Friday, February 14, 2014

The Lost Cheese

One of the things I have learned in my life is how to squeeze in family life and juicy bits of experience. Although my work obligations greedily suck up most of my time, I guard small blocks of time for art, writing, sports, and social time with family and friends. This weekend, for example, I have taken a four-day weekend to fly out west to see my daughters and grandson.

Travel plans do not always go smoothly, however, and yesterday I ended up on a delayed flight, missed my connection, spent an unexpected night in a hotel, and had a 5:15 am wake up call to catch my rescheduled flight.

This is where the cheese comes in. 

When I arrived at the hotel at 10 pm, I was too tired to go down to the restaurant, and not that hungry anyways. So I indulged in the luxury of ordering a snack via room service, and settled down to watch some Olympics coverage. I ordered a platter of Quebec cheeses and crackers, and a beer. 

The choice of cheese was against my better judgment. My seat mate on one of my flights was a research scientist studying osteoarthritis. I asked her a little about her research. I have osteoarthritis in my knees, so this topic is of personal interest. She told me that sports injuries can predispose people to developing osteoarthritis, and talked a lout the importance of staying active and continuing to engage in weight bearing exercise to stave off it off longer. Obesity is both a consequence of the reduced activity that follows a knee injury, and also a risk factor for developing osteoarthritis sooner and more severely. Excess weight puts more pressure on the knees.

I already knew these things, having researched my condition. I know that losing a couple of pounds and keeping the weight off is important for my knees. However, one piece of information that she shared was new to me. Adipose tissue actually contributes to inflammation biochemically. So it is important to reduce the adipose tissue (fat) in order to reduce the level of inflammation. Reducing inflammation slows the progress of the disease.

Therefore, I should not be eating cheese, or at least not very much cheese. 

So I sat in my hotel room watching elite athletes on TV, with a lovely selection of cheeses in front of me - great big wedges of specialty cheeses along with rainforest crackers and dried fruit. In actual fact, I only ate 2 pieces of cheese, and put the rest in a ziplock bag, planning to bring it with me. 

This morning, bleary-eyed at a ridiculous hour of the morning, I ended up forgetting the cheese in my room. It was really excellent cheese, and it is a shame that it will be wasted. 

However, maybe my knees will thank me.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Creative Funk

I think I have finally figured out one of the biggest reasons that writers don't write and painters don't paint. In fact, this thing that I am about to describe applies to many types of creative endeavour, or, at least those I have engaged in. 

Creative activities often are as frustrating as hell when you are in the middle of them. It becomes obvious that nothing in the story or painting is going right. The words are clunky and amateurish, not at all representative of what you mean to say. The story keeps veering off in odd directions, and you have to delete hours' worth of sentences because they have nothing to do with anything. Or the painting looks sloppy and ugly, not in any way like the scene you are trying to represent, or the image you hold in your mind. The more marks you put on it, the worse it looks, and you can't think of how to fix it.

Tonight, for me, it was my painting that was going all wrong. I wrote here recently about starting a new painting, and not blocking it in the way I usually do. Well, now I am really struggling with trying to cover up the white canvas. I can't get the colours right, and have digressed into details before even getting the underlying shades in. Instead of enjoying painting, I feel frustrated and discouraged. 

I think many people, when they get to this point, also start to feel negative about themselves and their ability. This is when the critical little voice in the head kicks in with its sarcastic and disparaging cracks. This is the point at which people will throw aside the canvas, or stomp away from the computer, and then do not want to come back to the frustrating experience of that mess of a painting or that botched up story. This is when writers cease to write and painters cease to paint. 

Our creative activities, for large stretches of time, fail to live up to the rosy and romantic notions we hold about them. For example, I love to think about painting. I enjoy reading art magazines, and am very interested in other artists' descriptions of their painting process. I enjoy thinking about a scene that I want to paint, and every day I peer at the landscapes surrounding me and think about the colours, interesting contrasting shapes, or the type of composition I would create from a particular vantage point. 

Being creative in the mind is easy. It's actually making the thing that's hard. An art teacher I know has a favourite saying. She tells her students, "Go get in trouble."

I think that instruction is particularly apt. As soon as you begin a creative act, you begin to create a problem. The more you work at it, the bigger the problem becomes. So you swallow down the frustration and improvise. You work through the problem bit by bit, improvising and creating and taking chances. Often while doing this, a joyful kind of flow starts to happen. And if you're like me, you eventually end up with something that you never would have imagined to begin with, and that even is halfways decent. 

If the process just went along placidly and predictably, well then maybe it wouldn't be all that creative.