Going the Distance

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.

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Through the Looking Glass

For the past six weeks I’ve woken up on Saturday morning made a pot of coffee, written in my journal, and raced to my laptop to write about the previous week’s lesson.  That was not the case this week; I started and stopped more times than I can count.  I suppose it’s somewhat ironic that week seven of Walking in This World (Julia Cameron) is entitled Discovering a Sense of Momentum and she introduces it by saying “Creativity thrives on small, do-able actions.  This week dismantles procrastination as a major creative block.”  Apparently I needed to do a bit more dismantling.

I flipped through my notes for the umpteenth time and I found myself coming back to the task Easy Does it but Do it. It dawned on me that while I had completed the task, I hadn’t experienced the lesson.   I read the words and thought I understood what Julia was saying as she explained that ideas, like emotions can cause anxiety and cause you to feel like you are going to explode if they are kept bottled up. She described it as creative logjam resulting from too many not too few ideas and spoke about the concept of taking small positive actions to keep the creative momentum flowing forward. “The truer the dream, the more creative pressure it has, and the more important it is to begin with small actions to keep them from getting frozen up.  Don’t just talk. Do.”

I had to admit to myself that I had just gone through the motions when I followed the instructions to list five areas in my home that could benefit from some straightening up and in doing so I completely missed that the point was not to make a list and think about it, but to actually do it.

I looked at the laundry basket of clothes waiting to be put away and decided to take Julia’s advice, “If your head is awhirl and you ‘cannot think straight,’ then start by straightening something up.  Fold your laundry.  Sort your drawers….often, when we are engaged in such small, homely tasks, a sense of being ‘at home’ will steal over us.  When we take the time to husband the details of our lives, we may encounter a sense of grace.”

One thing led to another and a few hours later, I had a clean house, an organized writing space, a clear head, and a fresh perspective.  I was surprised to find that I was ready to write.

In the midst of it all I had a minor meltdown, but perhaps the author is right and it wasn’t a meltdown as much as it was a break through. “When we have creative breakthroughs, they may look and even be experienced as break downs.  Our normal, ordinary way of seeing ourselves and the world suddenly goes on tilt, and as it does, a new way of seeing and looking at things comes toward us.”

These days my world feels turned upside down and when I look in the mirror I’m not entirely sure who is looking back at me.  I see myself with what Julia refers to as “Strobe-light clarity…We look so different, so impossibly possible to ourselves that we are caught off guard.”  I see my future, not through rose colored glasses, but with frightening precision and at the same time disturbing vagueness. My destiny has changed and so have my dreams.  I don’t know how it will be achieved, but I know it will be.

The chapter ended with the ever so practical advice, Finish Something.  Surprisingly, the ‘something’ wasn’t about finishing a piece of poetry, an essay, or a painting, it was just about ‘finishing.’  I found myself thoroughly engaged by the story of a young composer who bounced from project to project, full of energy and ‘promise,’ but could never quite deliver.

His close friend and mentor advised him to clean up his arranging room, to organize his mess.  He resisted and dawdled, and if not for the gentle prodding of his friend he would have quit.  When he was done he “felt determination,” and moved beyond having ‘promise’ to completing projects and feeling productive.  The author didn’t say so, but I suspect he also felt peace.

We often stop before we start, afraid to try something new.  We forget that we’ve encountered and mastered things we never thought we could. The learning curve isn’t easy, in fact can be downright scary, but it’s also exciting and mysterious and the destination is well worth the trip.

In Living Color…

For years I was baffled as I watched an animated version of Samantha sweep through the black sky and twinkling white stars, loop through the air to draw the B in Bewitched with her broom, followed by the caption, “Now in Living Color.” If it was ‘now in living color,’ why did I see it only in black and white?

I think we’re all fascinated by magic, I still wish I could wiggle my nose like Samantha or cross my arms, blink my eyes, and swing my pony tail with a head bob like Barbara Eden in I Dream of Jeannie and make my dreams come true.  Who hasn’t wanted to fly, wished upon a star, or squeezed their eyes really tight while blowing out candles on a birthday cake, all the while hoping that somehow our secret desires would come true.

