Lisa Mitchell

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Wisdom from the trenches of transition: Ending a Series

Lisa Mitchell | Apr 5, 2018 | 25 comments

The other day, at coffee, Hannah reminded me that artists work in series.  She was talking about her own work—completing a couple of big commissions and her show at the Pence Gallery that I was about to see.  She was in-between projects and inspiration.  She knew it and was trying to tolerate the patience with oneself it requires to incubate the next thing—the next series.  She can feel it changing, but she doesn’t yet know how.

 

As a therapist, my art has been with clients and they’ve come in a series. For I really do believe that therapists are artists and therapy is an art form. Foster kids, families, juvenile sex offenders, teens, therapists…..each time I began a new job or focused my work on a specific population, I was starting a new series.

 

It all sounds really creative and full of flow.  From one job to another, one client population to the next.  Each series building on the last.  New learning, new excitement, a path of curiosity fulfilled.

 

That’s not how it feels.  As Hannah described her own struggles with allowing herself to incubate instead of forcing her next series to come, I had the flash of recognition in my own life.  I’m packing up my office, my home, everything I own, and moving across state lines.  This series has ended—the one that took me all over the country to train therapists to use art in their work, the one that allowed me to work with those difficult teens who spoke through their art like they’d never spoken to a therapist before, the one that brought me groups of passionate therapists who wanted to excavate their souls and share because their well-being depended on it.  I’m closing up shop.  And, like Hannah, I know I have to give room for the next thing to show up.  There’s another series out there for me, but there is no menu from which I can pick ‘what looks good tonight’.  It needs to incubate inside me.  I need to wait for the idea.

 

People ask me, “What are you going to do once you get moved?”  They want to hear about my next idea, my next endeavor, my next series.  They know I am a manifester.  I create things and invite people to participate and it is wonderful.  They want more from me.  They can’t wait.

 

When I can only answer, “I really don’t know.”  I feel my disappointment roll into theirs—and we are a ball of impatience together.

 

Artists don’t stop working when they are in between series.  Their creative mind is always searching and trying out and there’s even actual engagement in the work itself.  They still go to the studio and work.  Sometimes it is just to clean a brush, other times it is to rearrange the workspace.  To outsiders, we may look as if we are doing the same things as always.  We are still creating or seeing clients or writing.  On the inside we are wringing our hands, scrunching our hair from our head, pacing back and forth—waiting.

 

I’ve learned that when I’m incubating, I have to be nice to myself.  I used to obsess about new ideas.  I have old lists of possible groups or classes to teach.  I have half-baked art invitations.  Names and taglines for courses fill notebooks.  In the past, I established a disciplined approach that included an optimal routine for inspiration.  I had to wake early, take my dog for a long walk in nature, do yoga, take a shower, then sit on my bed and download the ideas that I had seemingly plucked out of the river on my walk that morning.  I could incubate and find inspiration about the clients I was going to see that day or classes that I wanted to teach or a blog post I was going to write. The routine was my creativity template.  It worked well then.  But now I see, I was actually in a series.  I had my overall endeavor so well dialed in, that I was in flow and all I needed to do was stay in.  It worked beautifully.  I loved most of it.  Sometimes I was even able to be nice to myself.

 

Now, I’m no longer in that routine.  I don’t need to be and don’t want to be.  I have completed that series, and am waiting for the next.  So when I walk my dog on the river my thoughts are blank and I listen to  the birdsong and the sound of my shoes on the dirt.  I still sit down to write, but not as often, and only to see if there is anything there yet.  It’s kinda like knocking on the door to see if anyone is home, even when you know they are on vacation.  That’s where being nice to myself comes in.  I reassure myself, “You don’t have to know where this sentence will take you.”  I try to relax my breathing and tell myself, “It will come. You don’t have to know, right now, sweetheart.”

 

My coach, Andrea Lee, used to tell me that once we find the stream, all we have to do is stay in the boat and follow it.  The work was in noticing the moment in which the current began to carry us.  I used to joke back and tell her that it felt like the work was in trusting that there was actually a stream like the one she described.  It took so much work to walk around on rocks and follow dead end paths all the while lugging the heavy boat in hopes to catch a whiff of the right waterway.  Now, I know there is that stream.  Actually, I know there are many streams.  But right now, in this transition from California to Washington, from a well developed career series to the unknown, I am floating on an inner tube in the middle of the ocean.

