Tag Archives: Julia Cameron

Week Four of The Artist’s Way: Reading Deprivation

The center that I cannot find
Is known to my unconscious mind
-W.H. Auden

I was both interested and dismayed when chapter four brought up the possibility of spending a week reading absolutely nothing. Dismayed because, well obviously as a chronic reader I feel a lot of internal resistance at not reading anything for an entire week. Interested because it’s something I started thinking about weeks ago, before I began working through the Artist’s Way.

When I first arrived in Oregon I had been traveling for four months, living out of my truck and on the couches of friends. My four months of travel were preceded by a year and a half of leaving a dance company I loved being in, moving from California to Illinois, spending three months traveling with a band in Costa Rica, losing my closest animal companion, having my marriage nearly implode, moving deeper into Chicago, trying to find work and some semblance of community, then switching gears much sooner than expected and moving back to the other side of the country to a place I had never been. I am sure that someone out there is a pro at maintaining a routine and moving forward with their creative endeavors in that sort of constant upheaval, but I am not one of them. Never underestimate the power of stability.

I’ve heard it takes around three weeks to build a good habit, though no one really talks about how long it takes to destroy one. I can’t contribute much to such a study, if there is one, as my good habits quietly slipped away during the chaos of the last couple years, their absence unnoticed in the commotion. When the commotion finally quieted, I resolved to rebuild good habits from the beginning, habits that supported my creative goals and helped keep me in a positive emotional state (which in turn keeps me moving forward in my creative process which in turn keeps me in a positive emotional state…). Habits like my yoga and dance practice, writing every day, meditating, and keeping up with my OBOD and BOTA studies.

Which brings me back to the topic of reading deprivation.

Having tossed all my practices out the window for quite a long time I was in a good position to be aware of the process of building them back up, particularly after I started paying close attention to my creative recovery. Without a doubt, input from social media, news, and other people’s opinions form the biggest obstacle to my momentum, second only to my own inner critic, which not surprisingly gets louder the more energy I give to the other things.

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron compares words to tiny tranquilizers for artists, clogging us up and numbing us out to our inner voice, our artist’s inspiration. Your inner voice doesn’t stand much of a chance if you are constantly immersed in the noise of internet memes and media hype, turning to another’s voice every time you might have an idea of your own, or “escaping” through novels and movies.

“It is a paradox that by emptying our lives of distractions we are actually filling the well. “

-Julia Cameron

Not all reading and other forms of input has the effect of numbing us out to our inner voice. Much of it can be inspiring, educational, life-affirming. I think there’s an element of defensiveness, though, that comes up when faced with the idea that we may be sabotaging ourselves by keeping our minds constantly busy on relatively unimportant things, and in that defensiveness is potentially denial and an inability to be objective. We immediately justify our habit by labeling it educational, or important, when it might not actually be when considered alongside whatever it is we say we truly want to create in our lives.

And ultimately, it’s all a distraction. I think the key is in discrimination. Pulling the weeds.

I’ve pulled some weeds and made some changes, in regards to what input I allow in and how much.

I now limit myself to ten minutes a day total on social media sites and other time-waster sites, like you tube. If you think ten minutes a day is more than enough to check your Facebook, I challenge you to try it! You will be amazed how quickly that time disappears. I’m using an extension for chrome called Stay Focused which blocks the sites you specify after the time you set elapses. Very useful tool. That ten minutes is mainly spent answering messages, so I don’t get much static from the news feed anymore. And yes, it has made a difference.

I’ve also learned to set clear boundaries around the space I set aside for things like writing. For me, this is the first thing in the morning. I don’t even turn on the computer or make coffee until I’ve written three pages. Well…. sometimes I make coffee.

I haven’t gone a full week yet with absolutely no input. I am going to do it at some point in the remaining eight weeks of this Artist’s Way series. Is anyone up for doing it with me?


Week Two of the Artist’s Way: Setting Boundaries

The most ubiquitous form of psychic attack comes from the people closest to you.

Does that thought make you uncomfortable? Do you find yourself wanting to reflexively deny it?

It’s not comfortable to think of your family and friends as potential sources of creative sabotage, as invested in keeping you stuck and using guilt and fear-based manipulation to do it. It’s perhaps less comfortable to think of yourself as both willing victim and perpetrator of the same, but that is exactly what week two asks you to do.