Week six of Walking in This World (Julia Cameron) is called Discovering a Sense of Boundaries, and the focus is on how to “interact with the world in ways that minimize negativity and maximize productive stimulation.”

I’m fascinated by Tarot Cards, so I was intrigued by the opening reference to the author’s favorite Tarot card, the Magician.  “He stands alone, holding one arm aloft, summoning the power of the heavens.  He has no audience.  His power – and our own – lies in our connection, personal and private, to the divine.”

In some ways art is a little like magic. We most often associate the word magic with the supernatural, but according to Merriam-Webster, it can also be defined as “something that seems to cast a spell: Enchantment.”  I think it can be said that often art, whether it is music, painting, writing, or any other form casts a spell and entrances us, even if it’s only for a moment.  Like a good sleight of hand, the creative ingredients of a piece of art are as invisible as the magicians well kept secrets.

As I read the section on Containment, I began to understand what she meant when she said “As artists, we must learn to practice containment.  Our ideas are valuable.”  If we share our ideas before they are ready, while they are still incubating, we run the risk of allowing someone who is not insightful or forward thinking to influence us into tossing them aside rather than pursuing them.  We run the same risk as a magician who performs a new trick in public before he has perfected it.  When the audience laughs or even worse yawns with boredom, chances are good that the trick may be tossed aside and if it happens often enough, the magician may stop performing completely.

I’ve always been a believer in bouncing ideas off of people and it seemed counter intuitive to me to keep my ideas to myself until they have taken more of a complete form.  After all why bother pursuing an idea if it doesn’t make sense to others? As I read, I realized that there are many projects and ideas that I’ve tossed aside because I let them out before they were ready.  I abandoned some ideas because they were not well received and others because they were; I became paralyzed at the thought of not being able to fulfill their expectations.  Perhaps Julia is right when she says, “One of the most useful creative laws I know is this: ‘The first rule of magic is containment.’”  It’s not that we shouldn’t share our ideas at all, but that we need to trust our instincts and protect our ideas, we need to limit the risk of abandoning our dreams because we shared them too soon or with the wrong people.

The discussion about ‘containment’ led to the section entitled Inflow, in which Julia described how in our over stimulating world full of cell phones, radios, jobs, friends, family, media, finances, internet, bosses, coworkers, and more, we often find ourselves feeling like we are shouldering the weight of the world and life becomes ’too much,’ and we wonder how long we can continue acting ‘normal.’

In order to create, we need to find ways to manage the inflows and expectations; we need to find time for solitude and focus.  We must learn to protect our creative energy and use it wisely. She explained that this may involve setting boundaries, something I’m not comfortable with.  I’ve always associated setting limits with saying no, and I’ve perceived there to be a risk of rejection within a relationship, disappointing people by not living up to ‘expectations,’ or that I may cause someone I love to hurt.

I never realized that by being honest and gentle with myself and others, boundaries aren’t barriers and honesty and self-respect can serve as catalysts to communication and better relationships. We can all find ‘a room of our own,’ a half hour of privacy in some very simple ways, we can turn off the phone, the computer or the television, and we can say no, not now, but later.  And when later comes our heart and mind will be focused on helping friends and solving problems rather than resenting the interruption and going through the motions. “Setting even such small boundaries is a huge step toward self-care –which leads to the self in self-expression.”

Recently a friend asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?  What’s your dream?”

“I want to leave Corporate America behind and be a full time writer; I’d love to be able to just write. My day job used to define me, but I’ve grown past it. It’s no longer me,” I replied.

Julia knocked the wind out of my sails and in the same instant gave me something to consider when she said, “A day job is not something to “outgrow.” It is something to consider…As artists, we need life or our art is lifeless.”

I think we’re both right. I have grown beyond being defined by my day job, but I do need to pay the rent, and I have to admit that my days are full of inspiration and characters, they are full of life.  I think her point is that we aren’t meant to live in isolation we are meant to thrive in community and when we embrace living our art will shine.

 

 

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…

I have to admit I enjoy a good love story every now and again and there’s nothing more romantic than listening to a beautiful song in candle lit darkness in the arms of a lover.  I think even men secretly enjoy the romantic component found in many books and movies.

