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When Less Becomes More

by Lori Woodward Simons on 12/16/2008 2:03:38 PM

Today's Post  is by Lori Woodward, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. She also writes "The Artist's Life" blog on American Artists' Forum. Lori is a member of The Putney Painters, an invitational group that paints under the direction of Richard Schmid and Nancy Guzik.  Find out how you can be a guest author. 

You Don't Know What You've Got Til It's Gone

Sometimes adversity becomes a gift -- if we choose to view it in the right light.

Joni Mitchell's lyrics from her recording, Big Yellow Taxi, reflects, Oh you don't know where it goes, and you don't know what you've got until it's gone. Those words came to mind repeatedly over the last 4 days --while we had no electric power in southern New Hampshire, devastated by the effects from a horrific ice-storm.

During the first 24 hours without power, I did indeed feel like I had lost something... mostly my mind... as I repeatedly hit light switches in vain. As two days without electricity grew into three, my thoughts settled on the enlightenment that I had gained from this so-called lightless experience. I discovered that I had more time to get the important things done, I was relaxed and less frustrated, my relationship with my husband deepened, and life seemed simple. Let me explain...


Make Hay While the Sun Shines

Because the sun sets in New Hampshire by 4:00 pm in December – which means it starts getting dark in the house by 3:30 – I had to complete many tasks before dark. No time to ponder or plan... what needed to get done became crystal clear. Installing fresh batteries in our flashlights, smoke alarms, carbon monoxide monitors, and the radio was first on the list. My tasks were driven by what I could see during the daylight, while preparing for the lightless evenings. I put frozen and refrigerated food in coolers out on the back porch (nighttime temps were in the single digits). Surprisingly, I spent more time than usual preparing food. We have a gas range which I can light with a match, and since I didn't want any food to spoil, we ate like kings. I organized and picked up around the house during daylight hours so that we wouldn't trip over anything in the dark. Artwork could be done near a window during the day... and writing, well... back to the old notebook and paper routine.

We could access the local news via radio. The state of New Hampshire and surrounding states' infrastructures were brought to their knees. The national guard was called in to assist folks in the hardest hit areas - especially those who had no heat. Over 400,000 households and businesses were without power in NH alone. In my town, there were no working traffic lights, the post office was closed, and gas stations' pumps were dead. Interestingly, the only two buildings that had power (from generators) were the police station and Dunkin' Donuts. I figured that the police had made sure that the donut business was up and running since they'd most likely be working around the clock.

Insight Gained from Limiting Resources

Normally I get my daily news from the Internet.... thinking I'm saving time by not having to turn on the TV. During those four dark days, I resorted to listening to the radio for updates. Ironically, when I get all my news from my PC, I tend to follow up each time I read it with checking out my bookmarks and email.  Futhermore while online, my appetite for information is never satiated - one page leads to another with no end to my page clicks in sight.  With radio, however, producers determine how much I hear. Plus, while listening, my hands are free to cook, read, write, and do a multitude of other tasks.  When my eyes are not glued to a PC monitor, they are also free to roam around the room, meaning that I spend more time looking at my husband's face and our art collection.


Without electricity, I worked with focused efficiency. While it was dark, I could only illumin one task at a time -- whatever I could actually see by candle or battery-supplied lantern. The rest of my world was “out of sight, out of mind”. I had fewer things to do in the evenings because I got all the important stuff done during the daylight hours. Here's a real plus: Without bright lights, I became sleepy by 8:00 pm -- going to bed earlier and rising with the sun.... sleeping more soundly than I have in years.

Seemingly important tasks fell away from my consciousness. My mind was reoriented – clearly understanding which tasks were truly important and which were falsely important. By falsely, I mean that more than half of the things I think need attention during normal days, no longer seemed crucial. I could live quite contently without them. For example, I had no Internet for 4 days; I didn't miss my checking bookmarks, email and twitter. Now that the lights are back on, I'll most likely miss my fireside chats with my husband.


That harried feeling of never being able to catch up or missing out seemed distant. I could hear and think my own thoughts instead of constantly feeding my brain online with the thoughts of others. I admit that I'm being hypocritical here because you're reading my thoughts right now, but my wish for you is that you consider how spending some time out from gadgets, TV, and other electrically powered forms of information, might lead to a more disciplined and simple life.


Now that I've experienced life without electricity, I am quite determined to avoid succumbing to my former habits. I refuse to be daily sucked into an online life. I will not panic at the thought of missing out on some tidbit of information, email or forum entry. I will concentrate on daytime responsibilities and work, so that my evenings can be spent with people I care about in quiet conversations... where when the conversation lulls, I'll hear the tick of the grandfather clock.


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Related Posts:

Interruption is the Enemy of Productivity

Life and Art, Recursively

A Time to Play

Time Management for Right Brainers

Email... Friend or Foe?

Sometimes the Best Art Marketing is None

Topics: inspiration | Lori Woodward 

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Bob Ragland
via web
Hey Lori,
Pencil and paper ain't too bad. I hope you got a lot of new ideas
about life and art, rather than art and technology.
I am glad I wasn't in you position on the power outtage side.

Emma Brooks
via web
Hi Lori

I read your article the other day and thought it was very profound.

There is so much I want to read and consider, but sometimes it is just to distract me from doing the hard job of creating.

"Futhermore while online, my appetite for information is never satiated - one page leads to another with no end to my page clicks in sight."

