A Nurse’s Sketch Book

 

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Nearly a year ago, I wrote a post about mindfulness and found time for creativity, in which I described how I used downtime spent in waiting rooms to draw, or more accurately, for advanced doodling.

The practice continues. This year, I purchased an inexpensive set of crayons, which I keep in a desk drawer. During my lunch break, I take a minute or two to add a splash of color to the ballpoint pen ink drawings. None took longer than 15 minutes to sketch, usually much less.

These rough sketches don’t take the place of painting in my studio, but, there’s a certain satisfaction that comes with adapting to challenges of managing time, learning to juggle purpose and passion. Nursing provides purpose rooted in service, and passion (or a reasonable facsimile of art) blossoms from its branches. Like spring flowers following a severe winter, it will not be denied.

 

Ode to a Pair of Nursing Clogs

This year I took a summer vacation, one of the joys of which was time painting in the studio.

I’ve migrated to three different studios over the years, but a single constant in each was my old pair of nursing clogs, converted to painting shoes.

My Nursing-Converted-to-Painting Clogs

My Nursing-Converted-to-Painting Clogs

In their earlier life, they spent ten years traipsing across a PICU, and even flew in a helicopter a time or two while transporting sick children in Oregon to Portland.

When I transitioned from PICU to adult oncology, they retired. In their new-found leisure, they started a second career as my painting shoes, where we continued to do good work together.

Anyway, over the weekend I returned to the studio and painted, changing out of my street shoes into the old, faithful clogs. They felt funny. In fact, one foot was suddenly closer to the floor than the other. I looked down, and entire sections of the right foot clog’s rubber sole had disintegrated and fallen off in chunks. As I moved about, the left foot clog did the same. I stared at them in disbelief.  I had not foreseen their imminent demise.

The Disintegrated Soles of My Nursing/Painting Clogs

The Disintegrated Soles of My Nursing/Painting Clogs

I did not have a second pair of studio shoes to change into, so I continued wearing them while painting, standing and walking, balancing on what remained of the core of their sole. We made one last painting together. I tried remembering the last patient I’d nursed while wearing these clogs, but could not.

When I finished painting for the day, I washed my brushes, and swept up the trail of black, crumbled rubber left behind on the studio floor. Removing the old, familiar clogs, I put on my street shoes, and placed the paint spattered, destroyed clogs into the garbage.

Move on. They’re just an old pair of clogs.

Besides, there’s another pair, retired when I left the infusion clinic for the oncology nurse navigator job, waiting in my closet at home to take their place in the studio.

 

 

 

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 MarthaStewart.com, 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?

Are You Circling The Drain? Self-Diagnosing A Creativity Resuscitation

Voiceless mixed media on vellum by jparadisi

Voiceless mixed media on vellum by jparadisi

Productivity and creativity are not the same thing. Neither are they mutually exclusive, but they are not the same thing. I didn’t always know this.

Like most nurses, I have always been productive. Whether making things with my hands, painting the dining room, running 10Ks, growing my own vegetables, or hand-making pasta, I often sat down for dinner around 9:00 p.m. It wasn’t until a breast cancer diagnosis flattened me on a couch that I realized the artist inside of me was starving.

In retrospect, there were early symptoms before the differential diagnosis that a creative resuscitation was necessary. Do you have any of these symptoms?

  • You think, “I can do better than that,” when watching friends or colleagues succeed in a creative endeavor. Maybe you can. The question is, why don’t you?
  • You daydream about what your life would be like if you didn’t have commitments to a job, spouse, children, etc.
  • You use the universal sign of creative strangulation: When you talk, you tend to place one hand at your throat, with the thumb and index finger forming a V around it. What words and ideas are you choking back with that hand?
  • You use the universal sign of carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders: When you talk, you place one hand on the back of your neck. What burdens weigh heavily on that spot? Can you set any down?
  • You feel vaguely unfulfilled despite your accomplishments.
  • You hang out on the periphery of creative people. You have an inexplicable desire to help them succeed, but don’t believe you possess their level of talent.
  • You’re bored despite high productivity.
  • You fear releasing your creativity will destroy life as you know it. You believe you cannot be fulfilled creatively and hold a job or have a family. Or be a nurse.
  • You knew what you wanted to be when you were a child, and it is not what you are doing as an adult.

Nurses recognize when productivity is mistaken for quality in health care. We sometimes fail to make a similar assessment about ourselves.

Do you suffer from any of these symptoms? Can you add to the list?

 

 

Social Media is a Gateway Vice

 
 
 
 
 

Street Art, artist unknown. photo: JParadisi 2006

   The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away when they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put stories in each other’s memory. This is how people care for themselves.

B. Lopez

 

 

     I clicked publish on the dashboard and became the narrator of my life.

     As all such stories begin, it was innocent at first. I’d heard it was dangerous, but I thought I could handle myself. I had no understanding of what I had done. So began JParadisi RN’s Blog.

     My naiveté was the result of experiences with other social media platforms. I actually closed my Facebook account once, and Twitter is no more to me than an electronic business card. I use each to announce art shows or accomplishments, and keep up with the same information from my friends. But, blogging, oh blogging, forgive my human foible I am hooked.

     Like most initiates, in the beginning I checked stats obsessively throughout the day, lit by each new hit. Soon, hits weren’t doing it for me anymore. I craved comments and links. I needed to know someone was reading my posts. Like a neighborhood dealer, the Internet is happy to oblige. It makes me wait in anticipation, driving me to write more, write better, whatever it takes to get another link or comment. Ideas for new posts wake me up in the middle of the night. At work, I look for occurrences to divert into insightful posts. Often I see the ideas as images, so I started a second blog, Die Krankenschwester to handle the overflow.

     Of course, I exaggerate to some extent.  Occasionally I am able to shut down my computer for up to 24 hours at a time. Blogging isn’t an addiction. It is a medium of self-expression just like painting. Blogging is equivalent to exhibiting my paintings: a public voice. In one way, it’s superior to a traditional art show, because I don’t have to ask permission to publish my thoughts on a blog. In the art world, hanging paintings in a gallery requires the permission of the gallerist. As a writer, I ask permission from editors to publish my stories. In many areas of our society, the public expression of individual opinions requires someone’s permission. Not inherently bad, gallerists and editors are gatekeepers, deciding who gets in (I am joyful when they pick me).  Blogging bypasses the gatekeepers, allowing anyone to express him or herself freely, as long as they are willing to take on possible consequences.

     It’s no wonder that people homebound with chronic or life-threatening diseases use social media to find support. It’s not surprising so many nurses blog, often anonymously, telling the stories their friends and families often don’t have the stomach to listen to or the background to understand.  I remind myself at social gatherings to say only I am a nurse, when asked what I do for a living. No one wants to hear about critically ill children or oncology at a cocktail party.

     We are social creatures and our need to tell stories is strong.  I cherish the quiet solitude necessary for my creative process, but if meditation was all it’s cracked up to be, solitary confinement wouldn’t be a punishment.