The Artist’s Way Reflections – Time Travel: Creative Monsters and Champions

task7Today’s column will cover the Time Travel tasks from Week One. Next week, we’ll move on to Week Two. You can find the full schedule for the rest of the year at the bottom of this post!

I decided to pull out the Time Travel tasks (Tasks 3-7, so most of them) from Week One in their own post for a couple of reasons. One was to be able to ease in, pacing-wise, by spreading Week One out over two weeks here.

Sometimes starting (or restarting) The Artist’s Way can feel a bit like thawing out something frozen, and there’s something painful and scary about that. It can be like melting something that solidified inside you. And it’s not easy.

To me, these Time Travel tasks feel like the first steps in that process. And they can be hard. Last time through, in March, I skipped most of them and only half-heartedly and incompletely did the ones I didn’t skip.

I thought they deserved extra attention in their own post as an acknowledgement that they’re hard, and a way of tackling them together.

In Tasks 3, 4, and 5 in Week One, Julia Cameron asks us to time travel and think back to where our negative thinking about ourselves and our creativity came from. Come up with our Hall of Monsters. To name the old hurts, to grieve them so we can heal them. She makes the point that often we feel embarrassed that we’re even affected by them (and, I think, sometimes we’re so sure they’re true) that we shove them under the rug where they fester. This is something I’ve definitely found to be true, that once something is released in whatever way–written down, spoken, shared–it loses its hold in a way.

In tasks 6 and 7, she asks us to time travel and think back to what’s encouraged and buoyed us. Come up with our Hall of Champions. I don’t know about anyone else, but this can feel equally hard. Sometimes it feels like, looking back, I didn’t live up to what a person believed I could be. I have so many words of encouragement in my past that were about getting published, and getting published really young, which you know, didn’t happen, not in the way they meant, not in the way I thought. I also find this section hard because it’s hard not to feel like bragging or ego-stroking to collect memories of compliments.

But, in the spirit of just going with it whether I believe or not, and even when it makes me uncomfortable, I’m going to dive in. And I hope others will too. Let’s brave the embarrassment of the old hurts that still haunt us and dare to share compliments too. Even for people who come across this after the fact, I would love to see other people’s stories.

So, here we go.

Task 3

This is the one where we create a Hall of Monsters, those old hurts and discouragements that feed the negative self-talk discussed in Week One. She says to start with three, but to keep adding to it.

I’ve done this before, having started the book so many times, but didn’t look back at any of that, going with whatever came to mind now.

And instead of making it a hall of monsters (people) I made it a hall of monstrous events, to put the focus on the incidents instead of the people because I felt uncomfortable calling people monsters. Maybe that’s my own reflexive guilt but it just felt more accurate to name the incidents. Just because someone’s on here doesn’t mean I think they’re a bad person.

Some of these things might’ve come out of good intentions, or a person’s own beliefs about the world, or their own broken dreams. Or a moment of spite. Some people may be on both lists. That’s one of the reason I tried to focus it on the words, the acts, the incidents, rather than the people.

Hall of Monstrous Events

  • I asked for voice lessons when I was sixteen, after putting in a lot of thought and planning, and the answer was no, and that voice lessons were only for people with natural vocal talent, which I didn’t have.
  • This was the second time – I’d also asked when I was young and gotten the same response – but I don’t remember it as clearly.
  • I was singing along to Mary Poppins, since one thing about me is that I will, and I do, sing along to everything. I was singing the “Feed the Birds” song and thought I sounded really good and my brother begged me to stop, yelled that I was hurting his ears and ran for our parents to make me stop. I was so crushed.
  • One time when I got picked up from the school building after a program in the summer between seventh and eighth grade, I got in the car and Ace of Base was on and I excitedly sang along…and got in trouble. I was too loud and other people outside the school building could’ve heard me.
  • I also got in trouble once for singing along to Nirvana’s “Negative Creep” in my room. My room overlooked the driveway and the windows were open and apparently I could be heard from outside. So, trouble.
  • A friend got really mad at me for saying I wanted to take a screenwriting class. She yelled that I wasn’t that type of writer, like I was betraying something somehow? It was a big fight that really threw me for a loop.
  • When I turned in my second essay for a writing class, my prof said my writing was superficial and referred to my first essay for the class as superficial too, even though he’d previously praised that first essay so highly.
  • Getting the sense (not sure if it was spoken or not) that I was the un-musical one in the family, that I was tone-deaf and had zero musical ability, especially voice-wise but also with instruments.
  • Sometime, in high school, my mom sat me down and told me I was overshadowing my brother and I had to change.
  • Being forbidden to go to Battle of the Bands.
  • The ex who read my Morning Pages and then, when we were in a fight, got drunk and made fun of what I’d written in them.
  • This one isn’t a person or an incident, but the constant messaging I got as a kid that everything I was interested in or obsessed with–books, bands, writing, TV shows–was always bad, shameful, inappropriate, un-understandable, unacceptable, intolerable, and so always made me a bad, shameful, inappropriate, un-understandable, unacceptable and intolerable person for liking these terrible things. I got the very clear message that to be accepted, valued, tolerated (let alone liked or loved), and to be safe, I had to be a completely different person than who I was. The constantness of it did some serious damage.

