June | Space | A Lesson by Ashlee Gadd & Anna Jordan
I stopped at Panera once, eight months pregnant, to satisfy a bread craving. I ordered the half-sandwich / bowl of soup combo, and when asked what I’d like my side to be, I whispered, “bread.” Yes, you read that correctly. I opted for bread on the side of my sandwich. I ordered this lunch to go because even in my obvious pregnant state, I felt embarrassed by the amount of carbs on one plate.
As I approached my car in the parking lot, I noticed there was another car parked really close to mine. I awkwardly shimmied between the two cars, unlocked my doors, and quickly realized I could not squeeze my gigantic belly into my own car.
There simply wasn’t enough space.
I stood there for a minute contemplating my options, getting hangrier and hangrier. Should I wait for the owner of the other car to show up? How long would that take? I could smell the bread in my bag. No. Waiting was not an option.
So, I did what any other pregnant lady would (probably?) do in my situation: I climbed into my driver’s seat through the passenger side. And yes, people were staring. And yes, I grunted a lot. I may have said a bad word (okay, two bad words). It was quite the ordeal. But hey - five minutes later I was driving home, one hand on the steering wheel and the other holding a piece of half-eaten bread. #winning.
All that to say: space was the first thing I gave up when I became a mom.
First, I gave up literal space in my body. Then my home office was converted into a nursery. The cute clothes in my closet were pushed aside to make room for maternity jeans and flattering potato sacks. My kitchen cabinets filled up with baby bottles and breastpump accessories, while my yoga mat was tossed out of the car to make room for a new carseat.
And it wasn’t just the physical space; mental space disappeared just as quickly. New motherhood propelled me into an entirely new inner dialogue: sleep training methods, growth charts, is he eating enough? Is he warm enough? What is this rash and how do I get rid of it and will his hair ever grow in on the top?
Motherhood resulted in less space in my home, less space in my body, and less space in my own brain, which is ironic because more space was actually growing in my heart.
When I talk to fellow mothers who are struggling to create, the number one hindrance I hear is this: I don’t have enough space in my life to be creative.
And I get it. Boy, do I get it. These children that we love so much have inundated every aspect of our lives. Every time we turn around, there they are. Their needs are great, their requests are plentiful, and their toys are everywhere.
Creating the space to create can be a creative challenge in itself (say that three times fast). We have to be strategic with our time and innovative with our childcare. We have to find room in our own minds to quiet the to-do lists and worries that accompany motherhood. We have to rearrange our schedules and train ourselves to catch inspiration when inspiration strikes. And perhaps most importantly: we have to reclaim space for ourselves to be able to think and create, which starts with believing it is worthy of reclamation.
Virginia Woolf famously wrote that a woman needs “money and a room of one’s own in order to write fiction,” but I think this idea can be applied to all creative tasks. Of course, we could all use money for lots of things, but this lesson is about space, so I’m going to pay more attention to the “room of one’s own” element. As Ashlee noted, we have to reclaim space for ourselves, but the type of space we crave for creativity is heavily influenced by our personality.
For example, I crave open, unplanned space that feels spontaneous. I need this both physically and mentally. I have never written at a desk for any extended period of time and have no desire to start any time soon. I used to do my homework on my bedroom floor in high school, and I’m still most comfortable on my couch or my bed (I’m typing this on my bed right now!). Sometimes I’ll plop down at the kitchen table, but that’s usually for a final edit or a 2nd/3rd revision of a draft. I rarely write a first draft in a structured space. I need sprawl.
Additionally, I need outdoor space (I really connected with the Dixie Chicks in my adolescence). I need to run outside, climb around in a nature preserve with my kids, go for a walk, and I need to move my body regularly. If my body is stagnant, my mind will be stagnant, and I know I need to free up space inside my head in order for me to successfully use the space around me for productive work.
Do you find inspiration in chaos or pleasure in calm? Can you work in a mess? Do you need a well-swept floor and an uncluttered calendar? Could you fit in a creative task in a quick 30-minute spurt of energy or do you need 3 uninterrupted hours just to get started?
If you aren’t familiar with the Myers Briggs Personality Type Inventory test, then I encourage you to pause this lesson and complete the test. It only takes 12 minutes, and it will really help you get the most out of the remaining material: Take Test Here.