 

It’s not that bad really.  Maybe it’s not exactly an inner tube,  but more like a nice fishing boat with a bedroom below and a little art studio set up on deck.  Nevertheless, I’m floating.  It’s not a passive float, like I’m helpless or a victim of circumstance.  It’s an expectant, kind, midwife-y kind of float.  Where I’m looking for signs of going into labor.  I’m reading the horizon for clues.  I’m engaged, alive, happy—with only an occasional bout of hand wringing or hair scrunching.

 

Are you working on a series?  What is it and how are you keeping it going?

Or are you incubating like Hannah and I?  What can you do to allow this for yourself?  How do you tolerate the in-between?

 

25 responses to “Wisdom from the trenches of transition: Ending a Series”

  1. Belinda says:

    Hi Lisa, As I was reading your latest InnerCanvas, a totally frivolous, unrelated question popped into my head? “Do Crones wear makeup?” Then I realized the question answers your questions as to whether I am working on a series or incubating. The answer is “Yes”. To all the questions, a big, hearty, emphatic “Yes”. That is all I know today, but something is stirring, the whispers of change are becoming more discernable, and I am readying myself .

  2. Susan Doherty says:

    I love it when you call yourself sweetheart! Love to witness you being more gentle with yourself. It will all come to you dear one. 🦋🦋

  3. Hannah says:

    What courage you have Lisa. It strikes me that the gift of all these series is to be able to sit in that small boat in the large ocean, scanning the horizon for an unknown shoreline. And knowing you will reach it and it will be good. Better than good–it will be a new unimaginable series!

  4. Carolyn Jones says:

    Lisa, I live in the uncertain often. It is like being on a trapeze (not me, just a picture), holding on to the one trapeze, letting go, flying through midair to catch the other trapeze coming toward me. I often find myself in that in between time that slows way down. Is this Uncomfortable? Yes. Is Waiting okay? Yes. Is Knowing I don’t know okay? Yes. I too am in transition as I move from what I know to what is unknown. I appreciate you. May you fare well in the Pacific NW. I always say it is “God’s Country” when the sun shines. It has so much beauty!!! Take good care, Carolyn Jones, Fair Oaks, CA

    • Lisa Mitchell says:

      Carolyn, this is another wonderful visual. Thank you for sharing it and the acknowledgment that the in-between slows way down. Perhaps that is the only way we actually get to SEE!

  5. Beverly says:

    Lisa,
    Great post. I incubate ideas when at my Zumba and related classes at the gym. Ideas flow, problems solved, and I can reframe some thinking toward the positive and possible. You have a wonderful way with words and I have been blessed by your posts and e-mails. You are brave and have great courage.
    Beverly

    • Lisa Mitchell says:

      Thank you Beverly. I do think that staying in your body is vital to tuning in. I haven’t tried Zumba outside the comfort of my own home–but I will!

  6. Chris Moody says:

    Hannah’s reply made me think of the quote: “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Andre Gide. I remember painting a response to that quote many years ago…

    I got very anxious lately with a new venture – a bit like your farm, I bought a Romany caravan with a view to doing art therapy in it… then no-one came. At first it was very scary and then I learned – trust! the right approach will come and since then (only a few days!) life has been much more serene! I’m still in limbo, but now that’s ok. Very good luck to you 😀

    • Lisa Mitchell says:

      ohhhhhh, Chris I love this. Isn’t it amazing how someone else’s new venture doesn’t come with the same doubt or fear. I wish you the best with your caravan. It sounds wonderful!

  7. Vikki Ziskin says:

    Thank you Lisa to allow us as you often do to be a part of your journey including being on the inside of the incubation. I believe it is possible that I am in series and incubation concurrently. Sadly to me that means I am missing flow right now, but that has to be ok. It is. I so appreciate the chance to walk down this path along side you., knowing that you will continue to mentor all the way. Take good care!