I had never thought about why there are so many love songs and stories or why Romance is the hottest selling genre in fiction until I began reading week 5 of Walking in This World (Julia Cameron). The chapter is entitled Discovering a Sense of Personal Territory and Julia was right on target when she alerted me to “Expect to feel heightened emotions as energy rebounds into your own court.”

At first I wondered how in the world I was going to write about the first section, Sexuality vs. Caretaking.  After all, both my parents and my kids read my blog, and well, talking about sexuality could be awkward.

As I read on, I realized that while she introduced the section by saying, “As artists, our sexual energy and our creative energy are very closely intertwined.” She wasn’t talking about the act of sex, but about our human sensuality and passion for life.  Passion and love are words that are often associated with each other and passion is the fuel for art, “creativity is sensual, and so are we.”  Maybe that’s why love is the central theme of so much art.

She also explained how relationships with our partners, friends, and family affect our inner core. And maybe most importantly, how we as artists and as people, “must be alert to what people ask us for and reward us for being. Our partners and friends do condition us into behaviors quite unconsciously.”

When we have people in our lives that stir our imagination and return our investment in them we are inspired and we create, we dance, we sing, we cook, we write, and we love, in short – we thrive.  When keeping the company of those who are overly needy and poke fun at our crazy ideas we shrivel and hide.

She spoke about the necessity of festivity and playfulness in life and for the need to allow ourselves to be child-like so that we can grow.  She challenged a perception that many of us fall prey to: “life is dreary and difficult and something to be soldiered through…the truth is that as children, many of us expected much more.”

She reminded me that when I was young I sang at the top of my lungs, (my microphone was a curling iron), made up dance moves to Cherokee Nation in the living room, produced plays in the basement, and pranced around the neighborhood pretending I was a horse.  I played barber shop and boutique; I was filled with enthusiasm, my imagination ran wild, and I dreamed big dreams.

One of the things I’ve struggled with as my writing dream grows larger and my passion for it swells, is the notion of balance.  I’ve chastised myself about feeling frustrated or even resentful when the phone rings at the wrong time, homework assistance takes priority, or my ‘real’ job gets in the way. Then I wonder if I’m being selfish and maybe I should consider putting my dream on hold.

We’ve all heard the saying, “Charity begins at home,” and if you’re like me you interpret that to mean take care of your family and friends before you take care of others. Maybe we should take it one step further as Julia does, “It means start with being nice to yourself, your authentic self, then try being nice to everyone else.”

That’s not to say we should become self-indulgent or self-absorbed as those behaviors can be as damaging to our creative nature as putting everyone else first can be. It means that we should be honest about who we are, what we need and that we don’t need to take on the responsibility of everyone else’s shortfalls. It’s ok to say no and we should take the time to be nice to ourselves, it’s good for us. “Clarifying ourselves to others brings honest connections that are grounded in mutual respect.  Honesty starts with us…Artificial acceptance of people and circumstances we resent makes us ill tempered. A little self-love does wonders for our personality, and for our art.”

I found the concept of Energy Debts and the idea of thinking about looking at the way a person spends energy in the same way we think about spending money fascinating. Personal boundaries are like a financial budget.  If we spend our creative energy judiciously and do not invest in situations or people that leave us feeling emotionally drained and creatively impoverished our lives will be richer as well as the world around us.

The final task this week was to write a letter to myself, an honest look in the mirror. A reflection on how I’ve been leading my life and ways that I chronically sell myself short and sabotage my own dreams. The task was designed to generate suggestions for change and to identify ways to “invest in yourself energetically.”

Throughout the five pages of my letter, a common theme appeared, “don’t worry so much about who’s the ‘fairest of them all,’ just enjoy being you.”

Faith, Trust, and Pixie Dust…

Yesterday I started out with a plan and it turned into an adventure.  The original idea was to ‘kill two birds with one stone’ by going to the Garden of Reflection, a local memorial for the victims of 9/11 for both my Weekly Walk and my Artists Date.  

I know that’s not exactly what Julia intended when she asked me to commit to regular use of the three basic tools of The Artists Way during the twelve week journey through Walking in This World (Julia Cameron), but I rationalized it by telling myself that it would be better to combine them than to skip one. As it turned out I didn’t combine them at all and the outcome was delightful and it was just the right way to conclude week four, Discovering a Sense of Adventure.

