Creating Through the Dark Times in Your Life

I like to think artists are all about making beauty, but they aren’t really. They’re about seeing. Creating through the dark times requires a willingness to face what you see and to give voice and shape to it. This flies in the face of being likable, popular and inspiring, although capturing felt experience so your audience feels it and relates to it as if their own is its own kind of beauty. And closing the distance between you and your audience, creating intimacy with your work, being vulnerable and fearless–These are inspiring acts.

Therefore, it would do us well to embrace the dark times.

Embracing the dark times brings to bear all the discipline, fortitude, trust and courage we’ve honed in our daily practice of creating something every day, no matter what. The sheer stubbornness that’s carried us through times of no time and no space and no ideas and cardboard-flat experience shows up as the commitment we need to face the empty page, canvas, room or camera and tell it like it is, now.

It pays to hone the skill of being the last one standing, or the one to whom it all comes down, the keeper of the stopped buck, passed from hand to hand of well-mean-ers and not-quite-readies. And to then plant that thing right in the ground, knowing it will bear fruit. Willing it to bear fruit, even as we surrender to the timing, the form and all the particulars.

There is a word for the intersection of discipline, fortitude, trust and courage: Grit. Sandpaper has grit. Its roughness makes it king to anything it rubs against, except, perhaps, steel or air. We become masters of the dark times and show our audience the way through by being the grit that rubs the darkness smooth.

One way I stay on the creativity train is by writing something down just before I turn out the light at night. It’s often a poem or a prayer. It’s my last-ditch effort to connect with what’s in my heart before surrendering to sleep, the place where the alchemy of dreams can have its chance at healing my anguish. There’s something about that moment before sleep when I always have the impulse to tell it like it is in a way that I might not in mid-afternoon or first thing in the morning. It’s as if I’m writing to a wiser part of myself and saying, “Yes, I’m aware of this, I can finally own it. Let’s see what you can do with this.” And with just a hint of, “Please.”

Here is a poem that I wrote before bed while still reeling from the shock of a close friend’s diagnosis.


I am waiting for mortality
To shear me of my denial
And lead me to an edge
I have been dancing toward
But have not seen,
To startle me with candor
As cold as finality and
As hot as shame at having been
Complacent and in denial.
I am petitioning mortality
To take from me everything fake
And true, so that I can
Finally be here, unashamed 
And bare, blazing with a passion
Of which I am sure.
I am waiting for mortality to bring
Me certainty before it’s too late,
Because I feel mortality’s slap, 
My whole being a reddened cheek
That hopes to fade before
Someone sees, yet desperately
Feels this may be the one chance
To face the refiner’s fire, 
And be forged into something 
Lasting and strong.
I am waiting for mortality
To shear me of my denial
And wondering why
I can’t offer it up
As a matter of course, 
A daily practice,
Until mortality takes me.
And I wonder if we aren’t still infinite beings,
But that we need mortality
To take us that last leg of our becoming
Or we might be tempted to
Remain unfinished,
To avoid the acute discomfort
Of having left behind 
Every tiny familiar thing
We carefully crafted to confirm
And celebrate our misguided story
Of who we are.

Another creative act in dark personal times is to faithfully record our dreams. This means being faithful to things we avoid in waking life: illogic, loose ends, irrational alliances, walking around naked and pooping in public, being in dark places, flying.


I am thinking if I were in the army I’d keep my partial plate at the barracks so it wouldn’t get broken in combat.

I am walking along thinking this and around a bend I am on a familiar grey shore where long dark oblongs bob in the water. Ebony whales, logs, piano keys bob in grey water, while the tan cliffs rise up before me, and circling a little closer with each hesitation, black panther-like, uneasy animals pace underneath the cliff head. 

I have climbed up before but now I can’t get a foothold and you have shimmied up before me, you and another, and I want to call for you to come back and stick your hand down for me, but I don’t want the circling, sniffing beasts to see I am stranded down below with them.

It crosses my mind they might be friendly. I wake with a start.

3:37 a.m. Your side of the bed is empty. Some time later I heave myself out of bed and slip on my crocs and head to the guest room to make sure you are there.

The door is closed. I’m sure you are sleeping. I go back to bed and shoulder my way tensely back into sleep.

