The life of a writer can be unpredictable. Family, medical issues, housing issues, and many more personal-life interruptions can disrupt the flow of words. Many of you may not have options and write when and where you can write. For example, right now I’m writing in the waiting room of a car maintenance shop. The environment here is nice, but definitely full of distractions.
When we can choose our writing environment, it makes sense to choose a space that optimizes how we write. Keep in mind that not all of us will respond in the same way to the same physical space. In the list of elements I offer below, choose the ones that speak to you, that feel more creative to you.
The theory that people are right-brained (creative, intuitive) or left-brained (logical or linear) or both is a popular myth unsupported by neuroscience. The brain’s right and left hemispheres are not separate organs. While the right-hemisphere performs more complex functions, and the left hemisphere controls most (if not all) physiological functions, the two hemispheres work together.
While the right- versus left-brain theory is a myth, it’s an easy way to understand how people think. At the extremes, a few of us are nearly 100% logical-thinkers and a few are almost 100% creative-thinkers. A few of us fall into the moves fluidly between the two. In a reality, we are all a mix of the two. Many of us continue to perceive one or the other thinking style is our primary way of perceiving the world. We’re not wrong, but it’s more complex than which hemisphere controls what. Still, we can use brain science and psychology to help us set up a work environment that supports our creativity.
Environmental psychology is the study of how our physical surroundings influence us. One of the newer sciences, it came into existence in the 1970s.
Our mental space stands in direct proportion to our perception of physical space.“
In other words, our physical space affects us both as it actually exists and our intuitive interpretation of that space. The more we perceive a space to be open, the more we are open to new ideas.
The height of your ceilings affects your perception of openness. Tall, vaulted ceilings give us a sense of openness. Things that draw our eye to the height like pendant lamps or images enhance our sense of openness.
Most of us cannot do anything about the height of our ceilings. We can increase our perception of space by focusing on lateral space.
Artwork of landscapes or faraway places can give us a sense of space. A window or a doorway with a view of the outside makes a space “feel” open. Furniture placement and a lack of clutter also affect our interpretation of the lateral space that surrounds us.
Some will say that they do better in cluttered spaces. That may be true for specific individuals. Maybe you would feel more creative with an uncluttered and more open environment. Try it. If it doesn’t work, clutter is easy to accumulate.
Sylvia Rivera (far right in illustration above) hated labels almost as much as she hated discrimination. Of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent, she lived alone on the streets from the tender age of eleven. Despite her hard life, she rallied, protested, caucused, and got beaten and arrested for the inclusion and recognition of transgender individuals. Some call her the Rosa Parks of the Modern Trans movement.
Born to a father from Puerto Rico and a mother from Venezuela in New York City on July 2, 1951, assigned male at birth, her parents named her Ray. Her birth father disappeared early in her life.
Rivera’s mother remarried. The marriage was rocky. Rivera’s stepfather threatened to kill Rivera, her mother, and her sister. At twenty-two years of age, her mother committed suicide.
Rivera was three when she went to live with her grandmother. Her grandmother voiced disapproval of Rivera’s mixed background (Venezuelan and Puerto Rican) and darker skin color. When Rivera began experimenting with clothing and makeup, her grandmother berated and beat Rivera for behavior that was too effeminate for a boy. Her grandmother’s disapproval and beatings increased after Rivera’s step-father took her half-sister away.
They shuffled Rivera between her grandmother’s home, Catholic boarding schools, and friends’ homes. She started wearing makeup to school in fourth grade. Bullied and mocked, she was the victim of many playground fights and even school suspensions.
Her uncle had her earn extra money with sex work. It’s no wonder that by the age of eleven, Rivera ran away from home, never to return.
Life On the Streets
In New York City, 42nd Street was “home to a community of drag queens, sex workers, and those who were hustling inside and outside of the gay community of New York in the early 1960s.” Rivera ran from home to this area. Here, a group of young drag queens adopted her. They taught her how to eke out a living with sex work and live on the streets, often changing sleeping location every night. Like many young homeless queer youth and older LGBT people in New York City, Rivera and her friends hung out in places they could feel safe and part of a community. Most of those places were Mafia-run bars.
