Journal Mining

Day after day, month after month, year by year, I scribble my thoughts in journals, sometimes faithfully, at other times skipping whole chunks of time. I will call them journals, although most are Morning Pages–three pages daily of stream of consciousness handwriting, as prescribed by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way.

Scribble Stix

Scribble Stix

Many days I wonder what purpose this serves, dumping my thoughts onto the page, as I rarely go back to read them. Recently, though, I committed to contributing a piece to an anthology themed “Life Unexpected.”

A couple of fitting experiences came immediately to mind, so I looked to my journals to refresh the details. After retrieving nearly ten years of notebooks from various places I’d stashed them, I stacked them in chronological order, isolated the time period I wanted to focus on, and started reading.

IMG_1531Memories, and the accompanying emotions flooded back. I sensed that I was holding the feelings at bay, like viewing events through a telescopic lens. Was this because I have achieved a level of detachment that only time can provide? Or are those emotions still locked away, trapped in the pages of the notebooks?

I told myself, I’m just skimming now–strip mining, so to speak. Strip mining is a practice used to remove overlying soil or rock, waste material that covers up the rich minerals underneath. The reference seems appropriate here; I unearth a gem now and then, like this quote from Mona Eltahawy:

“As a writer it is my duty to poke the painful places.”

IMG_1537My journals are where I “poke the painful places.” Revisiting those rough times–the life unexpected–I extract the lessons learned and, through the alchemy of writing, transform them into gold.

At least that is my goal–to transmute my experiences into stories  others can identify with and benefit from.

 

Do you journal or write Morning Pages? Do you mine them for material or keep them, and the stories they contain, locked away?

 

 

A Sense of Faith

The twelfth and final chapter of The Artist’s Way is so rich and full it is difficult to sum it all up. Here are a few tidbits from each section.

Trusting
Faith is the underpinning of creativity, and faith requires loosening our death grip on control. That is a frightening proposition. But look around you. Take a close look at your life and you will discover that control is an illusion. The effort it takes to maintain this illusion often creates confusion, anxiety, and depression.

Let go. Trust yourself, your own inner voice. Have faith in the Source of that “still, small voice” of inspiration. Try using these affirmations to bolster your confidence: “I know the things I know.” “I trust my own inner guide.”

Mystery
“Creativity–like human life itself–begins in darkness.” (p. 194) Inspiration often seems like it comes in a flash of light, but in reality ideas have been swirling around under the surface, in the “delicious dark,” gestating until they are ready to see the light of day. Trust the darkness.

“So you see, imagination needs moodling–long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.” Brenda Ueland (p. 22)

This “moodling,” or mulling on the page, in Morning Pages can at times seem pointless. Have faith in the process.

Escape Velocity
Escape velocity is a term Cameron uses to describe that point in time when you are ready to launch into a new realm. Whether it’s leaving behind a bad relationship, a stifling job, or old, unproductive patterns, you’ve built yourself up, you’ve prepared, you’re ready to go. Then…bam. Something–or someone–throws you off course.

This is the story of my last few weeks. I was flying high, excited about the growth I’ve experienced through The Artist’s Way process, planning new creative adventures for the new year, posting a weekly blog. Then came “The Test.”

The busyness and increased expectations of the holidays, which I wrote about in my last post. A sick elderly parent needs extra help. My own physical limitations and mood swings slow me down. These are all a normal part of my life at this point. I’m learning to ride the ebbs and flows and trust my resolve to pass those tests in whatever form they take.

What are the tests you encounter when you reach “escape velocity”?

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“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” André Gide

Go forth, brave souls, and create! You will make the world a better place.

 

A Sense of Autonomy

Do you find yourself getting derailed during this busy time of year? It seems as though demands on our time rise exponentially between Thanksgiving and New Year. Parties, shopping, wrapping, sending cards, baking cookies. No offense, guys, but much of the burden falls on women.

10-Tips-for-a-Stress-Free-HolidayI decided long ago not to get caught up in doing things I don’t enjoy just because they were expected of me as a woman. I don’t bake dozens of cookies, and I send a minimal number of cards, just to name two examples. This makes me a bit of an oddball in social circles, and I’ve noticed our party invitations have dropped off in the past few years. I miss the interaction with friends and neighbors, even though I always have that awkward sense of not fitting in with the crowd.

In Chapter eleven of The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron writes about the artist’s temperament in a way I found myself relating to. If I’m not creating (which for me means writing), I am out of sorts, restless, crabby. If I’m trying to conform to the expectations of others, I feel stifled and phony.

Claiming, or reclaiming, a sense of autonomy is essential for creative expansion. Twelve weeks ago, one week before starting The Artist’s Way, I set up an expectation for myself to write a weekly blog about each chapter of the book and my insights from it. Honesty compels me to admit that I am struggling to complete that commitment in the midst of all the holiday busyness.

There is so much more that I could write about on this chapter and all of the others before it, but here is what is resonating with me today:

  1. As an artist, be yourself and don’t be afraid to be a little “odd.”
  2. Live up to your own expectations.
  3. It’s okay to ease up on your expectations occasionally.
  4. Guard your space, physical and emotional space, that you carve out for your art.
  5. As a minimum, cling to your morning pages as a lifeline to your creative self.
  6. Buy your artist child a present.

