How do I gain traction on a shivery cold rainy afternoon?
I am writing on my back-porch. Rain falls heavily through the oak leaves over past my right shoulder. When the wind blows, acorns fall like marbles on to the grass, making the slippery lawn treacherous and slick. Okay, I have two sweaters on. I keep convincing myself that I am warm enough. (more tea please?) I just don’t want to work indoors.
Even on a slippery day like today, I can gain a sense of momentum, of traction in my work.
I start out early in my journal, writing and doing a little watercolor painting. This action sets the tone for my day. I feel traction in a very intimate way before I turn out to the world to look for it there.
What do I mean by traction?
A few years ago, I studied Danielle LaPorte’s book The Desire Map. In it she helps the reader find their unique “core desired feelings” which are guideposts or central tenets, or really, feeling states which allow us to feel most ourselves. I discovered traction is a core desired feeling of mine. It describes how I feel when I am making sense, making small progress, making what is mine move forward.
Traction feels like this: I am hiking, and my boot comes down on a rocky uneven patch on the trail. Inside my boot, I feel the muscles and bones of my foot articulate around the unevenness, finding a way to grip through my boot on to the ground enough so that I can take the next step. It is a minuscule experience, a little jolt of physical energy in which my body tells me, “We’ve got this. Go ahead, move your other foot.”
This tiny awareness takes similar shape in my journal. Traction happens when I digest and integrate an experience, however mundane or ordinary, but important to me and integral to my journal keeping. I watched this happen for a Powder Keg writer the other night. We had a long time to write through a few prompts. I watched her face relax over a period of 45 minutes. Afterwards the writer told me that she’d been able to write about a difficult experience at work. Writing allowed her to integrate her feelings and move beyond the initial shock and reaction of what had happened.
What really interests me is the root of the word traction, which is the Latin word tract: to drag or pull. Now we could rush down the rabbit hole to consider all the ways that tract shows up in the English language. (go ahead, start your list… tractor, attraction, retract, protract, extract…)
But what drags me forward is traction within distraction. Yes, the original word helps to describe its opposite.
Within daily creative practice, I gain traction by focusing in my journal or throughout my workday with activities that strengthen my concentration. The multitude of distractions that pull away my focus–and here we can simply start with the zinnias in September or my husband walking through the kitchen to talk about the news, or my child announcing a need or a bushel of plums waiting to be turned in to jam or the millions of ways we give up our momentum to other forces that are so attractive, so compelling, so important–and some of them truly are, and for the record, let us call those interruptions, not distractions–we wind up with nothing done, no sense that we have moved our lives forward in any way.
We know traction and we know distraction.
Sometimes, when I am in despair, stilled, and stuck, I do a small activity which gives me a feeling of traction, like sorting socks. Ten minutes of that physical action and I have a weensy purchase on a feeling that I yearn for in bigger ways in other parts of my life. That small dose of traction made from folding sock to sock calms my nervous system and reminds me of what traction feels like in my body.
My yoga teacher Ilana, a wise Amazon, likes to say, “Where there is movement, there is health.” I concur. When we increase our focus with small minute gestures of movement, we gain that desired state of traction, of pulling towards our desires and away from those things that tatter our attention and wither our growth and splat any sense of juicy accomplishment onto the pavement.
Distraction has its virtues. I learn about my focus when I am unfocused. I see how lunch helps me focus and a late afternoon cup of decaf coffee supplies just enough boost to revive my attention for another hour of work before dinner. I learn that when I am distracted, if I go do something physical and not fall in to the glaze of Instagram or the many ways I worry and instead, take a ten minute walk, or take out the compost and visit the sunflowers or write a few thank you notes, I regain my focus through refreshment. I have a hunch that distraction is my brain’s way of telling me it needs a break.
The difference is made when I can dissolve the distraction by refreshment, then return to my work. Or perhaps, I wholeheartedly give in to the distraction, go for a long walk or hang a load of laundry, spend minutes watching a hummingbird in the garden or pick up a different aspect of my work that I can do without a ton of attention.
“Our journals heal us.”
This is most certainly true. Keeping track (there it is again, pulling toward attention through taking detailed notes) in our journal means we can feel traction. I did not realize this to be true for all my active years of mothering. Those minutes I spent in my journal from the day after Ben was born were all gestures of movement that birthed traction.
Through my daily journal writing, I gained a small foothold on the steep terrain of motherhood, a moment of confidence and serenity away from the fray of raising children.
Tell me in the comments if or how traction shows up for you. It means a lot to me. Does it bear meaning for you?
- Have you ever been stuck in a snow drift and used sand to give enough grit under your tires to grab the ground and move forward? That is traction.
- Have you ever turned to a friend and asked the next bigger question that has waited in your heart, only to have her open up a new level of intimacy with you, giving you a bigger sense of connection than you’ve ever had before? That is traction.
- Have you ever let yourself write a little longer than normal, take on a topic that you’ve been mulling over while you do the dishes or commute to work, only to find a new solution that you’d never seen before? That is traction.
Traction is any action which pulls you forward in to the world, out from under the bushel basket of silence and into some new version of presence that is you, uniquely and fully you. Daily creative practice is magic grit.
I wish you traction. Miles of it.
PS Stay tuned for Advent Dark Journal registration that opens in late October. This experience begins the Sunday after Thanksgiving with online, email only, and in-person options.
“The Advent Dark Journal was a journey to stillness to restore, reflect, and rekindle the creative spark that so often gets blown out by the rush of my own and others’ expectations during the year-end holidays. Suzi’s letters, meditations, rituals, as well as her writing and art prompts, were engagingly appealing. This course helped me to enjoy rather the endure the holidays. She helps her students sow seeds of new projects and tend to the cultivation of the soul. I highly recommend this course to any woman needing to re-frame her holiday experience from one of chaos into one of joyful expectation.”
-ADJ 2018 participant
PPS. I am plotting my 4th artist residency in Gyumri, Armenia, where I go to work with women artists, teaching the book arts and personal narrative writing. You can learn all about this project here. I keep a separate mailing list for that work. You can also hear me talk about it in a short interview I did for NPR here.