Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Five Ways to Pull Yourself Out of a Creative Slump

We are the women and men that can't sit around twiddling our thumbs for long. We are the ones that gain no satisfaction from typical desk work, office hours, or monotonous activity. We ran far away from that "safe and commonly desired" college degree and opted for an arts degree. We are the kids that gave our parents a perfectly timed powerpoint featuring music and images to substitute a standard Christmas list. And we are the high schoolers that always opted for the "perform a skit" final exam option.

We are the creatives and we are here to rule the world!

...Except, when another dim season of life hits and seems to take all of the motivation and pure fun out of creating. Maybe it's the long winter months that seem to pound you deeper into a hibernation hole. Or perhaps, it is a setback on the job search, even a burnout from a lengthy project. (For me, that "lengthy project" was college itself.) The harsh truth is the life of a creative will not always be abundant and gloriously fulfilling. There are seasons that will come and go leaving you with zero creative success in sight, and that's okay.

With Spring approaching (thank GOD) and new opportunities on the horizon, I have been slowly but surely pushing myself up to climb out of this unintentional creative slump. A giant breath of fresh air is charging towards all fellow innovators and I am encouraging us all to take that in. If you are ready to get back in the passion producing game with me, here are five ways to aid the transition.

(These thoughts playing around are accompanied by some visuals provided by my dear friend Bradley Atkinson. He is in LA creating like crazy. All art work credit goes out to him! Link to his work is at caboose of the post.)

1. Fuel Yourself With Inspiration

So these cold winter months have led you to burrow in your warm apartment scrolling through your phone a little more often than you'd like. Valid! It has been a brutal couple of months. As you are trying to gain the courage to greet the outside world again, surround yourself with inspiration. Play music that makes you think clearer or offers exciting lyric dissection and analyzing for you. Watch interviews and inspiring videos online from people in your field intending to reach folks just like you. Fill your Instagram and Twitter feed with other aspiring creatives. Hit the unfollow button on those that are putting you down and follow those that add more light to your day. Feed your brain with influence from others that may actually light a spark to get back into it.

2. Shape a Creative Space

We are all our most productive selves in different settings. And those settings can always be shifting. There are days that I thrive working for hours in a muted coffee shop. Other days, I could be amazed at the work I accomplished without stepping foot out of my apartment. Through trial and error you will find where your creative space lies. This also could mean shaping it to meet your needs. Try cleaning your whole apartment, let some natural light peek in, set up by a window and go to town. The warmer months will allow a little more opportunity to take your studio outside, my favorite! Keep in mind that time is so valuable, plan ahead your workspace to salvage some procrastination in the form of setting up the perfect space - something I am very prone to.

3. Check in on Fellow Creatives

Think you are alone in this whole living a creative life that seems to be lacking the "creative" part? Wrong. You have a larger circle around you than you think. Call up your friend across the country that always seems to inspire you with his artwork. (I'm looking at you, Bradley) Schedule a coffee date with some girls you shared college classes with, or colleagues you've connected with through your day job. See what projects they are up to and share what you seem to be going through. Gathering more than one creative mind in one room is bound to lead to some inspiring conversation. Is there a project collaboration that could begin? How did they seem to get out of their slump this time last year? Allow some positivity to play. Artists need to be supporting artists in every capacity possible.

4. Shift Your Outlet

If you can't seem to muster up the motivation to get back into that creative outlet you have always had, no sweat. Take a little recess from it. Put that energy and focus into something completely new and different. Spend an afternoon actually cooking the recipes you've had pinned on your Pinterest board for years. (Talk through every step to the invisible camera in your kitchen like you are the Next Food Network Star for an added boost) Open up your laptop and write the first scene to that play you've always thought would be a riot. Throw it back to your favorite art project as a child and take it to the grown up level. Pardon me, while I go track down some googly eyes and a brown paper bag.

5. Proclaim Your Goals

Tell your journal, write it on your mirror, tell your partner, tell your mom, tell your best friend. Who do you trust to support you and help you stick to it? Establish some goals for yourself. By telling the person you trust that you are going to write five pages by Friday, there is no turning back. You see, we creatives hate it when we don't do something we said we would do. So set your goal, shout it out loud, and get going.

While you're on the whole shouting thing-- don't forget to tell yourself AND the world that you are an amazing creative spirit in this world. You bring light, beauty, thought and change to any day. You should be celebrated and your work should be celebrated as well.

The creative life definitely chose us and it is no simple or easy task. Be inspired by all of the awesome beauty that is surrounding us and c r e a t e. It is what you are meant to do. Perfection is not allowed in your vocabulary, be reminded and freed by that.

