An Imaginative Life

I’ve had a hard time getting back on track after Unclocking. It’s really ticking me off.

The problem is this:

  1. I LIKE the flow of time as it was on the retreat. Somehow, I think life should always be like that. It’s comfy and feels natural. Things get done, but in a kind of floating timeless bubble, with round edges and cushy socks… if that makes any sense!
  2. On retreat, the “world” disappears. News, deadlines, to-do lists, have-tos; no obligations, responsibilities to others, minimal distractions. It’s a little piece of paradise—like being on the beach in the Caribbean for a week, when all you really need to do is swim, get to meals, sleep and read. Except that on this Unclocking the Universe retreat, there’s an intention to do some inner exploring (hmmm… guess I need to do the post about that!)

So, the world has reappeared. More or less. But I haven’t yet gotten the hang of the to-do lists yet. Nor have I re-gained my morning routine. Which I Love.

I’m giving myself a couple of more days. Or at least, I’m rationalizing them. After all I’m back up to camp on Friday and Saturday. Rehearsals and students start on Monday.

In the meantime, I’ve completely emptied my studio (it’s 500 sq ft, people, and it was FULL!). I still need to choose colour, wash the walls and floor, get the varathane and then, when it’s all dry and pretty, decide what goes back where. I’m getting to the choosing choir and band music. I’ve worked on NMC photos… and there, we go… The List is BACK!

And this is the next problem…

While a retreat is great.. and I would argue, convincingly, necessary to the creative and imaginative life… the reality is that, in order to get things done, one needs to be disciplined, focused and make lists. While creatives don’t like to think that it’s true, I think these are the ones who are least productive. The productive ones have a schedule, stay focused, minimize distractions, close doors, shut phones off, and sit there, inspired or not, as a requirement.(more on THIS ,later, too.)

My morning routine looks like this:

5:00-5:30 (well, 5:45 if I’m lazy) Wake up, Force feet onto the floor and get out of bed before my brain kicks in and says things like, “What the hell are you doing up at this time of day? It’s DARK out, for heaven’s sake! GO BACK TO BED!”

5:30- 5:45 ish: Deal with cats. Food, water, insulin to Allegro. Cats out, cats in. Make hot water and lemon

5:45 ish: Between now and 9 ish, I do the following:

  • stretch, baby, stretch- get all the kinks out
  • meditate (it’s an active directed meditation… more later)
  • Sculpture of Lakshmi

    Sculpture of Lakshmi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    mantra meditation (currently it’s one for abundance (Lakshmi) and one for dispelling obstacles (Ganesha) which I combine with the emWave handheld device

  • morning pages (thanks, Julia Cameron)
  • 30 min reading. Timed. (thanks, Darren Hardy and Success Magazine) My current book is Alice Bailey’s
    English: Alice Bailey Русский: Алиса Анна Бейли

    English: Alice Bailey Русский: Алиса Анна Бейли (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Esoteric Astrology. Yeah, I know.. light stuff for early in the morning. Recent past books include Treatise on White Magic and Externalisation of the Hierarchy). I read these to set my mind at the highest level. They are challenging in ways, and, as I have read so many of the Blue books, they are familiar.

  • Breakfast: do you really want to know? Often some kind of combination of hemp seed, chia, buckwheat + kefir and yogurt, cinnamon, fruit, home made, very little sugar, fair trade (Camino) cocoa.

9:00 am ish… start “work”.. whatever is on the action list for the day.

Alright.. .I’ve talked myself into it. That and starting back at working out a few times a week.

However….. I WILL be taking full days off this year. I want to join the Thames Valley Trail Association and hike on the weekends and .. hey, they’ve got a week day hike, too! I will be turning all electronics off. I will be sleeping in on Sundays and allowing the day to unfold as it will. I will be going for walks, will sit down for a good long read (currently reading A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth…. it’s a whopping 1474 pages long!) with a cup of tea in my new little teapot. I will be breathing in the air, leaving space for the creative muse to incubate. I’ll be talking with more friends, writing more, making more music… the imaginative life is not for sissies… but it takes work, gosh darn it, and… we’ll see how this goes this year!

In the meantime, it’s WELL past my bedtime, especially if I want to “get anything DONE tomorrow.” Like get a new cell phone. Aaaargh!!!


It’s been a couple of days now, but I’m (sadly) back in the world of clocks and computers and having a to do list, though I’m really resisting!