I’ve taken this test numerous times over the years, and I am always an ENTP. Because of this personality type, I tend to thrive on certain elements of change. Knowing that a situation may remain relatively the same for the foreseeable future is a creative killer. This is why in thinking up an office space or workspace, I know I need multiple seating options and considerable floor space. I need windows and natural light. In my dream office, I would have French Doors that lead out to a patio. Do I have this space? No. We have a guest room with a couch in it, and I often work from there. I can spread out and shut the door, and this is a passable option for creative work. Because a free-flowing atmosphere is important to me and I have three small children, I seek out creative space elsewhere. There was a season where I wrote from the back of my minivan while my son rode his bike up and down the driveway as his sister napped in the house. I had fresh air, space to spread out, a baby monitor, some iced coffee, just enough shade to see my laptop screen, and a fully occupied preschooler: dream (for me).
When it comes to Myers Briggs and Creativity, there are four creative temperaments:
- NFs (Intuitive Feelers) are poetic and personal. NFs are all about people.
- NTs (Intuitive Thinkers) are experimental and complex. NTs are all about ideas and systems.
- SJs (Sensing Judgers) are realistic and traditional. SJs play by the rules.
- SPs (Sensing Perceivers) are dramatic and flexible. SPs play for thrills.
These temperament descriptions aren’t meant to put you in a box, but they are designed to give you insight. Are you an S who needs incense or candles in order to set the mood? Or an E who thrives on group discussion and wants constant co-working?
Creative space is not one-size-fits-all, just like creative people are not all the same. This month, we want you to embrace your unique personality and create space for you to make something beautiful.
“All space is space in which to create.” - Eric Maisel
This month, we desperately want you to make space for yourself!
1. Make space in your mind. I've had terrible insomnia for as long as I can remember. I often wake up at 2am thinking about something (work, e-mails, writing ideas, where will we do swim lessons, I think we're out of toilet paper, etc) and can't seem to stop. I will sometimes be awake for 1-2 hours in the middle of the night because I simply cannot shut my brain off. I've tried all sorts of things to prevent this from happening, but a new trick I've learned is to leave a blank notebook on my nightstand. Any time I climb into bed with thoughts swirling in my head, I write them down. One time I even wrote "GET OUT OF MY HEAD" across the top. As mothers (and women in general), most of us are carrying the majority of the "mental load" in our homes. Whether we work or stay at home, we're in charge of All The Things and after a while, that mental load can start to feel really, really heavy.
This month, do whatever you need to do to make space in your mind. Maybe you need a notebook next to your bed to dump your thoughts before you drift off to sleep. Maybe you need 10 minutes of meditation in the morning. Maybe you need to take a break from social media because there's too much information flying at you each day. Really think about this: what can you do to create more space in your mind?
2. Make space in your home. I know, you don't have the time or the money to re-do that spare bedroom. Maybe you don't even have a spare bedroom. Maybe every inch of your house is covered in legos and you have no idea how you would even go about finding space to call your own. If that's the case, you can consider this the ultimate creative challenge. This month, we want you to re-arrange a space in your home to be yours. We want you to take up space. We want you to feel ownership over a unique spot in your home where you can feel rested, inspired, and creative. Make it beautiful! This could be a nook, a desk, a nightstand that sits next to your bed (if you're like Anna J and need to sprawl). Whatever the space is, reclaim it. Before and after pictures highly encouraged!
3. Make space in your schedule. We know this feels impossible. IMPOSSIBLE. So let's start small. For the month of June, we want you to find a chunk of time to create once a week. That's it. Could be one hour, could be five hours. But here's the kicker: you have to stick with it all four weeks. Find what works for you. Experiment! Here are a few of my tried-and-true tips for finding space in my schedule to create:
Babysitting swap. In my experience, this works best if you only have one kid, or if your kids are a bit older and more independent. When I only had one child, my friend Brandee and I would watch each other’s kids once a week. I watched her son on Tuesdays for four hours and she watched my son on Thursdays for four hours. It was amazing, and all it cost was a few hours of my time. I got a break, she got a break, our boys became best friends, and it was a win-win for everyone involved.
