A few weeks ago I expressed my love for the classic Disney films and the recurring theme of wishes and dreams being fulfilled. Characters overcome obstacles, find courage and beauty from within, and learn that wishes really can come true.
Week eight of Walking in This World (Julia Cameron) is entitled Discovering a Sense of Discernment and the author begins the chapter with a challenge, “Are we actually able to go the distance?”
As I thought about the challenge and the phrase, ‘go the distance,’ it occurred to me that there is another underlying theme woven into my all-time favorites; from Hercules to Mulan, the characters slay dragons and conquer evil forces along their journey to fulfill their dream and find the place in life where they belong.
It took me two weeks to complete this lesson; I needed additional time to process the message and to complete the final task. The author begins with an analogy, “For many artists, fame is a trigger food, or can be.” She explains the pitfalls of chasing fame rather than staying focused on making art. When we strive to please the public eye we forget that “[s]elf-respect lies in the writing and the playing, not in the reviews.” If we focus our efforts on ‘making it’ rather than making art we are vulnerable to depression and frustration because we’re not ‘making it’ fast enough.”
I have to admit I am guilty of this. Although I understand Julia’s advice about the value of my day job as a source of creative fuel in addition to providing an income; I still spend more time than I should wondering what I can write that will be my lucky break, my springboard to fame and freedom. Julia reminded me that being a writer is not synonymous with recognition. She also pointed out, “When we are focused on making a career in the arts, we often forget that our artful nature is a gift we can bring to the personal as well as the professional realm.” I hadn’t thought about using my gift as a way to express my love and appreciation to the important people in my life. I wonder if my family and friends would mind if I wrote them birthday gifts next year.
We are all faced with changes in direction and unexpected events in our life. When they come we are faced with both opportunities and diversions, the author defines them as “useful things and opportunities to be used.”
“As we become brighter and stronger as artists, others are attracted by that clarity and glow. Some of them will help us on our way, while others will try to help themselves, diverting our creative light to their own path.”
Unfortunately, the world is full of people who position themselves as mentors, fans, and supporters; who in reality use any means at their disposal to execute their own agenda and advance themselves at your expense. One of the critical elements of ‘going the distance’ is the ability to discern between the opportunities and the diversions and to discover and extract ourselves from the influence of the opportunists and creative saboteurs.
This may mean slaying dragons, exorcising demons, or making difficult decisions. It means we must be alert to the consequences of our decisions and be able to distinguish between what seemed to be a lucky break and is in reality an unlucky choice and take appropriate action. It’s also important to evaluate which risks are worth taking and which are not. Discernment combines following your instincts with gathering information and facts to come to the right conclusion.
I thought her description of opportunity and opportunists was brilliant: “Opportunity knocks with a Christmas-morning feeling…a hushed sense of awe as an opportunity slides into place…Opportunists, by contrast, have more of a pressured feeling of last-minute shopping, the kind of impulse buy where you know you shouldn’t but you do.” I think this will become one of my guideposts.
Often our insecurities cause us to accept help from people who are looking out for themselves or to believe input from “creative saboteurs.” A creative saboteur is someone who attempts to crush our dreams with confusion, dissuasion, and presumed superiority; they will have a million reasons why an idea can’t or won’t work. Creative saboteurs are like snakes or rodents, unpleasant and impossible to avoid completely. The challenge is to identify them and protect ourselves as best we can.
Julia provided me with a smile and a sense of perspective when she presented the cast of characters and their bios in a playful but meaningful way; they included the Wet Blanket Matador, the Amateur Expert, and the Bad News Fairy. She compared surviving a creative saboteur to surviving a snakebite and stressed the importance of doing our best to recognize and avoid them. If bitten by one, step away as quickly and judiciously as you can, and find ways to use the injury as creative fuel and put it to good use.
We all have baggage, or what I call demons, things from our past that we haven’t reconciled and that keep us from going the distance. They’re the voices in our head, the whispers that say you can’t, you shouldn’t, and your ideas are no good. Some are real, and others may be imagined but they’re there and they hold us back.
The final task was designed to help with the healing process from the snakebites of the past, she asked me to find a way to address and face those voices. I had finished my collage from week seven, but hadn’t framed it yet. Although I had completed the task, it didn’t feel ‘done.’ It started with a photo of me surrounded by words and images that represent the vision of my future self.
It now also contains music notes, a sketch I drew, and a few pictures I’ve taken: things that represent the artist emerging within me. I framed it and when I look at it I see the future not the past, I see myself going the distance.