In 1963, twelve-year-old Rivera met Marsha P. Johnson, an eighteen-year-old, “African American self-identified drag queen and activist battling for inclusion in a movement for gay rights that did not embrace her gender.” Rivera said Johnson was like a mother to her.
Fighting for Transgender People
The Stonewall Inn was a gay bar in Greenwich Village in lower Manhattan. It was a place where young men hustled and people from all over the city hung out after work and on weekends. The Inn is famous for being the setting for what’s now known as the Stonewall Inn Riot on June 28, 1929.
Rivera’s presence and involvement in the Stonewall Inn Riot, like Stormé DeLarverie, is debatable. Some sources quote her as saying she didn’t throw the first Molotov cocktail, but threw the second one. Many sources cite she refused to go home or go to sleep for seven days because she didn’t want to miss a minute of the revolution.
After the Riot, Rivera laid low for a few months. When she heard about newly formed activist groups, such as the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), she enthusiastically tried to get involved. But her gender identity troubled the members of those groups.
Exclusion and Discrimination
The first Pride Parade happened in 1970, but the organizers discouraged trans people, including Rivera, from joining the parade. Rivera was passionate about equal rights for trans individuals but faced relentless discrimination, even from the gay community.
In 1971, Rivera and Johnson started the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), a group focused on giving shelter to queer, homeless youth. They hustled the street to rent a building they named Star House. It provided a safe space to discuss transgender issues. They fed, clothed and sheltered “our other kids.” Though short-lived (STAR died by 1973), 19-year-old Rivera was a like mother to those kids.
Determined, Rivera fought against discrimination. She even attempted, in a dress and heels, to climb through a window into a “closed door council meeting” discussing trans and gay rights. It wasn’t the only time she was arrested, fighting for inclusion.
Finally allowed to take part in the 1973 Gay Pride Parade. Officially, she could not speak. Outraged, she grabbed the mike and said,
If it wasn’t for the drag queen, there would be no gay liberation movement. We’re the front-liners.” She was booed off the stage.
She fought for trans inclusion in the GAA’s campaign to pass New York City’s first gay rights bill. (It passed in 1986, disappointingly without including trans individuals’ rights.)
Discouraged by rampant discrimination, Rivera attempted suicide. Johnson brought her to the hospital and helped her get well. After that, Rivera left the city, her activism limited to low-key events in her area.
Return to Activism
Rivera returned to the city in 1992, after Johnson’s body was found floating in the Hudson River. She and the gay rights movement (expanded to include trans and others) reconciled. In 1994, she honored in the 25th Anniversary Stonewall Inn march.
She started Transy House, modeled after STAR, in 1997.
Her determination remained. “Before I die, I will see our community, given the respect we deserve. I’ll be damned if I’m going to my grave without having the respect this community deserves. I want to go to wherever I go with that in my soul and peacefully say I’ve finally overcome.” She continued working up to her death.
With her partner, Julia Murray, at her side, Rivera died from complications of liver cancer at 50.
Recognized after her death, Silvia Rivera has a street bearing her name near the Stonewall Inn in New York City. LGBT community organizations across the country and the world pay tribute to her. In 2015, they hung Rivera’s portrait in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., making her the first transgender activist to be included in the gallery. The Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) continues her work to secure the rights of gender non-conforming people. And the number of tributes continue to grow.
Rivera experienced abandonment, abuse, homelessness, drug addition, and incarceration. Poor, trans, a drag queen, a person of color, and former sex worker, she embodied “otherness” and fought discrimination her entire life. Metaphorically, she sat at the front of the bus and earned the honorific, the Rosa Parks of the Modern Trans movement.
What did you know about Silvia Rivera before reading this post?
