Last week I made what might look like a reverse-resolution: to aim to go to the gym just twice a week instead of three times a week. I’m not a compulsive calorie-burner; in fact, my relationship with exercise is quite healthy and positive. I enjoy working out because it feels good and helps disperse mental stress and physical tension. I just don’t have time for all the self-care routines I’ve taken on to balance my life and keep myself happy, healthy and whole. At this point I’m managing stress that’s partly caused by the stress of stress-management routines.

The notion of self-care – that it is not just OK, but radical to take time to look after your own physical, mental and emotional needs in a world that is not always built for human well-being – originates in activist and mental health communities. The message was originally espoused by and directed at individuals most at risk of burn-out: people who daily navigate and resist heteropatriarchal, white supremacist , capitalist social structures designed to oppress, marginalize and stigmatize them. In the hands of white feminist social media personalities, self-care has morphed into a trendy aesthetic: a variety of the performative vulnerability that is so often rewarded on Instagram. Crying selfies, face masks, hydration, and unapologetically cancelling plans in favour of staying in bed are all #selfcare.

I don’t want to suggest that white privilege precludes the need for self-care or that selfies, face masks and napping are not legitimate tools of self-care. At its heart, self-care is about making a more loving world by starting with self-love and that is a worthy message for everyone. But as is its nature, social media has both contributed to the propagation of a positive idea and blunted its critical edge. Self-care contains an implied critique of the capitalist imperative of productivity, but it has been easily subverted to sell Band-Aid solutions for the symptoms of burn-out without addressing their root causes. It is a way to market everything from $5 face masks at the drugstore to expensive yoga retreats in Costa Rica.  Self-care is no longer about surviving and thriving despite capitalism, it is about maximizing one’s use of capitalism by maintaining productive functionality. And that is problematic for so many reasons.

Like a lot of millennials, I’m an overworked non-profit employee doing creative work on the side, but I’m also healthy, childless, dog-less and have a 15 minute commute to work. I have no reason to be as tired as I am, but maintaining an exercise routine to keep myself energized and relaxed, meal planning and packing lunch every night to stay healthy and on budget, tidying clutter to keep a pleasant space to come home to, pursuing hobbies for the satisfaction of making something, keeping a journal for mental clarity, etc., etc. is too much to fit in alongside a full-time job and basic domestic chores, let alone real leisure. When I inevitably fail to keep up with my checklist of self-care because I’ve been actually resting I get… stressed out! I’m driven by the feeling that if I don’t keep up on all these good habits, things will be much worse down the road. I’ll turn into one big knotted muscle or something. Worst of all, my time and energy for more fulfilling creative work dwindles as it is repeatedly postponed to the end of the night, and then the next day and the next.

Consumerist self-care is marketed at women (it meshes well with existing gendered complexes that marketing capitalizes on, such as body image) and women have been at the forefront of espousing self-care in all its varieties. There’s good reason for this. Women have historically been care givers, and that legacy continues to inform the expectations placed on women by themselves and others. Self-care can be an antidote to the toll of all that other-care. Real self-care as it was originally conceived is not pretty or cute. It can look like taking medication, or setting boundaries in relationships, or making genuinely difficult and rewarding life changes. But it is always work and the mainstreaming of #selfcare obscures the work and the mess and conflict that come when people who are routinely and systematically expected to care for or accommodate others center their own needs in a meaningful way.

As self-care eats into my leisure hours, becoming a source of pressure itself, I wonder if #selfcare is just another way that women are pressured to have it all, and be it all. As delayed (or foregone) parenthood, house ownership and career stability are increasingly accepted parts of millennial adulthood, perhaps the balanced lifestyle promised by self-care is just a new form of unrealistic feminine perfection that conveniently keeps us busy and keeps us buying.

In comparison “Treat yo’self”, a motto popularized by characters on Parks and Recreation, so transparently invites indulgence and consumption that it resists the same insidious subversion of message.  If not taken in moderation, “Treat yo’self” may lead to debt before balance but at least it promotes a self-love based on giving yourself permission to enjoy life, rather on grimly doing things for your own good.


IMG_20180718_115103_621Elisabeth Hill is an Edmonton-based writer and researcher who currently works as a Programming and Engagement Coordinator at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

The notion of “inspiration” is exciting, romantic and, well, inspiring. Our mythologies of creativity tell us that the right synchronicity of circumstances will spark not only The Idea that will change everything, but the will and ability to execute it. In reality, sitting around waiting for inspiration to “strike” is about as effective as waiting for actual lightning to strike and start your campfire. Inspiration can be cultivated and sought out, though.

Creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum, no matter how much consistent work and practice one puts in. It is the encounters and experiences that excite, intrigue and teach us that generate and motivate creativity. Sudden, striking ideas do happen – but they don’t come out of nowhere, they are the result of a long-simmering idea suddenly coalescing as the last piece falls into place. To be creative, go out into the world and seek out inspiration. This can take any form you like, from getting back to the land and nature, to delving into works of philosophy for new ideas. Inspiration is all the little pieces of life that keep you motivated and keep you thinking until The Idea finally coalesces (or, more likely, is finally forced into being like molding a stiff piece clay.)

Do not shy away from engaging with others’ works of creativity as a source of inspiration. Far from tainting the authenticity of your creative expression with influence, others’ art can be a great source of inspiration. Most peoples’ original inspiration to become a writer, artist or any other creative was probably someone else’s work. Don’t be afraid to revisit that original inspiration in times of low motivation.

Art exists to provoke emotional and intellectual responses and to expose new ideas and perspectives, all of which are the essence of inspiration. In a sense, art is a short cut to inspiration! Whatever kind of creative you are, try to be open to what all kinds of creativity can teach you – visual art, performance, music, literature, digital arts….

A risk of relying on others’ art to inspire you in periods of low motivation and inspiration is that witnessing the peak of others’ creative process may stir up insecurity and fear. The doubting voice inside might just say “Well I can’t do that, so why bother…” The gulf between where you see yourself and where you want to be may become stark and intimidating. Remember that inspiration is also about learning. Look at work that you admire, or consider “better” than yours, as something to learn from rather than envy. What is it that you see in that work that seems to be missing from your work and how can you develop that missing piece? What technique and craft does that artist use that you can learn? If inadequacy and fear clouds inspiration, focus on learning and honing your craft.

Creativity requires consistent work, but it also needs to be nurtured with inspiration. Fortunately, creatives do not need to passively await inspiration: they can go out and find it. Part of the work of creativity is spending time immersed in others’ creativity, looking for the little pieces that will build and motivate your own.

 


IMG_20180718_115103_621Elisabeth Hill is an Edmonton-based writer and researcher who currently works as a Programming and Engagement Coordinator at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

Writing is the running of creative practices. It can be done anywhere, with minimal supplies or special equipment. To run you just need a path and a pair of shoes. To write, all you need is a place to sit and something to write with, whether computer or pen and paper.  Or that’s the minimalist ideal, anyway. Personally, I’m not sure that I would get much done if I was simply plunked down in a white cube with a pen and paper.

I like to write in public, usually at a coffee shop, but sometimes a quieter pub or bar. This works partly because if I’ve packed up my computer and books, dressed to leave the house, and taken the bus somewhere, I will do what I set out to do. I can’t just turn on Netflix in the middle of the coffee shop! Mainly, though, I find that the noise and stimulus of a public place helps me focus.

Some might find my routine to be counter-intuitive, preferring to do focused work in libraries and home offices that are by-design distraction-free. (How I envy those home office-workers for the money that they save on coffee and muffins, and the time they save on transit!) Other writers place more significance on having the right tools, such as a favourite type of pen or paper, a comfortable chair, or a mug of tea. So yes, you can write anywhere, with very basic equipment, but most writers have a routine or set of tools that support their practice. You can simply grab a pair of running shoes and get going, but stretching, planning a route, and maybe putting on a podcast will give you better, and more enjoyable, results.

Why do environment and routine matter? Some aspects of a writer’s routine may have clear practical benefits to productivity, but I think it is mostly a matter of ritual. A ritual is a deliberate and habitual set of actions which are imbued by the doer with deeper significance than their immediate, external impact. A ritual can be a religious ceremony or be as mundane as putting on makeup in the morning before work because it makes you feel “put together.”

Rituals of all varieties function to induce a changed state of mind, such as receptivity, calm, or focus – all of which are important states for different stages of the writing process.

Going to a particular place or using a particular pen, notebook, or chair signals to the brain that it is time to work. The preparatory process gently shifts your mental gears into the right state of mind for the task at hand.

So, how do you put together a writing routine or ritual that will finally kick your motivation into gear? I’m not sure that you can just build and institute the right routine and have it work immediately. My routine seems to have naturally developed from habits begun in university. Writing papers at coffee shops and the UVic Grad Lounge started as self-bribery, giving myself a treat to offset the struggle to be productive. Over time, the coffee shop, with its low-key noise and distraction, simply became my best work environment through habituation.

What you can do is think about how you work best, based on experience. In quiet, distraction-free environments, or surrounded by stimulus? In cozy comfort or with a certain degree of physical rigor? What items do you have around you that really help you complete and enjoy your task, versus the ones that are distracting luxury? Say, a cup of coffee rather than full plate of sandwiches.

