on activism and executive functioning

how to do the work when your mind can't seem to do anything

[Note: I have struggled with sending out my personal newsletter at a time when I think allies should focus on listening to and amplifying non-white voices. But after a ton of thinking about how to best use the small platform I have, I thought it might help fellow allies if I were to share a bit about how executive functioning issues have at times made me an ineffective activist (as well as an ineffective everything) and what I’ve been doing about that.]


An ex used to say that he could tell the state of my mind by the state of the apartment. Long before I ever got an official diagnosis, my depression, anxiety, and executive functioning issues had the seemingly magical ability to take on physical shape.

First, it would be the appearance of a new “carpet”: one woven together with letters from healthcare and financial institutions that always seem to defy categorization.

Then the doorknobs would disappear, overtaken by towels suspended in a permanent state of dampness, and clothes that could not do what I needed them to do: transform me into a person I could tolerate or my world into one that made any kind of sense.

And, of course, there would be a maelstrom of books—books on the bed, the floor, the desk. Facedown books opened to a page I would get back to eventually. Piles of books by novelists, activists, and scientists would give the impression that a great act of intellectual synthesis was underway—until you factor in my inability to process a single word.

What horrified my poor mother and unfortunate roommates only became a “magical ability” when I realized the mess was something of an alarm system.

Now that I see it for what it is, I can do something about it.

I can put things in their proper places—and once I do that physically, the mental things have a way of following suit.


How could I not start to see my signature slide into domestic chaos this week? I have spent entire days in mourning and anger over state-sanctioned murders of black people. I have watched a white woman use her privilege in a way my fellow white women have been using it for centuries—to put an innocent black man’s life in danger. I have watched our disgrace of a president respond to this racist violence not with compassion or calls for justice, but rather by quite literally encouraging violence against protestors of white supremacy.

If your mental home isn’t in a bit of disarray right now, I have to ask you why the hell not.


But I can do nothing about injustice from this place of chaos.

So first, I clean. I do what I can to make sense of the papers, I toss the towels into the wash, I put the books back on their shelves and vow to take only one at a time from now on. There is so much to read, but only one mind to read it all. The rest will be waiting.

I remind myself I’m not just doing this for me, which is the only thing that ever gets me to do anything.

Then I process. I cry for a good half hour. I’m not exaggerating when I say this. I often cry as a way of processing, but this was more intense than anything I’ve experienced in a while: I coughed the whole time and the crying was so painful I wanted it to stop, but I knew this needed to happen. My boyfriend brought me a wet cloth to put on my face and that helped, but I explained through my gasps that I didn’t need or want sympathy—this wasn’t a cry for help; it was a physiological processing of grief and rage I’ve been holding in for god knows how long.

When it was done, I felt five pounds lighter. Some chronic pain that I’ve been experiencing for weeks seemed to disappear altogether.

Today, I feel lighter still, and even more ready to take action.

And so I talk to my boyfriend about our plans for anti-racist action. (My boyfriend has major health issues, and while I’m okay with putting my own body on the frontlines of protests—and have been arrested before because of that—because of covid-19, I’m not in a position to do that this very moment. But that doesn’t mean I’m not taking action. I’m focusing on seeking out resources for how at-risk people and caregivers can mobilize. As much as we’d like it to, this is not a fight that I see ending anytime soon, and we will need people playing many different roles at many different points in the fight, so take care of yourself—but also: take action.)


For as long as I can remember, I have cared deeply about social and racial justice. But untreated executive functioning issues meant I have not always translated that care into effective action.

Treating my mental illness with the help of professionals and creating my own process for moving into action has been a lifelong and ongoing journey, and now that I can see a direct correlation between mental health and effective activism, I know I’ll be more inclined to take care of myself.

(I remind myself I’m not just doing this for me, which is the only thing that ever gets me to do anything.)

I am someone who learns best in a classroom setting where there is some group accountability, which is perhaps why I have been so drawn to the work of public academic Rachel Cargle. Her public syllabi for education and action should be required for every American, and I am so grateful for her hard work, focus, and brilliance.

