A Creative Reboot

“We are never too old to be young at heart. Being young at heart means simply being willing to be a beginner.” ~ Julia Cameron.

On September 15, 2011, exactly seven years ago to the date, I picked up the book “Walking in This World” by Julia Cameron and began my creative journey in earnest. It was and still is a non-linear path of both self discovery and exploration.

Yesterday, I had the good fortune to attend an all-day intensive workshop led by Julia, one of the most inspirational authors in the creative world. The opportunity found its way to me as a part of a three day Creative Reboot workshop held in Santa Fe, NM.

Downtown Santa Fe NM

What an amazing and energizing day it was!! The time in Julia Cameron’s workshop absolutely flew by. It was worth every penny. Not only was she wonderful, the attendees were as well. The positive energy in the room was contagious and uplifting.

It’s hard to describe what it feels like to be surrounded by at least 200 creative, compassionate, caring souls. It’s safe, it’s comforting, it’s affirming and it’s rejuvenating. It’s just what the doctor ordered to help me break through the creative slump I’ve been experiencing for the past several months.

Every teacher has had a powerful message for all of the artists in attendance, each one of us connecting with the teachings in our own personal ways.

The final workshop on Friday night concluded with a Firewalk, yep, a Firewalk. Approximately 200 brave and more than slightly skeptical individuals, including your’s truly, walked over a bed of hot coals after chanting to the beat of a drum to raise the overall vibration and set individual intentions.

It took more than a few long moments for the first person to be brave enough to take the walk, but once she did it took mere seconds for the rest of us to follow suit and take our turn walking barefoot across the red embers.

It was empowering and thought shifting. From the time we are little, we’re told that fire burns. There’s no part of our rational mind that would say “walking across hot burning coals is a great idea.” But somehow being there, being caught up in the pulsing energy of the crowd, watching each novice firewalker be enveloped in hugs at the end of their walk made it feel like a very good idea.

We were all exhilarated afterwards. Each of us had been courageous enough to face and overcome a long held limiting personal belief, and not about the dangers of fire – the fire was the teacher.

Now, I’m not advocating for people to go out and try something like this on their own. It’s kind of one of those things that should be supervised by professionals. :). However, I am advocating, and recommitting myself to take a look at my own limiting beliefs – the “things” that are getting the way, to get back to creating powerfully and trusting in Divine timing.

The workshop is only half-way over. There’s another session led by Julia Cameron, entertainment this evening (I wonder what that will bring…) and more sessions tomorrow, but I had to take a few moments over my lunch break to celebrate my creative reboot.

I find it fascinating to know that this event coincides with the exact anniversary of my first creative reboot guided in part by the words of Julia Cameron; this time in person.

I’m back!

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A Walk in the Park

I can tend to be a creature of habit when it comes to certain aspects of my life, especially if it’s an activity that involves the possibility of getting lost. Try as I might to change it, the fact is that I’m what you would call directionally challenged.

My adventures in getting lost include ending up in the wrong state (more than once), taking the wrong train home and arriving at social events way beyond fashionably late even when I start out thinking I know where I’m going. As it turns out, GPS systems aren’t infallible. 🙂

My fear of getting lost isn’t limited to cars, trains and planes – it also influences where I walk, I stick to the towpath and taking the same route through a nearby neighborhood both there and back home. It would be impossible to get lost on the towpath, it runs parallel to the Delaware river for 60 miles and the only decision I have to make is whether I want to turn right or left out of the neighborhood and onto the trail.

The route might always be the same, but it’s never boring. There’s always something interesting and beautiful along the way and it’s one of my favorite places to think.

blue heron against a back drop of wild flowers

The area I live in is full of places to walk, run or bike – one of the local favorites is Tyler State Park. It’s 1,700 hilly acres interconnected with curving trails for pedestrians, bicycles and horses. The gravel trails through the woods are my youngest son’s favorite place to go for a run, not so much mine.

The first winter we lived here, I learned about a local running club that hosts a winter race series in Tyler Park. Looking back, I’m not sure what I was thinking, but at the time it seemed like it could be a good way to meet people and make friends. The people in the club were super nice and also wicked fast.