At 7:30 it’s daylight. I have a dream to tell.

When we create fearlessly and simply from what we are witness to, perhaps the most powerful thing we model is not knowing. Presenting the truth without tying it up in a neat package, drawing handy conclusions and useful how-to’s takes courage, but also gives courage. Our audience knows when we are full of it and needs us to be the ones to not flinch when the darkness comes to be written down, danced, or sung.

Finally, I leave you with a song, the darkest love song I’ve ever written. I can’t tell you what it’s about, really, except it was my truth at the time. And the lyrics kept running in my head the whole time I was working on today’s edition. It’s not a studio recording, but it will do. I wrote it back in 1996 and recorded it today, head cold and all. I hope you enjoy it.

To Nurture Your Creativity, Stop Focusing On Output

Focusing solely on creative output leads to burnout. You will run out of ideas as your flow becomes stagnant. Your inner gremlins will gain a foothold, and it will be difficult to push them back. Worse, you will forget who you are and instead run on who you used to be, and then wonder why it all seems so repetitive and uninspiring.

If this is you, it’s time to focus instead on feeding, nurturing and rediscovering your creative soul. You can think about this in terms of diet. What are you feeding your creative self? Do you even know what inspires and nurtures that part of yourself? Sometimes it’s a throwback or a constant and other times, it’ll be something brand new and surprising.

Continue reading To Nurture Your Creativity, Stop Focusing On Output

On Secrets, Vulnerability, and Untidy things

Hola lovelies,

You know how sometimes you find yourself doing things that seem to be vestiges of a prior set of priorities or a life you had but has now passed – except for this one thing? Maybe it’s a friendship you keep up that’s damned unlikely and doesn’t fit your narrative, or a habit you’ve clung to, or, in my case a couple hours a week of a job that I keep saying I’m done with!

Continue reading On Secrets, Vulnerability, and Untidy things

Reclaim Your Creative Soul. Here’s How.

Hello Dear Reader,

Thanks for reading this far. I know – Low bar, right? What can I say? I’m easily pleased. 😁

I guess I’m feeling just a little bit heady and giddy after the weekend I had with my coaching peeps in San Jose, re-energizing my business, connecting with all the love and support my heart can handle, and learning (and un-learning!) so much that will help me create a life I love.

And that’s what I want for you, too, of course. Otherwise I wouldn’t be sitting here writing you a big, fat letter, now, would I?

Continue reading Reclaim Your Creative Soul. Here’s How.

You Can Do This


What makes your heart ache with longing, jealousy and/or dread? Go there. It’s your spirit recognizing a piece of itself that hasn’t yet found a home in your conscious awareness. It’s been locked out and wants to come home.

What is it? Writing a book? (Or writing anything?) Making art? Travel? Paring down to almost nothing and going ultra-light? Writing a blog? A poem? Being a self-employed artist? Counseling? Healing? Being with babies and moms? Something that doesn’t have words to describe it yet?

Okay, fair enough. Then do yourself a favor and sit still and breathe into that longing. Breathe, breathe, breathe. And say inside yourself: “I feel you. I know you’re there. I’m ready for you. Come out and teach me. I’m strong enough now. I have support, supports I don’t consciously acknowledge, but I trust they will make themselves known. I promise you. I’ll listen and be faithful to you. I can do this.”

It’s not about making money or making it, or getting followers and readers, popularity, or looking good. It’s about becoming bigger. Becoming a bigger you, perhaps a version of you that defies all the previous stories you’ve believed about who you are. (Enter the nausea.) It’s about being willing to trust something bigger, and in so doing to enter unfamiliar realms. To be terrified and thrilled, to be humbled and delighted. It’s about waking up and being alive.

It’s a deeply personal, spiritual, ultimately nourishing, and sometimes lonely thing. It’s the only work that only you can do. You can read all the books and write in all the chat rooms, and post the memes, but in the end, only you can enter that space and commit to your souls’ longings.

Do you know how much energy you use to suppress anything new and unwieldy from coming into your life? Do you know how much the world needs ALL of you? Do you know what you don’t know? Of course not! None of us do. That’s why it takes courage and is difficult to follow the soul’s calling, but also why it’s the only alive choice. It’s the only choice for those of us who believe in a healed world.

