"The intuitive mind (creativity) is a sacred gift and the rational mind (responsibility) a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." Einstein
I need to pull together my materials for an evaluation at WWU sometime during the next academic year (which is nothing my rebel wants to do, of course! I'll spare you all the reasons for this...). In thinking about how I want to handle the review, I've come up with a couple of options: 1) Quit my job now so I never have to go through a hellacious review process with uber critical professors again. (Ummmm. Not really an option financially, though my rebel really wants it to be. :)...) 2) Put forward my materials as they stand without doing anything more. This would mean I can continue as an Associate Professor, most likely. 3) Take a research article that I wrote a few years ago but never got published and revise it so I can submit it to a new journal (whose editor I met working as a server at a restaurant on Lopez Island this summer, which felt sort of serendipitous even if it does mean I have to do academic writing). This would mean I could go up for full professor, which comes with a substantial pay raise. 4) Stay open to finding another job that feels more animating and energizing and comes with considerable flexibility and good pay like WWU. (I've been doing this and will continue to do this. AND, there is a LOT I really appreciate about working at WWU. So that means, for the time being, my options are either 2 or 3.
No matter which I choose, I'll have to pull together my existing materials and do a write up explaining my work. The only difference between 2 and 3 is that 3 requires me to dive back into the pool of academic writing that is definitely NOT my favorite water to swim in. Then again, I have a pretty well written, tight article, even if it does need a bit of reframing and revision. And an opportunity to submit to a journal sort of landed in my lap this summer.
Since realizing this, my rebel has been out in full force. (The fact that I'm in the midst of many new things that are stretchy and exciting is likely making this voice extra loud. Stress does this. Just like transitioning from a very unstructured, play-filled summer back to work in the fall tends to come with a lot of rebel. "I don't want to go back to work! Ever!" :)...) Still, I've had moments when I feel like the best option is for me to take a few weeks and just finish the silly academic paper. It's message feels important to me at this moment in our political history. And there are other things I want to do in life that mean I'd appreciate the increase in pay. Plus, I feel like I'm more effective as a teacher than ever, so why not let WWU support me more fully financially as I do my work with students? But my rebel has mostly been digging in her heels and REFUSING to let me work on it. And while I might have been able to power through this refusal, it would have been hard and the whole process of writing, depressing. At the same time, I wanted to be sure I actually wanted to work on the article not just choosing the easy way out by leaning on WWU. But when my rebel is turned on and loud like this, she makes it hard to tell the difference between pushing against something I dislike and what I actually want to do. Note: pushing against what I don't want isn't the same as moving towards what I do. Only it's almost impossible to tell what I do want when my rebel is to turned on. So, tonight, I finally decided to get out my journal and go sit in a beautiful, wild place outside on the ground to see if I could get to know why my rebel was so upset about the idea of writing this paper.
What are you so upset and worried? And what old stories are you remembering? ** I asked, letting whatever came next role off my pen and onto the page as storm clouds surged overhead and a crow flapped by, my butt planted on a rock mound in the middle of a Colorado grassy meadow. What my rebel had to say in response surprised me.
"You're selling out again! And you hate academic writing and will hate every minute of working on this article. Plus, you're doing the same old thing you always do: getting stuff done that others expect of you but not actually doing your own creative work!" That was true. I'd spent so many years doing what had been expected of me at WWU without making space for any meaningful creative outlet of my own. And it's always easier for me (and most of us) to get things done when someone else is holding me accountable than when I'm putting my own structures in place and holding myself accountable.
Looking out across the sun dappled open landscape, dried out grasses in the foreground, 14,000 peaks across the valley, I realized my rebel's concerns were legitimate. And that it was important to recognize them. So I did. On paper.
I promise I will never stop making space for my creative work. And if I do decide to write this paper and am able to earn a promotion, then it will be even easier to do creative work on my own terms because I won't have to worry so much about what others like and think. I won't have to earn money from my creative work if I don't want to. The familiar rebel energy, laced with anxiety, mad dashing away from whatever was unpleasant, and outright refusal, softened a bit hearing this. Then, raised more concerns. Which I wrote down, just as dramatically as they sounded flashing through my head: "But how will any of this support my creativity short term?! And will you EVER finish your book if you do this? You're going to be going back and forth to Lopez all winter and spring AND teaching FULL TIME. How in the heck will you get any writing done with THAT happening? (Insert profanity.)"