At the time I could keep up a 12 minute pace (on a good day and a flat course); the average pace of the runners in the group was 9 minutes or less per mile (every day and on a hilly course). It was all I could do to go fast enough to keep the last runner in sight so I wouldn’t take a wrong turn and end up lost in the middle of the park, especially on a long run. Thankfully they always had one or more volunteers stationed at the danger spots and I always found my way back to the boathouse.

Last Sunday I finally took Christian up on his offer to take me on a guided walking tour of his favorite spots in Tyler Park. We snagged the last open parking spot, laced up our shoes, grabbed a couple of giant bubble wands out of the trunk and headed into the park.

First stop, the Algae Slide. Apparently it’s the favorite spot for selfies among high school aged girls and young couples.

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From there we headed off of the paved trails, across a wooden bridge and into the woods, needless to say it was not a route I’d have taken on my own. 🙂

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Unfortunately the bridge that connects the business of the park with the solitude of nature is covered in graffiti and littered with drug paraphernalia. It’s such a shame that people don’t show respect for the world around them.

For the next hour or so, my 19 year old son and I hiked up and down the trail,

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stopped to enjoy little glimpses of nature like this tiny little toad,

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blew big bubbles in the clearings with our bubble wands

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and enjoyed the beautiful surroundings.

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Even though Christian was my guide, I have to admit that I sighed a little breath of relief when we emerged back out of the woods into a more familiar spot.

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It was a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Life Life Fully and Freely

Live LIfe Fully

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost exactly two years since I read “Walking in This World,” by Julia Cameron. It would be an understatement to say that it changed my life; although would probably be more accurate to say it was a catalyst for change.

It took me more than 12 weeks to finish the book, but as with most things in life the outcome was better because I didn’t force the process.In my final essay, I summed up what I’d learned:

  • Savor life – live with humor, joy, and passion.  Use feelings as fuel for creativity and creation.
  • Make something of yourself – do something, be something, make something.  Be who you are and continue to strive to become who you were meant to be.  Don’t be afraid to try, don’t be afraid to fail, and don’t be afraid to succeed.
  • Accept yourself– be yourself, trust yourself, be childlike, own and understand your relationships, be aware and follow your instincts, be accountable, and last but not least, be kind to yourself.
  • Have faith – ask for and accept help, be teachable, life is spiritual, art is spiritual and it is healing. Follow your dreams and treat them as real.
  • We commune through art – when we create from the heart and not from the ego we experience a clarity of purpose and feelings of joy.

I continue to learn about synchronicity, serendipity, and faith. I don’t think it’s any mystery that many of the teachings of Louise Hay are congruent with the teachings of Julia Cameron. One of the concepts they both teach about is the concept of living life fully. Julia in particular reminds us to remember our inner child and to create time to play as an adult.

For some reason when we “grow up” we forget about the wonder of life we, forget about curiosity, and we take things too seriously. I know that happened to me. 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 worried about the future, re-hashed the past, and forgot to be present in the moment.

I’m re-learning the lesson that, being in “child at heart” doesn’t equate to being irresponsible or un-adult like, it means it’s okay to do something just because it delights us.

And now to share my most recent little art journal entries 🙂

letting go of the past is the path to the future

Happy Anniversary and…A Leap of Faith…

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since I took a deep breath, clicked on the publish button, and whala!  I published my very first post ‘Wow! That was ‘Eye Popping 3d’

I actually started blogging six years ago on beginnertriathlete.com only I had no idea that’s what I was doing. It’s an online community that provides an awesome support system for triathletes and athletes of all ages, stages, levels of experience, and involvement.  I’m fairly certain I would have been classified as a lurker for the first few months.

My blog there is set to private so I can write in all lower case, not worry about punctuation (I doubt I’ve ever used a semi colon in a post) and I publish my posts in color, usually some shade of purple or deep pink.

We have a tradition there and it has to do with milestones.  As a community we love to write about our accomplishments;  whether it be an athletic endeavor, a personal achievement, or the fact that we earned one more sparkly star on the way to 25,000 posts.

If I think about it, I started my creative writing endeavors and boosted my community blogger ranking with an ongoing series that was dubbed ‘Nibbs Notes.’

I’m still not sure how it happened, but somehow during one of our online fitness challenges I became the team historian.  We had so many people posting their updates that no one could keep up.  I took it upon myself to write daily and sometimes twice daily versions of “The World According to Beth,” aka “Nibbs Notes.”  Which of course was made up of comments taken out of context and was much more entertaining that the truth.

