The Artist’s Way Reflections – Week One: Recovering a Sense of Safety

MPs coverSo here we are (again, for me, so many times over), Week One.

I’ve had a lot of false starts with The Artist’s Way, AW for shorthand as it’s known around my journals, so this chapter is well-trodden ground. So much so that some parts I know so well that I could give a good gist without reading it anew. Like knowing almost all the lines and all the music cues in a favorite pilot episode.

Technically, Week One in The Artist’s Way book will span two weeks here, since next week’s focus is on the Time Travel tasks from Week One (for the full schedule, check out the bottom of this post). So we’re easing in a little here.

Since this is the first post based on a Week chapter, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to structure the posts. I’m thinking I’ll go section by section through the chapter, giving a bit of commentary on each. I’ll pull out a favorite of the quotes scattered throughout the chapter, and then discuss or post excerpts of the tasks. I’ll pepper questions into each section. If you’re joining in, now or in the future, feel free to answer as much or as little as you’d like.

The picture on the right is a picture of my current Morning Pages journal, which is almost all used up.

Week One: Recovering a Sense of Safety

Shadow Artists

In this section, there are several examples given of how a blocked creative person can be a shadow artist. Sponsoring a creative person but not allowing your own creativity (there was an amazing story about a blocked billionaire who gifted an artist with a year’s living expenses so they could focus on their art, so I’m just saying that if there are any benevolent billionaires out there looking for creative people to sponsor, I’m right here). Investing in supporting a loved one’s creative career while never igniting your own. Representing artists, working as a critic, becoming an art therapist or a marketing exec instead of an artist, going to law school or med school instead of writing (ummm ooops?), all these ways of being on the periphery.

It made me think of ways I’ve worked on the periphery of writing. Editing, mostly, which when it’s for a project I really believe in, or for a person I really care about, or in small doses or part-time, can be cool. Coaching. Transcribing other people’s work. Teaching writing. I got the hell out of doing all of that full-time because I quickly realized it drained all my writing energy and I’ve always done better having my work life be something separate and unrelated to writing.

One of the examples in this essay is of people getting romantically involved with and championing “a real artist” and my first thought was huh, I don’t think I’ve ever done that, and isn’t it weird that I’ve never dated a musician or a fellow writer? But then I thought that some of the boys I’ve been romantically involved with in different ways were also shadow artists. I’ve loved several guys who used to do music, used to write. Who wish to get back to it. I remember so clearly writing one too-long, pour-all-your-feelings-out goodbye message to a guy once, the way you do when you’re twenty-four, and including an impassioned plea for him to not give up on his creativity. So maybe instead of orbiting around “real artists” I’ve orbited around other shadow artists.

But then I think about so many of my friends, who are so creative but struggling to work that creativity into their adult lives and I think, who among us isn’t a shadow artist these days?

The most particular way that my shadow artist self manifests isn’t on the list in AW but is wholly recognizable in the general description of the shadow artist as someone who circles around the real deal, and that’s as a fangirl. I’ve always been obsessed with other people’s art. With artists of different flavors of art.

Though I’ve been obsessed with some authors and books, most of my fangirl obsessions are over music, and movies and TV. I’ve been contemplating that since reading this section a few nights ago. That seemed odd; writing is so paramount that wouldn’t it make sense for me to obsess over writing and writers? And it’s not that I totally don’t but more that it feels milder, and always has. My obsessions with movies and TV shows, and with music are much more all-consuming, and always have been.

It clicked that maybe I’m not as much of a shadow when it comes to writing. I experienced a lot of encouragement about writing growing up. That’s not to say there haven’t been or don’t continue to be so many writing-related disappointments and rejections and heartbreaks. Or that I don’t go through long droughts of not writing as much as I want to. Or that I haven’t experienced deep, debilitating writer’s block or imposter syndrome. All of those have happened and still happen, but on some fundamental level, from an early age, I saw myself as a writer. And with that identity so solid and unquestioned, I never had to be a shadow writer.

