Talking Heads: The A-Team's Advice on Balancing (Or Not) The Artistic Life

Nope, not that A-Team. Here the YWW Administrative Team shares some collective wisdom about how to balance an artistic life while still getting the laundry done, the bills paid, and the dishes washed or at least off the floor.

Margo:

There’s something in me that abhors tedium. I’ll make the most monotonous task – vacuuming, filing, folding clothes, sewing buttons, chopping veggies, opening mail, mopping floors, reading spreadsheets, crunching abs – into an extravaganza. (And that can become its own black work hole!) I’m really not a good one to ask about balance; it all becomes one big labyrinth for me. I gotta’ say, I love the back roads, in a ’67 Maverick, the top down, Creedence Clearwater blaring from the tape deck, riding shotgun, no map. Some days I get ambushed with nothing to show but mileage; other days, I’m stunned by a surprise party the Universe is throwing for me. While it’s more often the ambush, I’m not sure one could happen without the other. And either way, in all the commotion the props inevitably get kicked out from under me and I’m left in the roadside dust wondering how to dig my way out. Best advice I ever got for that: “Keep your eye on the shovel; don’t look at the mountain.” [Thank you, Jack Thielen; where are you now?]

Laura Eve:

For me—especially in the winter season—a lot of things come down to light. A lot comes down to what I can and should do when the sun is out, and what I can and should do when it’s dark out and the world is (relatively) subdued. Lately, I’ve taken to thinking of the light part of the day as Day 1, which is when I do the “work” work: everything that involves energy, efficiency, problem solving skills, the items on my To Do list. (I keep an extensive To Do list, on which I often write things I am in the middle of doing or have just done, just so I can cross them off. We owe ourselves the satisfaction, right?) During the sundown hours, I try to do something ritualistic to separate Day 1 from its oncoming sibling, Day 2. I cook dinner, or do yoga, or go grocery shopping—something that demarcates the end of one day-within-a-day, and the beginning of another. Then I begin Day 2, the part that takes place during the dark hours. That’s when I try to do the creative work. At this point, a lot’s already taken place, there are often a lot of words in my head, and I’m both ready to work creatively and primed to consider the creative work as something calming, rather than terrifying, as I can tend to think of it. It’s my way of tricking myself into thinking I’m not sitting down to a blank page. To me, nothing is more frightening than starting from nothing. All the work that I do outside of the creative work contributes, in some way, to staving off a sense of nothingness.

Jeff:

For a long time I fell for the trap that productivity comes down to time management, but then I read a business article about how it’s not time that needs managing, it’s energy. And that made sense to me because I knew that when I was fresh or recharged, a piece of writing (creative or otherwise) that might have taken me a couple hours when I was tired might take only twenty minutes when I was sharp, and the quality would be a lot higher. Over the years I’ve learned what I need to do to stay fresh or get recharged, and it’s all the same boring but vital information we learn as kids but ignore because we already have the energy then—exercise, eat sensibly, get your sleep, take breaks, etc. By no means does this mean I actually do all these things on a consistent basis, but even doing one of them on a consistent basis helps immeasurably, as does figuring out what your body’s natural rhythms are—I typically do my best drafting between 8 pm and midnight, but my best revision in the morning.