I notice that a lot of them are about music, even some of the more general ones (the last one, the fourth to last) are also about music.

Over the last week or so, I’ve been thinking about how as a kid, aside from asking for voice lessons and singing along to everything (which I still do, even if I dislike the song, or don’t know it, if there’s a way to sing along I will, and I can probably sing every word of every song in the first ten or so seasons of Grey’s and can’t help myself from doing so when I watch), when I was little, I used to sing in the shower, like probably lots of kids, teenagers, adults, everyone, and sometimes I used to make up my own songs that I’d revisit time and again in the shower, continuing to “write” the song and morph it as I went along. And I used to have concerts in my room that I would rope my sister or my friend Amy or both into joining.

This struck me because I really do carry this belief (discussed in the Week One post) that I have zero musical ability, but I probably had some sense of something to have been writing my own songs as a kid and putting on concerts.

Last week, I talked with Rick Guidotti of Positive Exposure, the first time in so long, and he mentioned that one time he saw my mom at an exhibit or opening and she mentioned to him that I’d always been so responsive to music, even as a very little kid. So that, too, gave me this sense of that even though I may not have emerged bursting with natural musical talent or an amazing voice (and honestly, lots of the singers I love probably weren’t either) I was still musical.

With playing instruments now, I’m seeing more that the no musical ability isn’t true, but I still have this belief like okay, maybe I can play by rote but I could never compose anything. Like that’s a thing only other magical people can do.

Because of this belief, I stopped doing an ear training program I bought because there was a composing component and it intimidated me. I’ve skipped all the composition exercises in my keyboard book, telling myself oh I’ll do those after I finish the book and know more, but they’re meant to be done at the point I’m at. So I may go back and do those, and do my best to make it no pressure at all, just playful.

What people or events are in your Hall of Monsters or Hall of Monstrous Events? Were there things that happened that caused you to turn away from your creativity or stop believing in yourself? Do some of them feel embarrassing to admit? I felt embarrassed about pretty much every single one.

Tasks 4 & 5

For this one, I wrote out what I could remember of the conversation in high school that my mom had with me about my brother for Task 4, and then wrote a letter to the editor about it for Task 5. I don’t think I’ve ever written that out before in going through this book, and it was hard. Really hard.

So hard I don’t know if I can really write about it here. It would have to be its own post, and might just be too vulnerable, too tied into things that are still unresolved, too close in its underlining of dynamics that still play out in my adult life.

For the writing of the letter to the editor, I used paper with some orange-y glow in the corners, for the fire of it. And I think writing both, and acknowledging this monster event for what it was, was helpful and a step towards healing. At least I hope.

What did you choose to write out? Was it hard? How was writing the letter to the editor?

Task 6

All right, onto the Hall of Champions. I wanted to make sure this one was longer than my other hall. Not in a disingenuous way but more to remember that there have been a lot of formative events that were positive and encouraging. It ended up being easy to make this one longer.

