Second to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, my favorite childhood movie is The Wizard of Oz. Back in the days before On Demand, Netflix, Redbox, and hundreds of cable stations playing the same movie over and over again were the days of anticipation and excitement. I looked forward to the special night when I could watch a movie while eating dinner and I cried when they ended because I wanted them to go on forever.
As a child I thought that Dorothy’s companions were the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man. As an adult I’ve come to realize that the foursome was really worry accompanied by fear, insecurity, and doubt. In spite of the anxieties and feelings of panic, Dorothy and her friends survive danger, conquer the enemy and emerge from their journey triumphant.
In week nine of Walking in this World (Julia Cameron) the author defines negative emotions and explains how they can play a positive role in life if they are kept in their proper perspective. I wondered if Julia had somehow read my journal before she wrote the chapter Discovering a Sense of Resiliency. The first section is entitled Worry (which is my middle name) and she introduced me to the chapter with a gentle but firm reminder, “No artist is immune to negative emotions…As the week focuses on the inner trials faced by artists, it assures us that while the dark night of the soul comes to all of us, by accepting this we are able to move through it.”
Merriam Webster defines worry as “mental distress or agitation resulting from concern usually for something impending or anticipated: anxiety.” Julia describes worry as obsessive and “a kind of emotional anteater” and says that “[w]orry is the imagination’s negative stepsister. Instead of making things, we make trouble.” Worry is often accompanied by panic and fear. Panic is the immobilizing certainty that we know just where we want to go but no idea how we are going to get there. Fear can take a small worry and translate it into “paralyzing inertia.” She also pronounces fear as both “positive and useful,” and further explains that we should not give into our fears but we should pay attention to them, admit them, and be open to help.
Too often we pretend we are not scared, we feign bravery and we begin to feel isolated, helpless and not good enough. When we ignore the message fear is sending us, when we hold ourselves to blame, “we blind ourselves to the possibility that there might, in fact, be someone or something wrong in our environment” and we may miss the opportunity to change something wrong into something right.
I took heart when she said, “If we are to expand our lives, we must be open to positive possibilities and outcomes as well as negative ones. By learning to embrace our worried energy, we are able to translate it from fear into fuel…This is a learned process.” I think I have a lot of learning yet to do.
Lately I’ve been feeling restless and out of sorts. According to Julia “restlessness is a good omen” and it means destiny is getting ready to knock, prayers will soon be answered, and that “[i]nner malcontent actually triggers outer change – if we are willing to listen to our malcontent with an open mind and listen to what will feel like a wave of irrational promptings.” I had never thought about feeling agitated or discontented in this way, but as I jotted down a list of major breakthroughs in my life creatively, personally, and professionally I had to admit there may be something to what she was saying. Maybe fate is asking me if I want to dance.
Maybe things do happen for a reason, and maybe that reason is because we finally acknowledge our fears as well as our dreams and in doing so we quit clinging to Plan A and we become open to Plan B or C or even Z.
I think most people are insecure and as human beings and especially as artists we tend to focus on how we compare to others rather than being content with who we are. We lack patience and hold ourselves to a standard of perfection that has little to do with actual criteria, instead we feel bad because we’re not as good as we think we should be. We negate our own value by wishing we were as good as what’s his name rather than being proud of our accomplishments. That’s not to say we shouldn’t try and improve ourselves, but it is saying that we need to accept ourselves for who we are and we need to guard against allowing our insecurities to keep us from following our dreams. In the task Exactly the Way I Am Julia asked me to list fifty specific things that I like about myself. After completing the list I realized that there is a lot to like. “By counting our blessings we can come to see that we are blessed and that we need not compare ourselves to anyone.”
Julia has a way of turning things on their head for me and her take on doubt is certainly one of them. “Doubt is a signal of the creative process. It is a signal that you are doing something right – not that you are doing something wrong or crazy or stupid.” I thought my doubts about my writing meant that I was self-aware and realistic and that the essay I had just written really did deserve to be deleted because it wasn’t any good. It turns out that doubt and self-appraisal are not one in the same. Doubt plagues us at night when we’re alone and vulnerable and tells you that you can’t while self-appraisal arrives in broad daylight and helps you adjust your course. Doubt is something to be waited out without giving into behaviors that are self-destructive.
There is an underlying theme woven throughout the lessons. Although we will encounter negative emotions and unsavory characters along our own version of the yellow brick road, we can combat them, wait them out, and use them to our creative advantage, but most importantly self-acceptance and self-respect will lead us safely home.