Try this everyday for a month: “Today, I’m willing to be bigger and more alive than I was yesterday. I say yes to my soul’s longings. I choose to trust that stepping into the unknown is the strongest, safest, most powerful thing I can do. I choose to believe I’m equal to a bigger potential than I allowed yesterday. I surrender to Something wiser.”

Or simply, “Yes.”

Then take one action. That’s the key. Self-esteem, self-confidence, new habits, growth: These are not done mentally. They are built through tiny actions. Tiny actions open up the tiny box we’ve built around ourselves to keep us from failing and being disappointed. Tiny actions take 1 nail out of one wall of our tiny box.

They are things like buying a drawing pencil and a notebook, choosing a journal, talking into your voice recorder for 5 minutes about something you’re too shy to say to someone else, throwing out a piece of clothing that makes you feel like crap every time you see it in your closet, taking out a blank sheet of paper and making up the title of the memoir of a really fascinating, together person, locating your library and maybe going in, hanging out in a bookstore or an art store or a music store, looking up dance and yoga classes.

Ok, breathe.

What’s your tiny action for today? Don’t worry if it’s big enough. Just make it tiny enough to be doable.

You can do this.

Don’t even worry if it feels brave or difficult. Just do it. There are no wrong ways to tell your soul, “I’m listening.” Take five minutes for yourself and just listen.

That’s an action, too.


by Phyllis Capanna © 2016 joyreport

Photo credit: kightp via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Make Space In Your Life For You

If “Where do I begin?” is your creativity quagmire, start here.

photo by nacu
photo by nacu

Your time is your life. Give yourself permission to use it the way you really want to. Here are some suggestions for getting a handle on it. Once you get into the habit of setting aside time on a daily basis and get a handle on your physical space, you will know where to begin, I promise. It’s waiting to have a clear idea of what to do before setting aside the time that makes us never actually get to doing anything.

photo by Melodi2 on morguefile
photo by Melodi2

There was a time when we left our phones at home. Attached to the wall. We even went into our bathrooms without them. We didn’t know it, but we were living on the edge.

The best thing to do is put the phone in airplane mode or leave it in another room. Your mind will come up with a million must-do things, including stuff to look up online. Breathe through these urges until they pass. Then:

photo by JPPI on morguefile
photo by JPPI on morguefile

Set aside 5 minutes.
I like to use a timer. This lets my mind and body relax. I know, I know: your timer is on your phone. If you can’t have it in the same room with you and not check it every 30 seconds, use a different timer. Or just watch the clock. Better yet, forget about time until someone knocks on your door. Then:

Do it every day.
You know that time and place you just carved out? Do it again the next day. But make it longer on day two. See if you can put a fence around 30 minutes for yourself. Play around with the time and place until you hit on something that works. Then:

Do something fun, different and goal-less.
Here’s a list of things you might do during your you-time:

Take out your dusty guitar and play around on it.
Write a journal entry
Listen to music lying on your back
Take a walk with a camera
Go for a bike ride
Savor a tall glass of water or cup of hot tea
Take ten deep breaths
Find wild mint
Forage for berries
Listen for as many different bird calls as you can
Walk without a destination
Sit under a tree
Light a candle
Plan a garden


Reclaim the Rest of Your Time, Too
Now that you have a handle on 30 minutes, take a look at the other 23 1/2. Just for one day, keep track of how you spend your time. If your schedule is different every day, you might opt to do this for a whole week. It’s easiest to do it right in the moment. Just like tracking money, if you leave it to memory you’ll probably forget something. We go unconscious all the time. Keeping track of your time can help you pinpoint the time sucks in your life. You may think it’s the time you spend helping your partner find his keys, but actually it’s your after work shopping stops.

Just write the facts and see what you find out about how you spend your time.

If your inner critic starts piping up with what a lazy, no-good, time-wasting bum you are, laugh. That’s right, laugh! Know why? Because your inner critic’s fly is open and there’s spinach between her front teeth.

What’s your favorite way to zone out?
We tend to do our zone-outs during transition times in the day. It’s late afternoon and almost time to start cooking dinner or wrapping up your shift. It’s 9:30 and you’re good for nothing but not sleepy yet. Whatever it is you do, I’m not going to bother suggesting you stop doing it. I’m going to say this: Could you take one of those and turn it into a mindful, deliberate, intentional time just for you? Because, clearly, you need something during those times.

