The Chaotic Muse

Tips to making the relocation of your creative life much easier.

By Molly Anderson | Posted 8/8/08 | Updated 8/9/23

Welcome to Bluebell House, where chaos reigns supreme. What better time to begin this piece than 3am on a Tuesday night, when all sensible people are sound asleep? It is the perfect occasion to consider chaos, my muse of the moment.

My husband and I recently moved to a new house. In the past month, we have packed and unpacked hundreds of boxes. I started a new job; he lost his old one and is currently looking for work. And, somewhere in there, I also managed to finish the first draft of a novel I've been working on, injure my back and recover from that, and perform my girlish duties as a bridesmaid in my best friend's wedding — all in a mere four weeks.

"Impossible!" you say, and refuse to believe. But all of it is true. Yes, it nearly drove me insane. But I am halfway there already, so I decided to just enjoy the ride.

It is only today that I can look clearly at this period of tumult and change, chaos and uncertainty, and say definitively that we have survived it, and lived to tell the tale. Lest I soon forget these lessons, I wanted to write them down, so that you may learn from my dark time.

Moving from one home to another is a difficult, stressful endeavor. When you work at home, and must also relocate your office or studio, things get even more complicated. Here are a few things I learned the hard way, which might make your own move easier.

1. Keep current projects easy to access.

I find it helpful to keep one box or book-bag separate from the others, reserving it only for current projects. It's the last one I pack, and the first thing I unpack when I'm ready to work.

2. Make sure the power's ON.

A few days before the move, if possible, call to confirm that your utilities are working, or go to the house and test out the phone line, electricity, and water pressure. If there are any special services you need in your office or studio, make sure they are up and running on schedule.

Upon moving into our new home, our landlords reassured us that they had installed functional Internet and phone lines. "Everything's ready to go," they said. However, when we arrived, we found that this was not the case at all. Three weeks later, we're still struggling to get the situation straightened out and have repairs done — and I'm still typing on a rickety computer at school, instead of in my comfy little office at home. This has cost me a lot of time and energy, and a world of frustration.

3. Wrap up loose ends.

If possible, finish up as many upcoming projects as you can in the months before the move. Consider that for two or three weeks after you move in, you will be occupied with unpacking and won't have time to work much — so do everything ahead of time. If you plan this right, you won't have to worry about looming project deadlines while unpacking and settling into your new home. This is one of the things I did right this time, and it saved me a lot of stress and anxiety.

4. Re-engage as soon as possible.

Try to get back into your creative working routine as quickly as possible after the move. This is important for you, even if you're not on a deadline. To help get back into the swing of things, I packed a bookbag with my planner, address book, journal, pens, and my writing notebook for current projects. I kept it with me in my truck during the move so it wouldn't get lost in the confusion. When I was ready to write, I didn't have to waste time and energy digging through boxes — everything was near to hand and ready to go. This allowed me to take breaks from unpacking and cleaning in order to write — truly a blessing, and a much-needed respite.

5. Don't overthink it.

Moving is stressful enough without trying to set a world record for high-speed unpacking. Slow down. Take your time. Listen well to your inner voice — it will tell you when to rest, when to take the night off and go out for pizza, when to stop and stretch or grab a snack. Ignore this body-wisdom at your peril. I ignored it, and overworked my aching muscles lifting too many heavy boxes, leading to a painful back injury. This resulted in horrific pain, loss of mobility, and a three-day absence from my job. During my slow recovery, I had a lot of time to think, to rest, to sleep, and to ponder this mess I'd gotten myself into. I realized quickly that, however much I might want to be, I am NOT Superwoman. I'm not even Batgirl. I can't do everything all the time without paying a price.

Now that I'm up and around again, I'm taking things slow. To someone who has never been blessed with patience, this is infuriating — and necessary. It's not exactly Zen and the Art of Unpacking at our new house, but it's close. I try to be mindful; to respect my own limits, and take better care of myself. After a long day, I reward myself with a bubble bath, a movie, a good book, or a glass of wine. Periodic check-ins with myself throughout the day have become a habit, letting me know when I need to rest, drink a glass of water, or take a walk.

I'm not afraid of Chaos anymore. I have bearded the dragon in her den and found her not nearly as horrifying as I'd imagined. In fact, I made a surprising discovery. I befriended chaos and made her mine. I did not let mere disorder stop me from doing my life's work — writing. If you wait until conditions are "just right" to begin writing, I often find that you never get started at all. Better to learn to create in the midst of Chaos; let it feed your work, and teach you the hard lessons it has to teach. Find beauty and joy in it somewhere, and start there.

There is a common misconception that art arises only from a lofty state of grace, in the rarified air of delight. I often find the opposite to be true — dark times and a hard road to walk inspire my best work when grace is gone missing. More than that, during times of strife and trouble, unbearable loss and grief, I have discovered that the very act of writing is a lifeboat when I'm drowning. It is in the midst of chaos and stress that I need to write more urgently than ever, and that simple act of defiance and creation will anchor me to a sunny shore, and help me withstand the storms.

©2008 by Molly Anderson. All rights reserved.


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