I wish you all whatever fills your heart with joy.

And if there is anyone reading this for whom this is not a season of joy–I see you, too–and wish you peace.

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A Sense of Self-Protection

Chapter ten–almost through the twelve-week Artist’s Way recovery course–is where we learn about recovering a sense of self-protection. We all need to learn to protect ourselves from the crazymakers in our lives (see chapter two) and when to say “no” to infringements on our creative time and space.

But I took a different twist on this chapter. Cameron writes about the “dangers of the trail.”  When creative energy starts to flow and you’re not sure where it’s leading, you might feel shaky and out of control. Where is this path taking me? You slam your foot on the brakes; your artist child sits down in the middle of the road and refuses to take another step. This, in a sense, is another form of self-protection: we protect ourselves from fear of the unknown.

As a writer, I have heard and read, written, and spoken a lot about writer’s block, but I am only recently beginning to understand that there is only one thing responsible for writer’s block: ME. Wether we realize it or not, we all have our favorite ways to block creativity (because, you know, that Muse can be a scary bitch).

My go-to blocks are sleep, daydreaming, reading, television, and Facebook. And sometimes food. I need a muffin. Now.

For some, alcohol, drugs, or destructive relationships might be the chosen blocks. Others escape into busyness–work, work, work to numb out those nerve-wracking creative ideas.

How to stop reaching for blocks? Make friends with creativity-induced anxiety. Allow yourself to feel the anxiety and use it to fuel your imagination. Put on some calming music, or whatever music motivates you and helps you focus. Exercise. A simple twenty minute walk can calm nervous energy, un-jumble anxious thoughts, and bring clarity to your path forward.

I don’t mean to over simplify what can sometimes be a crippling issue, but here is another situation where small steps can bring about big changes. If you recognize that your artistic blocks might be self-induced, that can be the first step to overcoming them.

o-CALIFORNIA-DROUGHT-facebookIt is easy to confuse a block with a time of drought. While blocks are often self-induced, droughts “appear from nowhere and stretch to the horizon like a Death Valley vista.” (p.169).

 

A creative block is when the Muse is speaking, but we are not listening. In a drought, she is silent. “A drought is a tearless time of grief. We are between dreams.” (p. 170) I am learning to appreciate these periods as a time of gestation. A new dream is being implanted.

But how can anything grow in that parched landscape? Think of your morning pages as rain. To continue the practice of writing, stream of consciousness, three pages every morning when you feel it is an empty exercise–that is an act of faith. It will water the tiny seed that you may not be aware of yet and eventually, it will bloom and the drought will end.bloom-where-planted

What do you do when you feel creative energy carrying you along at a faster pace than you want to go, or you’re not sure what direction it’s leading you? Do you go with the flow or do you go into self-protection mode and reach for one of your favorite blocking devices to slow things down? Are you even aware that is what you are doing?

Have you experienced a creative drought? Are you in one now? Hang in there. Keep writing morning pages, and a path will emerge.

A Sense of Compassion

Before delving in to chapter nine of The Artist’s Way, I want to pause to thank you, my readers. Without your loyalty and encouragement there wouldn’t be much point in continuing to write this blog. I hope you are benefitting as much from reading it as I am from writing it.

Discipline vs. Enthusiasm
Week nine on the path to higher creativity leads us to recovering a sense of compassion. Compassion for whom? For yourself–your inner artist, the child who’s afraid to come out and play. If you are anything like me, you may beat yourself up for not working more, not having more discipline. That’s why when I read, “being an artist requires enthusiasm more than discipline,” (p. 153) it was a liberating concept for me.

“Enthusiasm (from the Greek, ‘filled with God’) is an ongoing energy supply tapped into the flow of life itself. Enthusiasm is grounded in play, not work.” (p. 153) More on that thought in a minute.

Creative U-turns

Do you take creative U-turns?

Do you take creative U-turns?

I have found that, when I allow myself to dream and start to nourish those dreams by taking steps to fulfill them, dreams tend to grow. My imagination takes flight and the dream gets bigger than me. And I get scared. “I can’t do that!” My mind balks at the prospect looming before me, and I take a creative U-turn.

Often what causes me to turn back from the path I’m on, or to back away from a project is looking too far ahead, trying to comprehend the complete picture. In other words, getting ahead of myself. Remember the concepts of taking baby steps and filling in the form?

I am learning, though, that by narrowing my focus to take that next little step, to complete the next task on the “to do” list, I can slowly make my way into the bigger picture. Creative U-turns may be a necessary part of growing as an artist, but remember, two U-turns make a complete 360 and put you back on the right path.

So don’t beat yourself up if you feel the need to back off and turn around. Show yourself some compassion. Gather strength, buck up your courage, but most of all, find the joy again. What made you enthusiastic for that project in the first place? Go back to that point, pick up the missing piece, turn around and start walking again.

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Enthusiasm breeds discipline. It creates “the irresistible surge of will.” Find the passion, the fire. Discipline will follow, and U-turns will become a thing of the past.

What stops you in your tracks and makes you want to turn around? How do you maintain the enthusiasm to stay on your creative path?