The previous chapters were introduced with words like ‘initiate,’ ‘inaugurate,’ and ‘aim,’ words that convey action but ‘feel’ easy. This week’s introduction felt anything but easy “This week you are asked to jettison some of your personal baggage.”

She went on to explain that the exercises are intended to help gain a greater insight into the things that get in the way of feeling a sense of personal freedom and creativity, things we may not even be aware of.  She said, “You will focus on self-acceptance as a route to self-expression.”

Julia stated, “Humans are by nature adventurous.” She spoke of toddlers exploring, teenagers testing limits, and grandmothers touring Russia. And how we often “ignore our very nature…calling it ‘adulthood’ or ‘discipline,’” which can take on the “form of a stubborn, self-involved crankiness” as a result of turning our back on the child that lives within us.

I’ve come to realize that somewhere along the way I lost my wonder and curiosity, I lost my sense of adventure and ‘lightness.’ Life became about the schedule, the goals, and the perceived expectations.  I had a career to build, a family to support, kids to raise, and an image to uphold. I thought I had to be ‘perfect,’ I didn’t allow myself to be ‘me.’  I lived in the future and not in the moment.

I read and re-read the section entitled, The Verb “To Be.”  I remembered in the previous chapter the author pointed out that “‘Art’ is a form of the verb ‘to be.’”   I absorbed her words: “‘Art’ is less about what we could be and more about what we are than we normally acknowledge.  When we are fixated on getting better, we miss what it is we already are.”  A week and several drafts of this paragraph later, it dawned on me that she’s not just talking about writing, painting, or composing, she’s talking about living and about appreciating who we are, not wishing we were better.

Nothing in my life has been done ‘according to plan,’ but I realize now that it also hasn’t happened by accident.  In the times that I acknowledged my true desires, committed myself to an idea, followed my intuition, believed in myself, and had faith, somehow against all odds. I succeeded.

The final section made me wonder how Julia knew about my daily internal debate: how do I pursue getting published (and paid for it)? Do I follow the practical methods prescribed by the books I’ve read and the classes I’ve taken or do I follow my intuition, write what I love and hope that if I continue to ‘build it,’ it will come? 

I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Over the past year, I’ve waffled between being excited and discouraged about the thought of writing query letters and articles as a means to an end (the end being to be published and paid for it), to have a second career, to become a writer. When I began taking classes the idea excited me and the constraints of topics assigned through lessons and within the narrow needs of a publication felt comfortable and I ‘knew’ what I should write.  But now, the more I write what I want without direction or constraints, the happier I am and the more I ‘know’ what I should write.

I take hope in the author’s belief that, “Since each of us is one-of-a-kind, the market, for all its supposed predictability, is actually vulnerable to falling in love with any of us at any time.” 

There seems to be something in each chapter that is specifically for me. Creating the collage last week sparked a latent desire within me to draw.  My favorite task this week was Draw Yourself to Scale, the assignment was to buy a sketch book, a new artist’s tool. One intended to help me freeze time and to capture life’s adventures as I live them. It now contains six pencil drawings.

In my other blog, I’m known as Tinkerbeth and I often refer to my world as Never Never Land, which ironically is the home of Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up and is always having an adventure.  Being a ‘child at heart’ doesn’t equate to being irresponsible or un-adult like, it means it’s ok to do something just because it delights us. 

Discovering a Sense of Adventure, is not about bungee jumping, mountain climbing, or parasailing. It’s stepping over a chain link fence and venturing onto property marked private to take pictures of an abandoned radio station and drinking in the beauty that surrounds you instead of panicking when you get lost trying to find the Garden of Reflection.  It’s about taking risks, following your intuition, having faith, and accepting yourself.

It may turn out that accepting me will be the most exciting adventure of all.

A Spoonful of Sugar

For some reason when I read the introduction to week three, Discovering a Sense of Perspective, I flashed back to the second movie I remember seeing as a child, it was a ‘date’ with my uncle and we saw Mary Poppins. The lyrics to A Spoonful of Sugar filled my head so quickly I halfway expected to turn and see Julie Andrews standing in my bedroom pulling a spoon and a bottle of medicine out of her carpetbag.