And so my shadow energy went to the things I was told in so many ways I wasn’t or couldn’t do. Most of that is music, and I’ve had so many music obsessions–Nirvana and Kurt Cobain, Hole, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Chris Cornell, Liz Phair, Sinead O’Connor, Jeff Buckley, Ani DiFranco, Tori Amos, TOOL, Fiona Apple, Damien Rice, Ingrid Michaelson, Taylor Swift, Counting Crows–and it strikes me that they all write their own songs, words and music. I’m clearly drawn to singers, whether solo acts or within bands, especially ones who write, or wrote, from a vulnerable personal place even when writing songs from other points of view. They’re all pretty ballsy, especially the women, and frank in a relatable way. They all put a lot of care into lyrics, making them poetic or funny or insightful or all of the above at once, and many on the list who sing and write lyrics also play instruments. I think it’s pretty clear what I gravitate towards. I am a shadow music artist.

And apparently, a shadow something related to TV and movies. I’ve had a lot of obsessions over both and still do. For fuck’s sake, this whole site was essentially born out of my absolute obsession over Breaking Bad! When I watch DVD commentaries (which I love watching) or listen to podcasts about TV, and in this case I’m specifically thinking of the Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul Insider Podcasts and Office Ladies because instead of being a review they feature the writers and directors and actors themselves, what I’m always drawn to is discussion about how scenes or storylines or season-long arcs were conceived and written. I could care less about most of the talk about acting but eat up everything about writing and directing and showrunning. Maybe I’m a shadow screenwriter/director/showrunner. Or at least something about film and TV.

Are there ways that you find yourself as a shadow artist? Ways that you circle around the “real artists” without allowing yourself to create? What are those ways, and do they reveal anything about where your creative compass might point?

Protecting the Artist Child Within

The main focus here is on “the grace to be a beginner,” the reality that starting anything new comes with growing pains, that being a beginner is humbling and can feel embarrassing. For whatever reason, I think this is a really hard thing for most people, myself included, to fully accept and sit with, what it feels like to be a beginner at something.

Or to begin again. To open up something that has been long shut off. Sometimes that feels even harder. I was telling Claire, who often comments here and has a very cool new site, that sometimes it feels like thawing out from frozen, and the feeling can be painful.

It’s something I’ve especially tried to keep in mind with picking up guitar and keyboard again this spring after so long away from both instruments. It’s going to take awhile to sound better. Right now, a little over four months in, I still sound pretty bad. My chord changes on the guitar, and my strumming, are so choppy. I feel sorry for my neighbors. So I just keep telling myself that eventually, it’ll get better. Sometimes it’s so frustrating because I can’t fully tell if it is or not because I hear myself every day. I often think of what a guitar teacher, Mr. G, told my friend Tracy, to “give it a hundred years.” If after a hundred years you decide you really don’t like the guitar, then cool, it’s not for you. It just keeps me a little grounded in the thought of this as a marathon and not a sprint.

And it can still be enjoyable, and satisfy that creative itch, while also sounding very rudimentary and unskilled and beginner-y.

I like that Julia Cameron (JC) flagged a lot of the ways that we tend to sabotage ourselves–going too far too fast, expecting ourselves to be too good too soon, comparing our first baby step forays into creative fields with the finished and edited and produced works of the masters and feeling like shit in comparison, showing these forays to critical eyes. I like also that she straight up calls these things artist abuse. They are all things most would never do to someone they care about but somehow feel A-okay doing to themselves. I think and hope that flagging these ahead of time, right off the jump, helps us recognize when we’re tempted to do these things and stops us in our tracks.

Do you struggle with being a beginner? Or with beginning again and thawing out from the ice? Are there particular self-sabotages listed in this section that you have done before or especially want to look out for?

Your Enemy Within: Core Negative Beliefs

Yeah, so, yeah. We have some not-so-helpful tropes about artists and art, that’s for sure. Oof.

She has a 20-item list of things that people are afraid will happen if they become creative. I related hard to probably fifteen of them. Another oof. A couple that particularly spoke to me include “I will hurt my friends and family,” “I will have to be alone,” “I will never have any real money,” “It’s too late. If I haven’t become a fully functioning artist yet, I never will,” and most of all, “I will be too angry.” I already have no real money. I’m already alone. And I’m already too angry pretty much every minute of every day that I’m conscious, and anything that gets me in touch with my feelings, including Morning Pages, makes that bottomless rage even harder to ignore and suppress.

I hope that naming these fears helps in some way, as she suggests it will, but man, they aren’t easy to grapple with, and I’m not convinced (yet) that any, or all of them, aren’t true, founded fears.

