Last August, at the start of a particularly major transition, I idly picked up a book from my bookshelf. Hmm, I thought…”The Artist’s Way,” by Julia Cameron. I’d purchased it over 11 years ago, and had never really read it. “This could be good,” I mentally noted, as I placed it on my nightstand and promptly forgot about it.
Two days passed. Given my transition, I knew I needed to find something to do with my hands, something that would keep me from spending too much time in my head. I came up with the idea of taking a woodworking class. Excellent, I thought. Maybe I’ll build some shelves. Turning to my best friend Google, I started searching for workshops. And there it was…About the third search result on the screen, I read, “Minneapolis….The Artist’s Way…13-week workshop…September 2011…”
Within minutes, I had registered for the course. And thus began my in-depth exploration of “The Artist’s Way.”
The basic tools
The author, Julia Cameron, is a poet, playwright, fiction writer, essayist and award-winning journalist. I figured she probably had some sound advice to offer. And she does. There are two tools one must use; they are essential and non-negotiable. One is writing morning pages, and the other is going on artist dates.
The act of writing morning pages clears the mind. I was to write three pages every morning, longhand, no more and no less. And, it didn’t matter what I wrote. No one would see it. I was not to go back and reread what I wrote. And, most interesting to me, there was no wrong way to write morning pages. A lifelong journal keeper, I was used to writing, but I was also used to choosing words carefully as I wrote on the page. This was not that.
So I began writing morning pages, a habit I continue to this day. At times, my morning pages consist of noting that I feel groggy and I need to go to the grocery store. Other times, I have picked up my pen and have written three full pages without pause, contemplating a big question or confronting some anger or resentment. Morning pages provide answers, as well as a safe place to pause when wrestling with big questions. Once I was asked, are they m-o-r-n-i-n-g pages or m-o-u-r-n-i-n-g pages? Both, I answered.
If morning pages allow us to empty our minds of the distractions and annoyances of daily living, of our worries and boredom, then artist dates fill our wells of creativity, add insight and contribute to a sense of joy. An artist date is a chance to let our inner artist/child play; it is at least two hours in length and must take place at least once weekly. And we must do it alone.
My first few artist dates were tentative; I wasn’t used to this notion of play. But I decided to stay with it.
One time I hiked a four-mile stretch of the North Country Trail in Wisconsin alone, in a soft, misty rain. Another time I went to Ax Man Surplus on University Avenue in St. Paul, and wandered the aisles, marveling at the amazing array of “stuff” on hand. I hiked a few miles along the Mississippi River, oil pastels and pad of paper in a backpack, and drew an amazing view I stumbled across. Another time I listened, eyes closed, to a set of Gregorian Chants on CD. I made collage.
And I started to sketch and paint again.
Where’s your artist been lately?
One of the significant insights I gained as I have journeyed through this transition, and explored The Artist’s Way, is that each of us holds artistic expression within ourselves. Some of us sing (though not me). Some dance, some work with metal or wood or leather or glass. Some write, act, make films, tell stories, craft puppets, paint silk, make paper.
The point is that letting our artist out to play enriches our lives in unforeseen ways. Those worries, deadlines and pressures take a back seat when we take our artist out to play. Funny how those stresses feel less menacing, more manageable when we return from our play date, replenished, refreshed, ready to go.
How about you? Have you emptied your monkey mind onto the page, making room for play? Have you taken your artist out for some fun lately? I’m curious…want to give it a try?