This chapter, like the name says, focuses on identity. It seems so simple, but I think a blurring of identity underlies a lot of creative blockage. It gets blurry because we get inundated with messages–family, friends, teachers, social media, TV at large–that tell us what we should want, who we should be. And there are parts of ourselves we give up for various reasons. It’s all too easy to get to a place where you’re going through life unsure of who you even are.
I definitely felt that in medical school; I saw myself going through the motions of doing all the things I was supposed to do, and all the things I had to do on top of that, and it all took so much time and energy that I felt like there was so little me left. I’ve also felt something similar in destructive relationships.
For whatever reason, it’s just so easy to lose yourself. At least, it is for me. So, I like this chapter and its tasks and how the focus on self-definition and sorting out the signal from the noise all around us.
Week Two: Recovering a Sense of Identity
This section lays out some of what’s to expected right off the jump on this journey. The ebb and flow of creativity and self-doubt, self-doubt leading to self-sabotage.
A specific form this self-sabotage can take that Julia Cameron mentions is showing Morning Pages to someone else. That’s always struck me as surprising, because as someone who has several bins full of journals, the thought of sharing any of them is so anathema to me that even if my worst bouts of self-sabotage, I don’t think I’d ever think of it.
Even if it doesn’t take the same form as what she’s experienced, the doubts are real. For me, that especially comes with affirmations. I’ll do them but I’m skeptical about them, and they make me uncomfortable, so they stir up the doubts. And part of it, too, is just the ebb and flow like she said.
I’m trying to think of what acts of self-sabotage I’ve done at this point before, since I never willingly shared my Morning Pages.
One thing I think (though am not sure) I’ve done a lot is to give up at this point, never make it past reading Week Two. Those doubts creep up and it’s easy to abandon ship–you haven’t invested that much energy at this point and what were you really thinking anyway–at this early juncture.
I used to want to do every task, and would think things like, okay, I didn’t finish the tasks from Week X, so I’ll take another week with it. Another becomes another and then another another. I can’t speak for anyone else, but to me it makes the most sense to keep moving forward. You don’t have to be a completist with these chapters and tasks–I never have, in all the times I’ve gone through the book–you just have to do what you can and keep going.
Another is that I’ve gotten excited about creative ideas and shared them with overbearing people. Not necessarily ill-intention, probably usually not at all, but still. More on that in the next section.
Another point about the going sane and the ebb and flow of it all, is that ideas may come and go. One day, you might feel so totally inspired to write or sing or paint or dance something specific and awesome and the next you might be over it. Maybe because of doubt, or maybe because something else grabbed your fancy, or maybe because after first blush, the idea didn’t fit in a lasting way. It’s a time with a lot of play, a lot of trying on this and then, getting inspired by one thing and then another. Not everything will be something you end up pursuing, and that’s okay, and part of the process, but maybe can feel volatile to yourself and those around you.
Another form of self-sabotage can come from this volatility, in that it’s easy to get down on yourself for not following through on some idea you had and felt intensely about for a hot minute, but that has since faded. It’s easy to think that you’re not really creative, or dedicated, or disciplined, or steady, or whatever else enough because you let something go. Sometimes well-meaning people can also reinforce these feelings, if they too are disappointed that you didn’t follow through on an inspiration that once flowed but since has gone out with the tide.
So this may be a time, for a bit, to keep idea seedlings, flights of inspiration a little closer to the vest and see what holds and what ebbs out while riding out this phase of the process.
What sorts of self-sabotage have you engaged in before? Or do you think you might partake in now? Perhaps flagging them ahead of time can help us avoid taking that step.
This is something that I think is talked about a lot more now than it was at the time the book came out, the poisonous playmates. I related hard to this section. Not quite so much now, but this is something I’ve struggled with since I was a little kid.
Going off of the previous section, there are a lot of ways that sharing ideas that are in their infancy can backfire. They may be met with outright discouragement or put-downs. Or sometimes people tell you, forcefully, how to do your idea, and this strikes right at the heart of the identity thing because a lot of people want to tell other people who they are, what they feel, and what they should do. I know I’m guilty of it too.
I think about a time I was excited about writing a prose piece, and shared that with a friend, and they saw poetry in it and get all excited about how I should be a poet. It was be meant as a high compliment but still to the person receiving it, it may feel like not being seen, or feel like being pushed into a box they don’t want to be in.