Before you turn on the device, open the fridge, or get into the car, take five minutes and breathe. Really. Five whole minutes of breathing. For extra credit, drink a tall glass of water. Seriously. Then see where you are. If whatever it is has lost its appeal, then maybe it’s time to do something else. Then:

photo by Julio Ottoboni
photo by Julio Ottoboni

 What else is taking up your mental space?
Besides getting a handle on your time and the things your do to waste it and zone out, it can be illuminating to know that physical things can create mental clutter.

Look around your space right now. Are you surrounded by stuff that makes you feel good? Do you like it? Love it? Do you have a happy living space? Is it too cluttered? Is it easy to get around in? Does it lend itself to the things you like to do the most? Is there a space that’s just yours, that you can do with what you will?

There are no right or wrongs here, but there are right and wrong for you. You may not understand at first why some of the answers to the above questions are what they are. For example, you may have been thinking all along that you like being surrounded by your great Uncle George’s railroad memorabilia. Yet when asked if your living space makes you happy, you wanted to answer no, not really. Good information. You may not have what it takes right now to change it, but it is good to know.

So there you have it. Daily private you-time, conscious use of all your time, and keeping a physical space that’s pleasing and conducive to your flow. All that without addressing the things we traditionally blame for our lack of creativity: other people, circumstances and lack of inspiration.

Try it for a week and let me know what you learned. I’m curious to know how this works for others. I have depended on these three things for years.

Until next week, I hope you’ll check out my new free pdf articles, consider joining my mailing list by using the links to the right, subscribing to this blog via email, also to the right, leaving a comment, and  sharing this or other posts that have touched you.

photo by mrmaco4
Wild Mint photo by mrmaco4

With love,


Surrender. That is, write.

Honestly, if all the good Lordess gives me in this entire life is loads and loads of time and space, endless blank notebooks and bottles of Mont Blanc ink, a roof over my head, food, great friends, and music, I think I will be able to forgive the decidedly sparse flow of money.

So what if I’m having an endless adolescence. It’s my first adolescence actually awake, and I’m enjoying flopping about freely as I should have done when I was 12 through 20 but didn’t because I was too busy sleepwalking and keeping myself from dissolving from anxiety and grief and confusion and terror. And then came drugs. Which solved everything. For a while.

Anyway, that’s an old story. Today’s story is just fine with me:

I uploaded to Createspace the Soul Messages Workbook: The  Complete Course in Developing Your Own Inspiration Oracle Cards. I also purchased a block of 10 ISBNs. How’s that for throwing your hat over the wall?

I began a new story. I won’t call it a novel, but it’s an idea I’ve been playing with, and I started it today, because:

I started a new writing class–as a student. Last night was the first meeting, and of course you have to admit to things like goals, so I have been given the assignment of starting that story. Fiction being my scary new kind of writing. Does anyone else totally idolize things they aspire to but feel incompetent to accomplish? Right now I feel like anyone who’s ever written a fiction anything is a god.

So, I missed my Wednesday posting time, and I’m doing it now, at 11 p.m. Has anyone else noticed that everybody who’s selling something has a deadline of midnight tonight, September 30? I’m trying to decide whether to subscribe to an online coaching/biz community for witchy woo-woos like me.

So here’s the thing: The whole time I was working on the files for the Workbook, buying the ISBNs, perfecting the cover, converting to pdf, proofreading, learning Pages 5 on my Mac, etc., etc., etc., there was this voice in my heading saying I’m wasting my day just sitting on my butt. It wasn’t until I pulled out the blank page and started writing that story that that voice quieted. That voice is like error messages on the computer. You can’t always take them literally. They just mean something’s wrong. It’s still up to you to find out what it is.

Outside the rain came down in wild torrents, blown by the wind against the windows. Water came coursing down the dirt road that leads to the lake. My partner went out, as she does in every heavy rain, to scratch little pathways into the road for the water to drain into the woods instead of into the lake, where it would deposit residue from our cars. The cry of the loon makes us both look up, then at each other. That one thing is enough reason to go out in the rain and divert pollutants from the lake.