The line between end of retreat and beginning of regular life is finer and harder to draw when the retreat is at home. When away, there’s the day of packing it in, starting the engine and picking up a celebratory, end-of-retreat chai on the way home. Doing a retreat at home, especially when The Farmer comes home early… and stays home… the ending of this dragged on for a few days. And I’m not complaining.

If the clocks are still covered— if I’ve still got a paper serviette taped over the clock in the car ( it says “saving the environment one napkin at a time.” I allow the naming of a paper serviette a napkin… what can I say?!). If I haven’t listened to a CD or put the radio on, if I’m still not on Facebook….

But The Farmer, who returned on Tuesday, has the TV on. I’ve downloaded email, been to the grocery store, been for a massage, listened to the voice mail, phoned my family and (ugh) been into the city to get a couple of decent detail paint brushes and five canvases….I’m guessing the retreat has ended. Officially.

OK, then, it’s done.

Now what!

I’m still reluctant to give it up. Whatever “it” is.

What is “it” that I’m wanting to hang onto?

  1. time flow vs time chunk
  2. allow things to take time–boy, THAT was a big learning
  3. a deeper listening to what is happening inside and out

Time Flow/Time Chunk

You never know how many times you look at these clocks.. until you cover them up!

Without a schedule, I could move from one activity to another quite organically. With my typical timetabling of things, one things ENDS and the next BEGINS. There weren’t any vertical lines… but there were wavy ones. I stopped writing, put things away, then went to draw. I don’t know how long things took… but it seemed that things took just the right amount of time.

This is what I’m looking for… this inner kind of knowing of beginning, middle and end. It happens in music, in my improvisations; it happens in writing. Elizabeth Ayres has called it… Writing the Wave.  (LOVE her new website!) And although it might not be the way she thought about it, the “wave” symbol feels right. I need to think more about this. (Right now, I’m thinking… it’s TIME to go to bed… finish this! Time chunking has returned! argh!)

Allow Time—Things Take Time

 No kidding. This is a BFO (Blinding Flash of the Obvious!), but I re-learned this several times. I’m so used to fast. I’m used to start and finish. I had in my head the notion that things, once conceived, happen. Done and done.

Not so, my friend, not so! When I sat down to draw–it’s an intuitive drawing process— I’d forgotten that these drawings take time… sometimes over a day or more. In my mind (it’s hard to describe) I just see the thing done. I don’t factor in time for it to be completed. I think this is how I get over committed and spread too thin. I forget about time!

More thoughts later… but interested in others’ perspectives.

Deeper Listening—Always a good thing!

It rained one morning. I sat outside, bundled up and closed my eyes. I listened to the different sounds of the rain. There’s a sound like a sound wash, or a colour wash. This is the sound of the rain coming from the west, through the fields, hitting the ground. It’s kind of quiet, but very present.

There’s the sound of the rain on the porch roof, the part that is plastic. It’s a percussive sound, not harsh, but specific.

I listen for the sound of the raindrops on the leaves of the maple trees that stand about 10 m from the porch. It sounds more like fingertips patting the leaves. There’s the sound of the water rushing out  the downspout from the eaves. It comes out in buckets and creates a crater in the garden. I want to put a rain chain there. It would change the sound: right now it’s pretty loud and full.

Then I try to listen for the rain on the trees at the back of the yard. I can only do that when it showers. When the rain is heavy… no way!

Other than the rain… deep listening is about being authentic and listening authentically to what is happening in the rhythm of life and following that. This is what I’m really after. It happens in music improvisation: we have to listen deeply to hear , sense, feel, know what is coming next and how me might contribute to it, either with sound or with silence.

I love this part of the retreat as I reconnect with that part of me that wants to hear what’s real.

And so.. this is the END of the retreat. Follow along as I go back through the week! I realize I haven’t written about the pina coladas… all in due time!

Just a few minutes now before I hit the porch. The clocks are covered. I’ve done the groceries and bought some art supplies. The Farmer is packed and ready for his own vacation-retreat up north. It’s the first time he’s had a holiday that doesn’t include airport security screening.

Being the resident retreat expert, I made a few suggestions… cover the clock in the truck, leave the TV off, take some incense and a smelly candle (he could only get a smoking room), cover any clocks in the room, turn off the commodity prices and weather apps on his phone, turn off the phone. Have you got some art materials? A new book? A notebook and a pen to write stuff down if you want?