Week two asks you to look at the people with whom you surround yourself with a discerning eye, and then turn that same eye on yourself.

I recently had a friend announce on Facebook that she was no longer going to be using that particular social media outlet, as too much of the information posted by her friends was a source of negative input to her. This is exactly the kind of examination Julia Cameron says we should be making in our lives, particularly those of us who are actively pursuing creative recovery.

Stepping away from Facebook is one thing, but that still leaves all the input from the rest of the world, a world most of us don’t have the option to cloister ourselves away from. I doubt many of us would want to, anyway, considering that in doing so we would also be blocking much of the positive.

So how do we discern what and who is causing us to stay blocked and stuck, and what do we do about it?

Cameron likens our blocked friends to fellow alcoholics; none of them are going to applaud our attempts at sobriety when they are still invested in their own drinking habit.

Notice who applauds, and who is disturbed by your recovery. Who expresses well-meaning doubts? Who suggests with underlying disapproval that you are acting different or being selfish? Guilt is a readily available source of manipulative energy and, feeling abandoned, blocked friends will use it to try to leverage us back into habits that are more comfortable for them.

Being everything to everyone all the time does not make you a good person or a better friend. It makes you a frustrated person and breeds bitterness and resentment.

I found that as I worked through this chapter I began to notice all the subtle influences I allow others to exert on my mood, my views, my process – even my goals and dreams.

I’m working toward getting my massage license current after a hiatus of several years. A recent casual conversation that began innocently enough about massage therapy in Portland turned into a litany of complaints by the person I was talking to, based on his own negative experiences.  Halfway through the conversation I had a very clear vision of myself listening to the diatribe, shoulders gradually slumping with a weighty sigh as I absorbed what was being said with a clear feeling of hopelessness in pursuing that goal.

Not long ago I probably would have joined him in cynical camaraderie, possibly not even noticing the sudden loss of hope. I’m understanding now that cynical camaraderie does the other person no good whatsoever and actively does me harm.

Realizing that this person was expressing a belief system designed to support himself in staying exactly where he is, it suddenly became much easier to slough off the doubts that arose from the onslaught of negativity. I also realized that if I want to be a good friend to him, the best thing I can possibly do is be successful in my goal.

These are concepts that are probably familiar to most of us. There are enough books and blogs and handy one-liners on this subject that we should all be pro’s at spotting the pattern and not feeding the negativity and doubt trolls. Still, we often are blind to the pattern and feed them anyway. We alternate between being the troll and feeding the troll regardless of what we think we know. Why?

This is the part where you turn the eye of discernment onto yourself.

You cannot simply play the blame game and divorce yourself from any friend or situation where feelings of self-doubt are brought up, without accepting responsibility for the part you play in perpetuating the dynamic.

“As blocked creatives, we are willing to go to almost any lengths to remain blocked”

– Julia Cameron

If my tendency is to engage in cynical camaraderie and drop my dreams by the wayside as a result, I have to ask myself, what is the payoff?

Life is simpler and far less threatening when you stay stuck. Pursuing your dream is not as easy as posting a bunch of pretty pictures on a vision board. It requires action, and continuous effort. It requires introspection, figuring out where your deepest fears lie and then going there to confront them. You will probably have to do this again and again on your journey;  you are fighting a war, not slaying a dragon.

Up against so much, no wonder many choose to stay stuck.

It’s helping me to move forward by thinking about it in terms of skirmishes rather than an ongoing war. Each time I have a conversation with someone, I’m engaged in a skirmish. Not a skirmish with them, but with myself.

My job in this skirmish is simply to pay attention.

I’m looking for any signs of creative sabotage. I’m sorting what is real from what is fear. I’m setting boundaries with them and myself, choosing what to engage with, and what needs to be ejected onto the other side of those boundaries. I’m finding satisfaction in small victories, and I believe this is how I’ll make big gains.

 

 


Week One of the Artist’s Way: Marathon Training

Three pages, longhand, every morning, half asleep. Morning pages. Did I mention in my previous post that this is one of two core practices of the Artist’s Way?

Despite being an avid collector of journals, I’ve never been very good at the actual journaling part. I can’t resist their decorated covers, their scent of new paper and possibilities… but a quick flip through the accusatory drawer full of them reveals little beyond that. Maybe a poem here or a page of an experience there, disjointed and quickly set aside.