Each step of Walking in this World (by Julia Cameron) begins with an overview and a statement of purpose, “The readings and tasks of this week aim at detoxifying your thinking regarding the arts and your place as an artist in our society.  Art is tonic and medicinal for us all. As an artist you are a cultural healer.”

She captured my attention immediately with her opening statement, “We are all artists – some of us are declared, accomplished, and publicly esteemed artists. Others of us are the private kind, making artful homes and artful lives…”  It struck me that we tend to equate creativity with the traditional arts such as painting, drawing, music, or film, and we often confuse being famous with having talent; we minimize ourselves, our ‘art’ and our contributions.

I take notes as I read; my reactions combined with direct quotes fill the pages of my spiral notebook and further cement me along the path of this journey.  Sometimes I replace a name within a quote with mine as I absorb the stories that seem to be written just for me. I found comfort in the tale of Sarah, a woman who lived much of her life feeling depressed and ‘crazy,’ and whose life was transformed through a re-discovery of writing and a way to “channel and express her colorful inner selves.”

The story concluded with a quote; “‘I abandoned my dream and myself.’ Finding the courage to dream again, Sarah Beth also found that the parts of her she had misplaced were alive and well – once they were finally welcome.”

I struggled with some aspects of this chapter, and a week later I still find myself journaling and processing the section on Anger and the task to Use Anger as Fuel.  The assignment was to number a list from 1 to 50 and write grievances from petty to large, each sentence beginning with the words “I’m angry.”  While writing the list, the challenge was to also jot down solutions to address the anger and solve the problem.

Anger is an emotion that tires me; I am a person who avoids conflict and confrontation. I keep coming back to the following, “Anger is a call to action.  It is challenging and important to let our light shine.  It is important to name ourselves rather than wait for someone else to do it…Anger should not be denied or suppressed it should be used to ‘make something out of it,’ to create.”

I thought about times in which I had every right to be angry, but instead I buried my head in the sand and didn’t ‘name myself’ or speak up for me. I also realized it wasn’t just the feeling of anger that had been missing.  Over the years I had begun to equate being strong with being stoic, “A person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining.”

I have to think about what she’s saying as more than anger, I interpret it as meaning all emotions, to feel is to live, and to live is to create.  I’ve been told that when I ‘write from the heart,’ it’s obvious and beautiful.  I know that when I ‘write from the heart’ it can hurt and I sometimes cry. I’ve also learned it helps me heal.

My favorite task from this week was the creation of a collage. Armed with the directions I gathered a stack of magazines, poster board, scissors, tape and a notebook. I thought of a recurring theme, she said use “a situation you would like to understand more fully.” With that subject in mind for twenty minutes I thumbed through Writer’s Digest, Philly Magazine, Cosmo, Bon Appétit, and All You and snipped out pictures I was drawn to.  I spent the next twenty minutes arranging them on the poster board and the last twenty minutes writing about it.

What I created surprised me. It was the story of me, a pictorial representation of how I am moving beyond my past, becoming me, learning to ‘live large,’ claiming my beauty and my talent, and last but not least my dreams.  In my journal I wrote, “I am leaving my past behind me and I am believing in the dreams I once had…It is my future, it is my time.” 

It now hangs on my bedroom wall.

Throughout the chapter, she refers to art as therapeutic, not therapy, and points out that “Books, poems, plays, symphonies – they aim at healing the soul.”  Like the spoonful of sugar helped the medicine go down, artists take human emotions and fears and transform them into works of art that make us feel better about life and about ourselves.

We are all artists. [Julia Cameron]

 

 

Star Light, Star Bright…I Wish I May, I Wish I Might…

I Wish I May...I Wish I Might..

I love the classic Disney films because most often they are about wishes and dreams being fulfilled.  From Cinderella to Simba, the characters overcome obstacles, find the courage to follow their dreams, discover beauty within themselves, and learn that wishes really can come true.