How do you seem to pull yourself out of a creative slump? Let's share. Let the inspiration flow freely amongst us. 

You can check out Dirty Dad Brad here. His work is insane and inspires you in ways you didn't think were possible. All the love in the world to you, Bradley! 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

A Change of Heart

It's Valentine's Day week, babes. This day of love has always been one of my very favorite holidays. Growing up, my family always made this day special. It was filled with chocolate, cute heart shaped everything, and brilliantly crafted Valentine boxes to capture all the store bought Valentines that were distributed by classmates. I would always end each Valentine's Day by going through every cleanly folded card I received that day. Usually having to determine that my crush sent me the "UR COOL" card to be sure to keep our love on the down low. This of course made me regret my choice to give him the "BE MINE" card. What fun this was!

Truly though, I always look forward to this day. It should be a holiday filled with love of every kind. That is what should be celebrated.

To begin the celebrating of my favorite holiday, I purchased a bag of Brach's Conversation Hearts. Now, for those that do not keep up with the candy industry, this is the first year that Necco has closed its doors and is no longer distributing the V Day classic. And I must say, Brach's tried, but it is just not the same. Sifting through the chalk flavored hearts this weekend, I found some new meaning to the lovey dovey phrases on these candies. Of course I find them sweet and endearing especially thinking of Nick and the first Valentine's Day we get to share together; but I also discovered some more "relatable" meanings for these phrases. There is truth in these tiny hearts that I think any of my fellow twenty somethings can relate to.  My perception of these sweet sayings has shifted over the years, much like the candies themselves. A change of candy company, a change of heart.

CALL ME: I'm talking to you, dream job. Call with that offering, I am ready.

BE MINE: The thing that really needs to be mine, is my cup of coffee after surviving the commute to work.

143: It may be a cute code for "I Love You" but today that looks strangely like my bank statement reading $1.43. What do you mean pay day is 8 days away?

SOUL MATE: The real person in this world that deserves the title of your soul mate is the coworker you always can lock eyes with during those moments you both are going insane. 5 o clock is coming!

OOH LA LA: This is the personality that I suddenly put on when I go to brunch. Sure, I'll spend five hours worth of work on eggs and spiked orange juice! Throw in some sweet pancakes I can only handle two bites of as well!

CRAZY 4 U: Maybe it's just me but I am crazy for YOU, the binge worthy show on Netflix right now that completely fried my mind and gave me the heebie jeebies.

PUPPY LOVE: The endless battle of thinking it's time for me to get a dog and realizing I am never home, nor have any money to give that pupper a good life. So, I'll keep scrolling through viral videos of dancing dogs.

LOVE BUG: Bugs, mice, pests of any kind in my apartment... Nope, there is nothing lovey about that. 

MISS U: President Obama. Enough said.

Sure, the silliness shines through, but in all seriousness, this truly is a time to celebrate the love we do have surrounding us each day. Make this Valentine's Day different, no matter what your relationship status is. It is about so much more than that. Tell your significant other how grateful you are for them, call your parents, have a girls night with your besties, surprise your co worker with their favorite coffee and bagel combo.

Embrace the love that you do have in your life. And add some more love to the world as well. We all know we could use it.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Conquering the Winter Blues

I try to stray from being overly dramatic about common, everyday things. But, here I am on the tail end of January proclaiming daily "This cold weather is killing my soul and I am either burrowing myself into a pit of warm blankets and not coming out until May or I am moving to Hawaii right now, what's it going to be Chicago?!"  (Still working on that dramatic thing.) Now, of course I never actually act on either one of these threats, as I am quickly reminded that I have bills to pay, people to see, and these brutal winter months here in the mid west will soon pass and summer is indeed on its way.

What a battle this season can be. Year after year, I find myself suddenly lacking all motivation, the creativity seems to be ripped off like a sudden band aid pull, and my energy reaches a low that I can compare to a long speech that is only fueled by a slow, crawling drawl. I seem to have trouble feeling like my warm, bubbly self - always during these brutally chilly months just after the new year.

I'd like to say that I am making this year different. Though I can't claim that one hundred percent, I can honestly share that I am proactively trying to beat this year's winter blues. Never easy, but I am finding it to be worth it.

My fellow cold weather despisers, here are some practices I am trying to incorporate into the remaining days of winter. And to those that are reading this from anywhere with a temperature above 50 degrees, you may close your browser, or continue reading and send some warm thoughts and prayers to any of your shivering pals.

Let's conquer the winter blues together.