In fact, please stop reading my words right now, and head over to her Instagram. She’s giving a public address tonight, and I hope you’ll be there.

xoxox,

Sarah

Do whatever the **** you want.

creative freedom in the era of covid-19

Forgive me, readers, for I have sinned. It has been 5 weeks since my last newsletter…

As a lapsed Catholic, that’s how I’m tempted to start today’s newsletter, but I’ll spare you my guilty confessions. Let’s face it: in these days where so many are making meaning, sharing helpful hints, and just generally vying for your attention, my lack of content was a gift!

You’re welcome.

Rather than exhaustively describe what I’ve been up to, I’m going to sum it up in one phrase:

I’ve been doing whatever the **** I want.


A two-week period where I stay up writing til 4 am? Okay!

Launch my first creativity course during a pandemic? Sure!

Write and nearly finish a screenplay draft in just 4 weeks after 20 years of talking myself out of writing screenplays? Yup!

Doing weird yoga poses and praying to the Virgin Mary statue in our backyard in full view of the neighbors? Why the heck not?

Making my own powdered sugar because I needed it for a recipe for vegan cream cheese frosting? Sweet! (Full disclosure: it’s not hard. Just add arrowroot to sugar and blend.)

Live-blog my viewing of the 2017 Aaron Sorkin directorial debut Molly’s Game on my instastories, insinuating to my 68 viewers that perhaps I’ve fallen into an alternate dimension where there is nothing but Molly’s Game? That seems like a good use of 4-5 hours of my time!

Sign up for that herbal medicine and farming class I’ve been talking about for years? You betcha!


Hold on a second. My inner capitalist is interrupting me to tell me to come clean about the financial downsides of the “Do whatever the **** you want” method.

Instead of answering that little bitch, I’m going to let my Magic Eightball do it for me. (Do my younger readers know what Magic Eightballs are? Are they still a thing? Anyway, here’s a link.)

Inner capitalist (lil bitch): Has any of this made you money yet?

Magic 8Ball: My reply is no. [Editor’s note: actually the creativity course made me some money, but I blew it all on frivolous things that make me happy and my Inner capitalist cringe.}

Inner capitalist (dork): Will any of this lead to you making money?

Magic 8Ball: Cannot predict now.

Inner capitalist (huge tool): Sarah, communing with nature spirits and dunking on Aaron Sorkin is all well and good but we need to eat.

Magic 8Ball: Yes, but you’re not asking the right questions, nerdburger!

Inner capitalist (sighs with resignation):

Is totally indulging your every creative whim making you happier, thus ensuring that you’ll continue to approach all the paid work that comes your way with excitement and gratitude?

Magic 8Ball: Without a **********ing doubt.

xoxox,

Sarah

on filtering and digestion

in which your fearless newsletter writer reveals a surprising new skill...

Over the last week I seem to have gotten a lot better at filtering what I take in.

I’m not binging food, I’ve cut down on TV consumption (which was, quite frankly, getting out of hand), and while I read the news every morning, I don’t overdo it.

I’m fully aware that at any point things could swerve in the other direction, but as I write these words I seem to have a pretty intuitive sense of what’s working for me and what isn’t.

I assure you, no one is more surprised at this turn of events than me!

That said, I’m not totally shocked because, for the past decade or so, I’ve been studying with an Ayurvedic practitioner who has helped me think a lot about digestion. That has naturally involved looking at what I eat and drink, but it’s also extended to an examination of everything I take in—as well as the state of mind I’m in when I take stuff in.

I am far from perfect at this practice but I’m seeing it start to pay off.


How do I use filtering in my creative practice?

Again, let me say: I don’t always! There are plenty of times when I mainline drama and desperation right into my veins! (And not even like minor veins in my ankles or something. I’m talking jugular and vena cava, people!)

But right now, I can’t afford to do that. I know I am susceptible to anxiety and depression and so I need to protect myself from information that is simply not helpful for me to have.

That is not the same thing as tuning out the world.


I think we all have an intuitive sense of what is healthy for us and what isn’t. I am someone who has watched no fewer than five horror movies about Satanic sex cults this month, so please know I am not trying to moralize about “good” or “bad” content.

