Penrose Principles of Comfort and Creativity

I’m always talking about comfort, and being gentle with yourself, and my art has this super cozy vibe, and I think it’s important that everything I do, creatively, and in my life is grounded in these same 5 principles.

You can’t relax by accident.

This is something I discovered for myself in 2018 when I made it the goal of my year to forgive myself for not being productive. For context, I was living in Toronto, had just moved in with my then-partner, was in my first year post-graduation from OCAD, was juggling multiple part-time jobs while starting Penrose Press, and was a bit of a workaholic. 2018 is to date the only year I have ever stuck with a resolution on this scale, so it must have felt pretty important.

I started with reading, as I often do. If I read too late into the night, or got distracted with a book and took a long lunch break, if I spent a whole afternoon compulsively reading, I told myself that it was research for my role as an up-and-coming micro-publisher. I still tell myself that reading for pleasure is research, and whether or not that is completely true is kind of irrelevant.

In and around this reading permission I realized that you can’t relax by accident. If you’re unproductive, but you keep trying to push through, all you feel is guilt, which is not relaxing, even if you don’t accomplish anything. By extension, if you’re feeling unproductive, you’re better off taking a break on purpose because either way, you won’t get any work done, and this way you might experience some small joy.

A way that I practice this daily, is that I refuse to let “productive” or “unproductive” be my response to the question “How was your day?” I also push this boundary on people I love. I highly recommend it.

Romance novels are a cure for apocalyptic anxiety because they teach you to expect a happy outcome.

This one is taken directly from Vanessa Zoltan, and folded into my soul. Honestly, it’s something that I knew intuitively but didn’t have the words to express. When I tell people I read romance, they fall into two categories of response: a) yes! cool! me too! and b) really? The folks who reply with disbelief or confusion get my academic-type explanation as borrowed from Vanessa. The folks who react with derision get a confident “yep!” and the discontinuation of my company. The folks in category A are kindred spirits, obviously.

ps. Vanessa’s podcast “Hot and Bothered” is a brilliant, deeply empathetic, funny, and enjoyable extension of this core value. Go listen to it on your podcatcher of choice!

Art feeds empathy.

This one feels so TRUE that I almost don’t know how to explain it.

Seeking comfort is an activity that every human is entitled to, and many of us don’t know how to do it.

You’ve maybe encountered my comfort questions already:

  1. How do you seek comfort?
  2. Why do you need to seek comfort?
  3. Do you think you deserve comfort?

Number three can hit a little hard at a vulnerable place in certain folks. I’ve heard a variety of responses from people:

  • sure, but not in the face of other people’s needs
  • my logical brain says yes, but my emotional center says no
  • my emotional center says yes, but ableist rhetoric says no
  • if I didn’t believe this in the core of my being, I wouldn’t be alive today
  • I think I do, but people close to me don’t seem to think I do
  • I need to leave my comfort zone to become a better version of myself

I want to call attention to some very specific language that I’ve been using. This is me secretly being academic under a veneer of romanticism.

“How do you seek comfort?”

The direction is important. I’m talking about moving towards comfort, which is subtly different from staying in comfort. This is early research and my sample is small and highly subjective, but I think it might come down to privilege. I know, uncomfortable buzzword, stay with me. People who I’ve spoken to who have overlapping marginalized identities are more likely to know that they deserve comfort and that seeking it is important to their well-being. People who I’ve spoken to who are more privileged, are more likely to see comfort as a luxury, or as a thing to avoid. It’s not an absolute spectrum. I’m fairly privileged myself, and I’ve built my whole art practice around seeking comfort, so.

One way to look at seeking comfort is to look at coping mechanisms. I learned that we develop our coping mechanisms when we’re teenagers, and they remain fairly consistent over our entire lives. Does that resonate with you? When I was a teen, I read fiction for comfort and escapism and that is true to this day. The goal of my recent creative work is to model comfort-seeking for teens and adults alike. There are a lot of influences pushing from the other direction, but I hope comfort-seeking is like bicycle riding, you just need to get the knack for it once and it will stick. Capitalism, individualism, and toxic masculinity are big forces working against comfort-seeking. Push back.

romance > Romance

I’ve met a few people (hey Joyce) who intuitively know the difference between two distinct qualities of romance, one popular (R) and one more elusive (r). To me, romance is a genre, a way of looking at the world, a vibe. This type of romance is often encountered alone. What I call romance, my brother might call micro-meditation. Susan Cain’s book Bittersweet has a lot of overlap with romance. Alternatively, Romance is chocolate on Valentine’s Day, still totally great, but more prescriptive and often heteronormative.

Revision: I originally had these two swapped, but following a debate at a house party in Summer 2023 I decided that since the romance I love is more anti-capitalist, it should not be capitalized. Therefore: romace > Romance

Revision No. 2: Capitalized or not, whichever association you have here, it's mostly just important to feel the distinction :)

Thanks for reading :)

All of these things fold in to foster my creative ideas. What personal beliefs are shaping your world?


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