  • Open the blinds
Sunshine is a secret weapon! And it is a secret because it is incredibly hard to find during these long months. However even the smallest glimmer of sunlight can completely shift your day. We have heard it all over and over, all of the positive health benefits that the sun brings us - it holds mood boosting power to fight off the very common Seasonal Affective Disorder that many of us have, sometimes without even knowing. That giant star in the sky can also improve sleep, relieve stress and offer immense healing on our precious bodies. 

Open the blinds, literally, in your apartment, dorm room, office, even restaurant. Just having some natural light break through your previous dark space could lift that mood that was feeling mighty low. 
  • Set new goals and habits
Hands in the air if you've already broken your New Years Resolution - now wave them like you just don't care! Let's get back on them, tackle them to the ground. These soul sucking months actually can be the perfect chance to create new habits. Implementing new routine and goals into our lives requires focus. By hitting the gym more, cooking new recipes, learning a new hobby, whatever your resolutions may be you are forcing your mind to focus on many other things rather than focusing on how cold and down you feel. I have discovered that I would rather look back at these long months and see all that I accomplished, rather than how painful they were as I watched them pass by.

  • Warm up your heart
Those that have shared a Chicago winter with me, know what a persistent bundler I am. My motto is if I can be recognized out on the street, I am not bundled enough. I like to be warm, outside and inside. Stay warm, and keep your heart warm as well. Fill it up with quality conversations with those you love, blissful books that can take you away, or your favorite comedic movies. Paint, write, run (on a treadmill) and fill up your heart with things that bring you joy. These are all things you can do inside a warm, cozy home. Hanging out with your friends doesn't even have to mean going out - I have really perfected my wine and cheese night hosting skills this season.

  • Accentuate the positive
This has become my motto for the year. I came across it while reading many articles on Betty White's birthday a couple weeks back. The 97 year old actress shared her secret to a long life "Accentuate the positive." Just because the temperature outside is in the negative degrees, does not mean that our attitude has to be negative. We still have blessings and beauty surrounding us even when the weather is bitter. When I catch myself angry at complete strangers on my commute to work, or mad at Al Roker every morning as he tells me what's happening in my neck of the woods, I try my darndest to accentuate one positive thing about my current situation. (ex: I have a warm cup of coffee in my hand, my favorite podcast released a new episode today, I have immensely wonderful friends and family in my life, I have a warm and safe apartment to come home to...)  Even the smallest recognition of gratitude can change the way we see the rest of the day. 

If you are feeling those winter blues crushing you slowly, do not feel alone. We are all over this world and we are here for you. Let's bundle up together and make these cold months different than the last. It is a season that could reap tremendous growth if we allow it.

Friday, January 11, 2019

A Fearless Wannabe

I could describe my childhood self as many different things. I was an incredibly shy little squirt. But, just you wait until I was behind closed doors with my parents and older brother, my carefully cross stitched lips would burst open and a full on ham I would become. I was a little lady for as long as I can remember. While other girls on my t-ball team ran out to the dirt piles to run around before the game, I would carefully hand my purse to my mother for safe keeping, push up my round sunglasses, and take a seat in that filthy dug out, crossing my legs and folding my hands over my knee to stare at my freshly painted manicure. I had no idea how to play t-ball, but I sure had the look.

The one thing I definitely cannot honestly describe my childhood self as would be fearless. Growing up, I could convince myself I was scared of anything. I went through my phases, like any child does, finding myself terrified of cats, dogs, the dark, heights. Spending time in a church pew every Sunday, I even feared that the rapture had happened anytime I couldn't find my mom or dad. I could develop a new fear over night, while other fears could disappear out of my grasp.

I am happy to say that I did grow out of many of these fears. I love adorable doggies and my mind goes to other possible scenarios before assuming I was left behind in the rapture when a loved one doesn't text back right away. I still don't do cats, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. Nor will I be finding any ounce of joy or thrill by standing on an inch of glass with a 1,000 foot drop below me.

The bizarre thing about fears is that they only hold power over us when we give them energy to exist. When that fear enters our mind, that is when the shock collar instantly attacks us, reminding us that we once told ourselves we are scared of that "it", whatever "it" may be. My internal shock collar of fear awakens me with high jitters the moment I see a tiny, innocent, fur ball of a creature scurry across my apartment. A mouse.

Now, growing up in the boonies of Nixa, Missouri with a room in the basement and three acres surrounding us, a mouse finding it's way into the house is to be expected. I would scream bloody murder at the ball of lint running faster than a cheetah across the room, my warrior of a father would come downstairs, practically catch the thing with his bare hands and escort it back outside.

I was terrified of a creature that was smaller than my palm that could disappear out of sight if I even thought about blinking one eye. But, there was an order of events and I knew that it would disappear as soon as my dad could put his Nikes on and head outside with that fear of mine.