Hall of Champions

  • Mrs. Zablocki, my freshman English teacher – said encouraging things about my writing, wrote me a letter of rec for college that said I had voice in my writing, and that that couldn’t be taught.
  • Dr. Hettinger, my junior year English and Creative Writing teacher and senior year Journalism and Creative Writing teacher – and because I kept a lot of stuff from that time, I have some things to submit into evidence:
    • For Creative Writing, we had to keep a journal and I went all out, pretty much forgot a teacher would read it and recorded every detail of an unrequited love drama. She read all that, and wrote, “You are funny and intelligent – a wicked sense of humor and a good deal of insight into human nature.”
    • In an end of term evaluation, she wrote, “You have a gift – the ability to write like a true writer,” and later wrote that I had a knack for telling a story.
    • In another end of term eval (in a card with a cake on the front and a cake recipe insert inside), this one for the last class I took with her, she said to keep writing and that she knew I’d be famous one day soon. In most of these, she says to try to get published.
    • In her letter of rec for college, she wrote that my essays in her English class on Donne and Swift (junior year was British lit) showed a sophisticated level of thinking and writing, and said, “Creative, determined and eager to learn, she also has a wicked sense of humor and a pleasant way of down-playing her own talent.”
  • A professor I had for a college writing class (this guy’s on both lists) said, when I turned in my first essay, “this is publishable.”
  • Another prof, Susan Reese, whose class I sat in on when I was thinking of going back to school and checking out Portland State University, became the prof I had the most classes with. She was always so encouraging about my writing, and drew hearts and wrote “LOL” in the margins of writing pieces I turned in. I always felt like she fully believed in me. I always loved running into her on campus and at AWP.
  • In October 2018, when I was a fresh med student and struggling with it (which I guess we all know now how that turned out), I went to a workshop at Corporeal Writing taught by Lidia Yuknavitch. I was a little starstruck being in the same room as her, she was like a rock start to me. One day in the workshop, she gave us a prompt to do at home, and the next day, I read what I’d written; it was about tarot. I hadn’t said a ton in the workshop but I decided to read. Lidia’s reaction was, “Are you published?” in a way like she expected the answer was yes.
  • Back when I was working at YMCA Camp Orkila in the dishroom, I went to a weekend writing retreat and mentioned that I was washing dishes. At the end of the retreat, I read something I’d written, a poem, and I’m not really a poet, and this guy who was there told me, “You won’t be washing dishes for long.”
  • My medical school has a Wellness Officer, and she, along with one of my classmates, started a live storytelling series called Growth Factor, and the two of them, as well as many who attended, have been so supportive of me reading my work at events. The Wellness Officer also asked me to write something to be hung on the study room walls in our new med student study space. I hope that’ll still go up there even though I’m leaving school.
  • This post.
  • Dr. Dickson at Washington College – he taught a class on American Essays of the 1990s, and our third assignment was to write our own. He pulled me aside after class after I turned mine in, and I was sure I was in trouble but instead he encouraged me to publish my essay. It especially affected me because I was at the school on a writing scholarship and struggling with the worst writer’s block and imposter syndrome (though we didn’t have that term then) of my life, feeling like a complete failure as a writer every day, especially in my writing class, so this meant so much to me.
  • Janet Thomas – I started her writing class in 2003, and worked with her for my entire time on Orcas through groups and classes. So much of the writing I did in my twenties was because of her, her classes, her encouragement. She also wrote me a letter of rec for when I was going back to school. She wrote that I was “prolific, insightful and dedicated tot he craft,” and that I inhabit my writing in ways “ironic, funny and profound.”
  • Linda – we met in an online writing class through Writer’s Digest in 2006, and started exchanging our manuscripts. She’s been a champion throughout and also wrote me a letter of rec for going back to school. I recently had the pleasure of reading the latest version of a novel of hers that I can’t wait to see published.
  • Claire – she’s been encouraging my writing for something like twenty-seven years now. She listened to and encouraged all kinds of story ideas when I was young, championed a short story of mine, came to my reading in 2007 (mentioned recently in this post) and helped me laugh and work out my nerves beforehand. Plus, she comments encouraging things here!
  • My screenwriting professor at PSU loved my work. He read a couple of students’ midterm assignments as examples of how to do it well, and mine was one of them. He wrote on work I turned in, “You have real screenwriting talent.”
  • A cute boy who was in a singing class with me in 2010 came up to me once after class and said he liked what I’d done for the song, that I’d made it my own. I was afraid to believe it at the time, sure that “made it your own” was code for “sang it wrong,” but with time and distance, I take it at face value.
  • My coworkers and my boss were wildly supportive of me writing a screenplay, Sweet Acid (read about it here and here), that had a lot of scenes set in our workplace. It was a screenplay where my character essentially becomes a drug cook and a drug dealer and also has the most disastrous love life, and my coworkers and boss ate it up. They even dedicated one of our weekly meetings to having me read some of it to them, and we all howled with laughter the whole time.
  • Tracy, my good friend of fifteen plus years now – she always believes in my writing and music and creativity, and now my budding podcasting forays. She reads my essays and screenplays. She came to see me read at Growth Factor, and back in the day when we both lived on Orcas, came to see me read at Open Mics. In the parlance of improv, she “yes ands” all my creative dreams.

Many of these people, especially the ones I know well, I know to be creative artists in their own right, deserving of their own halls of champions and encouragement and support for their creative talents. Tracy, Claire (check out Temporal Treasures), Linda, Susan, Janet.

This is in no way exhaustive. Because, you guys, there are SO MANY MORE. I’m overwhelmed by going back and thinking through the support that I’ve had, and want to keep adding to this list (the one in my journal, I don’t need to regale you all here) to remember all the encouragement.

Some of it does make me sad to re-read and recall. So many people thought I’d get published young, and I’m almost forty and barely published. Some of that is my doing–not putting myself out there enough, taking huge long pauses between trying–and some of it is just the writing game, the constant rejection of it all, and the disheartening that comes after.