Humans are compassionate beings. We see someone or something suffer and we want to help them feel better. This is especially true when the sufferer is a family member or close friend. When what we do doesn’t measure up to our hopes and expectations, disappointment can morph into debilitating self-criticism. If we don’t treat ourselves with grace, with self-compassion, our negative thoughts may spiral into depression or other mental health issues. Build your self-compassion toolbox and use it. You’ll not only feel better and perform better—you’ll be more resilient the next time you don’t do as well as you’d hoped.
How Compassion and Self-Compassion Differ
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.“
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, compassion is a sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress, together with a desire to alleviate it.
Compassion is not an automatic response, though it may feel that way for some. It requires awareness, concern, and empathy. It requires you recognize a serious, unjust and relatable situation.
We give hugs, kiss a skinned knee to make it feel better, and offer advice. We sympathize with the other person’s pain, whether it is physical or emotional.
In psychology, self-compassion is self-kindness without judgment. It is understanding common humanity versus isolation and practicing mindfulness rather than over identification. You forgive and nurture yourself as you would your child, parent, or significant other when they struggle.
Benefits of Self-Compassion
Compassion is vitally important to life. Without self-compassion, you may see your faults and inadequacies in such a negative light that it erodes your confidence, self-esteem, and your happiness.
Forgiving and nurturing yourself can result in lower levels of anxiety and depression as well as improve your health, relationships, and your general sense of well-being. For a list of twenty benefits of compassion, read “The Power of Self-Compassion.”
Practicing self-compassion is like putting on your own oxygen mask in an airplane so you will be able to put an oxygen mask on your child. The good news is that you can learn compassion, even self-compassion.
Build Your Self-compassion Toolbox
You are juggling a lot. You may have a full-time job, a family, friends, pets, and living spaces to maintain. It’s hard to balance all your obligations of choice and responsibility. Accept that you will never be perfect. Acknowledge that you will drop the ball sometimes.
Don’t be perfect, be human.
Understand that being human means mistakes are part of life. Include a note in your toolbox that to be human is to be imperfect. Stop judging and punishing yourself. Be kind to yourself. Reframe your mistakes and imperfections as opportunities or strengths. Thomas Edison… you learned a way that doesn’t work and can move on to another way that might work better.
Evaluate your expectations.
We creatives often have unrealistic expectations. Completing that novel or painting this year may not be possible if you have to pack up the house and move. Look at all your life’s roles and set realistic goals. Give yourself permission to not do everything. Give yourself permission to fail and learn.
Give yourself grace.
I believe that grace is very much a tool. And not only a tool that we try to offer others, but also one that we offer ourselves. “
You’ve been beating yourself up for mistakes for how many years? Learning to forgive yourself for your past, move forward with extra kindness toward yourself will take time and lots of repetition. Give yourself the grace to change, to grow.
Make grace your personal mantra until you believe it.
I am worthy of forgiveness.
I am worth the commitment it takes to give myself grace.
I am worth the time to step away from everything to recharge.
My feelings and needs have value.
I will not explain or apologize over and over why I take this time or make this effort. I deserve it.
Being my best self will trickle down so I can be my best for the people that matter most to me.
Gratitude is restorative kindness. You’re human. Practice being grateful for the body that keeps you alive. Be grateful for the strengths that you have and the weaknesses that give you room to grow.
You’re a creative. There’s at least one skill, probably many more, that you do well. Recognize that. Be grateful for that. Take a few minutes every day to be grateful for one of those skills. If you can’t do that, be grateful for the hands or eyes, legs or senses that allow you to practice your craft.
Give Yourself Permission to Start Over
Recognize that you are human. Don’t fear failure, embrace it. It’s inevitable. When you feel you’ve failed, forgive yourself and keep moving forward. Realize that you’ll never be perfect, but because you’re constantly in the mindset of forgiving yourself, you don’t get stuck in the resilience-killing rut of self-contempt.”