They were good questions. So, I sat with them, making some space for my calmer, wiser self to reflect on this situation and its challenges. Which was clarifying. What if I could use the evenings while I'm away at an art retreat this week in Colorado to finish that paper and put it to bed? Having a challenging deadline works well for me and heading home on Saturday seemed like a good goal. And none of this felt pushy or forced, it felt like an honest possibility.
The rebel liked this somewhat but had more pushing back to do, suggesting that maybe my time would be better spent looking for a new job....or prepping my fall classes...or planning another Women's retreat. Of these, the only one that felt like it had some real energy in my body was the Women's retreat. Which I noted, right alongside the empty, heavy feeling of the first two options. I didn't want to look for another job. Or prep my fall classes while traveling without a printer or the books I needed.
Pausing, I wrote down two more questions. What's here for you to learn and grow? And what is your inner wise person trying to tell you? Then, I brain dumped a bit more and something surprising started to emerge. It was true, I didn't have a ton of energy for writing the paper. But I did have time to do it. And I'd already completed most of it. And having a tight time constraint this week meant it might be more possible than normal for me to get it done. And, at the same time, my rebel WANTED me to take my own creative work (my art, my business, and my book) just as seriously as any promotion or work I do at WWU. And it wanted me to consider finding ways to earn money so I could support myself in having more financial freedom and independence from WWU long term.
Suddenly, I could see the wisdom and creative magic of my rebel in all her resistance: What if I held a winter/spring weekend retreat for women on Lopez? And just like I want to complete this silly paper before moving into my new rental cabin on Lopez for the winter, what if I also committed to framing and figuring out a date for my next women's retreat before I move in? Even better, what if I designed the retreat and follow-up program in a way that earned me an income bump comparable to my raise? Would that be possible? And could I slowly build myself a way towards financial independence from WWU if I wanted? A few more details popped into mind, which I jotted down. And the floods of resistance, refusal and anxiety I'd been feeling for over a week sublimated like dry ice, turning from solid to a hissing, invisible gas in moments.
Committing myself to my own creative work and using the structure of this paper to help me do my own work meant my rebel was willing to support me in working on the academic paper. So, I sat down and made some headway on said paper. I even enjoyed doing so. Better yet, I talked to a wonderful friend, pinned down a date to collaborate with her for the Women's retreat, and promised to send her a draft of what I'm thinking before she leaves for an international trip in early October. Which left my rebel feeling marvelous. She likes challenges. And the impossible. And likes to have things to push against. She's actually been flailing a bit with so much open space this summer, neither creating nor doing stuff for WWU. So after hearing all her concerns and push back against the responsibilities of work, I used her wisdom to design my own structures that she could leverage to get these things done.
The question How much structure do you need to do your creative work? came floating back through my mind. Some people need a 40 hour a week job. And others need wide open space. I'm somewhere in the middle, I think. But I definitely DON'T create as consistently or well without some consistent structure that I'm not holding for myself.
Looking back on this moment with my rebel and her loud NO, I'm glad I didn't try to power through and force myself to write the paper without hearing those rebel concerns first. Why? Now I could find a way forward that wasn't a reaction. I didn't have to quit my job immediately. Or thumb my nose at going up for a promotion that might be nice. Instead, I just needed to make space for my creativity at the same time as these external expectations. I could work on what I wanted alongside the academic paper, using it's deadline to push my creative work forward, too. Which means it doesn't really matter if the paper or a promotion don't work out. Either way, I'll be further down the road of my own creative ventures. Which I love.
Rebel creative magic! Hard to harness, but so worth finding a way through that feels good and holds all those concerns in play while generating a new way forward.
More news coming your way soon about an upcoming Women's retreat on Lopez mid-winter or spring. And for now, may you heed the wisdom of your rebel instead of being tricked into believing that her giant, reactive NO is the only way forward.
**Several of the questions and frames I used to have this conversation with my rebel were adapted from a tool created by Jess Lax, an amazing coach who hosts an experience for womxn called The Ember Circle. It's enrolling now and begins early October. Here's her website for more information: https://www.embercircle.com . I've loved my work with her! <3