Weeknight coffee shop escape. There was a period of time when I didn’t have regular babysitting hours, so I made a deal with my husband that Wednesday nights were “writing nights” - every Wednesday night, I went to the coffee shop from 6-9pm and wrote for three hours. Bonus: I don’t know about your coffee shop, but mine is mostly empty at that hour.
- Get up real early. Katie Blackburn is an expert on this, so if you ever need a cheerleader for the 5am hour, she’s your girl. And as much as I hate to admit it because I love sleep, I write 10x better at 5am than any other hour of the day. There’s something to be said for writing first thing in the morning when you have a clear head.
- Use a timer and reward yourself. You’ve just gotten the kids to bed and you’re faced with the every-night dilemma: what to do? There are dishes in the sink and laundry that needs to be folded, but all you really want to do is plop on the couch with Netflix and a bowl of ice cream. Here’s a tip. Think about your writing while you do the dishes and fold the laundry. Allow your mind to wander. Let the words swirl in your brain while sentences begin to form. When you’re done with the chores, sit down and set a timer. 30 minutes. 60 minutes. Whatever sounds best -- set the timer and get to work. When the timer goes off, then you can enjoy your Netflix and ice cream. You've earned it!
Ask yourself to fill in the blank here: I could create everyday if only I had __________________________________ space.
Skip the obvious answers about napping babies, and PTA meetings, and school pick-up schedules and think about the things you want/need to set yourself up for success.
Ask yourself: Based on what I know of my personality, what do I need? What sounds life-giving? What sounds comfortable?
What rituals or routines can I create for myself that will help me make space to create? Brainstorm a list then spend a couple days trying out different methods (Will the sound of the tea kettle get you in the writing mood? Do you have some preschool mornings or childcare swaps that you're currently using for grocery shopping, but you could be using for creativity?).
Write a letter to your creative self, focus in on and affirm your creative personality. Write what you do well. Write what you see in your own heart, and write to encourage your creative soul to flourish.
Artist Interview with Erin Loechner
As a wife and mother of young children, how do you make space to create when there are so many things vying for your attention?
I wake up at 2am! (Don’t worry; I go to bed by 7pm.) It’s always been important to me to allow a ton of margin for those still, small, quiet moments, and I’ve found that if I’m fighting to sneak them into my day when the kids are awake, I can quickly become resentful and impatient. My littles are up super early (and the baby, super often), so 2am is the only way I can truly guarantee an hour or two of uninterrupted silence.
It’s a trade-off for sure. I don’t watch Netflix. I don’t connect with my husband in the evenings (granted, he works from home so we see each other all afternoon long). I don’t have girls’ night on a weeknight, and I don’t sign my kids up for extracurricular activities during evening hours. There are always exceptions to make, of course. Last night, we hosted out-of-town friends, passing around pizza and babies until the fireflies came out. So this morning, 2am arrived and I stayed sound asleep.
I don’t mention this ritual often because I think there’s a tendency to believe you have to be a morning person to be creative, or productive, or effective. My husband is the best exception to this: he’s all these things, and yet, he’s a total night-owl. So we do what works --- he gets the night hours for creating; I get the morning hours for creating. (Of note: whoever is creating is also on pacifier duty, so interruptions can and do happen.)
How are you seeing the fruit of your creative work blooming now from seeds that you planted long ago?
Hearing that others have been encouraged by my book or blog or various writing is a gift, yes, but I’ve found the true benefit - the greatest fruit - has been for my soul alone.
Through the self-discipline and the hurdles and the carving of space, my writing has helped me to process so much of life - to form my own conclusions about cultural truth vs my own beliefs. To allow that processing to shape my values, my actions, my choices. To hold myself accountable for living in the proper context of each --- that’s the fruit.
This might sound selfish, but it’s almost as if I’ve grown this lovely little apple tree, and sure, many a passerby can enjoy its beauty, its provision, its shade. But I’ve plucked the prized apple and there it sits, singular on my nightstand, for me and me alone.
Do you have a scripture, word, or mantra that guides your work?