“Fiction is where you get to talk about what you want to talk about,” asserted my teacher last evening. “What do you want to talk about?” she asked me. I mumbled something about this place, the lake, my partner’s ancestors, the deep history here.

Is it possible I could let myself go into a story and a life that have exactly everything that’s right, in them already?

Tell me about your scary edges, and what you are avoiding. (Ooh, that reminds me of a great writing prompt. I think I’ll update the writing prompts page. Check it out.)

And one more thing: I just got up to bring my partner a towel, and for some reason remembered Mrs. Thomas, my 6th grade teacher. I’ve written about her back in the 30 Days of Joy days. But this is what I remembered tonight: She believed in me. Remember, somebody believed in you, probably still does.

With love,


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by Phyllis Capanna © 2015 joyreport

All content is the sole property of Phyllis Capanna and joyreport. If you are reading this content on another site, it has been reposted without the author’s permission and is in violation of the DMCA.  © 2015 Phyllis Capanna

Refilling the Well

photo by Derek Lilly
photo by Derek Lilly

The following is an excerpt from the new set of Soul Messages, which are on the topic of success.

This message is coming to you to remind you that it is time to fill your creative, spiritual and soulful well. You have been drawing from it and using your energies, and your reserves are low. It is time to let yourself get filled back up again. The first thing to do is to clear some space for yourself. That means time, physical space and mental space. Unplug for a while. Turn off the wifi, leave the phone behind, put on some walking shoes, and go outside. Get into the air and put your feet on the ground. Connect with the natural world of growing things and flying creatures. Don’t forget the sky, the wind and rain, the sun.

If you’re a country mouse, then go to town. Find a cafe or bookstore with benches, a public park, or some other place where there are people. Do some people watching. Check out the architecture. Bring your camera along and take pictures of interesting details. (Okay, you can bring your phone, but put it on airplane mode.) Make a catalog of sights, smells. Find out where people live. Go someplace you’ve never been and see what’s happening. Eavesdrop. Look in people’s windows.

Two keys to filling the well are change of pace and letting your child self choose the activity, including, of course, a megadose of aimless wandering. Practice following whatever catches your eye. Ask your child self what it would like to do. Some typical responses: Go outside and play, read a picture book, color, make something.

There’s a good chances that if you pulled this card, all of these suggestions sound almost impossible to do. Your to-do list is long. You are focused on crossing things off it. You have a deadline, a goal you are afraid will slip away. You are crunched for time. You’ll goof off later.

You know what?

Goofing off is just what you need to help you achieve your goals right now. When the well is dry, no amount of pumping will bring up water. It just might be that you are having to exert tons of effort because you are running on empty. At the very least, once you do take some time out and then return to your goals, you will know first hand whether that was true. If you find yourself with renewed enthusiasm, a fresh perspective, or a lighter mood, then, yeah, you needed that.

Give yourself at least an hour. A half day is even better. Maybe you need a whole weekend off. But don’t fall into the trap of doing adult numbing out stuff like surfing the web or pigging out on chocolate cream pie. That’s not filling your soul; it’s filling a hole. Instead, go to the Source, let the wonder and beauty of life re-enter your being by giving yourself some soul-filling, nurturing time.

Some other suggestions:

  • Go for a walk; stop and talk with a stranger
  • Find a playground; swing and slide and tumble
  • Make mud pies
  • Make something with your special art supplies
  • Spend time with a tree
  • Find a new insect
  • Go to an amusement park and go on all the rides and scream your head off
  • Take a bike ride or go rollerskating/blading
  • Dig in the dirt and collect stones and rocks
  • Find a foreign language radio station and listen to a while. Make up what they’re talking about. (This is fun to do with a goofy and burnt out buddy.)

Okay, that’s all I have for this week. Now it’s your turn:

What are your favorite ways to re-fill the creative well?

Doing It Wrong


It was during a week as a temp at Harvard University that I first encountered Julia’s Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I was subbing for an assistant to two professors. One was on sabbatical, and one was on vacation. (It was a plum placement.) I proceeded to gobble up The Artist’s Way. That was in 1991, and that’s when I started doing the Morning Pages. Except for a few weeks somewhere around 2013 or so, I’ve done them every morning since.

