Celebrate the Important

The author Stephen King celebrates finishing a novel with a ritual. He knows when the last word will be written, and he plans the celebration, which is simple (and not scary).

Ritual is important to us as humans. Celebrating should be. It doesn’t have to be fancy or elaborate, but when something goes right, it’s a good idea to celebrate.

So this week, when I came back from the photo shoot in Cincinnati, I wrote the introduction, the dedication and put in the final patches of items that needed changes. I sent it to my editor, and then the book’s work was done. Yes, there will be edits, yes there is a lot of work to be done, but the writing part is complete.

I kept working till supper time, fed the cats, and then invited Cooking Man to dinner at our favorite Vietnamese restaurant. It was a cold night, it had hailed in parts of town, and we picked out ways through melting ice to get to the restaurant.

It felt good to eat without racing through dinner. It’s good to share a meal when you feel satisfied that a two-year-long project has come to an end. There was hot tea instead of champagne, and pho instead of caviar. But it was a satisfying celebration.

We downplay important occasions. We know what to do on Valentine’s, but when it comes to creating our own celebrations, we stall. Here’s a checklist for celebrating:

1. Talk about your emotions–what was hard to overcome, what makes you happy.

2. Give a name to what you are celebrating. Create your own name for the day if that makes it more special.

3. Plan a special meal. You can share a meal, celebrate on your own, go out, eat in. But it should be a special time where you talk about triumphs and joys, not bills or hardships.

4. Wear something special, buy flowers, or put out fancy placemats. Listen to music that makes you feel happy. Don’t rush through the celebration.

5. Take a photo, write in a journal, do something to remember the day. Feel the happiness in your bones. Let it soak in. You earned it!

–Quinn McDonald is writing another grammar book for a client. She’ll use it for years, but it will never be officially published, just photocopie


Your Art Needs Your Time

Most artists have problems (at least some of the time) getting to the studio and getting creative work done. It just seems too much to pick up the pencil, sit at the computer, go to the quilting frame. And there is a pile of laundry. And you are working today till 6 anyway. The difference between successful artists and “wishing” artists is ritual.

Creating your own reality happens only when you take the time to do it.

If you work in an office, you have a morning routine. Whether you get up and shower or get up and exercise, have breakfast and then shower, you have a routine. And that routine is probably timed down to the exact second, either by time or by what’s on the TV or radio. It gets you out of the house and into the office on time.

Creating a ritual for art is exactly the same thing as a routine for work. A ritual legitimizes your effort, eliminates distractions and assigns a top priority to your artwork. As long as your artwork doesn’t have a priority higher than the laundry or watching TV, it won’t get done. And you set the priority every day of your life.

Your art work is powerful, but not powerful enough to overcome your resistance and drag you into your studio. You have to do the work. And that means shifting priorities. To art. Why is that worth it? Because art makes meaning in your life. It helps you understand yourself, your world, your journey. It’s also uncomfortable sometimes to face the meaning you make in art, so it’s easy to shove it aside.

The ritual doesn’t have to be complex. Decide ahead of time when you will do art. Choose a whole hour. Set a timer to ring 10 minutes beforehand to give yourself time to quit what you are doing. Make a cup of coffee or tea, grab the cup and head to the studio. No excuses. Once you get in the habit, it will first get much harder to meet your ritual. The phone will ring, the kids will demand your attention, a crisis will erupt. Keep to your schedule. In about a week, it will suddenly get easier.

Your morning routine works because your job brings in money and you have given it permission to take over your life. Give your art a chance, too. It brings meaning to your life. As the wonderful strip of paper that I found wrapped around a candle says, “What you do today is important because you are exchanging your life for it.”

Quinn McDonald knows that each one of us has to make our own meaning in life. The act of creation is what makes a life.