And it can feel like your prose, the thing you were trying to do, wasn’t good enough. I say this from lots of frustrating experiences, and I’m sure other people in other art forms and genres have similar stories. I don’t know what it is about us all that we want to define and pigeonhole and push our ideas about who people are onto them, but it’s not surprising that finding solid ground in our individual identities is a struggle and is the first thing tackled in AW, after safety.
Have you had people try to define you, or your art, in ways that feel heavy-handed or overbearing? Is there something you’d like to claim about your identity as an artist or person?
I feel like Julia Cameron knows really different types of people than I do. Some of what she describes seems fairly particular to fame and fortune, or being in that realm. Reading this section, the person that came to mind most was actually, umm, well let’s just say when she called that one director “King Baby” it reminded me of our current president.
Also, I’m so curious to know who that crazymaker King Baby director was. And while we’re on the topic of famous people tea, if anyone didn’t know this (I didn’t for years of working with this book), later when she mentions that she used to be married to a brilliant and wonderful director, she’s talking about Martin Scorsese.
But yeah, who’s the King Baby director? WHO IS IT, JULIA?
But back to the content proper, it was a little hard to relate to this section just because some of the specifics. I’ve definitely had some “poisonous playmates,” too many, but they didn’t quite fit the crazymaker profile. Or at least, only parts of it. None of them were exceeding charismatic charmers. The flavor just felt a bit off to me. That could be generational, or timing (this book came out almost thirty years ago), or just different circles.
I did recognize someone who’s had a big role in my life in the triangulation description. That’s a real tough one to be around.
And yes, I’ve had the person or two or more who wants to spend my time and money (I can think of some very specific examples, but out of this being public I’m going to restrain myself). The whole part about crazymakers denying your reality is basically gaslighters and I’ve had a couple of those.
For me, it’s probably more accurate to say the crazymakers I’ve known have had a couple of these qualities but lacked others completely, each one a different cherry-picked assortment of two-ish of these attributes.
I’m thinking of a person I dated when I was younger, who oozed goodness and politeness and who was definitely a gaslighter (though I didn’t know that term then) who constantly made me question my reality or consider it altogether wrong, who blamed me for all our problems, who created dramas that seem insane thinking back on them later and were pretty mind-boggling at the time, who got enraged when he thought he didn’t have my absolute trust, and who always told me I was dragging him down by…not having a perfect life and being a real person instead of, like, a poster of a supermodel on his walls. Yeah, that guy also sexually assaulted me (which at the time we didn’t talk about that that could happen within a couple) so fuuuuuuuuck that guy. I was fooled by his oozing goodness. And I think that has affected me in a pretty permanent way in that I’ve found that kind of oozing, performative goodness suspect ever after, and I prefer a person who’s more real, flaws and all.
It’s probably just because it’s on my mind so much, but what I found from my life that fit this description the most wasn’t a person but medical education. It takes all your money, all your time, needs you available every moment of the day, gaslights you in so many ways, and always, always blames you, the student, and punishes you. It destroys schedules on the regular.
Do you have crazymakers in your life? Now, or in the past? Do they fit the description or only partially?
I am your resident skeptic, so this was another section I related to a lot, though my doubts often take different forms, though as I type that I ask myself, do they really though? Maybe not. Reading through it again, yeah, this is pretty much me. I don’t know if I’ll ever not be skeptical, or even if I want not to be. I’m tired of trying to admonish, positive think, mental gymnastics myself into believing something I don’t because I think I should. So I’m trying to not get tangled in all that and just ride the wave.
Instead of fighting the skepticism and telling myself things that frankly, I don’t believe, and trying to force myself into a less skeptical version of myself, I’m trying to let me just be who I am, skeptical and all, and still go along with the process and keep an open mind. I don’t know if that makes sense, holding both skepticism and open-mindedness, but I’m trying it out.
Are you feeling skeptical? Open-minded? Hopeful? Hopeless? A mixture of any and all of the above?
The timing of this section coming up this week feels almost cosmic. In this section on attention, JC writes about how in the present moment we are okay. She says that tomorrow the bad thing may happen but right now, we’re okay. And I don’t totally agree with that because sometimes you are IN the bad thing and there’s a lot of power to being able to say that you’re not okay when you’re not.