    • Lisa Mitchell says:

      Yes, Vikki, we can be participating in many different stages of the creative process at the same time…..and yes, there is sadness in missing flow. Like she’s a best friend that hasn’t come around in awhile. You are so special. Take good care.

  8. Janine says:

    I am also in between series. A brain injury has ended my psychotherapy career, and I am waiting while the next thing evolves. I know it will involve art and being nicer to me, but that is about it! The waiting is a challenge and also fertile. Whidbey is my fave place for creativity (I live in Victoria BC) – you are headed in such a wonderful direction!

    • Lisa Mitchell says:

      Hi Janine, I’m sorry for your injury, but I celebrate your knowing that the next thing involves art and being nicer to yourself. I’m with you in the waiting. Victoria is sooo wonderful. It’s one of the reasons that we ended up in the PNW> Take care.

  9. Kimberly Wallace says:

    Lisa, I think you hit on something most of us face, which is the uncertainty in waiting. I, too, am in a transition phase where I can related to carrying the boat and looking for the stream, only to find I am in it. Rather than allow the boat to just float, I am paddling hard trying to “do what I know” instead of “be where I am.” In the waiting, in the uncertainty of the big picture, taking small steps to notice what is needed for the process to unfold. Thank you for sharing your courageous adventure with us. May your next series be filled with joy and assurance for all that you are hoping.

  10. Laura says:

    What a lovely way to describe this part of the process. I love the idea that it is like giving birth. You know that it’s going to happen, you don’t know when and you can’t wait for the amazing outcome. My daughter will be 9 months next week. I have been through multiple phases of feeling the pull to get back to work, but then things kept coming up and I just have to relax and know I’ll be ready when it is time. Plus, being mindful of the wonderful opportunity to be with her while she is little and grateful for the resources that allow me to stay home. A friend of mine saw a mural once and sent me a photo. It was many weathervanes pointing in different ways and it read “Live life in the direction it takes you.” Wishing you many blessings on the new path!

  11. Patricia says:

    Hi Lisa,

    I attended a workshop with you, in Auburn, several years ago. There were pink flower cutouts on the tables. At the end of the workshop, when I gathered the decorations, some of the pink flowers 🌺 had been beautifully decorated with swirls and dots and trims. I remember thinking that was just like you. I know you will create something wonderful as you move into your next chapter. Best wishes!

  12. Debbie says:

    I took up a new media & A new place to make art. The subject matter is all over – landscapes, abstract landscapes still lifes or just mixing & playing with acrylics. Fun. Some days masterpieces, some days not!

  13. Sara Lindey says:

    HI Lisa, You are a never ending inspiration to me. I love the perspective of ‘series’. I can see that now in my own work with children, from sandtray and play therapy, to art, and now immersing myself in EMDR. And I am loving creating a ‘new series’ that blends the emdr with sandtray and art, it has been so much more than I anticipated. I hope your ‘incubating’ is a wonderful time of reflection and replenishment, filled with as much inspiration as you have given me!

  14. Diane Rose says:

    This is a beautiful post about change. The sign on my desk states “Do not be afraid of change. Be afraid of not changing.” I believe you will find your ‘new’ flow and whatever it may be, you will create something beautiful.

  15. Dana Elmendorf says:

    Lisa,

    I am the art therapist who lives in Pittsburgh, the town you lived in as a child, and who works as the director in the program whose prior director pointed you to art therapy. I mention all of this as someone who exists in a place where you began so much. Now, you circle deeper inward, returning to incubation, to see what comes next. As you note, it will come. The end is always also a beginning, and this note from one of your beginning spaces is meant to applaud your time to incubate. Will you still be writing your blog?

  16. Annie says:

    Lisa, I love the idea of ‘the series of not knowing, and knowing it’s ok not to know right now’.
    And I can really relate to the wish from others to know what you’ll be doing and feeling their sense of disappointment. In a similar situation it suddenly struck me that this is what I’m doing next…the ‘whole’ me, not just the ‘work’ me.

  17. LYLA TYLER says:

    Dear Lisa
    Your heart is big, your talent is immense. The world is waiting for your next series. May it involve peace, replenishment and lots of art!
    See you Thursday!
    Lyla

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