I put together a ‘food’ hamper— corkscrew, scissors, can opener, a couple of empty containers to carry take out food, a thermos, some tea, hot chocolate mix, sugar, a coffe mug (one of his favourites), a set of cutlery with napkin and chopsticks. I’ve included a box of pistachios and there’s some watermelon and grapes in the fridge to remember. He’s got an insulated picnic bag and a shopping/carrying stuff bag.

He’s also got an art box—a lamp, pencil crayons, watercolours and brushes, a pencil sharpener, a make-do mixing plate, a small bottle for water and an old piece of fabric to wipe brushes clean. Sketch book and watercolour paper, pastels.

It takes a lot of effort to get away from it all!

I’ve told him about the lounge at Deerhurst and suggested he go there in the evenings rather than try to sit and read in the motel.

It’ll be interesting to compare notes when this is all done. And I’m hoping we can do some more of this kind of thing…. together!

It’s the day before I start a week-long retreat. I’ve already covered the clock on the stove and the date/time function on the computer is turned off. I’ve now hidden the dock on my MacBook, so I’m not tempted to open anything. I’m tidying up loose ends—paying bills, getting the kitchen clean, writing some notes to some folks from music camp,— and thinking about how to do this one— a creativity retreat at home, with all the familiarity of that, with all the stuff of that.

Oreo will be one of my companions.

This one is a bit of a challenge. For several years I’ve come home from   camp, done the laundry, packed the car back up again and headed north. When you live in a small cabin for a week on a lake, there’s really just you and the lake and whatever materials you bring with you.

When you are doing the retreat at home….it’s a whole other beast.

I’ve already gnashed my teeth a bit about…

1. Can I go to the Garlic Festival in Stratford this weekend? yes… it’s within the creativity and curiosity department and I need to buy garlic. However, it involves interacting with people, which is, typically, not part of it. I realize I have to do a few things differently. I’m pretending I’m a tourist in my own region. If I were retreating in the Stratford area… the garlic festival would SO be on the OK list. I’m rationalizing. But I’m good with it.

2. My office/studio space is a disaster. (OCD friends… don’t look at the photos!) I moved everything into the

Believe it or not, it’s manageable…sort of

middle like this in May when I went through a personal tectonic plate shift, precipitated by a bout of sleeping sickness and encephalitis. I’d set things up to be accessible, so I was able to manage through the summer. I decided to leave everything there until it started to drive me crazy. It’s now driving me crazy. The room needs to be fully emptied, walls washed and painted and I need to decide how I want the room to work and what is to go back in. It’s a big job.

Still navigable…

Is it OK to use retreat time to do this? I’m feeling an urge to clean the room up. It’s good to let these questions simmer a bit, because if you follow on the first impulse, you can get distracted.

Don’t even go there!

So… NO, the room will stay as it is. I may put blankets over the doors or something. We’ll see.

3. Doing laundry? NO get the laundry done today.

4. Doing dishes? Get everything clean now and then hand wash as needed.

5. Vacuuming? Really? You have to ask? Definitely NOT. Get it done today.

6. TV, CDs, iPod, phones, internet…. all are off-limits.

7. Grocery shopping… nope, get it done now. Check wine selection.

8. Planners, calendars, to do lists… yeah right. Stop it already.

When I think about it…. there are very few things that are off-limits.

And lots of things that are…


Photography, walking, art, playing the piano or flute or drums or boomwhackers or the rocks or the garden shed or the cats, reading, writing, thinking, napping, weeding, picking tomatoes and beans, sitting still doing absolutely nothing, making my own music, dancing, shouting, voicing, toning, tai chi, stretching, cuddling with cats, listening to the crickets, biking, going to the beach (cover the clock in the car), doodling, singing to myself, dreaming, wandering aimlessly….all good.

Why Do This?

To me it seems obvious.

A simple week.

During these unclocking weeks, I get up when I get up, I eat when I want to eat, I sleep when sleep is needed. If I wake up in the middle of the night, I’m not anxious about getting enough sleep. If I want to read for half a day, I do. I don’t talk to many people. I want to get re-connected with the internal ultradian and circadian rhythms— the rhythms of life.

Since there is no rush to go anywhere or do anything, there is no rush. It takes a bit of “time” to get into the rhythm, but after a few years’ experience, it’s easier and faster. Since I live and sleep outside for six months of the year, I’m already more attuned to the patterns of the day. And yet… I use a planner and make lists and projects.