At first I ignored the three pages rule and just wrote until I was spent and had nothing more to say. I remember one epic run of ten or so pages brimming with self-hatred. Julia had warned that the pages would bring stuff up, and had encouraged us to hang on and do them anyway. I figured I had several decades of backlog, so it was okay. Soon, though, I settled into the three page routine. A couple of times I wondered, as I’m sure many before me have, just what she meant by “three pages.” Was it three pages, or three pieces of paper, filled? I decided that, being a writer, Cameron had said what she meant, three single-sided pages.

A week ago, I chose as my travel reading another Cameron book, The Right To Write. In it, she again uses the Morning Pages as a writing tool. The instructions begin, “Take out three sheets of 8 ½ by 11 paper…” and end, “When you have finished writing three pages, stop.” At once, I had the answer to my nagging question of long ago. Initially, it struck me as funny that I have dutifully written three pages for twenty-plus years, and I’ve been doing it wrong. The fact that it tickled me, I thought, was progress in itself.

But it bugged me. I wanted to reap the real benefits of this exercise (not the half-benefits I had already attained.) I wanted to be a real writer, a heavy hitter like Cameron. I wanted to follow instructions. As soon as I found out I’d been doing the Morning Pages “wrong,” my meager three pages lost their magical quality and failed to conjure their usual sense of endless possibility. Suddenly they were small and constrained. I wasn’t allowing myself to fly, to reach, to stretch. I was limiting myself. I was playing small. I’d been letting myself off too easy. As usual.

I decided I had to fill three pieces of paper. I figured it would be tough. The first day, in a hotel room in Atlantic City I was sharing with a friend, I ran out of things to say.  I jumped up, relieved to be off the page. The next day, staying at a beach house in Massachusetts, I was interrupted and left it at five pages. At breakfast that morning I told the story, and everyone agreed: Three pages is three pages: 1, 2, 3. Three pieces of paper filled give you pages 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

Still, I felt I was doing it wrong. The next few mornings, my pages went to four pages. I was just not filling three whole pages.

A few days later, back in Maine with a full house at our lakeside camp, something happened. Bathroom time had become a ballet of sorts, with four people plus visitors sharing the facilities. Now, my usual morning routine is a careful set-up for my morning pages. I wake up. I go to the bathroom. I make my morning coffee as if I am performing a sacrament. I arrange a small writing pillow to rest my notebook on. I begin with a short spiritual reading. I fill my fountain pen and blot it. I open the notebook and begin.

But on this morning, I couldn’t get into the bathroom right away, so I started making coffee.  When the coffee was ready, I didn’t want to start my pages, because I still hadn’t taken care of necessities in the bathroom. As time ticked on, I thought my elderly mom might soon be getting up, which would mean no morning pages at all.  It looked like I would have to do some multi-tasking. 

When my turn came, I waltzed in with notebook, pen and coffee. I started writing, and in that moment of reckless scrawling on the top line of a blank page, the magic of the Morning Pages came back. I wasn’t waiting or holding back. I wasn’t playing small. I was going for it. I was grabbing my writing time any way and anywhere I could. Free again, I felt the endless road open up before me.

All wrong, completely out of step and treacherously close to not being able to write at all that day, I dove in, recklessly, messily, hungrily. I hadn’t written since the day before. I was thirsty for this. I didn’t know what I was going to write about but that didn’t stop me from living my life right there on the page for the next thirty minutes or so. I wrote three lovely, sloppy, sprawling pages of stream of consciousness.

Am I doing it wrong? Or am I doing it the way that is right for me?

It is safe to heal and release limiting ideas of success.

P.S. Don’t worry, I didn’t hog the bathroom for the full thirty minutes. I also couldn’t let go of the question about how many pages is three pages.  I finally got my answer on Julia’s own blog, in which she states, Morning Pages are three, single-sided, 8.5×11 pages (so in other words, not 6 pages).” Which means that in The Right To Write, when she states, “Take out three sheets of 8 ½ by 11 paper…” the accurate thing would have been to say “two sheets.” I hope I remember her mistake the next time I am tempted to think that my mistakes are the end of the world. All in all, Julia’s mistake lead me to a stronger place on my path. Love you, Julia! And thanks for The Artists’ Way and the Morning Pages. They rock!