This changes often for me, generally based on whatever memory verse Bee and I are practicing at the time. I find it funny that so many modern mantras we repeat are dressed-up versions of scripture, so I tend to go straight to the source if I’m particularly low in the inspiration department.
Currently, this one’s been rattling around for a bit:
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)
Sufficiency is something I never quite feel. But we’ve been given it. All of it! It still makes my head spin to think about.
How do motherhood and your creative work complement one another?
Well, they’re not always complementary, I will say that. There are some days in which they are, where I’ve spent the morning wading through a muddied river and I get to the other side where I can shower off and tidy up afterward. On those days, I come away having learned something new and understanding something spectacular that adds value to my day, my mothering, my life.
But then there are other days where I’ve spent the morning wading through a muddied river and my kids wake before I reach the other side, and then I’m walking around all day in muck and mire, leaving distracted dirt tracks through the kitchen. And on those days, there’s nothing complementary about it.
We love your “small step” posts on Design For Mankind. Do you have any small steps to recommend for women who struggle to make space for creativity?
Thank you! Making space for creativity is important, sure, but I think we can also hold it too tightly. We can attach rules and boundaries for it, and we can fight so hard to compartmentalize it, reducing its mystery to science or a twisted form of logic.
But it’s none of those things.
My girlfriend writes songs while she chops vegetables for dinner. The moment she picks up the knife, her brain hears melodies. I have another girlfriend who shows up for school pick-up an hour early and sits in her car practicing calligraphy or illustrations while the baby naps in the backseat. She keeps micro pens in her glove compartment.
We all have a tiny bit of space in our days to practice making something lovely. The trick is to find it and to protect it as much as we’re able.
And here’s the surprising thing: It’s not much of a trick. The time is available to us, but we’re filling it elsewhere, on sometimes lesser things. Making space sometimes means shoving all else to the corners.
Find out what you can shove to the corners. Maybe it’s checking Instagram. Maybe it’s last night’s Target run. Maybe it’s a calendar filled with someone else’s expectations for you.
Shove, shove, shove.
You can still keep those things, if you’d like. But they no longer get priority seating, you know?
One of our creative exercises this month is to re-arrange a space in our homes to be more beautiful, functional, and inspiring. This could be as small as a bookshelf or tabletop, or as large as an entire room. As a professional designer, do you have any tips for us?
Oh, rearranging is my favorite thing to do! What a fun exercise!
I’ve found that we all have this odd tendency to move furniture to the walls to create a more open center of the room. But sometimes, this can make a room feel far less inviting, especially when conversation areas feature seating arrangements that are pushed back into corners.
If you’re working with a small space, consider bringing furniture in and away from the walls just a few inches. And if you’re working with a larger space, consider “zoning,” which is creating different areas of the room for different functions. This article has some really great tips and examples!
This month we’re also talking about the way our personalities influence our creativity and the way we view space (both internal and external). How do you think your personality type (Myers Briggs, Enneagram, etc) affects your creativity? How does it help or hinder your ability to create?
I’m an Enneagram 9 (this is the most obvious statement to everyone who knows me), and I’ve never taken the Myers Briggs. But, I think there are helps and hindrances to everything, in every work, for everyone.
9s are odd in that they embody every other personality type on the spectrum, so we’re often very empathetic and able to see a wide variety of perspectives. We often neglect our own needs. We are patient and agreeable; we are calm. We often resist self-promotion and controversy, preferring a quiet life of simplicity and peace.
I’m sure you can see how this helps my career and how this hinders my career.
But, career and creativity are very different things. And in terms of creativity, I’d argue that it’s a moot point, because the very definition of creativity is rooted in imagination, in our ability to perceive a hindrance as help or help as a hindrance.
So as a typical 9, I just don’t give much weight to the hindrances.
What or who inspires you: as a wife, mother, human and artist? Who are your favorite writers and designers?
I’m always inspired by the no-nonsense artists. The ones who make a case for a complex life, who avoid platitudes entirely. The ones who present life as it is, never airbrushed but never underexamined. The ones who can peer at a raw, unedited circumstance that feels so utterly senseless and yet, still be able to find the one glint of beauty.
The Kurt Vonneguts and Iris Apfels and Joan Didions and Maya Angelous and David Foster Wallaces of this world.