I’m not a huge baseball fan, but I thoroughly enjoyed attending the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. I haven’t been for a few years now but I still remember the thrill of finding a parking spot on one of the narrow streets of South Omaha, followed by a hot and sticky walk toward the stadium anticipating the foot long hotdog and freshly squeezed lemonade as much as the game itself.
I always felt a small lump in my throat and a shiver down my spine when we emerged from the neighborhood and saw The Road to Omaha sculpture in front of the Red and Blue awning of the stadium. There’s something special about the way the artist immortalized the joyful feeling of winning the championship through the image of three young ball players hoisting a fourth onto their shoulders, his hand reaching to the air with the universal symbol meaning ‘we’re number one.’
For one week out of the summer, strangers from all across the country come together in a spirit of competition and camaraderie that turns many a non-baseball lover into a fan of the series. Among many long time traditions including sunburns, beach balls on the field, and the wave, is the seventh inning stretch, it’s the point in the game where both the fans and the players need to take a breather.
Headed into week ten of Walking in This World (Julia Cameron) I found myself in need of something akin to a seventh inning stretch. My professional work life had been particularly challenging and full of commotion when I tackled the chapter Discovering a Sense of Camaraderie for the first time. After careful consideration I knew my head wasn’t in the right place to absorb the message let alone write about it, I put the book aside knowing I would recognize when the time was right to pick it back up. Three weeks later I read the chapter and performed the tasks for a second time. In doing so I realized both how much I learned and how much I would have missed if I hadn’t taken a break.
For the tenth chapter in a row I wondered how Julia knew me so well. She introduced it with the notion that “[d]espite our Lone Ranger mythology, the artist’s life is not lived in isolation.” The first section is entitled Keep Drama on the Stage. Oh boy…I have a tendency to let commotion overwhelm and consume me and when that happens I can become quite dramatic and have been known to make mountains out of molehills when I lose perspective.
I paused for a long time after reading Julia’s opening comments, “Artists are dramatic. Art is dramatic. When artists are not making artistic dramas, they tend to make personal ones. Feeling off center, they demand center stage.” I realized that as the disorder in my day job increased I was writing less, taking no pictures, exercise was non-existent, and the amount of time I spent wailing and gnashing my teeth had reached an all-time high. I had to stop and consider the fact that although the commotion in my life was real that perhaps in some ways I had fallen prey to what the author refers to as “Artistic anorexia, the avoidance of the pleasure of the creative… ”
I took heart as she described one friend who develops “health problems on the cusp of every major concert tour” and another friend who “loses all humor and sense of personal perspective every time a writing deadline looms…People like these should furnish seat belts for those riding shotgun in their lives.” It made me realize that I’m not alone and although my ‘drama’ isn’t always a result of a creative deadline (although there have been a fair share of those as well) and it made me thankful for the people in my life that ride along with me on the rollercoaster and who don’t hesitate to let me know when it’s time to snap out of it.
Julia likens a sense of humor to a sense of scale: “a sense of scale is what gives our work proportion, perspective, and personality;” when we lose our sense of humor we also lose our sense of scale. I thought the bumper sticker she quoted was brilliant, “Angels fly because they take themselves lightly.”
I’ve always thought of myself as being a person with a great sense of humor and one who uses humor to get through tough times. What I’ve come to realize is that when I start feeling a loss of control about the situation at hand I also start losing my sense of humor and perspective. I turn into Eeyore and I not only feed on the drama I’ve created, I con myself into thinking that obsessing about my dramatic dilemma is far more important than anything else I could be doing. I need to adopt the mantra suggested by the author, “Sudden problems in my life usually indicate a need to work on my art.” Creativity is fueled by the full range of emotions not just the positive ones. What we create, what defines our ‘art,’ can take on many forms, it can be anything from a masterpiece of a painting, to a beautifully prepared meal, or as simple as arranging flowers in a vase to brighten the winter gloom.
Sometimes breaking through the wall of self-induced or maybe even self-indulgent drama is as easy as Julia cleverly points out, “It is probably not an accident that the verbs exorcise and exercise are so similarly spelled.” I have to admit the comment hit home and I’m now back to regular physical activity and a much improved perspective about life.
As with most things, if we enjoy doing them we strive to improve and to be the best we can, art is no different. “As artists, we are not interested merely in expressing ourselves…We are interested in expressing ourselves more and more accurately, more and more beautifully.” In order to do so, we must be open to being teachable and we need to strive to find excellence in our interactions and our resources. She spoke of how “teachers and students seem to intersect by divine planning more than by set curriculum.” Based on my own experiences, I believe this to be true.
I also think a ‘teacher’ can take on many forms and isn’t limited to a classroom or mentoring relationship. It can be a chance meeting at an author’s luncheon, a conversation in an airport, or even the gift of a book. Life is made up of teaching moments if we are open to them, I think this is true for art as well. It’s important to remember that “[g]uidance and generosity are always closer at hand than we may think. It always falls on us to be open to receiving guidance and to pray for the willingness and openness to know when it arrives.”
In addition to teachers we also need friends. I enjoyed the discussion about the various roles friends play in our lives in the section Before, During and After Friends. The author refers to the need to have friends who fit well in the various phases of our creative stages and sense of self. We need friends who see the swan but also understand that at the same time she looks beautiful and at peace, her feet are churning under the surface and she’s trying to stay afloat. One size does not fit all when it comes to friends, we need people in our lives to “help us leap and land, help us celebrate and mourn,” and they may not always be the same person.
One of the most important friends in our lives could quite possibly be the person that Julia refers to as a “catcher’s mitt…someone whose particular intelligence lights your own.” It’s the person who acknowledges with gentle honesty if the work has a ways to go and encourages you to keep going. They don’t build you up with false praise and they don’t destroy you with harsh criticism. It’s “[s]omeone avidly crouched near home plate. Somebody slapping his mitt a little eagerly and saying, “Put it here.”
Life is not meant to be lived in isolation and art is intended to be shared. It’s critical to the creative process to be discerning about relationships and their impact on us. Discerning doesn’t mean snobbish it means smart and self-aware and is the foundation for a sense of camaraderie, creativity, and happiness. It’s also about maintaining a sense of humor and personal perspective even if it sometimes takes a ‘seventh inning stretch’ to get back in the game.