Life is a series of moments. Those moments march forward, whether you are beating yourself up about how you messed up or you are staying in the moment. Give yourself permission to live moment to moment. Give yourself permission to start over, and over, and over.
When you make a mistake, when something goes wrong, recognize that it happened. Give yourself permission to start over. Take a deep breath and if your action or reaction hurt someone else, ask for forgiveness. If your action or reaction hurt you, forgive yourself.
Acknowledge Your Successes.
When you’re in a pattern of never giving yourself grace, you ignore your successes. Make it a habit to look at and see your successes. Make a success scrapbook. Display your most successful moments or products on your walls or shelves. Pat yourself on the back. You did that. You deserve praise.
Keep Your Tool(s) Handy
Starting out, giving yourself compassion or grace may feel awkward. But revel in being unstuck for the moment you give yourself that forgiveness and permission to move forward. In time, this process will get easier and easier. In time, you’ll feel better, stronger. You may only need to pull out your self-compassion toolbox in times of high stress. If you’re not there now, work toward it.
Kansas City is the home to a majestic building that is called Union Station. In 1945, more than 678,000 people passed through those doors and onto passenger trains that took mostly members of America’s Armed Forces all over the country. In its 100 plus years of existence, it has seen tears of joy, tears of sadness, and even blood and tears. Its history inspired me to use a fictitious version of it in book two of the Fellowship Dystopia, If I Should Die. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The First Kansas City Train Station
The West Bottoms district is one of the oldest areas of Kansas City. It sits near the junction of the Missouri River and the Kansas River. Originally called the French Bottoms, it was an area of trade for Native Americans and French trappers. After Kansas City’s stockyards opened in 1871, the railroads came.
Union Depot opened on April 7, 1878 in Kansas City, Missouri’s West Bottoms district. The grand building stood on Union Street (hence the name) filled with the passengers boarding trains for distant cities.
In 1903, Kansas City’s great flood destroyed many of the businesses in the area. Rail executives decided to build a new station on higher, more centrally located ground.
The New Union Station
By 1906, twelve railroad companies combined to form The Kansas City Terminal Railroad. They chose Chicago architect Jarvis Hunt to design the new station.
Construction of the massive beaux arts architectural style building began in 1910.
November 1, 1914, Union Passenger Station of Kansas City opens its doors to a massive crowd. The construction cost close to six million dollars.
Rail traffic peaked during WWI-with 79,368 trains passing through the Station, including 271 trains in one day.
On June 17, 1933, a team of FBI agents and police officers escorted convicted mobster Frank Nash to the station. Nash and four law enforcement officers died in a shootout outside the building. Many myths about that crime persist today. Many claim that marks on the building are from the bullets that flew that day even though modern Kansas City Police disproved that. Mystery surrounds which other mobster committed the crime. They convicted Adam Richetti of the crime and died in the gas chamber on October 7, 1938.
A Long History
After 100 years, Union Station has a long history, a colorful history. With that colorful history and the beauty of the building inside and out, how could I not use it as a location in If I Should Die? Of course, to fit the alternate timeline of the Fellowship Dystopia, I had to change enough part of the Station’s story to make it part of Miranda’s story. But the clock in the Grand Hall of the station becomes an important location. A location of hope and disaster that will change Miranda’s life.
Host J. Alexander Greenwood of the Mysterious Goings On Podcast interviewed me a couple of weeks ago and one of his questions and my response, inspired this post. If you haven’t listened to the podcast, go ahead. I’ll wait… Thanks for listening. Can you guess what inspired this post? It was my last comments about my belief that nearly everyone is creative. And that we, society in the USA, don’t value creativity very much. Even a lot of creative people don’t value their creativity as much as they might, myself included. If that’s true, then what are ways you can value creativity more? Celebrate your creativity.
We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, new jobs, graduations (particularly this time of year), and the purchase of a new house or car. But we rarely celebrate smaller accomplishments. When was the last time you celebrated writing a page of words? Did you celebrate trying a new twist on an old recipe? Or how about the color you painted on the wall? You wrote a piece of coding that did more than the customer asked is a creative solution. Celebrate.