Throughout the past two weeks I’ve faithfully written my Morning Pages, taken myself out on an Artist’s Date and have pondered and gained insights during my Weekly Walk.  Week two in Walking in this World (by Julia Cameron) is entitled Discovering a Sense of Proportion, and “inaugurates an ongoing process of self-definition.”  Julia introduced me to the chapter with these words, “As you redraw the boundaries and limits within which you have lived, you draw yourself to a fuller size.”

As human beings we’re filled with self doubt, some of us more than others. When we look in the mirror we see ourselves as ordinary and maybe even odd, we wonder if we’ll ever ‘fit in’ and whether or not anyone will find us beautiful. But, if we close our eyes and turn off the voices, we see the part of us that we’re afraid to let out.  I think Julia says it best, “Part of us knows we’re more than they see; part of us fears we’re less than we hope.”

I cried when I read the story she told of a man who became a composer after two decades of denying the truth in the compliments he received about his talent. He had convinced himself that he was ‘just the appreciator’ in a family of musicians. It took a trip and time spent with people who knew nothing about him or his ‘musically gifted’ family for him to begin ‘jotting down notes.’ When he returned, “He didn’t call himself a composer, a songwriter, or even a musician, but he did call himself happy.”

It made me wonder how much we hold ourselves back because of how we think others see us.  And it struck me that often we are lucky enough to have people in our lives that see more than we do, people that challenge us to see ourselves as creative and competent, who encourage us to “spread our wings,” and to become who we were meant to be. 

I was also reminded how I discovered my love for writing, how I heard the words but not the message when people told me how much they enjoyed reading what I wrote.  “You’re very nice, but I’m not a writer,” I would respond.  Thanks to a persistent friend, I took my first writing class and I now know that whether or not I become famous or ever earn a dime doing it, writing has become like breathing and I call myself happy now.

The previous chapter focused on self acceptance and faith, this week she carried those themes through while gently nudging us into the world of growth, transformation and the idea of ‘living large.’  Living large doesn’t mean driving a flashy car, living in a mansion, or vacationing in the trendiest hot spot, it means admitting dreams, miniaturizing doubts, and trying on pieces of our new identity one step at a time. 

I was moved by her reference to Nelson Mandela who remarked that “we do no one any favors ‘hiding our light’ and pretending to be ‘smaller than we are.’”

I’ve never considered myself to be a ‘dreamer,’ but I am an unrivaled ‘wisher,’ which is why I think my favorite task was to create a wish list. The instructions were to number a blank sheet of paper from 1 to 20 and complete the phrase “I wish” as quickly as possible, ranging from large to small, whatever came to mind. My list ran the gambit, everything from “I wish” my tummy was flatter to “I wish” I was debt free, and “I wish” I could write a book.

I was amazed at what came next.  She revealed the secret of the list, “Very often, each ‘wish’ will suggest some small action.” I read over my list and made notes in the margin. Out of the twenty items, the only one I couldn’t take at least one small action toward making it reality was, “I wish travel was less expensive.”  In that moment, I realized that my wishes are also my dreams, and that within me lies the power to help them come true.

I hung on every word as she explained that “art is not linear” and that “life is as much about mystery as it is about mastery.” I thought about transformation, and the many times in my life that I was ready for change and somehow just what I needed found its way to me.

The final task was once again the most difficult and yet the most illuminating.  After answering a series of questions designed to invite feelings of vulnerability and expose secret dreams, I was asked to write a letter to myself, to my ‘inner artist’ about the dream that was revealed and to find a concrete form in which to take action toward achieving it.

I’m not quite ready to share my innermost dreams, I’m still ‘trying them on for size.’  The letter to myself concluded with the following.  “Continue to express your humor and intelligence through your words.  Continue to ‘build it’ and ‘it will come’.”

Wishes,
Dream a dream
Wishes,
Set it free
Wishes,
Trust your heart,
Just believe     [Jiminy Cricket]

I Wish I May...I Wish I Might..
I Wish I May...I Wish I Might..

Without “Rests,” Music Would just be Noise

Until recently I have always thought about music from the perspective of the notes, the magnificence of a complex score, the blending of voices and instruments in perfect harmony, and the rhythms that move me. I’ve never thought about the importance of “rests.” Without them, music would be bedlam and not beauty.

