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Accelerating from Zero

As I wrote about last year at this time, January is always a period of reassessing for me. It involves rereading and writing and drawing after the long work break just before and during the holidays.

I love my many holiday traditions and I love going all-in at the holidays! But this year it occurs to me that the hard process of getting back to making is not just because I stop producing my work. It's because I allow this all-encompassing kind of stop to stop not only my physical self from art and jewelry making, but I allow it to pull my mental attention away from my work as well. It's a stoppage for my hands AND for my mind.

In contrast, my summer travels to visit family do not have this effect. I have work ideas and thoughts percolating in my mind while I'm away from home and studio. I'm drawing while in my families' homes or gardens; I attend exhibits with friends while thinking of my own future ideas. After these times away, the "recovery" or return to the studio is less arduous because it has been a slowdown, not a stop, and certainly not a stop simultaneously from mind and body.

When I think of the idea of momentum, what comes to mind is a motion that starts because of an energy that is spent to begin the motion. And this motion is perpetuated by a consistent, though lesser, amount of energy input to keep it in momentum. Just as it requires more effort to start riding a bike from stopped than it does to keep it going after you've started moving. So too does it require more effort to begin creative work (or any work) after a full stop than it does to keep working once you've entered a work mindset and working motion. The "sustaining the momentum with less effort" part of the equation is the interesting bit. If I can keep some forward motion, even a slow motion, it will require less effort to keep creating. Doesn't it make sense then to never stop making just to keep the momentum? That sounds like a lovely scenario. But the energy we have to offer ebbs and flows and sometimes it stops too, by choice or by force. Constantly feeding energy into something (like into a creative process) requires an occasional pause for a recharge. Pauses like “that’s enough for today” as well as longer, “go on vacation” kind of pauses. Needing a change of scenery or different activity from time to time, for a rest and to gather inspiration. And sometimes a need or want to stop to attend to other needs, your own or those of others, including me happily diving head-first into the holidays.

I came across something recently that said we should try to eliminate "energy drains." When I got past the "trendy jargon" of it, I like the reference to productivity and being intentional about how we spend our energy. This idea fits easily into my bike analogy. Biking over a rocky trail requires more effort than cycling along a paved road. There is friction in either case, just more in one than the other.

So maybe this is a recognition that there will always be friction (tending to daily needs and interests that distract us) but that adding extra sources of friction, whether brought on by ourselves or others, creates a slowdown and therefore requires more effort (or energy) to continue through and build back up to our own ideal pace.

Another image that helps me visualize my transition from full stop to happily back at work: I imagine that the holidays are a glorious, glittering cave of wonder where there is no room for thoughts of work. In early January I emerge and I am in the thick of the forest sorting things out and pushing my way through the old dense growth. Mid January I am wading through shallow but strong rapids that pull me momentarily off course. Late January, I’m gradually coming into the thinner, brighter edges of the forest. And by the first week of February I’m in the middle of a sunny clearing where I’m consistently productive again.

The trek back through the forest is actually part of the work, it might even be an integral part of the work. In the past though, I thought of it as the effort before the making instead of the first part of the making itself. Of course, sometimes I'm pulled back toward the branchy edges of the clearing, but with a bit more effort I can stay in the middle of the clearing where the making momentum has room to run and play with less friction.

So yes, accelerating form zero requires a lot of effort. But even a slow, strenuous start to the movement is movement in the forward direction. And even the first few slow miles help to get us to our destination.

---- The above images are some of the pencil and watercolor drawings I made in January 2023 while getting my hands and mind back on the same page, literally and figuratively.


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