So, what is a girl to do when she encounters that somewhat nostalgic fear of hers in her studio apartment in Chicago, Illinois? Well, I'll tell you what I did. I screamed bloody murder and then realized that I had no set sequence of events that would follow. My dad was 8 hours away back in Missouri, though I know he sat up in bed hearing my scream all that way, but unfortunately he couldn't handle this for me. This was now my fear to face.

I can't say that I handled this mouse attack, that was truly just an encounter, gracefully and maturely. I instantly became scared to walk around in my 500 square foot abode. I would jolt out of bed at night thinking I heard the mouse or accused the mouse of intruding my bed. I was dramatic. There was no grace or bravery or maturity to be found.

My sweet boyfriend Nick and I sat out dozens of traps for days. Trying different bait to suck in the poor grey marshmallow with legs. We would keep our shoes on tightly, having no intention to go outside anytime soon, just in case we touched the mouse during war -- it could bite our toes off! Part of facing your fear, is being prepared for the worst, obviously.

We finally caught the rascal, or should I say the very expensive $2 mousetrap from the bodega around the corner caught the rascal. And I, Ashlyn Elliott, came face to face with that fear of mine as I swept it into an old cracker box with a swiffer to accompany the unwanted house guest out. While staring at the now still creature, that I was sure is in a much better place, I noticed we clearly made progress over those few days. The little guy even had a few of my strands of hair wrapped around him. I'm sure it was a keepsake to remember me by and not because I shed horribly.

It is a scary world we are living in. Sadly, it always has been. The older I get, the things that scare me shift slightly. Rather than being scared to jump off the diving board at the community pool, I am scared of not having anything successful to share at my high school reunion. I am scared of the crippling debt I will be in for a long while thanks to school tuition rather than being scared of letting go of my mom's hand at the first day of kindergarten.

I look at our world that is quite literally on fire and full of anger and hurt, and that tiny mouse seems to be a whole lot less scary.

It is about perspective. We are the ones that grant our fears power. Big or small.

Whatever fear it is that seems to be haunting you and I, let's face it. And sometimes, the best way to face it, is to simply dismiss it from holding power over us.

You are stronger than you think. These monstrous spooks that seem to be suffocating you now will soon turn into tiny spooks that you will be able to smile back at with a brave stride.

Release those anxieties and heavy thoughts that are puppeteering your day to day. Use that energy toward things that actually fuel you and bring you peace and joy. You deserve that.

At the end of the day, however, it is life. As much as I preach to myself that I am the bravest girl in this world and can face any giant that enters my life, I still find myself unknowingly acting out the best impression of the Cowardly Lion stuttering "I do believe in spooks. I do! I do! I do believe in spooks."

So, here I am world, a twenty three year old girl ready to charge into this new year standing up to those that make me feel inferior, scurrying away from evil cats that are out to get me, overcoming my financial anxieties, and still staying away from mighty roller coasters that would never intentionally fling me to my death.

Balance must be present in our lives, even with our fears and anxieties. Choose your battles, choose your jitters.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Stuck in Second Gear

So no one told you life was gonna be this way...I never knew the truth in those lyrics until very recently. For years, I had watched sitcoms just like Friends, allowing me to fantasize and look forward to the years of growing up ahead of me. I was so eager to splash around in a fountain wearing matching outfits with my closest friends or strut down the Upper East Side in a tutu skirt just like Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City. These shows, and so many others, were centered around the growing years; the twenties and thirties we all experience.

 It is without a doubt that these years spent charging full force into the real world are some of the greatest years of adventure and struggle and bliss. A messy cocktail with a sweet garnish of anxiety disguised as an umbrella hovering over the glass. I am still very early into my twenties, yet I can't help but gawk at the fact that I am far beyond my teen years, the years that felt so safe and filled with immense confidence. Where did all of that confidence drift to? Another hopeful wide eyed blonde girl in a small town high school assembly, I do hope.

One thing that has remained sweetly consistent since my pubescent years is my love for a sitcom. These mindless short episodes full of larger than life characters, outrageous plot lines and tender moments have always been my escape mechanism. I will always invest in my favorite series, movies, and lengthy seasons of comedic reality that are so near to my heart. The truth is, I learn something new, or better yet, relate to something new with each episode I re watch. These sitcoms and other series that depict the knack of growing up have shaped us into our twenties and beyond, without us even knowing it.