"With radio, however, producers determine how much I hear."

This is the constant dilema for much info /research do you have to do outwith, and how much to do within?

When do you stop listening to everyone else and start listening to yourself?

It's a balancing act but so interesting to hear how the online life can take over if not controlled and balanced with a good dose of silence from external voices.

And I'm not talking about sitting contemplating...just doing...that's the hard bit, but the most rewarding.

Great post Lori - love to read more from you,
and well done to Clint for making this newsletter so extremely interesting and accessible.

You really have nailed this by bringing in the other writers as well as your own supremely interesting contributions.

It's one of the things I don't hit the 'unsubscribe' option. Continually adding value to my life. Well done and keep it coming.

Emma Brooks

Lori Woodward Simons
via web
Thanks Bob and Emma for your comments. It really makes my day when I hear that my writing has somehow made a difference - even if that difference is small.


Helen Horn Musser
Lori, loved this post; allowed reflection on what is important. For an artist the internet gives connection with others that otherwise we would not have. Painting is a solitary environment and we do need connection with others. Just need to keep in perspective.

Patrice Federspiel
Thank you Lori!

Your time w/o electricity reminded me of the 24 hour period about four years ago in which Honolulu lost electricity after an earthquake throughout the islands brought the grid down. After my cell call to the mainland let my family know I was okay, even the cell towers went down.

Quiet peace is what I felt. I had been given a day off from my hectic life as a full-time artist. I was able to sit, relax, ponder the important things in life, gather around a BBQ grill with neighbors, and BREATHE!

Sometimes it is good to have a time out imposed upon us. When that happens, it's great to recognize it for the gift it can be. How wonderful that you were able to do so ... AND that you were so well prepared!

Mahalo Nui Loa,

Patrice Federspiel
Painting the Essence of Living Aloha

Lori Woodward
Patrice, yes isn't it wonderful when we are forced to live in a quiet world without constant interruption? I hope to get to the point where I can create that same type of simple environment even when I have a choice (with electricity on).

I find the best remedy for me is to spend time with friends and my husband. Paint with friends, go out to lunch and "catch up". Pick up a book and read... anything to get me busy doing something I love.

Being online is often a false productivity. While much of what we do online is necessary for business purposes, most of us cross the line into using the web to avoid doing other stuff. Stuff that may be boring, stuff that may be scary, stuff that may be less fun than feeling like the world is at our fingertips.

Lori Woodward
I'm getting ready to take some time off of being online - around 2 weeks. I intend to spend my time painting, visiting with friends in person, and working on some projects that it seems I never get time for. So, if some of you are wondering why I don't seem to be as present on here, it's because I need a vacation from being available. I hope you understand.

when I get back online, I hope to be refreshed with new ideas, energy and commitment. We all need a break at times in order to be our best.

Helen Horn Musser
We will miss you Lori; enjoy!

Esther J. Williams
Lori, I know just what you mean about spending many hours on the internet and not doing the actual painting. I hope you enjoy your 2 weeks away. I spend time at a vacation resort that does not have internet connection and life seems so simple and blissful. I must say that the internet is a necessary part of our lives though. Just yesterday I was searching for natural cures for an ailment I developed and I found many answers that I would not have if it wasn`t for the internet. I also read a catalog online from a Sotheby`s auction on impressionist artists. It was so good, that I wrote a lot of it down as it hit home to me.
So, that is it, we have to have it, but it can be like a drug and put us in a wasted state if we also don`t use discipline to use our hands and create our art.
Have a great peaceful time, I am sure you will be refreshed and renewed.

Lori Woodward
Esther, I know exactly what you're saying. The Internet has changed my life for the better in countless ways. I like doing research quickly and easily, and I've learned so much from others in the comfort of my home.

I think, at least for myself, that I need to find a way to spend "the right time" on the web. I'm experimenting with different formats. Today, I'm going online for a half hour or so to see what's happening and then going offline for a few hours to do other stuff.

I've tried staying offline until later in the day, but I can't resist the fact that I might miss something interesting.

Someone should write an application that will track our time online at each website... so at the end of the day, we have some statistics to measure our usage. I would very much like to whittle down my usage to just a few sites a day.

BTW: I noticed that Clint created a newsletter that lists the best art articles each day that FAVs scouts out. Now that they are going into my inbox, I can just look over those and not do a lot of searching.

The other things I feel I must look at are:
Stape's blog, the weather report... Facebook is my biggest determent to getting things done because it's visual and easily captures my attention, but I can catch up there in the evening.

Anyone want to share how they curb their web usage?

Esther J. Williams
Lori, I was just heading to my studio to paint, I need to make a small oil study of a larger painting that is going on exhibition. The larger painting is one of those that I made major breakthroughs on and I want a study of it in case it sells.
I wanted to say that I love Stape`s blog and I do look at maybe one or to of the favorites that Clint posts. I have a few more, but I can`t possibly keep up with all of them. The headline has to speak volumes to me to open it up
Today though, no time to be fooling or searching, I need to get this larger painting delivered later today. I think if we have a deadline or a great moment of inspiration, it will keep us busy in the studio or out in the fields. To act upon the moments of inspiration will only benefit us. Without action, times slips away and so does opportunities.
Take good care!

Lori Woodward
Esther, I hope you get that study done in time. Let us know how it turns out. congrats on your larger painting!


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