On the next page there’s a similar list, this one focusing more on the beliefs we have about creative people, and the ones that spoke to me most were the ones about creative people being broke, irresponsible and alone and I’d add one about being emotionally volatile. I’m sensing a theme between these two lists.

Our core negatives go for our jugular, she says. Lovability is one of the examples she gives, and that’s a big one for me. My writing has been an issue in past relationships–especially an early, formative and traumatic one–and “I’ll read your books one day” used to be a thing that boys said to me when they broke my heart, back when I was brave enough to put my heart out there where it could be broken.

And on a more fundamental level, I think that creativity connects me to my core self, and I have a core belief that if anyone were to see or know my core self, they wouldn’t be able to tolerate or accept me, much less love me. So that whole concept of creativity will make me alone and unlovable is a big one for me.

I also have a survivability thing, which I think a lot of people do. If I’m creative, how am I supposed to survive, financially? And eat? And not be homeless? Having brushed up against the razor’s edge of homelessness in my early twenties, that isn’t something I say glibly, but as a real, actual, literal concern. Sometimes, in real life, it comes down to questions that basic, ones that cut to the quick of actual, literal survival. I sometimes think JC doesn’t take that as seriously as she should, but we’ll get to that more in time.

But the main jugular my core belief goes to relates back to the lovability but with a twist. This is a little hard to put into words, but it’s essentially a belief that to have love I have to sacrifice creativity, and that to have creativity I have to sacrifice love. That they are absolutely mutually exclusive. And so I want both, hotly, but have neither.

What core negative beliefs do you hold, either from your personal life or culture at large, about creative people and creativity?

Your Ally Within: Affirmative Weapons

This is one of those things I kinda struggle against and am trying not to roll my eyes at this time around. I’ve worked with affirmations before, many times over the years, and I just don’t know if they do a lot for me. But she definitely makes a good point that we’re real good at negative self-talk so it probably can’t ever hurt to counteract that some more hopeful, positive, and optimistic self-talk.

So, okay. Going with the open-minded, try-it-out approach from last night’s post, I’m game.

I did the exercise where you write the affirmation “I, April, am a brilliant and prolific ____” out ten times (so freakin’ uncomfortable) and then write the blurts that come up. What struck me is how different they came out than what I wrote last time, in March. Then the blank in the affirmation was “creative artist,” most of the blurts focused on the lovability, likability, acceptability, tolerability jugular.

This time, the blank was “writer and musical artist” and the blurts were much more specific to that, and especially music. That I can’t sing, that I have no musical ability, and on and on and on.

And I realized, in maybe a way I hadn’t doing the exercise before, that it did help to air these blurts because you know, some of that I think is objectively not true. I don’t think I have no musical ability. Trying to be sort of detached and objective about it, my musical ability is probably about average. I have no rhythm, that’s true (and actually didn’t even come up in the blurts, probably because I know and accept this about myself, I am that white girl who can’t clap on beat) but now that I’ve played around with learning musical instruments for a little over four months, I know I can pick out some things by ear, hear when things are wrong, sometimes associate chords and notes with this or that song without being told, and I can translate some melodies from one instrument to the other. I’m not great, or even good, at any of these things, but I can do them, albeit rudimentarily, enough to know that my blurts about zero musical ability aren’t true. I’m not sure if I would have put it together, unearthed and refuted that fear, without this exercise.

I also pulled out the affirmations I wrote down last time around, and none of them address music, or even writing really, so I’ll have to add some more.

Have you tried this exercise? What blurts came up for you? Was there anything surprising?

Quote

Okay, I hope this isn’t the case for all–or most–of the weeks, but, ummmm, I kinda struggled to find one that resonated with me. The idea of pulling out quotes sounded so good in theory! But so as not to leave you completely hanging, I found a quote from the introductory chapters that I liked:

“Why should we all use our creative power…? Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money.”

-Brenda Ueland

I partially picked this because I remember noticing, early on in my Artist’s Way forays, that I liked a lot of the Brenda Ueland quotes. Later, I read her book If You Want to Write in the Fall of 2005 (pretty sure) and found it to resonate so well with Artist’s Way, and maybe to resonate even more with me.