Build on these observations. Experiment and be mindful of how you respond to different approaches, but don’t get overly involved in crafting the perfect writing ritual at the expense of writing. The key is to do the thing and evolve the support system – environment, routine, even superstition – as you practice. You can put together the best stretching routine, buy the best gear, and find the most idyllic 10 km running trail, but you won’t get very far if you haven’t also been going out and doing the training.


IMG_20180718_115103_621Elisabeth Hill is an Edmonton-based writer and researcher who currently works as a Curatorial Assistant at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

Melissa Raimondi is the raw vegan guru behind Raw Food Romance. Recently, she joined The Drawing Board’s owner and editor-in-chief, Nakita Valerio, to talk about her life as an online lifestyle coach and raw vegan spokesperson. Her spectacular personal transformation and her magnetic personality have been drawing people to raw food lifestyles by the thousands and we are delighted that she took the time to share her journey with us!

melissa-2

Fast Facts:

Favourite Fruit Right Now: Pineapple!

Powerful Woman You’re Feeling Right Now: I have always however resonated with great women like Rosa Parks for standing up for what they believe in. Anyone who stands up for the rights of those oppressed has my respect.

Women Who Inspire You Professionally: Kristina Carrillo-Bucaram from FullyRaw Kristina, Emily from Bite Size Vegan and Alyse from Raw Alignment. I love seeing how they have built such large platforms and admire what they are doing with their social media.

Can you tell us about yourself and your role with Raw Food Romance(RFR)? What are you trying to accomplish with it?

I am pretty much the face of Raw Food Romance: it is my own personal journey with raw foods and how that has changed my life. I have been a raw vegan for just over 2 years and have known about the lifestyle for well over a decade. RFR is here to bring awareness to health and animal cruelty and is about moving towards a healthier diet not only for the human body, but the planet. By creating delicious raw vegan recipes, people are not only helping their health, but in turn, helping to lessen their impact on the environment. They also learn about being more compassionate towards the animals we exploit every day. My goal is to show people that it is healthy and possible to live this lifestyle, and you don’t have to be a hippy to be vegan. Everyone can do it!

What sets your raw vegan approach apart from what others are doing?

I am what is called a “low-fat, high-carb raw vegan”. Most raw vegan food is very high fat and gourmet, to appease the tastes of the general public, but since fat can be a problem, I have come up with recipes that are both low-fat and really tasty. I have so many people saying that my recipes have helped them stick to a healthier diet because they are so flavourful. I have also been told that my approach targets many psychological issues regarding why we eat what we eat and problems surrounding food addictions. There is not a lot talk about mind tricks or different ways of thinking when it comes to changing your lifestyle. Everyone seems to say “just use willpower” when they want to change, but it’s so much more complicated than that. Low-fat, high-card vegan foods help address some of those complications.

What are some of your proudest moments with RFR thus far?

  • Watching my YouTube channel grow quickly

  • Releasing a very successful raw food meal plan recipe book

  • Being on local television twice so far promoting the lifestyle

  • Being asked to be part of the Vegan World Summit along with other great people in the industry that I have always looked up to

  • I would say I am the most proud when I see people change, lose weight and make more compassionate choices. If, on the videos I make, I get even one comment saying that I have influenced someone to make better choices I feel motivated and proud to do what I do every day!

melissa-1

What inspired you to share your lifestyle with others?

I have always wanted to share health and have been in the natural health industry for well over a decade helping others to make better choices. Once I had the raw vegan connection and passion to promote peace between species, I had to share it with the world. I feel like I am making up for 34 years of eating animal products by helping others to release them. I felt crappy and I know how it feels to have sore joints, be tired all the time and struggle with weight. I want to share that with anyone that will listen! I am also a creative and love to create new recipes, so sharing that has been amazing for me as well.

Do you have any advice for other women looking to build their businesses online?

Post daily! Especially on YouTube if you want to have more of a presence there. Rotate posts, keep them interesting and maintain a good variety. Provide information, motivation and something of value that people can use every day. A lot of people will start a page with lots of enthusiasm, but then they don’t do anything with their businesses and after a while, they lose steam. We are saturated by so many ads and bombarded by commercials so much that you need to be on top of things if you want to stay relevant. Find out what gets the most views and hits and do more of that in between the stuff that you are passionate about but doesn’t get as many views. This way the people that see the most popular stuff also have a chance to see the smaller stuff that doesn’t get a lot of airplay because maybe the subject is controversial or touches an emotional trigger in most individuals. Stay positive and try not to be too pushy with your products. When you are the face of your company, people want to see you and what you are doing in your life. Bombarding with advertising will harm them and you: its about a nice mix of inspiration, fun, and promotion in balance. 

What are some of the most rewarding aspects of your work?