It seems appropriate to celebrate my 100th post on It’s a Whole New World with a special entry and an introduction to my new blog, A Leap of Faith.  This is not a replacement; it’s in addition to my current blog (I must be crazy).

It’s a way for me to share excerpts from my book while it’s underway.  I’ll be posting snippets and sections that may make it to the final version or may end up on the cutting room floor in the final stages of editing, but either way they are thoughts that I want to share.

I hope you enjoy following   A Leap of Faith as it comes to life.

If You Build it They will Come

What do Mahatma Gandhi and Ray Kinsella, the character played by Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, have in common?  One man is real, of great historical significance, and influenced people around the world. The other is a fictional character who hears “a voice,” builds a baseball field in the middle of his farm in a film which is described as fantasy-drama.

When my landlord and friend gave me the book Walking in This World, The Practical art of Creativity (Julia Cameron) for my fiftieth birthday I was thrilled and I couldn’t wait to begin it so I could learn more about how to be a better writer.  I had no idea who Julia Cameron was or what to expect but I knew Jeanne-Marie viewed me as an artist and gave me the book to help me pursue my dream.

Before the end of the first page, I knew I had to write about my experience with the book and share what I learned and its powerful impact on my life.  I originally intended to write one essay after each week and one final essay to summarize what I learned and how I felt about each chapter. I naively thought that my final essay would be the conclusion of the journey, and that I would be able to cleverly communicate the recurring ideas and my interpretations of them in 1200 words or so.

I boiled it down to a list of five themes and read through my journals and the book to capture the concepts.

•    Savor life – live with humor, joy, and passion.  Use feelings as fuel for creativity and creation.
•    Make something of yourself – do something, be something, make something.  Be who you are and continue to strive to become who you were meant to be.  Don’t be afraid to try, don’t be afraid to fail, and don’t be afraid to succeed.
•    Accept yourself – be yourself, trust yourself, be childlike, own and understand your relationships, be aware and follow your instincts, be accountable, and last but not least, be kind to yourself.
•    Have faith – ask for and accept help, be teachable, life is spiritual, art is spiritual and it is healing. Follow your dreams and treat them as real.
•    We commune through art – when we create from the heart and not from the ego we experience a clarity of purpose and feelings of joy.

Three weeks and fifty pages of notes and thoughts later I realized that I am far from done writing about this experience and it will continue to be a part of my life for the rest of my life.  I think that’s something that would make Julia smile.

Although I don’t recall her using the word conviction specifically, the author communicated the importance of treating your dreams as real and that when you do so they will come true.  Gandhi stood firm in his conviction that the British would leave India, Ray Kinsella followed his instincts and did something that seemed crazy.  We all know people who have achieved great things that have nothing to do with being famous or wealthy.

From everyday heroes to world leaders the thing they have in common is that they were not only brave enough to have a dream, they believed in it, they followed it, they inspired people, and they made it happen. I’m sure that even Gandhi had a restless night or two and felt doubt creep in between his head and the pillow but when morning arrived he was true to his beliefs and didn’t waiver in his pursuits.

When I started Walking in This World, I had a dream and my dream was to write.  What I didn’t realize is while I had defined it and I had tentatively said it out loud, I was missing conviction and purpose, the most important ingredients to making it a reality.

I concluded that the most fitting way for me to summarize my experience with Walking in This World would be to take a deep breath, share, and continue to write.

In its unedited and original form:

I have a dream, and my dream is to become a published author with books in multiple genres.  I have three books in mind right now, the first and most important one to me is entitled A Leap of Faith, an Artist’s Journey into the Light. It is a story of discovery, it is my story of self-discovery and coming into my own.  It will be inspiring to people who think it is too late for them and for people who have similar feelings about themselves as I do, but don’t have the words with which to express their thoughts. I am driven to write because I want to be of service to others, I want to help young people make good choices and I want to help people at any stage of life realize that they can change, they can recover and soar.  I particularly want to help women understand that they can be care-givers without giving up their identity, the importance of being in positive relationships, and we are all stronger than we know. I want to teach and inspire, I want to help, I want to change the world and make it a better place. My dream is to do so through my writing, I will make people laugh, make them cry, help them feel, and make them think. I have experienced and survived things that should be shared in a way that will be helpful to others. I have the talent, I have the drive, and I now have the conviction to pursue my dreams and write my first book and many more.