What Do I Take With Me?

Today I’m also going to collect the books and materials, I think, that I would typically take with me. I’m going to put them in some baskets and have them in a special spot in the foyer. I like playing games with these kinds of limits. It allows all kinds of freedom!

I’ll post a list of what I’m taking.

What About All the Stuff I have? The Power of Limits

On these retreats, I like having minimal choices in such things as clothes, food, physical space. It allows me to re-direct my energies towards more useful uses of my mind— like what am I going to read? write? dance? It may be that I’m making more of this that I need to. I’ll see. I only have so many pieces of fabric to cover things… but maybe that will be a start.

This is the beginning of the year for me (you can take the teacher out of the classroom….) and I have space in this week to consider my dreams, to get back in touch with things I want to do or learn or read or start or finish.

One of the conundrums has to do with this blog

Do I turn the computer on and add my posts or do I wait for the end, keep a journal and then do posts “post” retreat? Still pondering that… any suggestions?

The sun is setting and most of the rest of the workshop is in electives. I had a 30 min stint in the recording studio, so I’m just chilling outside a closed Starbucks, listening to the cicadas, and several layers of sound emanating from building fans, air conditioners—there’s a constant white noise hum in surround sound. But the cicadas are the loudest.

Wednesday, mid-week, is the crunch day. We’ve been surrounded by sound, making music (all improvised) for much of a 12-hour day. This afternoon we had off and I spent more of it than I’d hoped sleeping. Missed getting to what one friends calls a “divine” swimming pool for a much needed swim.

One of the things I seem to have let go of over the years is the need to know EVERYTHING and remember The COMPLETE schedule. There are still lots of folk around who are happy to do that for me. Except when I think my rent-a-studio 30 minute slot is tomorrow and it’s today. Which I found out three minutes to seven when I went looking at elective times.


The intent and the agenda were simple. I had no agenda. No need to create a full-blown CD. I DID want to be accountable for 30 minutes to the piano, a beautiful Steinway.  In 30 minutes I could not hope for a full plate of exceptional playing. A few cuts, maybe, a few bars here and there were excellent. Some surprises, surely and some clear misses. All of which happened. When I listen to the raw tracks, I’ll hear better what happened. The main thing is that I showed up, I put my money down and I had an encounter with the piano.

On to the next electives.


The rain has been MORE than welcome. Here, it’s been enough to “save our bacon” as The Farmer says. We don’t raise pigs, but… there we go. Last week’s inch was the kicker (it meant the corn didn’t die)… and this week’s 1/2″+ has made it so we will have a crop. How much, we don’t know. We never know! The Farmer checked some cobs and they’re at least a full cob. Good start, in any case. He’s breathing easier.

It’s Saturday, overcast, 20 degrees, with intermittent showers. I’m still going to put the laundry on the line and cross my fingers. The relief from the heat is welcome. One of the cats is tearing around the porch. I’m waiting for him to run himself out and collapse.

The grass (and the weeds) are green. I have to mow the lawn. My garden open space is a carpet of purslane. As I took the hoe to the patch, I spied thousands and thousands of weedlings, just waiting for warm. Gone, weedlings,  be gone!!! I hoe thee into oblivion!

Below is this season’s precipitation compared to the past… the darker the orange and brown, the lower the precipitation. We’re just on the edge of the dark brown and yellow section down in the southwest. Maybe even near the light yellow there. It’s hard to pinpoint it exactly. In any case.. rain on our farm here doesn’t mean rain on our farm 15 km from here!






ImageHowever, the drought is not over. It’s not over til it’s over, though for many farmers in the US midwest, it IS over. They’ve mowed whatever crop they had. The images are startling. And discouraging.

What this means? It’s always a multi-edged sword. The wheat farmers have been happy. The farmers with crop will be happy, because what crop they have will sell for stratospherically high prices. We’re seeing nearly $20 for soybeans and inching up towards $10 for a bushel of corn.

Just a a few years ago, corn was $2.50 and beans were under $7. Mind you… if the crop is smaller than usual, which is highly likely, the high prices will help make up for the low yields.

For anyone who eats…it will mean higher food prices come winter and next spring. I’m wondering if it might help move people away from manufactured and packaged goods to fresher/frozen produce. What? give up on the corn chips, pop and cheese doodles? Hmmm… wishful thinking.

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September 2017
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