Tasks

Imaginary Lives

If I had five imaginary lives, I would pick:

  1. rock star
  2. showrunner (NOT in LA)
  3. reclusive writer in the woods
  4. outlaw (not in a way that hurts anyone, just using my wits to run from and outwit the law, or being the brains behind some criminal enterprise or heist or something)
  5. code breaker

For shits and giggles, after doing the task I looked at what I wrote in March, and those imaginary lives were: rock star/lead singer (and of course the songwriter), psychic, CIA agent/detective (for the puzzle solving), screenwriter, and memoirist/essayist. So, very similar.

You’re supposed to also incorporate some tiny part of one of those imaginary lives into your real life this week, and that’s where I get stuck, because the one I desperately want to incorporate is the reclusive writer in the woods. Desperately. But, you know, quarantine and not being able to drive take all of that or anything like it off the table, and that just fuels all the frustration all over again. I guess I’ll have to incorporate the outlaw life and rob a bank instead.

The last task is a brisk twenty-minute walk, which I’m going to do later today, before picking up my produce from the Farmer’s Market.

All discussion of Time Travel tasks (which, admittedly, is most of them) is deferred to next week’s post, which leads me to…

Looking Ahead

Next week’s post will be a deep dive into the Time Travel tasks in Week One. These tasks look at Creative Monsters and Champions of our pasts. This felt like a big topic with more in-depth tasks, worth pulling out separately for its own discussion. So that’s coming up next week.

A couple of the Time Travel tasks for next week’s post involve writing letters, and this seems like a good opportunity to check out Temporal Treasures for some stationary suggestions, to make the tasks even more fun and artful!

-April

~~~

The Artist’s Way Reflections is a weekly column reflecting on the 1992 book on discovering, recovering and reconnecting with creativity, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron. Each week, I reflect on some aspect or tool or exercise or essay from the book.

Here are some previous posts from The Artist’s Way Reflections column:

Schedule for the Rest of 2020

  • September 3 – Time Travel – Creative Monsters and Champions
  • September 10 – Week Two: Recovering a Sense of Identity
  • September 17 – Week Three: Recovering a Sense of Power
  • September 24 – Synchronicity
  • October 1 – Week Four: Recovering a Sense of Integrity
  • October 8 – Week Five: Recovering a Sense of Possibility
  • October 15 – Week Six: Recovering a Sense of Abundance
  • October 22 – Week Seven: Recovering a Sense of Connection
  • October 29 – Week Eight: Recovering a Sense of Strength
  • November 5 – Goal Search
  • November 12 – Week Nine: Recovering a Sense of Compassion
  • November 19 – Blasting Through Blocks
  • November 26 (Thanksgiving) – Creative Goal Setting (for 2021)
  • December 3 – Week Ten: Recovering a Sense of Self-Protection
  • December 10 – Setting Bottom Lines
  • December 17 – Week Eleven: Recovering a Sense of Autonomy
  • December 24 (Christmas Eve) – Week Twelve: Recovering a Sense of Faith
  • December 31 (New Year’s Eve) – End of Book Wrap-Up

7 thoughts on “The Artist’s Way Reflections – Week One: Recovering a Sense of Safety

  1. April, I so admire your openness and courage in sharing the personal insights this book is bringing up for you…I definitely recognize some similar things in myself. I have yet to complete any Week 1 exercises except for the Morning Pages, but hope to tackle at least a couple over the weekend…especially considering how helpfully you’ve broken them down for us! Also, thanks for the shout-out to Temporal Treasures!

    • Of course! I’m glad what I wrote here seems helpful. And also, I think of AW as almost a “choose your own adventure” type thing. A do what you can, when you can type thing. Sometimes, I’ve felt the pressure to do it all, with this book or others, and then get frustrated and end up doing nothing. So I want to take the pressure to do it all off of myself and anyone following along and hope we can all be realistic with our own individual life demands. I’m so glad you’re writing MPs, and would love to hear what tasks you end up doing this weekend and if you feel you gain anything from them.

  2. Pingback: Tarot, Podcasts, Dreams and a Little Music | April Julia

  3. Pingback: The Artist’s Way Reflections – Time Travel: Creative Monsters and Champions | April Julia

  4. Pingback: The Artist’s Way Reflections – Week Two: Recovering a Sense of Identity | April Julia

  5. Pingback: The Artist’s Way Reflections – Week Three: Recovering a Sense of Power | April Julia

  6. Pingback: The Artist’s Way Reflections – Synchronicity | April Julia

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