What do you do with yourself when you have cancer and on disability?
I'm not a lie in bed and stare at the ceiling type if I have other options.
I woke up this morning. I'm capable of getting out of bed.
What do I NEED to do today?
What do I want to do today?
What am I up for?
What brings me joy?
Will I be able to look back on the day and think "It was a good one."?
I've been craving sensory variety the past couple of years.
Computers and screens don't offer that variety. I'm touching the same type of plastics, staring at the same brightly lit microdots; and, last I checked, computer hardware doesn't smell or taste very good.
There are other parts of my brain that want stimulation.
Planning, research, writing, teaching - the left side of my brain has received most of my energy over the years. I have prided myself on being "smart." (Or, at least, stubborn enough to have a lot of wallpaper and letters behind my name).
Over the past 18 months, the left side of my brain has become more unreliable.
The activities that have shaped my identity over the past 40+ years wear me out.
I find myself uninterested in topics and activities that I used to love.
Even writing, my primary creative outlet, has become more of a struggle (hence the irregular posting).
The creative, less linear, side of my brain is demanding my attention.
It craves color, shape, movement, textures, flavors, smells, variety.
More practically, I need activities that satisfy these cravings within the confines of treatment chairs, beds, and the couch. Activities where I can play and enjoy the process of creation without worrying about the result or judging whether the final product was "good" or "bad."
My choices need to scale based on my energy and concentration levels.
Like others with chronic illness, I have high energy and low energy days. Days where I feel like my high energy 2017 self, and days where I'm grateful that I can move from the bed to the couch without help.
Outside of tasks for higher priorities (health, administration, family/friends), these are my current activity choices - from highest expenditure to lowest:
Writing - I still maintain a daily pen and paper morning journal practice. Some days, it is the only writing I am up for. The practice allows me to declutter my head and right-size my worries. Writing is also VERY helpful when I'm going through a forgetful phase - I can look back in my journals as reference.
And yes, I am slowly crawling towards another book. I'm still at the "thinking and talking about it" stage. A detailed glance at one of my hospitalization journals containing my oxycodone-fueled ramblings scared me. Transcribing my writing over the past 18 months into my computer is going to be a journey.
Planner Design and Creation - This is my "keeping my old skills sharp" activity. Planners make nice holiday gifts (at least among my friends) and provides a multi-purpose canvas for some of the art I create. I also get to learn about layout, production, and sourcing.
Visual Arts - Despite the fact that I've had "bad blood" flowing through my brain for the past couple of years, I still enjoy the process of learning.
I'll admit it has been refreshing to learn about things other than "skills for corporate success" and the latest IT solution for a problem I didn't have in the first place.
I spent 2022 learning how to draw and how to paint using acrylics. Drawing I can take with me. Acrylics are messy and fun, but I find the risk of me trashing someone else's property is too high if I travel with them.
2023 is the year of watercolor and learning about what makes art "good." I find that watercolor is easier to travel with, along with being a great tool for learning how to "go with the flow" (literally). Knowing composition and art theory will help me explain my work to others in ways other than "I dunno, it just came out that way."
Crochet - I've been doing this long enough that it's relatively mindless. Recently, I've been making hats for charity out of orphaned skeins from Mom's yarn stash. She is a crochet instructor for one of the local senior centers - so she has enough yarn to stock a big box craft store. She gets her stash reduced to a more manageable level. I get yarn to make hats with and feel "productive." We get to bond. And someone in need gets a nice warm hat.
Other activities - Occasionally I'll get on a video game kick. Video games, as much as I enjoy them, don't scratch that need for sensory variety that the above activities do. Gaming helps me gauge my reaction time, my problem-solving abilities, and my small motor, fast-twitch skills. You wouldn't want me on your dungeon run.
Our current technology environment provides many accessible resources for learning new art skills.
YouTube - At some point I'll put together some beginner-friendly playlists. In the meantime, these are my current favorite learning channels:
- Lindsay Weirich, the Frugal Crafter - Reviews and projects for practically any media. She is a master art teacher and beautifully explains what she's doing, why she's doing it, and the context within which a particular supply will work (or not).
- Michael's Crafts - Hour-long online classes with an emphasis on specific materials. Receive an art supply you aren't sure what to do with? I go here first.
Skill Share - Referral link with 1 month free. I also receive a free month if you decide to join. I find the beginner courses in Skill Share more comprehensive and better designed than randomly cobbling together a learning plan from YouTube.
Skill Share was a godsend during the first 4 months of 2022 when I was at my sickest. All I did was pick a course each morning and follow it. I learned a lot while doing that without wasting my energy trying to do personal instructional design. (I should get back to that discipline for my watercolor practice.)
Artists Network - As I advance on my artist journey, I find that the Artist's Network membership is a great resource for refining my skills. As a beginner, however, I'd start with YouTube and SkillShare. Many of these courses are by experts, for experts.
- Drawing Together is a free YouTube series from Artists Network with interesting graphite pencil drawing projects. Unlike much of the content on the Membership Site, this series is truly beginner friendly.
Art Supply Boxes - An advantage to a curated art supply box is that it allows you to experiment with a new medium without committing to a full kit or having to shop around for supplies.
- I'm currently working through some Let's Make Art watercolor boxes. These boxes include project instructions, liquid watercolors, paper, and links to tutorial videos. The only supplies you need beyond the box are a few brushes, a palette, and water. Let's Make Art has moved away from a subscription model and now releases individual kits.
- Drawing Wiff Waffles brilliantly models how to experiment with random art supplies and provides an easy introduction to how these boxes work.
There's nothing wrong with having days where all I do is hang on the couch or in bed and watch videos. I should probably engage in that particular activity more often.
That said, I still enjoy the feeling of accomplishment I get when I finish something tangible. Spending my time engaging in a creative practice provides that feeling and makes it easier for me to look back at each day and chalk it up as a good one.
I'm grateful that I can wake up in the morning and be excited about getting out of bed. It's a luxury I don't take for granted anymore.