Make Something.

Today’s break┬áchallenged us to “do something hands-on.”

I am not a creative person. I work within boundaries, follow recipes, duplicate designs via tutorials. I wrote about my inability to create a couple years ago; nothing has changed. So this challenge was, well, challenging.

Yesterday I saw a tutorial for how to create custom watercolor effects in Adobe Illustrator. I thought that would be a good use of my time, so I headed out to Joann’s, armed with a nice coupon, and bought a watercolor palette and some brushes.

When I needed a break, I grabbed some paper, filled a paper cup with water, and set about creating.

It did not go well.

The watercoloring went well enough, but the tutorial was created for the latest version of Illustrator, and I have two versions back. Sometimes that’s not an issue. This time, it was. After 30 minutes, I needed a break from my break, so I went back to the watercolors.

I turned on Faure’s Requiem to calm me a bit (it’s quite beautiful), and started to paint again. I painted a series of horizontal lines, broad brush strokes in complementary colors. Then, worried that it looked too blank, I painted squiggly vertical lines. It looked awful.

New piece of paper: wanting to experiment with gradient effects, I painted watery blobs of color, taking care to not let the colors bleed too much. Except I learned quickly that I can’t actually control water blobs of color, and soon I had a mushy mix of nothing.

New piece of paper: I painted a giant heart. It looked too stark on the page, so I cleaned the brush, picked a new color, and drew a heart inside the big heart. I repeated the process, creating a babushka doll effect of hearts, but it didn’t look right. It looked cluttered.

By this time, the requiem was over, and the final song on album played: Cantique de Jean Racine. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and started humming the alto part. This song remains one of the most exquisite pieces of music I’ve ever sung with a choir. Take a listen. You won’t regret it. (It is in French.)

New piece of paper: I drew a giant heart in a bright pink, with cerulean rays surrounding it, and left it at that.

I tend to overcomplicate a lot of things in my life, then wonder why my metaphorical wheels get stuck. Next time, I will try singing a song, then simplifying the task at hand, and see if that makes a difference.

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Breaks.

A friend posted an invitation to a unique 10-day challenge: taking purposeful breaks. I’m not sure I really need to take breaks right now–I’m basically on a 10-week break from school anyway. But I do still create structure and routine in my day, and purposeful breaks could actually help with that structure and routine.

Today’s break was to daydream. To be honest, this break terrified me, because whenever I have been instructed in my yoga practice to meditate, I usually end up with a panic attack. I can’t shut off my brain, nor can I trust it to not have a complete meltdown. But challenges are supposed to, well, challenge us, right?

So I pulled the blinds of my balcony sliding door wide open, sat in my office chair and stared outside. At first, it was uncomfortable and it took me a while to lasso the voices in my head. But then I noticed something: the trees looked like they were conducting music.

It’s a hot and windy day here on the prairie, and in the 10 minutes of daydream time, I noticed four distinct wind gusts, each causing the trees to move in a distinct rhythm.

Gust #1 was flowy and lush, timed to the rhythm of George Gershwin’s “Lullaby for Strings”–my most favorite piece of music of any genre.

Gust #2 was a smooth with a lilt, reminding me of Allison Krauss’ bluegrass work.

Gust #3 was violent, and the trees shifted from a back and forth sway to up and down movements, reminding me of the mosh pits of my youth, listening to Nirvana.

Gust #4 returned to a more serene rhythm, in almost perfect 3/4 time set to the “Waltz of the Flowers” from The Nutcracker.

In between the gusts of wind, I thought about how music has been such an important part of my life. I flipped back in my memory to walking across BYU’s campus with my Walkman and Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” or the soundtrack from “Pretty in Pink.” I listened to every song in order, I listened to full albums. I hardly ever listen to full albums anymore.

My daydream time today reminded me of all the music I own and I craved a return to listening to music before Spotify and Pandora and Genius playlists.

I don’t know if listening to full albums will end up changing my life, but I rather enjoyed staring out the window, watching trees conduct music. I will have to do that more often.