I think it goes back to the thawing and melting what’s been solid and frozen.

Still though, it’s nice to remember, maybe especially in the disheartening aftermath of rejections, that there are a lot of people out there who’ve been creative champions.

Who were or are your creative champions? What encouragement and support did they give you?

Task 7

This one was to write out one of the compliments from a champion and write them a letter of thanks. I thought of choosing Dr. Hettinger, but I’m pretty sure I have in the majority of times I’ve started AW and done this task. So, I chose the first person on my list, Mrs. Zablocki.

She’s actually in an essay I wrote, “Reasonable Doubt,” which I’ve posted about here, because it takes place in my freshman year of high school.

I picked her for her encouragement of my writing and also of me as a person. Our first assignment for her class was to write an essay about ourselves, and I wrote mine on “My Dark Side” and wrote about how I loved so many things that it felt bad to love, like storms, cloudy and overcast days, fall and winter, night, mystery, rock music. The things that I loved that made me weird and bad, and actually all things that I still love twenty-five years later. She didn’t see it as weird or bad. She liked my writing and gave me the sense that she thought I was okay as I was. At that age, that was everything.

I remember coming in with my binder cover decorated with all these band names (if I can find the picture, I’m going to attach it here), with Nirvana all hand-drawn in their official font, and instead of thinking I was crazy or a terrible person for liking those bands, she admired my artwork. Maybe it was the same day, also in reaction to the binder cover, or maybe in response to a Nirvana shirt because I wore so many back then, she said, all nonchalant like it was nothing, that her daughter loved them too. It just made me feel like I was okay, that what I loved was was okay. So the main picture of this post is a picture of the thank you letter I wrote to her as part of Task 6. I may have also tried to find her, and Dr. Hettinger, on FB to say something to them more directly, but to no avail.

Who stands out to you from your hall of champions? How did they impact you? Are you still in touch with them? What would you say to them?

Looking Ahead

Whew, that was a lot!

I’m wiped out from these tasks and this post, especially after also going public with some big news this week. Emotionally, I’m fuckin’ spent!

To me, these tasks felt challenging and a little heavy, and worth taking the time on before rushing forward.

Next week, we’re onto Week Two: Recovering a Sense of Identity, and thankfully, I remember this as a lighter, more playful chapter, with tasks that involve making fun lists and doing some drawings. I’m ready for it!

-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 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

9 thoughts on “The Artist’s Way Reflections – Time Travel: Creative Monsters and Champions

  1. This was an illuminating post in so many ways. In particular, this line resonated with me, especially during my younger years: “I got the very clear message that to be accepted, valued, tolerated (let alone liked or loved), and to be safe, I had to be a completely different person than who I was.“

    I was also floored by your courage and openness in sharing with us your results from this exercise. It’s hard enough to write about this stuff even when it’s only ourselves reading it, but to allow others to see it as well is yet another order of magnitude of bravery. The photo of your letter at the top of this post is awesome too.

    Even though I’ve known you for a long time, there were many entries on both lists that I was surprised by, and that I found really intense in both positive and negative ways. No wonder you’re exhausted after writing this!

    And THANK YOU for including me in your Hall of Champions! I feel so honored to occupy a slot there and I take that post very seriously! I have always believed in you and always will. 💜

    • Wow, what a thoughtful reply, Claire!

      You know, I think that line you highlighted really affects me still, and pretty deeply, in that I think some part of me still operates from the perspective of I better hide everything about me so I don’t get tossed out by this or that person or group. It’s not healthy and it doesn’t lead to healthy relationships and intellectually I know that, but that doesn’t stop the kneejerk terror that tells me I have to hide everything, or that if people know x, y, z, fifteen thousand alphabets’ worth of things, they would hate me.

      It was hard to decide what to share, and I pulled back on some things, on both lists. And even so, sharing what I put in there was still really hard, and made me feel guilty (for being so hurt by some things that seem so trivial, for writing about so many positive things people said about me, which felt braggy).

      I’m also curious to know (off of here) what you found surprising and intense. And thanks so much for what you said at the end, and I hope you know how much I believe you too, and hope to always be a champion of your creativity and also of YOU.

  2. Pingback: Creativity Goals Check-In September 6, 2020 | April Julia

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

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

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

  6. Pingback: The Artist’s Way Reflections – Week Four: Recovering a Sense of Integrity | April Julia

  7. Pingback: The Artist’s Way Reflections – Week Five: Recovering a Sense of Possibility | April Julia

  8. Pingback: The Artist’s Way Reflections – Week Six: Recovering a Sense of Abundance | April Julia

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