The Artist’s Way Reflections – Week Four: Recovering a Sense of Integrity

orkilapostcard

She says we might feel volatile this week and I…feel volatile. And pissy. I suppose that’s part of the process that happens when reading and doing this book and all that comes with it, the ways that you get more real with yourself and how you feel about things, a big theme in this chapter and in the book as a whole.

I hope doing this book will eventually bear fruit, and also that this post isn’t too volatile and pissy to read. I thought of erasing so much of it (and did some) but also felt like the realness of what this process is like is important to share.

Some part of me feels lighter for having written this and being real, and I’m reminded that as stagnant and persistent as the volatility and pissiness may feel right now, they aren’t permanent and eventually will become something else. To quote House in one of my favorite episodes, (the season one finale, where he’s treating his ex’s new husband and talking to her on the roof), “Something always changes.” But for now, here we are.

Week Four: Recovering a Sense of Integrity

Honest Changes

The meat of the chapter. In length and in topic, this feels like the crux of it. And it spoke to me.

First, the part about the kriyas, that physical manifestation of big change. I’ve felt that throughout my life at big moments. I’m reminded of a time, probably in the fall of 2004 but that might be off, when I read something I wrote to my writer’s group. We met and shared weekly but this week I read something that was more difficult and that felt like spilling secrets in a way that made me feel both ashamed and flooded with relief to say it, out loud, to people.

The next day, I got sick with a cold that hung on for over a week. And I always felt the two were connected, that somehow clearing out that writing by speaking it aloud cleared something out of my body too, the tension of having held something in for so long.

More recently, anytime I’ve taken a step towards leaving medical school, like writing to a dean about it, writing to my parents about it, and then most strongly after posting about it here, I’ve gone through a bout of is “Is this covid or an emotional hangover?” because I felt so worn down.

I think there can be a tendency to think that if you’re having an illness-like reaction it means you’re doing something wrong, to take it as a sign from the universe that you’re going down a bad path. But that doesn’t match my experience, and I don’t think it’s what Julia Cameron is saying here either, but rather that the illness or emotional hangover or kriya often accompanies some sort or relief or release or realization.

There’s some science behind that too. Stress suppresses the immune system, and most of the symptoms we experience from illness are the results of the immune system doing its thing, so there are often times when a person is under a lot of stress but gets sick when that stress is relieved and the immune system can resume its normal duties. I remember my undergrad anatomy & physiology prof talking about that and giving the example that many students get right after final exams.

Another piece of this section that spoke to me was about the emergence of a more distinct identity. I’m definitely feeling that, and how that’s gain as well as loss. I think one of my absolute pet peeves is when other people try to define me, and yet I always somehow feel like I’m supposed to be their definition and not mine (which is probably part of why I hate it so much). I feel my self-definition is getting stronger but sometimes that’s volatile and challenging with others.

The section, and the chapter, start out with a discussion of denial, of the tendency to say we feel okay about things when we don’t. I love that when she gave some examples of the more defined things we feel, she gave both positive and negative emotions as examples, because I think there can be a tendency to tamp down the good feelings as well as the bad. At least, I know that was the case for me growing up, where being angry got me in trouble but so did being too excited about something.

It also reminded me of a line in Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well,” which is such a masterpiece that it’s cliche to even call it a masterpiece. The line is, “I might be okay but I’m not fine at all.” (As a side note, if we prose writers were allowed to quote lyrics at the start of an essay, the way you often see poetry or prose quoted to start off a piece, one of my two major essays (which I talked about in this post) would have a different quote from the same song.)

So I thought I’d try some denial-busting and write some real feelings about things, to get away from just the trying to pretend, even to myself, to feel okay about.

Some denial-busting:

  • I feel crushed that I didn’t do well enough on my boards to be able to tutor for the test. I was hoping that job would be great for me in so many ways, and it was and still is such a disappointment.
  • I feel real disappointment every time I get a writing rejection. Even if I tell myself it was a long shot anyway, or that maybe they didn’t pick me for x, y, z reason I tell myself to feel better about it all. It stings and it sucks.
  • I feel regret that I didn’t digitize my writings sooner (ideally I would have done it consistently along the way), and so completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it and how time-consuming of a task it is. I feel resigned to being buried under it for…I don’t know, years? the rest of my life? and I feel resentful that I don’t have any sort of help, either actual physical help with it or the ability to pay for help, or any of it. I want some damn synchronicity and universe joining in to help on things that actually fucking matter. I feel like I’m screaming and screaming that I need help with this and the universe is like “oh here’s a magazine subscription you can spend money on, how ’bout that instead?” and I’m just so frustrated and overwhelmed, and also stark TERRIFIED of losing my life’s work by not doing this ASAP, and also it’s the most tedious unpaid job ever. I just feel like screaming and screaming and never stopping.
  • I hate advice. I hate people telling me who I am. I hate people telling me what I should do. More than all of those, I HATE when people don’t listen to my responses to their attempts to define/etc me and insist that they are right. I don’t know if it’s the girl thing, or the disabled thing that makes people want to “fix” or “guide” me like a lost child, but for fuck’s sake I’m almost forty, leave me be.
  • I’m really disappointed that I didn’t get an apartment on Orcas. It was in a great location, close enough to walk to town, but with lots of access to both woods and ocean. It seemed auspicious too, because it used to belong to someone I know, so I’d actually been to the apartment before, so many years ago, and was able to connect with the owner about people we knew in common. It seemed like a good sign. But they rented it to someone else who was on-island already and I’m really bummed, and probably will have to give up the Orcas idea pretty soon here and focus on finding somewhere local to move, which I’m not at all happy about.

Ugh, I wish that I could say that one of my denial-breakers was of the more positive variety that I’m glad JC included, but alas, it’s 2020, my whole life fell apart before even covid, and has just continued to fall apart only farther still. So yeah, on that note.

What are you saying you feel “okay” about when really you’re not fine at all? What definitions and clarity are emerging in you and who you are, and how has that been? Have you had any kriyas lately, or big realizations about big things you’re not okay with and want to change?

Buried Dreams, An Exercise

I struggled with this one. Big time. JC says to write fast because speed kills the inner censor, but most of these I really struggled to come up with anything and spent most of my time staring into space trying to dredge up something to write.

The class one got me. As someone freshly out of the “drinking from the firehose” of medical school, the thought of taking any class, even for fun, sent me into almost what might be described as a PTSD response and I wanted to scream things like, “Please dear god, NO, no more classes.” I know it’s supposed to be fun and exploratory but to me the idea of classes, at all, just sent me rigid and cold.

I dredged some up anyway, after writing “NONE” and going through, in my own mind, a paraphrase of Dwight Schrute in “The Merger” episode of The Office, “Would ‘none’ by an appropriate response?” I came up with: podcasting, cooking with fall foods (squash, apples, pumpkin), how to knit a sweater (so I can make more than just hats, which I still don’t know how to finish without help), a singing class, and a class on tracking the movements of the moon and planets and stars.

For the record though, none is still number one, with a vast ocean between it and any of those.

I struggled even more with the next one, something that sounds fun that you would never do. I could think up things that sounded fun but I would happily do them. I could think up things I would never do but they didn’t sound appealing at all.

So I went with things that literally couldn’t be done (time travel, going to outer space to other planets or star systems) and ones I couldn’t do because they’re illegal (remember how one of my imaginary lives from Week One was as an outlaw?), and only one real life one, trying out for a singing show, which almost felt like it shouldn’t count because in a way I already did that (Orcas Idol in 2007). But yeah.

I just realized I didn’t really have a lot of those “oh that sounds fun but I could never” things. I’m pretty clear on what I want to do or try, but my reason for not doing them isn’t really the “I could never” mentality, but practical concerns like not being able to afford them, not being able to access things,  not having anyone to do them with and not being able to access it solo (if it requires driving which most of my nature-related desires do), or a combination of all of the above and heightened by covid. And of course, sometimes there’s some performance anxiety and feeling I’m not good enough, especially when it comes to anything musical.

And in a way, that brings it back around to the first section. Maybe I didn’t resonate with this exercise, and struggled with these sorts of questions because my dreams aren’t so buried. I’m not struggling to discover them but to make them a reality. The fact that I feel real clear on what my dreams are means the more defined self is emerging, and strong.

What about you? Did anything interesting come up in this exercise? Any buried dreams emerge from the depth? Any patterns in your answers?

Reading Deprivation

a.k.a. the most difficult thing in this entire book.

But, I’m doing it, hard as it is. And I did it in the spring too. I mostly hated it then, but did use the time to write a really important email to one of my closest friends who I treasure.

This time, it’s uncomfortable but I don’t hate it the way I did in March, which BTW, was when I first started sleeping without my phone!