By far knowing that I am helping to lessen the cruelty towards other species on this planet and helping to lessen the burden on our resources. It’s also incredibly rewarding to see people blossom and heal eating real foods. I love to hear comments about how I have inspired them to eat better, even if it is just a little bit. Creating new recipes and having people enjoy them is also extremely rewarding. 

What are some of the most challenging aspects?

In short, dealing with haters and trolls: the “mmmm bacon” crowd and people telling me that it’s unhealthy to eat a vegan or raw vegan diet. Being an online personality is also hard because you can’t please everyone. Most people are completely unaware of the science behind veganism and why it’s so important that we make a shift towards a more plant based diet. It can be hard to be in my shoes because I am up against the grain of mainstream society that can parrot the same old health information over and over again, even when new information is regularly released!

Does technology factor into what you do?

Very much so. I can do my business from all over the world. Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Youtube are my platforms and I can do everything from my phone as long as I have enough data and a decent internet connection. Without technology it would be very difficult to reach a worldwide audience. I am grateful that I can and that the technology exists for me to share what I know.

What do you like to do in your personal time?

Working on more raw food recipes! I also love photography and do a lot of that, as well as watching some of my favourite TV shows or walking/hiking in the river valley. I enjoy art and though I have less and less time, I still indulge in pencil work, acrylic paintings and watercolours. I also love learning other languages and traveling. 

What is something not a lot of people know about you?

Before I became a fully raw vegan 2 years ago, I was dealing with an addiction to alcohol. I’m blessed that I found the strength to follow through with my lifestyle change and become sober. I’m also somewhat of a nerd – I mostly love Star Trek and the utopian society imagined by Gene Roddenberry of peace, and the pursuit of human development, teamwork, morals, ethics, knowledge, and exploration without needing jobs, money and the mundane grind of today’s life that is damaging our planet and ourselves. 

If you have one take-home message for readers out there, what would it be?

We don’t do the things that we should be doing TODAY. We put so many goal-oriented activities off until tomorrow while we spend today doing frivolous things. We should trade spots. We should say “tomorrow I will do the frivolous thing, but today I will work on my goals” because tomorrow might never come. When we keep putting our goals off until tomorrow, they never become fruitful. If we put off the frivolous stuff “until tomorrow”, maybe our goals with be fulfilled instead!

 

tumblr_m0syz54s2y1ql1x99o1_500

I have never had a garden before. I’ve helped people dig plots and planted a few things here and there but I tend to live up to the moniker of House Plant Killer. So this past summer, when a friend of mine from Mindfulness Together offered her garden plot to whoever would cultivate it and I volunteered, a few eyebrows were raised, including my own.

Let me be blunt: I had no idea what I was doing in May. The garden was massively overgrown with dandelions and creeping Charlie whose roots were deeper than the center of the Atlantic Ocean, but for some reason (probably because I hadn’t thought about it) this didn’t phase me. Digging and turning the soil diligently with the help of friends, I eventually got a pizza-shaped plot dug and was ready to plant.

I had no idea how and where to plant things so I came up with a strange pattern, threw too many seeds too close together, watered it, said a prayer and walked away. Throughout the first couple of weeks, I continuously removed the ever-encroaching weeds (feeling kind of bad about that every time) and waited for my sprouts to push through. Eventually they did and I had to get really selective about weeding lest I pull out my precious plants.

The routine of going to the garden every night or every second night became a sacred ritual for me and my daughter. After dinner, when we needed to get out of the house together (as two-year-olds so often do), we would walk ten blocks to our little plot, pull the weeds together, listen to the birds chirping, yell at an over-confident squirrel that “mommy is terrified of” and then water. Watering has been our favourite part – something about quenching the earth’s thirst, watching the soil turn a darker shade of black, knowing that the roots of your plants were taking a long drink…something about this act was calming and reflective for us. It would be time to just listen to the spray hitting the leaves of the plants and the shuffling of leaves in the trees. We would take pleasure in washing our hands after, the stream turning a dark black as the dirt washed back to the ground with it.

11782273_10153395887511233_5051783196379558656_o

Over the summer, we have harvested our five variations of lettuce countless times. We filled bags and bags with fragrant bunches of oregano, savoury and cilantro. We snipped the leaves of baby kale and delighted in the pop of pulling up a buried beet. We beamed with pride as we presented family and friends with our little treasures. Our late harvest cucumbers, broccoli, cabbage, potatoes, carrots and zucchini are on the way and each time we have something to bring home to nourish our bodies, my daughter shrieks in delight and my heart soars. Relying on our own labour to feed our family nutritious food has been an incredible adventure, but even more than that – the daily pilgrimage to our garden plot has reoriented and reorganized our lives around delighting in life itself. In a world full of darkness, this is the best fruit our garden can give.

11741136_10153395887616233_736052663762112096_o