What I am encouraging us all to do is understand how media consumption affects us personally. Armed with that knowledge, I think we can conserve the energy we need to take in important information, create things that are meaningful to us, and help our communities—even in times that leave us feeling frightened and powerless.

I think this practice can be as simple as watching how we feel when we consume certain things. Does it make our bodies heat up? Our hands and jaw clench? Do we want to crawl into the fetal position?

If so, do we want or need to keep going? Do we want to respond right away? (I can be impulsive so I always want to respond right away, but I’ve been challenging myself to wait before taking action, and I can tell you—I’ve never ONCE regretted waiting.)

I’ll see some of you tomorrow on the first day of my course, How Introverts Do It. We’re just about at capacity (!!!) but email me if you still want in.

xoxoxo,

Sarah

Announcing my first creativity course: HOW INTROVERTS DO IT

The engaged introvert's guide to making art in uncertain times

Okay, I’m doing it.

I’ve been talking about this for YEARS, but I am finally launching my first course on creativity.

I’ve been developing this curriculum for months (not to mention the two decades I’ve spent editing bestselling books on creativity and innovation!) but it occurred to me that it could be particularly useful now, and so I’m launching a bit earlier than I’d anticipated.

Without further ado, here it is:

HOW INTROVERTS DO IT

The engaged introvert’s guide to making art in uncertain times

A two-week bootcamp for identifying, developing, and planning your next creative project (and taking care of yourself and your loved ones while you do)


But I could never be an introvert! Is this course right for me?

Full disclosure: I don’t really believe in static personality traits. Maybe it’s because my Myers-Briggs score flips from Extrovert to Introvert depending on my mood (and how much coffee I’ve consumed that day.) Or maybe it’s because I believe people are ever-changing and labeling us freezes us in a moment, preventing growth and flexibility. 

But my twenty years as a working writer, book developer, and performer has taught me that what I most enjoy is work that is largely solitary in nature. I've learned a lot from working with people, but I’ve found that in order to meet my creative potential, I require a lot of time “in the cave.” 

And I think a lot of other people do, too.


Why this course now?

I began developing this material in response to shifts in the economy that simultaneously empowered and threatened creative people—and that made the traits we typically associate with introverts more important than ever.

Thanks to the rise in new platforms like Patreon, substack, gofundme, and Kickstarter, individuals no longer need the approval of cultural gatekeepers to bring their work into the world—and get paid for it. 

At the same time, the rise of the gig economy and the pervasiveness of a blockbuster effect that drowns out marginalized or unconventional voices means that creative people are extremely vulnerable to economic and market shifts. We simply cannot depend on anyone else to have our backs—not our reps, not our corporate clients or employers, not even our audiences and fans who are being similarly squeezed by a winner-take-all economy.

While I began developing this course long before the Covid-19 crisis forced so many of us to be comfortable working from home, making our own schedules, and figuring out the right balance of solo and collaboration time, I believe now more than ever that every working creative must cultivate two major skills:

Introversion: We learn how to get energized by solo work and solo time.

Engagement: We know when to “leave the cave” and share our work and ideas with others.

After all, the world desperately needs artists to engage. Not just when it comes to sharing our personal passions, but also when it comes to political activism, community organizing, and innovating new ways of working and connecting. 

That’s why I think engaged introversion is the most important skill you can cultivate in times of uncertainty.


The goal of this course?

  • To help you create a personal artist statement that will motivate you no matter the circumstances. 

  • To help you develop personalized rituals and a time management system that works for you.

  • To get you comfortable with the “marathon” approach to your creative work—even when everyone and everything seems to be telling you to sprint.

  • To help you view creative output as experiments that teach you more about how you do your best work. 

  • To help you understand that your creative style is ever-changing and to honor its need to shift 


What you’ll get:

  • 14 daily emails on cultivating a personal creative practice including a daily meditation which will arrive in your inbox at 7 am each morning

  • 3 group Zoom sessions with me—one at the start, one in the middle, one at the end

  • You’ll walk away from the course with an artist’s statement and a plan for your next creative project

  • You’ll also create a plan for “giving back”—a way to share your creativity with the world. Maybe this is connected to your personal creative project, but maybe it’s not.