In our modern world, it made sense to me to really set out the rules of the reading (and media) deprivation, because reading absolutely nothing just doesn’t make sense in this digital world full of emails and texts and reading on the web. I tried to focus my own guidelines on the spirit of the things she talks about (distractions, things that take us away from the present and fill up our quiet moments with words and noise).

So here’s what I decided on to give myself some reading (and media) deprivation:

  • No social media
  • No TV
  • No podcasts
  • No reading books (audio or print)
  • No reading the news

I also thought that a good plan for something difficult may sometimes also include some planned exceptions. So I made two. I’m allowed to check my FB once a day after lunch (because that’s where I’m doing all my networking about trying to go to Orcas and those opportunities go fast), and also I’m allowing myself to read just a couple of pages before bed each night. I’m afraid that without that, with how tenuous (really up to that absolute edge and pushing, pushing, pushing on it) I’ve been with sticking to sleeping without the phone lately, I was likely to break my streak. And I’d rather cheat a bit on complete reading deprivation than throw six months of progress on the phone front down the tube.

So far, it’s uncomfortable but okay, and I’m keeping to my schedule better. We’ll see what happens over the next several days I have left of this.

How is reading and media deprivation going for you? Are you getting anything fruitful out of it? Are there ways you’d like to carry this over after the exercise ends?

Quote

None of the quotes in the margins particularly resonated with me. I’m noticing this is a bit of a pattern, and wonder if I’ll even be able to sustain this section for the rest of the book.

So instead, I picked something from JC herself that jumped out at me:

“Think of yourself as an accident victim walking away from the crash: your old life has crashed and burned; your new life isn’t apparent yet. You may feel yourself to be temporarily without a vehicle. Just keep walking.”

That pretty much sums things up. Except I’ve been walking, and walking, and walking, for months now. And I’m freaking over it. There’s a limit to how long a person can go on with their whole life in complete and utter limbo, and I think I passed that limit back in March, before even corona.

I feel like I keep saying this same thing, over and over, in posts. Not just AW posts, either, but in goal posts, and other posts. I am so, so, so far beyond my limit here and I’m so frustrated because nothing is working out.

This is why I have trouble believing in any of her synchronicity, make-plans-and-the-universe-will-join-in, leap-and-the-net-will-appear type stuff, and why it feels like hogwash a lot of the time, much as I’m trying to set aside my cynicism. Reality supports the cynicism. All that just figure out what you want and the universe will figure out the how…well, I’m pretty fucking clear universe, where the fuck are you? I’m unambivalent.

Sometimes I resent this book for giving me hope when it feels like there is none, and when hoping just makes it hurt worse. I’m trying so hard to keep these posts, the goal posts, and myself, more positive but there’s a falseness to that; I don’t feel optimistic at all. I want to believe that somehow things will sort themselves out in the wake of leaving med school (my old life crashing and burning) but every avenue I’ve tried walking down has been one huge disappointment and roadblock after another and I’m worn out from false hope.

So yeah, I’ll keep walking because there’s no other option, but I’m fucking OVER IT.

Was there a quote that stood out to you this week? Hopefully one that didn’t spin you down a rabbit hole of frustration?

Tasks

I’m not too far into these yet. I did both of the time travel tasks, where you write about yourself at eight and eighty and write letters to your current self from both of those perspectives.

(Writing letters, to yourself or anyone else, is always a good excuse to check out Temporal Treasures!)

Both were pretty fun and interesting. The eight-year-old one was especially fun, thinking back to being in second and third grade, and basically just became a list of things I liked or liked to do then (ice skating every Sunday, playing in the leaves, storms, bundling up and playing in the snow (we lived in Buffalo then so there was plenty of that), drinking hot chocolate, my dad making fires in the fireplace, picking raspberries from the yard, making up songs in the shower, writing stories and making my parents read five-ish at a time and vote for their favorite, anything having to do with outer space, and so on).

As for the Artist’s Prayer task, anyone who reads this has to know that was a hard one for me. Anything that even hints at faith of any kind, and I don’t mean religion but the actual idea or experience of faith, in anything, sends me running. Last time, I finally did this task but like four weeks later. I still have what I wrote then and so I’m reading that once a day but sorry, not sharing that one.