I Could Have had a V8

What started as a clever ad campaign for V8 vegetable juice somehow became a phrase synonymous with “Wow, if only I had known, I’d have made a different choice.”  Sometimes we don’t feel the accompanying thunk on the head until days, weeks, or maybe even years later often times because we weren’t aware that there was a choice.

Our society is obsessed with “making it big” and we’ve left little to no room for the pursuit of dreams.  We convince ourselves that our day jobs are all that we are and all that we can be and our childhood desires of becoming anything from an actress to an athlete, to a chef or a master Gardner get shelved away.  We buy into the notion that if we can’t make it big, there’s no point in trying and we forget that as children we once knew how to dream.  We “grow up” and we do the responsible thing, we put our aspirations on the back burner and promise ourselves that someday we’ll find our way back to them.

Often if we’re brave enough to admit our true desires we’re met with responses such as, “Why would you want to do ‘that’?” and with good intentions we’re reminded that “there’s no money in it,” “shouldn’t you focus on your career?” and “it’ll take away from family time.”  I think the most dampening of all is the one spoken without looking up from behind the newspaper, “oh really, uh huh, yeah that’s nice.”

I was raised during a time and age in which pursuing a practical curriculum followed by an equally practical and hopefully financially rewarding career may not have been expected, but it was encouraged.  I attended college during one of the first times in history that a career for a woman was not perceived to be limited to a teacher, nurse, or wife.  Like most seventeen year olds I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and in 1979 anything in the Business College was the degree of choice for those of us without an obvious gift or burning passion.

Unfortunately when I graduated, or more specifically after one more summer of life guarding, jobs were far and few between, and truth to be told, I hadn’t looked very hard.  Between believing I had landed the perfect husband-to-be and in spite of what I thought my aspirations “should be,” I was relieved to think that my degree was something I wasn’t going to need.   My thoughts hadn’t moved beyond enjoying one last carefree summer and finding a job to pass the time while I waited for his December commencement ceremony.  I was certain the summer would end with the question “will you marry me?” and not with the words “I’m sorry, I’ve met someone else…”

Heartbroken and irrational I somehow managed to convince myself that selling disability insurance door to door in rural Nebraska was a good opportunity and a way to move on.  During those brief months, I experienced everything from being invited into a stranger’s home for roast beef and mashed potatoes to being chased off of a porch with the wave of a shotgun. I also enjoyed the first and hopefully last experience of being stuck up to my ankles in sludge and being pelted simultaneously with rain and mud wondering if we’d ever get the car unstuck.

The car belonged to the only other woman on the road with me and many nights we laughed until we cried as we shared our mishaps and tried to convince each other we weren’t crazy. We concluded that we, in fact, weren’t crazy, the job and everyone else was.

One night we decided that it would be easier to just leave than to actually resign, so under the cover of darkness, we packed our bags said goodbye to the job, the run down motel, promised to keep in touch, and swore we would write a book.  We actually sat down at the typewriter and started composing on more than one occasion, but one reason after another got in the way and before long we convinced each other that it just wasn’t practical and we went our separate ways.

It was the last time I talked or thought about writing anything other than a business presentation, a cover letter, or an email until I heard about a place called “Sometime Isle.”  I heard about this “island” while attending a book signing and luncheon at a small café in Dorset, Minnesota.  I found myself surrounded by ardent fans of the author’s series about life on the plains.  They alternated between hanging on her every word and peppering her with questions about what would happen next to their favorite characters – their friends.

I didn’t connect with the personalities she described from her stories and I was relieved when she moved from her books to her personal experiences because that meant the lecture was drawing to a close.  Suddenly I found myself listening and not daydreaming.  She spoke of career, marriage, and motherhood; she revealed the dreams that had been tucked away with prayers that ended in “Sometime I’ll…”  She provided inspiration with her story of taking a risk, attending a writers conference on a whim, and becoming a published author after she turned fifty.

I surprised myself when I felt my hand raise in response to her question, “Do any of you have a secret dream? Have you ever said to yourself, ‘sometime I’ll write a book, sometime I’ll paint a landscape, sometime I’ll take a cooking class, sometime I’ll….” I recalled the book I’d started twenty five years before as well as the painting, drawing, and piano lessons I’d started and stopped in between.  She dared each of us to consider taking one small step toward moving off of Sometime Isle.