Still, this hits home as fires burn all over my state and the Air Quality Index is higher than I’ve ever seen it and we can’t go outside for even short periods of time, and I’m worried about evacuation. Tomorrow, or later tonight, the alert could come. I could have to flee. Everything I own could burn. I’m trying hard, on a minute-by-minute basis, to not be consumed by panic. At this very moment, I’m okay, I’m safe. It could change on a dime, and that’s terrifying, and yet, like everyone, I have to live my life.
Her connection between attention and pain interests me. I think personally I would make the link as more between attention and intensity, either in a good way or a painful way. It’s not just the breakups and the losses that persist in sharp relief, but also falling in love, adventures, acts of courage.
I don’t know if this is true for others, but I notice that I remember some things from my earlier years much more clearly than things that were more recent. Logically, it doesn’t make sense, shouldn’t things closer in time, like within the last couple of years, be the clearest? But I’m often better at remembering my teenage years and early twenties, whether it’s incidents, conversations, details, and especially song lyrics. Songs that I learned as a teenager, even if I haven’t heard the song in years, are more readily available than those for current music. And I wonder if that too has to do with the intensity of those years.
It also made me think of how some people started keeping covid journals. I know at least one person who did and have listened to podcast episodes where people talk about doing that. We are definitely in intense times.
I love her description of taking walks. I miss walks. I miss solo walks. Desperately.
What nature of things in your life do you remember most clearly? Are your sharpest memories with most attention to detail from a certain time period or more recent? Are there ways you can start paying more attention in your life as it is now?
“To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.”
-Robert Louis Stevenson
This quote, by far, stood out as my favorite in this week’s marginalia. It’s something I’ve always struggled with. I think it goes back to what I’ve mentioned in previous AWR columns, that I always got the message that who I was and what I liked was bad and wrong. Sometimes my reaction to that is to hide my true feelings and wants. Sometimes my reaction is to accept what other people think I should want, let their knowing supersede my own. Sometimes, I outright try to convince myself through some cognitive dissonance and mental gymnastics, that I don’t think and like and feel and love what I do.
It’s not quite the same, because the above is more about preferences and what I’m about to say is more about what we commit to, but it’s on the same theme of knowing ourselves. I’m reminded me of a quote from Brene Brown’s Rising Strong that Dr. Kelly Jones and Lani Diane Rich talked about on their Big Strong Yes podcast, “A reluctant yes becomes a resentful yes.” Yes. Yes it does. Story of my life, and of many of our lives.
What do YOU prefer? Are there things that you’ve been told you ought to prefer that you don’t? What do you want to say no to because it is, or will become a resentful yes? What wild thing do you want to say yes to?
Task 1 – Affirmative Reading
So this task, about reading The Basic Principles every morning and night for a week is one I usually skip. I feel like I have an aversion to those things that are supposed to increase faith in the universe and all that. I skipped this when I did AW this spring, too.
This time around has been no different, I skipped it entirely, and this seriously takes, like, a minute in the morning and a minute in the evening. There’s no real excuse other than it makes me uncomfortable, and I’ve been distracted by fires. So, I’m saying it on here, I’m going to do it anyway, even though it’ll go into the wrong week. I’m still going to do it for seven mornings and nights.
Task 5 – Writing Affirmations in Morning Pages
Similarly, with this task, which is to write affirmations during your Morning Pages, I fell off because I fell off of Morning Pages, and will be continuing this for a few extra days to make up for the missed ones.
Tasks 3 and 4
List 20 things you enjoy doing and the last time you did them
- ice skating – 2013 (with Claire)
- getting a massage – Oct 2019
- skygazing – ?
- going to fall festivals/fall activities – 2013 (Sauvie Island)
- reading my work in front of audiences – Dec 2019
- playing in the snow – 2013
- taking a long walk alone in the woods – 2013 (I was at a writing retreat on Orcas and went to go walk the woods and ocean of Camp Orkila)
- swimming in the ocean/skinny dipping – 2007
- being outside at night, seeing planets, the Milky Way – 2005 (when I lived at Camp Orkila)
- roller skating/roller blading at a rink – ? – for anyone who’s seen Parks & Rec, remember when Ben has that birthday party at a skating rink with ’90s music? That’s what I’m talking about and depending where I am and where the world is with covid, something like that is what I’d want to do for my 40th birthday.