The older I am getting, the more I am realizing how the twenties seem to be nothing like they are depicted in a sitcom and just how fascinatingly realistic these stories are. Bravo to that.
      (i.e. I have never related to Rachel Green more than the past few months as I am pouring coffee for others, just dreaming of successfully living that big city career life one day. Oh and HOW do these three girls have money for all of these cute outfits, and just curious what their rent may be living in a giant Manhattan apartment?..)

It is quite fun to see just how well our "twenties" seem to line up with Hollywood's standards. And the results I have found, very scientifically, of course, are quite encouraging. A list just brushing the bullet points of this revelation. Some truths that we unknowingly relate to, and other truths that perhaps we could add to our own lives.

A checklist for your growing years, according to your -- er-- my favorite TV shows. More specifically, the timeless series, FRIENDS. (Thanks, Netflix for the recent rebirth!)

  • Have your Central Perk
Perhaps it is simply because a sitcom has limited sets to work with, but the idea of having a single meeting place, a go to, provides a comforting sense of consistency. The many chats exchanged on the large couch at Central Perk, or the hilarious banter that charged through the living room painted an iconic shade of purple; these places made Friends immensely charming and so easy to yearn for.

The best thing is, most of us have our Central Perk, our places that we flock to for comfort and sustainability, without even knowing it. Not everyone is a creature of habit like I tend to be. For me, though, I love having my go to places that become associated with the people I meet there. At this point in my twenties, my "sets" are varying. I have a set for work, and home, but also sweet places to spend with those I love. Nick and I find ourselves at the local coffee shop or family owned deli around the corner from my apartment quite often. Here we can share a bite to eat accompanied with conversation and some smiles. There are sweet breakfast hubs that I eagerly look forward to returning to, as I know I'll get to share a scene, some genuine time with some of my closest friends and family. It could be simply the city that you dwell in or a specific comfy couch you and your bestie always share the best talks on. Begin to notice those places that bring you joy and force you to create memories with others.

  • Have your thing that you DO
To put it quite simply, very rarely did you see a thirty minute episode revolved around the plot of Monica, Rachel and Phoebe laying in the living room scrolling through feed after feed. How boring, honestly. These characters and interactions have been so successful because there is action taking place. This is the perfect time to find a hobby that is actually exciting to you. Keep your days spent at work exciting. Plan a fun outing on your days off. Take the time for yourself whenever you need it, but fuel your days, that are brutally limited, by doing something. I catch myself far too often wasting precious time gazing at a screen. I am choosing for my sitcom to steer towards a new plot line. After all, it is situational comedy -- create a situation!

If you are scratching your brain trying to think of something to do, go buy a new couch and get a few of your closest friends to help you carry it up the stairs to your apartment. Let the "pivoting" commence.

  • Have your people that are there for you
You become a sum of the people you spend the most time with. We saw the bond evolve on Friends. The group of six had somebody anytime they needed a somebody. They annoyed each other, they loved each other, and they created moments together through it all. Having your people is so important. Sitcoms have displayed a truth that I have begun to apply to my life: quality over quantity. It isn't about the number of loved ones that surround you, but the positivity, joy and strength they bring to your daily life. 

Keep in mind as well, just as guest stars make quick appearances in various episodes of a long series, there will be guest appearances in your life as well. Some friends that come into our lives are not destined to be a series regular, and that is okay. Love the moments they spend making a guest appearance, and go on with the season when that episode ends.

  • Cue the laugh tracks
No matter how many times I have seen an episode, I will still laugh out loud when Phoebe sees Monica and Chandler together for the first time, or when Joey just can't seem to get his "French" language down. For years, this show has provided us all incredible reasons to laugh, and that doesn't seem to be stopping soon.

Laugh, laugh, and laugh some more. Make others laugh, make yourself laugh. It truly is the greatest medicine on the market. Some of my very worst days may hold a giant belly laugh at 11:30 pm, and suddenly that day became great. Let laughter surprise you, let it play. Our favorite characters dealt with some hard and relatable issues, but there was always a punch line that peaked through. We do not need to belittle our hardships, but we can find the joy through them. 

My dad has always wished me a good morning by saying "Be sweet, and make someone laugh today." I try to do that every day, even if that 'someone' is me. 

And so, I don't believe that there should be any shame that Friends and shows like it are at the top of your favorites list. They certainly are at the top of mine. These shows may not hold suspense or murder, but they do hold incredibly relatable scenarios. Let us not forget the laughter that they hold as well. You see, our world is so painfully harsh right now and the journey into our twenties holds trials on its own, why not escape for twenty two minutes and maybe learn something about these years we are in? 

(** Check out the Warner Bros Studio Tour in Hollywood to see the recreated Friends set that is pictured above. The Elliott Fam had the best time! **)