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.

Making a Painting with Gertrude and Earnest in the Rabbit Hole


comission (2010) artist: JParadisi

It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really nothing.


Gertrude Stein


  I don’t know much about genius, but I do know about making a painting, and it does take time sitting around doing nothing sometimes. I hate those times. I try to welcome them. I am a doer. I like waking up every morning with a list of things I want to do. Nursing is a good fit for me in that sense: there is always something to do when I’m at my nursing job. The studio is not like that. I go to the studio thinking I have several hours to make a painting. I set up my tabouret (a fancy French word for a little table or stool) with paints and medium and brushes and rags. When I can I leave a painting at a moment when I know what my next brush stroke will be. Then, when I return to the studio I have a starting point to re-enter the painting. It’s a little trick I play on myself.  Hemingway used this device, stopping at a point in a story where he knew what he would write next.  Knowing where to start does not guarantee a painting will progress, however. How many times have I spent hours applying paint to a canvas and stepped back to look at my work, disappointed? Sometimes, knowing what to do next leads to an artificial and contrived feel to the painting that I cannot stand. So out comes the palette knife and rag and I scrape and rub away all that paint and hard work, leaving me clueless how to get back into the painting.  At that point, I am Alice down the rabbit hole, forced to sit back and do nothing, really nothing. It’s painful and frustrating. The nurse in me wants to complete her tasks and check them off her list. The artist in me knows that’s not how a work of art gets made, and she laughs at the nurse’s compulsion.