I do have a few journals that are filled with dance notes, choreographies, yoga sequences and ritual and magickal notations, but my personal thoughts and feelings are conspicuously absent.

And now I have another journal, literally The Morning Pages Journal
I originally purchased with the book, and in it are two-hundred and sixty-four 8.5 x 11 pages, thirty-six of which are filled margin to margin with mental and emotional download in my chicken scratch penmanship. Twelve consecutive days of longhand journaling is a first for me. Why is this apparently working now, when it never has before?

Two reasons:

1. Because they’re Morning Pages, not afternoon pages, evening pages, or whenever-something-happens pages.

2. Because I stopped trying to journal a best-selling autobiography.

I saw the first reason quickly, though admitted to it reluctantly. I am not a morning person. I get up in a haze, take the dog out in a haze, mechanically stumble to the coffee, which I make in a haze. Three hours later, it may be safe to talk to me.

Even so, however incongruous it seems, I make my most intuitive, insightful, creative leaps when I’m still trying to clear the haze from my mind. And worse, when I am forced to make a habit out of getting up very early – such as at yoga teacher training when I was up every day before dawn – I notice my intuitive potential climb to even greater heights.

As you might imagine, being a night owl I have assiduously repressed this knowledge. After all, it made no sense.

Synchronistically, within days of starting to write the morning pages I discovered this article, which essentially states that we are at our most creative during our least optimal time of the day.  I’m finding it impossible to maintain my denial with so much sense-making in my face.

Should morning people then write their morning pages late at night? As morning people are essentially aliens to me, I can’t speak for them. I do, however, think that another reason morning pages work is theoretically you are doing them at a time of day when there are minimal distractions, before the world has swept you up and wrung you out. There is a difference between being in a liminal, hazy state and being exhausted from your day.

The second reason – because I stopped trying to journal a best-selling autobiography – arrives in correlation to one of the main themes of chapter one: protecting the child artist within.

No one would expect to pick up a violin for the first time and immediately play beautifully. And yet it is that inability to be perfect right from the beginning that keeps so many of us from even trying, or causes us to quit after the first few lessons, when faced with the screeching sounds of our initial attempts.

And if we survive those initial attempts, we may then be sunk by the realization of how much time and work it will likely take to get to the point where we feel we have “arrived”.

There is no quick solution to this, as Julia Cameron points out in chapter one:

“In recovering from our creative blocks, it is necessary to go gently and slowly. . . . Progress, not perfection, is what we should be asking of ourselves. Too far, too fast and we can undo ourselves. Creative recovery is like marathon training. We want to log ten slow miles for every one fast mile.”

Instead of trying to journal a best-selling autobiography, I am simply focusing on filling the pages. It’s not unlike meditation, where stray thoughts appear and are observed from a place of detachment, only in this case the thoughts are netted as they flow by and channeled onto the pages. Trite, whiny, angry, childish, bad grammar, disconnected themes – doesn’t matter! And occasionally, within the download, something insightful and inspired appears.

I think the morning pages are the warm-up for the ten slow and one fast mile, a way to learn how to be kind and patient with ourselves. These are skills we will certainly need as we face the next hurdle Cameron describes in our recovery: time.

“It is impossible to get better and look good at the same time. . . . By being willing to be a bad artist, you have a chance to be an artist, and perhaps, over time, a very good one. When I make this point in teaching, I am met by instant, defensive hostility:

‘But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano/act/paint/write a decent play?’

Yes . . . the same age you will be if you don’t.”

I find this a deceptively obvious yet profound statement to contemplate. The Truth I feel in it  helped me to take a breath, slow down and stop worrying about the “arrival”.

We have no time machine. If we did, we might go back and make sure our five year-old self gets to every piano lesson, or our ten year-old self sticks with ballet, or our fifteen year-old self continues writing short stories despite parental discouragement in the form of “sensible” advice.

Because we cannot go back and relive our lives with no diversions from our creative calling, we have to ask ourselves if we can be content never having tried at all. We have to ask ourselves, will this yearning to create be any less in another ten years, twenty years, fifty years?

Time rolls inexorably onward, uncaring how we make use of it. Personally, a life spent training for the marathon feels a great deal more fulfilling than one spent standing on the sidelines, looking back.


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