Friday, December 14, 2007

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Artist

Have you ever read The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron? Well, don't let the title fool you. The book is not just for artists. It's intended for anyone interested in going on a spiritual journey to free their inner creativity. Personally, I never had such a desire. If I want to go on a journey, I'd much rather go to London or Disney World.

Nevertheless, I can't tell you how many people over the years have suggested that I read it. I'm talking dozens of people, perhaps hundreds. At first, I thought it was just a nice suggestion, like:

"You should really read The Artist's Way. You'll like it."
"I was given a copy of The Artist's Way. But I think it's more for someone like you than someone like me."

“Someone like me?” I would ask, not sure what they were implying. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know, someone creatively stifled,” they would respond with a smile. “And poor.”

Gradually the suggestions began to take on a much more desperate tone, tinged with a sense of urgency and panic.

"Please, please. Do yourself a favor and read The Artist's Way. It may be your last chance at finding a happy and fulfilling life."

It was as if people thought The Artists Way was some kind of antidote for whatever ailed me.(Though I don't think laziness is really considered an ailment, is it?)

Naturally, I didn't listen to any of these suggestions, which is probably why I remained unmotivated and miserable for years. Then I got laid off from my full-time job and found myself faced with nothing to do, a relatively large amount of time on my hands, and no more excuses. So I decided to pick it up.

Now the first thing you learn as you're reading the introduction to The Artist's Way is that it's a twelve-week program. Not to be confused with a twelve-step program, although I'm sure the principles are similar. And it's not just a book. You actually have to do work. You read a chapter a week and then do all these exercises that are designed to help you "discover and recover your creative self". (And I'm quoting here.) But twelve weeks? I barely have relationships that last twelve weeks.

So I'm reading the introduction and I find out that before I even get to Chapter One, I have homework I need to start right away. And what's more, I have to do this homework every day. (Which suddenly made me realize why so many people kept recommending it. They needed to justify their own experience with this 12-week program by making sure other people did it too. Kind of like a pyramid scheme.)

Anyway, the homework I’m referring to is affectionately known as the "morning pages." Every morning I was supposed to get up and write down three pages of anything that comes out of my brain. It could be stream-of-consciousness, or writing about an event that happened, or just three pages of crap. In fact, that's what it's supposed to do. Drain your brain of all the crap. Freeing you to be a more effective creator, no longer burdened with the pain of mental overload. I almost put the book back on the shelf.

But as I said, I had the time, though maybe not the right attitude. So I started writing my morning pages. And for the first few days, I really enjoyed it. Writing down three pages of bitching is an opportunity one should never pass up. I actually found myself yelling in my morning pages…with lots of expletives and exclamation points.

I blamed everyone in the world for my failures. For my inability to move forward as an artist, for my writer's block, for getting laid off from a job I never really liked. Basically I used the pages to exert my revenge upon the world.

"Boy, will they be sorry. I talked about them today in my morning pages. That'll show 'em.”

Still, even with this daily ritual of bitching, nothing was changing in my life. So I decided to move on from the introductory chapter of The Artist's Way to the first week of the course. My intent was to devote myself whole-heartedly to this project of creative enlightenment. I wanted to completely immerse myself in constructing origami birds and building skyscrapers out of tin cans. Or whatever the weekly projects in The Artist’s Way happened to be.

That was my intent. But in reality, I never made it past the first chapter. For before I even began working on my first exercise, I received a phone call from a woman named Unity Kingsmill. A phone call that changed my life forever. (Of course, if you’ve read “It Happened in Plainfield,” you know exactly what I mean by that.)

I still have my copy of The Artist’s Way, which I fully intend to pick up again someday. (Perhaps even before I get fired again.) As for my morning pages, I haven’t completely given up that form of literary diarrhea. I just call them something different now. My blog.

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