What it costs:

  • ONLY $49 BUCKS. While in beta mode, I’m offering this two-week bootcamp for just $49. (I charge my clients $200 an hour for creative coaching and consulting, and it’s taken me I don’t even know how many hours to create this course so I say this from the bottom of my humble heart: this is a steal.)

  • 39 BUCKS IF YOU BRING A FRIEND!


When it runs:

Sunday, April 5, 2020 to Sunday, April 19, 2020


How can I register?

You can sign up here and then proceed to venmo for payment (or email me to discuss other payment options.)


What platform will the course be hosted on?

While in beta, I’m going to launch using good old-fashioned email. Should demand greatly exceed my expectations, I’ll look into course-hosting platforms to keep things running smoothly.


Of course, I’ll continue to share my ideas about creativity free of charge here at Saturdays, but if you want a little more of a focused deep dive and my support in creating an action plan for your next project, please join me!

xoxo,

Sarah

no expectations

thoughts on making things--even (maybe especially) pointless things--from artist Gary Panter

What day is it, again?

I have no doubt you’re feeling bombarded with content right now. I know I am. And so I’m not going to write a lot today because I don’t want to leave you feeling any more pressured to either consume or produce.

If you want to make stuff, watch stuff, do stuff, I say: go for it. If not, don’t! These are days to hold what you love, and who you love, close to you—and to find joy where you can find it.

There is one thing I wanted to share, though. I just read something about how we might approach art-making these days (or any day, really) that I really loved. It’s from artist, cartoonist, illustrator, and the Emmy-winning head set designer of Pee Wee’s Playhouse, Gary Panter.

"As a person who lives alone and has no TV watching habit it is easy for me to be alone more.
I like people and know way too many people, so I am not neglected. To feel neglected makes people feel lonely.
I feel lonely sometimes, but time alone is one of my friends. I know friends and loves are out there.
What will I do with myself? I am an artist. It gives me joy and a sense of meaning and even helping to make things. Even pointless things. Maybe especially pointless things. Maybe pointless things contain unconscious truths or questions. Who knows?
In America, worth is mostly measured by fame or money. That’s what people think and it confuses them about art. There is a vast system for selling art and thinking about art tied to money and fame and analysis. And we all need encouragement and to pay the rent so we are susceptible to the delusions of fame and money in America.
But with art, the point is— you got to make it. You were able. You got to spend time quietly or loudly bringing something that was not in the world into the world. Maybe something like something before. Maybe something no-one wants. It doesn't matter. You chose to spend the time trying to do something for private personal satisfaction or frustration— choose either one. Art is time spent doing some little thing that tells you something about yourself. Maybe something very quiet and maybe a revelation and maybe only quiet. The thing you make may have some value to others for some reason or another, but that is a secondary issue. You spent time trying. The secondary issues come secondarily.

In America everyone expects to achieve. But in life— trying, simple trying, has great value.

Try it out. Lower your expectations to achieve some pleasure in the doing of something.

Something. Drawing. Arranging. Sorting. Collecting. Coloring. Washing, Planting. Writing. Singing. Dancing. Editing. Collaging. Cooking. Stirring. Molding. Casting. Pasting. Making playing card towers. Playing records. Face painting.

Not for fame and glory. Not to please others. For simple quiet trying. In the company of time alone. At first it might feel crappy. But if you do something for a while you start feeling differently. Put on ‘No Expectations’ by the Stones."

[Gary Panter via Facebook, shared with permission. Link via Sean Howe.


Here’s a sampling of some of the art I’ve created over the last week just because I wanted to:

Here’s a little Beta drawing for a Tarot deck I’m working on:

Here’s a picture of a door that may be a portal to hell:

Here’s a touch of spring:

And here’s some fan art I drew of my improv buddy Luke Field. Luke’s been doing these amazing Instagram lives where he crochets to heavy metal. The creature I was going for was “badass dragon” but it ended up more like “bat creature.” Anyway, Luke’s rad and he’s got one hell of a slip stitch.

xoxox,

Sarah

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