I’ve thought about that day often and wondered how someone so different from me could have made such an impact on my life. Since then I’ve taken half a dozen writing classes, started a blog, and have more than a few ideas for a book. I even pulled out my sketch pad and am taking a drawing class.  I may never have a book published, but I’ll write one.  I may never make a dime pursuing my passions, but I’m devoting time to them.

Every time I hear myself say “Sometime I’ll…”  I think of her story and remind myself that it’s never too late.

I’ve Been Framed

Teachers can have a profound and lasting impact on us.  While overall I have positive memories of school, there are a few incidents that I remember like they happened yesterday.  Like the time I tried hiding my stewed tomatoes in my milk carton in an attempt to fool the teacher monitoring the lunchroom into thinking I had actually eaten them so I could go out to recess.

It was an epic fail, she not only caught me but I found myself bundled for the weather and watching the snow crunch under my classmates’ feet from the window.

I think I got in trouble a grand total of four times throughout grade school and on at least one of those occasions I was not the perpetrator.  In some ways I have to laugh when I think about the fact that I was such a chatterbox in art class that my teacher thought the solution was to put dry paper towels in my mouth.  I admit it did the trick and I was quiet in class from that point on.

Unfortunately it also had an unintended consequence and I developed a negative association with drawing and art classes in general.  I avoided them like the plague, took only what was required, made sure to stay a safe distance from the instructor, and did the bare minimum.

I’m not sure why it is but it seems that as human beings, some of us more than others, we are pre-disposed to remembering the negative experiences and we allow them to limit ourselves when it comes to achieving our full potential.  Combine that with a healthy dose of perfectionism and you have a recipe for never trying or, in my case, more than a few false starts.

After college I dabbled a bit in the world of drawing and painting with a few lessons and a class. I created a couple of pieces I was happy with.  However I never really put my heart into it and I paid more attention to the ones that didn’t turn out instead of those that did. I highly doubt it was the experience in fourth grade that caused the start and stop syndrome, although that’s what I tended to blame it on.  It was more likely the fact that I like things to come easily and when they don’t I tend to quit.

The most amusing attempt was when I registered to take a life drawing class with Jeff.  Little did I know that a life drawing class didn’t mean penciling bowls of fruit and landscapes but involved portraying the human form in charcoal.  I’ve always been intimidated by the prospect of creating a representation of a person, let alone when they are nude and my easel is set up next to my seventeen year old son’s.

As a result of my experience with Walking in This World (Julia Cameron), I dusted off my desire to draw, bought a sketch book, and took the bold step of registering for the Intermediate/Advanced level drawing class through a local organization, Artists of Yardley.

I was petrified the first day of class.  My one and only “real” class took place twenty-two years ago.  I perched in front of the easel stiff and nearly paralyzed, staring at the sunflower we were supposed to reproduce. Unsure of everything including which one of the two dozen pencils I should use I picked one and drew a circle, the center of the flower.

I felt my instructors hand on my waist and the other on my arm.

“Relax, you can draw.  I can tell,” she said.

“I really think I should have waited for the next beginner session,” I replied.

She touched my shoulder, “You’re right where you should be. When you complete this, I really hope you frame it because it’s going to be beautiful.”

I took a deep breath, nodded, and tried not to look at the other students as petals and leaves seemed to fly out of their hands and onto the paper. After three hours my outline was complete and I had shaded seven petals, less than a third of what anyone else had completed.  I have to admit that I felt the symptoms of start and stop again syndrome coming on strong and the voice inside my head said, “You can’t do it and you shouldn’t even try.  It’s too hard and the other students are so much better.”

I posted my unfinished drawing on Facebook, used the encouragement and feedback from friends and my instructor’s words, “you can draw” and “you’re right where you should be” to drown out the doubts.

Three years ago today I discovered a town named New Hope and bought a necklace, a silver sun, which I haven’t taken off outside of airport security and the chiropractor since I put it on.  Yesterday I completed my sunflower, a flower that represents the sun and like the sun it symbolizes warmth and happiness and for me it also stands hope and faith. I enjoy the ironies and coincidences life brings.