- karaoke – 2018?
- walking along the shore ocean by myself – 2013 (same as #7)
- reading a book I love for a stretch of time in daytime – 2018
- making music – maybe today since I did some very tentative composing
- clothes shopping, especially in a back to school, seasonal way – 2018
- laughing so hard I almost pee myself – the other week, because of a bizarre autocorrect while texting with Emily
- going to concerts – 2018
- being outside under moonlight – 2017
- listening to the rain – ?
- being around a real fire in a fireplace – ?
Task 4 is to pick two and make them goals for the next week, and I found this tough, since covid already put a crimp in a lot of these, as does living where I live and having no access to wild spaces for the kind of nature I’m craving, or really any, and now even that is moot since we can’t go outside anyway.
So, the book thing, I can do that. I can find one hour, one day, to read for fun during the day, not just at night, and really indulge in my love of reading. That’s doable. And the composing thing, since I’m doing that, which is terrifying but also incredibly satisfying, I think I’ll record a bit on my phone, and maybe post if I’m really brave.
I realized I can also look into things I can’t do now, like fall festivals and activities that are outdoors are probably still happening, covid-wise, if we can get through the worst of these fires and come out the other side.
Task 6 – 5 More Imaginary Lives
- stand-up comedian
- sailor navigating by the stars
- storm chaser
- Dr. House – solving medical mysteries
Tasks 8, 9 and 10
Task 8 is to write out ten changes you’d like to make in your life, and JC encourages all dreams big and small, and in most of mine, I went big.
I would like to…
- work on putting together a polished version of Moonchild and my other book manuscripts (there’s a fair amount of material)
- work on my writing, podcasting, blogging and music full-time and still somehow afford my life
- get a new winter comforter that I love that doesn’t pill like my current one
- write and record my own songs
- fully indulge in seasons, go all out, do things that evoke nostalgia and memories and people who’ve passed (by that I mostly mean my grandmother), and decorate and eat according to the season
- see the Northern Lights
- meet and become real friends with Taylor Swift (she didn’t say these had to be realistic)
- be able to spend a few months living on Orcas at Camp Orkila (also probably unrealistic, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting it)
- dedicate one month a year to editing screenplays, another to writing a new one each year, including finishing ones I’ve started
- have romance in my life, and in a way that is synchronistic (as opposed to antagonist) to my creative life
Task 9 is to pick one to do this week, and Task 10 is to do it. So…yeah, a lot of these are pretty big and (at least currently) out of reach, so I thought the seasons one would be doable at least a little. I just used up a candle, the one in the picture, so I can go onto one that fits early fall to fill my apartment with some fall fragrance. And since I’ve been getting a sort of “mystery box” each week from the farmer’s market, I’m getting seasonal food, and have just started to get apples. So I can eat or cook with them.
Tasks 2 and 7
These focus on creating a Life Pie to see where your time and energy goes, and creating an Inner/Outer circle of people you can trust. I still have mine from spring and so just adjusted those accordingly.
Surprisingly, or not, there is a ton of overlap in what I wrote for all of these tasks this week, and what I wrote in March, even though I didn’t look back at that until after. I guess that’s part of the thing of coming back to who you are.
Next week is Recovering a Sense of Power and it is…powerful. Here, this will be spread over two weeks, with next week featuring the regular rundown of the chapter, and the week after focusing on Synchronicity, which readers may imagine, given my skeptical heart, I have a complicated relationship with.
Week Three also has the first in-chapter exercise with a bunch of questions to answer, so it may be worth taking a little extra time reading through the chapter.
PD: The picture at the top of the post is of a candle, Bright Citrus Sunflower, from Bath & Body Works. I’ve been burning this candle for awhile, and burned the last bit of it while reading Week Two for this post.
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:
- Jumping Back into the Blogging Ring – where I first introduce this column
- My The Artist’s Way Origin Story
- The Basic Tools: Morning Pages
- The Basic Tools: The Artist Date
- Re-Starting the Journey
- Preview Digression on Spirituality
- Week One: Recovering a Sense of Safety
- September 3 – Time Travel – Creative Monsters and Champions
Schedule for the Rest of 2020
- 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