Why Celebrate the Small Creative Wins?
It’s easy to berate ourselves for mistakes or errors and not just call them failures, but label ourselves as failures. Our caveman DNA means we are on the lookout for problems 24/7. But in modern times, when the problem isn’t a saber-toothed tiger wanting to eat you, we sometimes see ourselves as the problem. And when we don’t celebrate the small wins “we end up diminishing our motivation, and motivation is what keeps us on the right path and gives us the strength to soldier on to the top of the mountain.” (lifehack.org)
You can’t acknowledge what you’ve done if you don’t track your progress. Track it in a journal or on the calendar or by scratching off items on a to-do list. Acknowledging what you’ve done helps you see progress, especially in long projects. Celebrating your accomplishments gives you a dopamine hit, which increases your desire to work on the next step to get another hit. Not only that, when you increase your dopamine, you increase your pleasure and your happiness throughout the day. Celebrating the small successes gets us “addicted to progress” because we want to repeat that dopamine hit. We want to feel that pleasure and happiness.
The progress principle: Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run.”
We are wired to respond to rewards… it’s another way how our brain works. So those small-step celebrations boost our self-esteem and our self-confidence. When we feel better about ourselves and our projects, our productivity increases.
The positive psychology research has shown that celebrating the small wins, the small accomplishments, and more frequently has a bigger impact than waiting for that one big thing to celebrate. It keeps you engaged. It helps you to remember that you’re on a path that’s working and you feel good when you get a chance to celebrate the small thing.”
The trick in rewarding yourself is to make it meaningful, but also to keep it tied to the progress you’re making.
How do you do that? You create small-step goals. For example, use things you consider rewards, but it would work something like this: a coffee at the end of the week of successes, an hour of television at the end of the month, and a fancy dinner out at the end of the quarter.
If you have a goal aversion, tie your rewards to your efforts. Three hours of focused work on the project earns a reward. Six hours win a bigger reward, etc. Up the “ante” of your rewards proportional to the amount of effort or work you’ve accomplished.
Got it? So what do you use for rewards?
Reward Your Creativity
Your rewards don’t have to cost money. They do have to be specific to you, feel like a reward to you. Still need examples? There are literally thousands of ways you can reward yourself.
Raise your arms in triumph and literally jump for joy.
Give yourself a gold star. X number of stars and you get a “bigger” reward.
Write yourself a note of praise.
A cup of your favorite beverage (like coffee or chai latte).
A window shopping trip.
TA trip to a museum or zoo or a movie.
An accessory—jewelry or scarf or fancy belt buckle or shoes.
An extra half hour of sleep.
A long bubble bath.
An extra hour of reading.
An hour of watching stupid pet tricks on YouTube.
Watching an episode of your favorite reality show.
An extra play date with your kids or pets.
An occasional dinner out can be a reward
Tickets to the next game played by your favorite local sports team
Play a video game or a game of hopscotch.
One caution: don’t reward yourself when you haven’t done the work. That doesn’t mean you can never have a dinner out or play a video game except as a reward. It means be aware of what your “fix” is. If you get addicted to the reward (a glass of wine, or a favorite food—chocolate anyone?), then your focus isn’t on the goal (finishing the painting or the sweater you’re knitting.)
What happens when you celebrate your creativity?
You may feel awkward or dismissive of the celebration the first time you celebrate your creative small step. Remind yourself that your creativity is of value to you and to others. You earned the reward because you did something creative.
Besides feeling better about your creativity, you are giving your creativity positive feedback. And that positive feedback perks your creativity up and leads to another idea and another. So celebrate your creativity. Heck, spread the joy and help another creative celebrate their creativity. Let’s change our corner of the world and teach ourselves and others how to value creativity.
What’s one way you’ll celebrate your creativity today?