I can’t wait to show it to my instructor followed by a trip to Michaels after which I can officially say, “I’ve been framed.”

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It’s Never too Late to Bloom

sunflower a work in progress
As a young girl I enjoyed few things more than losing myself in the adventures of The Boxcar Children (Gertrude Chandler Warner)and Pippi Longstocking (Astrid Lindgren), but my favorite will always be the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.   Every time I opened the pages and began to read, I became Laura (of course with the exception of Farmer Boy).  I’m not sure what I identified with the most; it could have been that her family moved often, maybe it was because it was set in the Midwest, or perhaps I saw myself somewhere inside the girl with the spunky and offbeat spirit.  I think I secretly wanted my nickname to be Half-Pint.
 

I recently found myself once again identifying with Laura, although this time it was with the author not the character.  I was blown away when I learned that her adventure as a writer began when she was in her forties and she got her start by writing columns about rural life for a couple of publications in Missouri. I was even more inspired by the fact that she was sixty-five when her first book Little House in the Big Woods was published. I never would have guessed that the “real” Laura was a late bloomer.  I also nearly spit my coffee out all over the keyboard when I read that her daughter Rose was her editor and collaborator.

It reminded me of my relationship with my daughter (and editor) Katie and our good natured banter and email exchanges; not only does she help me wade through the mysteries of when to use a semi colon and not a comma, she also provides me with great suggestions and isn’t afraid to let me know when a piece needs some “fine tuning” or in some cases “fine tunaing.”

I still enjoy living new experiences and adventures vicariously through characters created by my favorite authors, but these days I’m also creating a few of my own.  I’d been thinking about taking a drawing class for a couple of months but I hadn’t done anything past bookmarking the site and waffling about whether or not it would be a good decision.

I finally got up the nerve to register for the beginning drawing class. I provided my information, took a deep breath, clicked the submit registration button, and then didn’t know whether to be disappointed or relieved by the message on the screen.  “We’re sorry, the class is sold out.”   I reached for the phone.

“Hello, I just tried registering for the beginning drawing class but it’s sold out.  Can you tell me when the next one will be?” I asked.

“We don’t have it scheduled yet, but there is room in the Intermediate/Advanced drawing class,” she replied.

“Oh…ummm…no, I couldn’t possibly do that.  I haven’t drawn in more than twenty years and that was just one class.  I think I should wait for the next session for beginners.”

“It’s like riding a bike, once you’ve done it, all you have to do is get back in the saddle and the rest will come.  Maybe this is opportunity knocking, we only have three people registered and we’re going to have to cancel it if we don’t get one more. I really think you’ll like it,” she coaxed.

Two weeks later I found myself driving up the narrow drive toward the nineteenth century farmhouse that the Artists of Yardley call home.  I perched on my stool in front of the easel and tried not to hyperventilate while the instructor held up the image we were supposed to reproduce.  After more than a few false starts and lots of calming encouragement from the teacher I settled down and just drew.

The subject matter for the first lesson was a Sunflower in full bloom, it somehow fits doesn’t it?

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You Can Tune a Piano, but You Can’t Tuna Fish

One of my favorite bands in high school was REO Speedwagon. They are no longer in my music collection, but to this day I crank the radio and  sing “It’s time for me to fly” at the top of my lungs whenever I hear the unexpected hit from the album You Can Tune a Piano, but You Can’t Tuna Fish.  I always feel a bit nostalgic as the lyrics take me back a few hundred years (Ok, only a few more than thirty, give or take).

I remember as a teenager being amazed at how the lyrics of many of my favorite songs from a variety of bands seemed to be written just for me, and I marveled at how the poems set to music expressed what was in my heart but I couldn’t find the words to say.  I would lay awake in bed listening to Dan Folgelberg sing of “Hymns filled with early delight” and “Acceptance of life,” [Netherlands] and I hoped and I prayed that one day I would find myself and my way.

As an adult I still find myself latching on to a particular song and playing it over and over because it speaks to me.  I find that music has a special way of helping me to understand that I’m not alone; it entertains and motivates me, it cheers me up and at times it calms me down, it inspires me.  More often than not I think it provides a medicinal backdrop that we aren’t even aware of as we go about the routine of our day.  No matter what the genre is, there are songs of love and heartbreak, anger and victory, being lost and then found, songs of hope and faith.

