, afraid, exhausted, restless, and a pain for many around me.
I was giving myself an impossible task. You don’t know which direction you are going, when you are thrown around by a tornado. Now, that’s self-evident, but at the time, I expected myself to provide clear answers.
You may think, this next part begins with the second step, but I was a lot further along. I had grappled for my footing a long time. The first time I felt solid ground beneath my feet was throwing clay. I had made a bowl as a young teenager and loved working with clay, but I had never done it since. Now, I signed up for a ceramics class.
This is where the creative walkabout begins in earnest. I followed my curiosity to Creativity. I didn’t know, if I could make another bowl, but in truth that didn’t matter. The first time, I left the class, I was overjoyed. I daydreamed of becoming a potter with my own shop, selling artisan goods. I was inspired and enthusiastic. I love the organic soft feel of the clay in my hands.
I probably don’t need to tell you; I’m not a clay-throwing-genius. My chunky vessels are crude and crooked, but hidden inside was the realization that I love to be creative.
Creativity sustains me. I began to see all the creative endeavors I didn’t have time for or I pushed back because they were only hobbies or for fun. Reading. Writing. Journaling. Decorating. Baking. Cooking. Gardening. Fantasizing. Spending time based on what is fun or what spikes my curiosity instead of regarding everything as a chore.
I began courting myself. I went on dates with myself, doing things I loved. For the first time in years, I went to a café to drink coffee and write. I fantasized and told myself stories, without rationalizing or telling myself that it was a waste of time. I made tablescapes without vacuuming first. And with these dates, I felt inspired and enthusiastic again.

I am writing a little series about my recent creative walkabout. Be sure to stay tuned – or follow my blog, if you want to read the next installment.