Found Time for Creativity and Mindfulness: Make The Most of Waiting

Around the beginning of the year, I wrote about setting a timer for 15 minutes each day and during that time write or make something. Although the product of that commitment hasn’t been evident on this blog, I am honoring it, by continuing to write and illustrate posts for Off the Chartspaint, and an unusual way to use found time.

Part of my job as an oncology nurse navigator is meeting or checking in with patients during their course of treatment. These face to face meetings often occur before, during, or after one of their oncology appointments.

Cancer treatment involves doctor appointments, and doctor appointments involve waiting. As a ONN, I wait my turn to see the patient, although not usually in the  patient waiting room. Sometimes I’m in a MOB lobby. Often I’m invited in the back office area. If it’s a lengthy wait I go back to my office cubicle, and try to connect with the patient later.

But when the wait is about 15 minutes, sometimes I use the time drawing. Actually, it’s more like advanced doodling. Nothing fancy: I use the simple, lined notepad I bring to appointments, and a cheap, ball-point pen used to write notes. I select a random object. Flower arrangements and office plants are common subjects, but capturing enough details to visually describe a piece of medical equipment is a fun favorite. Rarely is a sketch completed before I’m called back to work.

Drawing without pressure to create product is a delightful form of mindfulness I’m fortunate to merge into my work day on occasion. The illustrations above are examples from my notebook.

Commitment Makes You an Artist or A Nurse

That I am an artist was never questioned by anyone other than myself. It took time for me to believe in myself as an artist, because I felt I would know when I became one. Some artists laugh at such thoughts:

In artistic work one needs nothing so much as conscience; it is the sole standard. — Ranier Marie Rilke

Self-Portrait. Pencil on paper by jparadisi

Self-Portrait. Pencil on paper by jparadisi

How do I know I’m an artist?
The same way I know I am a nurse: Not because I am paid for my work, but because of my commitment to nursing. Commitment manifests itself as time set aside for continuing education, and time to practice skills. It’s not enough to want to do something. You need time to practice skills, whether it be starting IVs, or developing a series of paintings for exhibition. You commit to nursing through education, taking boards, and continuing education. You have to commit to creativity, too.

Begin with one hour a week, every week. It needn’t be the same day or time each week, although a set schedule may make it easier, childcare and weird nursing work schedules may necessitate flexibility. Protect this hour as if it were a difficult-to-reschedule dental appointment.

What will you do with this hour each week? You will have a creative date with yourself. For now, don’t invite a friend. Free yourself completely of taking care of other people. You need to hear your voice to find your creativity. You may already know what you’ll do with the time: write a poem or short story or resume piano, dancing, or voice lessons. If you’re drawing a blank about what to do, here are a few suggestions:

  • Wander the aisles of an art supply or craft store. Give yourself $10-$20 to spend on pens, paper, stamps, inkpads, dried flowers — whatever. Need ideas? Check out, or Pinterest.
  • Wander the aisles of an office supply or dollar store with $10-$20. Buy felt pens, stickers, glitter, glue sticks, and an inexpensive scrapbook. Tear pictures from old magazines of everything catching your eye. Paste them into the scrapbook using a glue stick. Decorate the pages with your glitter, stickers, and felt pens.
  • Buy a cheap rectangular or square flower vase made of clear glass. Fill it three-quarters full with small glass beads. You can use small, polished stones instead, but they tend to scratch the implements. Use it to hold pens on your home or work desk.
  • Go for a walk with your camera. Take snapshots of anything that attracts your attention. Take lots of pictures without over-thinking the process. You’re practicing how to “see.”

The important thing is to make a habit of allowing yourself at least an hour a week to explore and develop your creativity. What ideas can you add to this list?

Drawing Lessons: Perspective

East Bank Esplanade. J.Paradisi 2009

East Bank Esplanade. J.Paradisi 2009

   While running on the Eastbank Esplanade along the Willamette River the other day, I saw a trio of young siblings torturing one of the trees that struggle to grow in the exhaust fumes underneath the freeway near the Hawthorne Bridge. The tallest child, a girl about ten years old, pulled violently on the low hanging branch of the leafless tree, while her brother beat at it with a large twig.  The smallest child danced around the two of them, a blur in her pink parka. Nearby, their father sat on a bench, talking on a cell phone.  Smiling, he watched his children play and enjoyed a brief interlude to himself.

      I am mindful to avoid becoming that nasty little old lady I knew as a child. You remember her. She was the one who called your mom complaining that the flowers you brought home from school were stolen from her garden. She called  your mom again when you and your friends threw  the apples that fell rotten from her tree at one another: you never understood why she cared, they were there for the taking in the street.

     Oh, don’t forget the time you drew pictures with chalk on the sidewalk near her house. Even your grandparents scolded you for that one and you had to go back with a can of soapy water and a rag to scrub your work off of the pavement.

  She narked on other kids in the neighborhood too and on Halloween her house was specially targeted for toilet paper streamers and raw eggs thrown by the older ones.  I heard my friend’s mother say the next day, “Why would anyone do that to such a nice old lady?”  Was she kidding?

    I don’t want to be that old lady, so I held my tongue as I ran by. A few yards away, I watched and the children stopped what they were doing, releasing the tree. I observed that the boy  ran with his long twig and the  whirling pink girl held one too, as if it were a magic wand. Only the tallest girl didin’t have a twig and was unable to join her sibling’s play.

     Oh. I get it.

     I found a long, slender twig on the ground next to me and walked back to the children, placing it on the sidewalk near them. The pink girl saw me do it and took the offering back to her older sister.

     Perspective is an important consideration when composing a drawing or telling a story. Empathy for the perspective of others is essential for peace. I hope I remember this as I make my way through life.

     I also hope that those kids don’t poke their eyes out.