I began the twelfth and final chapter of Walking in This World [Julia Cameron] with mixed feelings.  The past few months have been packed with an intensity of personal change and growth that surpasses any other time in my life and I felt ready for a break, ready to get back to being “normal,” although normal now has a whole new meaning. On the other hand the book had become a guide, leading me through each week and I wasn’t sure that I was ready to do it on my own and I wondered what was next.

The final chapter is entitled Discovering a Sense of Dignity, and Julia introduces it with a philosophy:  “The key to a successful creative life is the commitment to make things and in so doing make something better of ourselves and our world.  Creativity is an act of faith…Our graceful ability to encompass difficulty rests in our ability to be faithful.”

I’ve always thought about the creative process as the logistics of coming up with an idea and using the tools of the trade whether it be a notebook, a canvas, a flowerbed, or an orchestra to bring a piece of art to life.  I also thought that if you had a day job you couldn’t be an artist first, that you weren’t a “true artist” until you reached a certain level of notoriety or fame and that the fame must be accompanied by money or it wasn’t real.  Julia has set me straight on this notion more than once, “Art is a vocation, a calling, and if no one hears the call as loudly as we do, that doesn’t mean it isn’t there, that doesn’t mean we don’t hear it, and that doesn’t mean we don’t need to answer when it calls.”

I think she’s right when she says we sometimes shy away from letting our true colors show and we tuck away our creative desires into corners and steal a few minutes here and there because we want people to think we are “normal.”  In reality we need to express ourselves to our families and friends and help them understand that our creative calling is real and it’s not “just a hobby,” it’s who we are.  That’s not to say we can or should cast aside the responsibilities of being a parent, a partner, or provider, it is saying that if we don’t communicate our needs, if we don’t set aside time to write, paint, sing, dance, cook- to create, we may find ourselves ultimately frustrated and resenting the very necessary and important roles we play outside of our artists world.

I think the author is saying that first we need to become aware of ourselves and learn what it is we need.  Do we need an hour each morning or one after work?  Is it an occasional Saturday escape from the “real” world that we need to be an artist?  We must learn to understand and recognize that emotions like anxiety and doubt, fear and anger, love and happiness fuel our art and we have the power to choose resiliency over defeat and depression.  We owe it to ourselves and our most trusted friends and family to share what we’ve discovered. 

I have a notepad on my refrigerator which says “Masquerading as a Normal Person Day After Day is Exhausting,” and I smile at its truth every time I read it.  But it occurs to me that maybe if we let those closest to us in on our “secret” maybe it doesn’t have to be quite so exhausting.

When I took my first writing class two years ago it was a distraction from some upheaval and turmoil in my everyday life.  As my interest grew it became a passion and a dream.  I dreamt of being a writer, of being published, which I equated with money and it being a full time endeavor with no need for a “day job.”  Time and time again, Julia has turned my thoughts upside down and inside out, and the final section called Service was no different.

We tend to equate art and culture, using Merriam Webster to define it first as “acquaintance with and taste in fine arts, humanities, and broad aspects of science” and forget that maybe more importantly it is also defined by Merriam as “the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.” 

Julia struck a chord when she said, “We have very strange notions about art in our culture.  We have made it the cult of the individual rather than what it always has been, a human aspiration aimed at communicating and community.  We “commune” through art…”  I felt like it was one of the chance happenings she often refers to when I experienced a Moment of Magic and community through music on the day I finished the book.

 My reasons for writing have changed; I’ve come to realize that it’s not about me.  Art, whatever form it takes, is not intended to serve the artist, it’s meant to serve the community. Its purpose is to entertain and motivate, provide optimism and solace, its purpose is to inspire.  I struggle with the notion that I have a “gift,” it seems conceited to say so.  Do I still hope to make money as a result of my writing? Absolutely.   Will I quit writing if I don’t?  Absolutely not.   

Gifts are for giving and I think that translates to our personal talents as well.  By reaching out to others, sharing what we’ve learned through our experiences, putting  our egos aside, and making our contributions not about us but about our community I believe we can and will experience greater personal  joy and the world will be a better place.

I’m sad that the book is over and I’m more than a little scared to be without my “guide,” but I know it’s time…

“It’s time for me to fly.”