A quote was dogging me for months last spring. I know you’ve heard it, “The secret to change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new. – Socrates” Over and over it appeared. I felt like it was everywhere.
At the time I’d been volunteering for years with parents and teachers, trying to improve our large urban school district. Unfortunately, anyone involved with public education today knows that means spending a lot of time in a “negative space”, often speaking at school board meetings, and to politicians, who look at their computers while you’re talking, and pay more attention to parliamentary procedure than to the students and parents they represent. It can be aggravating and disheartening – but students are important to me. So I kept working. And the quote kept appearing. By October of last year it really had my attention. I committed it to memory.
I started to wonder if it was some kind of sign. Maybe it was encouraging me to build something new in education? But what? We had tried so many things in the past six years. It was always one step forward, two steps back. Ugh! I call it the dance of educational frustration.
Then, a few chance meetings. The first last summer with an artist on a trip to New England, and another, the following month, with a freelance writer while discussing an article. The positivity and excitement I felt during those discussions were so refreshing! I started to wonder if it really might be time for me to make a change. Maybe I needed to stop working in education? But I had put in so much time and effort. Part of me didn’t want to stop while another part was eager to work with such optimistic people in an encouraging space.
I can only imagine what I was feeling at this point was something akin to what it feels like to be in an abusive relationship. I wasn’t happy. I was tired of banging my head against a wall, and yet I didn’t know how to quit. I wanted it to work out. In my case to make a positive difference in public schools in Georgia. In my mind I think I knew it was time for change, and yet I kept showing up, hoping things would improve, knowing full well they wouldn’t. I’m sure I’m not the first person to have felt that way.
Leaving started making sense to me, but I didn’t want to let people down. I spoke to a few close friends about how I was feeling. All the while that silly quote was bouncing around in my head. How could I possibly focus on building something new and positive and when I was spending all my time trying to get school board members, who refused to listen? I think at one point I actually said out loud, “OK. Talk universe. I’m listening.”
In my personal life my mother has been living with Parkinson’s Disease for the last 19 years. It has been a difficult and emotional journey. Those of you who are helping to take care of parents who are ill while bringing up your own children (the sandwich generation) know it can be stressful, especially when you don’t have siblings around to help share the burden. (I have to say here my husband and my kids have been amazing and patient and helpful. I am very blessed.)
I have sadly, and sometimes angrily, watched my mother’s health deteriorate in more recent years. Due to this, living a positive and creative life has taken on more importance for me. I know life is short and precious. My mother, who is now in a wheel chair, often says I rush around too much. “You’re so busy! Just slow down!” But, because of my experience with her disease I feel a sense of urgency about life. I need to do things now, because someday, hopefully a long time from now, I may not be able to.
So during this time of raising my children, volunteering in education and helping take care of my mother I’ve spent any free time I had working on creative projects. Being creative has always been the way I recharge my batteries and renew my spirit. It somehow allows me to think through even complex problems and come up with new solutions. Maybe it’s just getting away from the actual dilemma and turning my analytical brain off for a bit. I had always loved the ability to think outside the box and create something new. And then it hit me… like a lightening bolt. “The secret to change is to spend all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” I had been building something new every time I had a spare moment. In those moments I always felt positive and uplifted and I often wished I had more time to spend on it. Ok, universe I hear you. But, what was I supposed to DO with this knowledge? Was this a path I was supposed to take? And if so, how?
So I started by connecting with other creative women and asking questions and I’ve discovered that women are truly born creators. For goodness sake we have the ability to bring human life into the world;) Whether it’s having children, creating a home or pursuing a career -making something new is a part of who we are. It’s in our DNA. I think we all have it whether we believe it or not. And there are countless ways to express it. The creative moms I’ve met are filled with an energy and positivity that is catching and encouraging. I never felt that dealing with school systems and governmental bureaucracy.
As I embrace this new path I’ve realized that being creative somehow feels like breathing to me. I’ve found that some creative endeavors have been easy while others have absolutely taxed me. I think the feelings we have are a kind of emotional roadmap. Maybe it’s our soul, or some kind of divine spark, trying to lead us in the right direction. I know others feel the same way. While I’ve moved on from some things I’ve tried, I’ve become even more passionate about others, and I feel encouraged to dive deeper. At the center of everything I have felt drawn to over the years has been the manipulation of color and texture and making something new that didn’t exist before.
Being creative is a passion for me. Even if I go a few days or a week without putting a brush to paper or wax to a board, I find myself thinking about an idea, making a sketch, or noting some colors or patterns I’d like to try together. These days I’m spending a lot more time on it. I primarily work in encaustic and watercolor right now, although I still like to play with acrylic on canvas from time to time, and I’ve committed to making at least one quilt a year;) I’m sure there are other mediums I haven’t yet discovered that I will try at some future point. (Ceramics maybe?) I just know that somehow I’m on the right path. I no longer feel negative and frustrated. I look forward to getting up early in the morning, even on the weekends, making coffee and seeing what my day holds! What I am spending my time on feels right. It makes me happy and I hope I will remain healthy enough to do it for a long time.
So, this year I not only hear Socrates words, I am embracing them. I will “spend my energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new” and see where it takes me. It’s a totally new venture for me, and I’m equally nervous and excited to explore it. I’m committed to being creative every day – whether that means creating a piece of encaustic art, or watercolor, making greeting cards for my mother to sign to keep in touch with friends, creating a new cookie recipe, building a headboard, or blogging about this creative life. I’m going to focus positive energy on building it. I hope this will allow me to connect with more women who are finding themselves on a new path. Maybe we can encourage each other to build something new.
Below is a photograph of an encaustic piece I’m currently experimenting on with several types of ink. I’ll let you know how it comes out in a future post;)
I wish you good health and creative thoughts!