Post #3171: A new mantra for September

While the end of summer is officially still 18 days away, Labour Day is pretty much the transition marker for me. On the plus side, I didn’t take very much in the way of vacation leave over the last three months so I have hunting season holidays coming up along with some work trips back east which will break up the monotony of sitting at my desk as the rains come in.

In the monthly mailing that came out on Friday, I talk a bit about my dislike of August, the anxiety of endings, and the transition to fall. Once we get past the first weekend of September, I’m always feeling a lot better and today is no exception. After finishing a big work project last week, I took an extra day on the long weekend and had a holiday at home where I took a break from all my good habits, relaxed, and went with the weekend. Much of that was spent at the Cultivate music and theatre fest where Brian was hosting songwriters on the main stage and our friend Tom was putting on a show about the life of Woody Guthrie – both of whom did an exceptional job.

Yesterday I spent a bit of time with my monthly planner, and this morning made sure my online calendar and paper calendar were synced up. The change of the season has me taking stock of all the projects in my life: what do I have to do? what do I want to do? what do I want to do more of? less of? I have some notes about that in my journal. But rather than rattle out a list of all the habits good and bad, I am focusing on one thought, something that became apparent to me last month as I felt my creative work flicker, waver, and blur. That one thought is: Good inputs equal good outputs.

See, August was a bit loose for me. Hour for hour, I had less of all the things that give me a sense of purpose: scheduled activity, educational interaction, toothsome reading. That is typical for the end of summer, so I’m not beating myself up about it. Unfortunately, the good inputs were replaced by mediocre ones: random Internet scrolling, nighttime Netflix, and so-so reading materials. And guess what? My writing output for August reflected that. I put my time in, I always do, but I made very little headway on anything creative, including the long-form essay I have prioritized working on this quarter.

Last week, I had a conversation with my creative mentor about that essay. She had some great suggestions about questions the piece should answer, how to work the layers of meaning I’m bringing to it, and ways to deepen the central metaphor. We talked for a couple of hours, first about my project and then about hers – and I came away from it renewed in my commitment to seeing the piece through to a complete first draft by the end of this month. In short, our conversation was a good input, as is the book Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane which I picked up and started reading over the weekend. His subject matter is related to what I am writing about, and I find myself highlighting passages on every other page, taking instruction from how he writes about natural landscapes and phenomena.

After a month in the creative doldrums, these two inputs enlarged my sense of creative purpose and connection overnight. So rather than listing all the things I want to improve about my daily habits I’m going to stick with this intention for September: Increase the good inputs.

These are not just academic of course. Every input–yoga, wild nature, immersion in the ocean, rich conversations with friends, new works of music–expands my ability to be creative and contribute to my world. If I spend my time on mediocre or bad inputs, then I am robbing myself of time for the things that sustain my good outputs. This does not mean that I’m taking a social media break, or setting restrictions on random Internet use (though I have an impulse to do both). Instead I’m going to focus on my weekly priorities, fitting in more creative work time, and picking up a good book instead of my phone during my downtime.

Whether it leads to greater creative output or not remains to be seen, but I am pretty certain that this approach will lead to greater peace of mind. There is so much noise in the world demanding our multi-tasked attention. I find I am so much happier when I sit with a single channel of focus for awhile. That’s what I plan to work on in September. What are your fall goals?

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