One of the tasks asks if you broke your reading deprivation and if so why. In March, I don’t think I ever did, but this time around I did, twice. One was for like two seconds, in the heat of anger and wanting to quell it I went on FB (had already done my daily check for housing opportunities). The next morning, I was really stressed and may have listened to a podcast about the Bachelorette cast bios. I picked a rough week to be missing podcasts (and the news). It was much easier in March when nothing was going on aside from lockdown. Hopefully those will be my only slips, still have a couple days left.

I’m intrigued by the giving away a piece of clothing task. Like she predicted in the Honest Changes section, I feel like going through and tossing out everything and feel like nothing is right. I’ve felt that way for a long time. But then I look at my clothes and have trouble parting with anything. It’s a conundrum. I’m kinda just vaguely dissatisfied with everything (in my closet and in life) but also still holding on to it. I will have to come up with something to toss. Perhaps many somethings.

Synchronicity Lately

Ehhh, wow, I can’t really think of anything here. I came up with two things but they are totally dredging for anything that seems like a fateful coincidence.

The first is that while looking through a pile of stuff for my Sisyphean task of digitizing my old writings (Universe, do you hear me? I’m screaming and screaming and screaming at the sky that I need help with this) some little things fell out of the pile. The most synchronous was the old postcard of Camp Orkila (that I wrote about in this post), and like I did with this postcard in early 2003, I decided to put it under my pillow. It worked last time, so why the hell not?

There was also a picture of Sinead O’Connor in there, that someone had mailed to me in the early ’00s. And since we were just talking about her in one of these recent posts, I thought “huh, that’s an interesting coincidence” and then listened to some of her albums.

The other thing is, yesterday I was digitizing (I feel like I will say that for the rest of my life, am I getting it across how cumbersome this task is and the weight of it is crushing me into a pulp? I don’t think I’ve complained about it enough, haha) and came across a writing for a book project named after a song (a Joni Mitchell song that Tori Amos covers) and within the next hour, the song came on (the Tori version). I’m not usually superstitious about most things but I’ve always semi-believed my iTunes shuffle is semi-psychic and this felt like a weird coincidence. I checked and the last time it’d played this song was over a year and a half ago.

So these were…something? I guess?

What about you, any instances of synchronicity this week?

Looking Ahead

We’re getting into the part of the book I don’t know quite as well. I think I often gave up with the reading deprivation assignment and just didn’t do it and abandoned ship at that point. So, I still have a general sense of what each chapter holds but it gets a little fuzzier after this.

I remember Week Five as being more fun. I think this is the chapter where a lot of posts involve collecting images, which feels more light and fun than some of the heavier, soul-searching tasks.

-April

PD: At the top is an image of the Camp Orkila postcard that first came into my life in 2003. It has three images, one big one on top, and two smaller ones on the bottom. The top picture is of the dock, looking out over the Sound and to other islands. The bottom left is the camp barn on Darvill Farm Road, and the bottom right is a boat near the Orkila shoreline.

Funny thing, since this is a postcard I thought there might be an image online and when searching for it on google image, I found my own pictures from other posts here, and links to this site. Trippy. Since I couldn’t find the postcard online, I just took a picture of mine.

~~~

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

  • 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

4 thoughts on “The Artist’s Way Reflections – Week Four: Recovering a Sense of Integrity

  1. This seemed like a really tough post to write on a few different levels, so after all that effort and expenditure of emotional energy, I’m glad you at least feel somewhat lighter for it. As always, I’m so impressed by your openness about all the difficult things you’ve been processing. Hopefully next week won’t be quite so heavy.

    And many thanks for your thoughtful TT shoutout!

    • Hi Claire! I think of you and your site every time something comes up about letter-writing or postcards, and there’s a lot of that in AW, so I’m always happy to link you :)

      Thanks for being appreciative about the openness. Sometimes I feel like I’m in such a rough place, and feeling so negative, that it just gets repetitive and awful (and probably some people feel that way, as is their right). But I hope that others, and maybe me too, get something out of seeing the process laid bare, as experienced by one person. Sometimes, I think there’s pressure for everything to be hunky dory once undertaking any process to make life better, whether it’s a major life change, working through a book like this, or in my case both. It’s easy to idealize from the outside, and easy to think once we’re in it that it should match that idealized version (I definitely thought leaving school would take on a different tenor than it has) and so there’s a part of me that just wants to say, yeah IRL it’s messy, and hard, and that’s an important part of it to acknowledge.

      I hope that makes sense!

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

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

What do YOU think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s