Today marks the completion of the first week of twelve in my experience with Walking in This World: The Practical Art of Creativity, by Julia Cameron.  I think the book is best summarized by the quote on the inside flap. “In this sequel to her international bestseller The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron presents the next step in her course of discovering and recovering the creative self.  Part Two is an amazing journey toward realizing our human potential.”

The book was a birthday gift from the beautiful artist who owns the home I rent.  I will always associate the vibrant colors of the walls that protect and surround me with the discovery of my ‘artist within’ and the recovery of ‘me.’

There are some basic tools needed for the journey: Morning Pages, The Artist’s Date, and Weekly Walks.  Each tool has a purpose.  Morning Pages are the quiet private place in which you release your worries, fears, hopes and dreams. Three pages of uncensored writing every morning to drain off the negativity, gain insights, and make room for imagination and wonderment.

The Artist’s Date is a once a week solo outing to explore and discover, its “assigned play.”  The assignment is to discover and explore things that are intriguing.  Anything goes; it can be a trip to a museum, a visit to that store with the crazy window display, a flea market or a renaissance fair.

The Weekly Walk is the time to take a break from the hectic pace of living life “on the run,” a time to slow down and “Walk on it.” It’s a commitment of twenty minutes a week to walk, think, and unwind.

In addition to promising to use the tools throughout the course of the book, you commit yourself to excellent self-care, adequate sleep, good food, and gentle companionship.  Naturally it is the author’s hope that these tools extend beyond the twelve weeks and become a part of life.

The first week is entitled Discovering a Sense of Origin, and is based on the premise that “You are the point of origin” and “The willingness to be ourselves gives us the origin in originality.”

From the moment I read the introduction I felt as if Julia had written this book specifically for me and without ever having met me, she somehow knew exactly who I am, what my struggles and fears are, and just how to talk to me.

She spoke of living life as we move, one step at a time, and the importance of savoring what we have been given.  I often spend my time worrying about everything from what my next flatware pattern will be, to what will I do in two years when my lease runs out, whether or not I’ll be able to ‘pull off’ the next assignment at work, and I wonder if people would still like me if they ‘really’ knew me.

Throughout the lesson, the concept of one step at a time was like the steady beat of a snare drum introducing the instruments and driving the orchestra through to the end of a magnificent message. The message delivered through words rather than music was one of self-acceptance and faith.

When we have faith in the Great Creator and believe in ourselves, what we need will come to us.  That’s not to say that we can hide behind closed doors and wish for the financial means to achieve our goals.  It’s saying that we need to commit to our dreams and take action to achieve them and when we do abundance will follow.

Surrounded by the golden Tuscany walls of my bedroom I read. As I read, I recalled the many times in my life that I was ready to throw in the towel, then/and out of nowhere and when I least expected it I received exactly what I needed and usually in an unexpected form. I don’t do well with the unknown; it makes me crazy and sometimes grumpy.  I want to control the outcome and ‘make’ things happen the way I think they should.  I’m slowly realizing that while I think worrying is somehow important, it doesn’t change the outcome, it only takes away from the joy of experiencing today.  Worrying about the future creates a steady and unpleasant noise in my head that prevents me from enjoying the present.

The final task was my favorite and also the most difficult as well as the most releasing.  The task was to “do nothing.” I read the title and immediately thought, “I have no idea how to ‘Do Nothing’.”  Thank goodness Julia realized this and she gave me detailed instructions.

The exercise was to queue up fifteen minutes worth of calming and expansive music, lie down and close your eyes and let your mind wander, giving your thoughts over to the phrase, “I am enough.” Her parting words to me were, “Stop striving to be more and appreciate what it is you already are.” I wept.

I think the exercise was about self-acceptance, but I also think it was about more than that.  She spoke of lessons we can learn from music, and how without “rests” between notes, listening to music would be unbearable. It struck me that life is like a symphony or maybe a rock concert, it’s composed of notes created by laughter and tears, hushed whispers and gregarious greetings, and the touch of a loved one.

We tend to rush from one ‘note’ to the next and let worries fill the spaces between them, and in doing so we feel overwhelmed and lose sight of the beauty of the music that is life.