the artist's way

Not to say I’m surfeited, never say that, but I have a lot to assimilate. Another play, two more books, a new show at the Art
Gallery, all to report on. 

So I thought of Julia Cameron and her book, The Artist’s Way (Jeremy Tarcher/Putnam, 1992). I was still living up north  when I read it, in Muskoka, not that far north but fairly isolated.  I lived year-round on the shore of a small lake in a winterised cottage, about ten miles from the hamlet of MacTier (IGA, Home Hardware, branch bank, LCBO, gas station, all the necessities).  The requisites of the books were both possible and difficult to fulfil because of my situation. The subtitle of The Artist’s Way reads: “A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity”.  It’s a twelve step path but Cameron declares it has nothing to do with Alcoholics Anonymous, no similarity at all except for the number twelve.  She cites the basic principles required and then lists the  basic tools before she proceeds to the program, that reads like a workbook.  Each step/chapter is called “recovering”: ”Recovering a Sense of Safety”;  “Recovering a Sense of Identity”,  and ten other senses variously titled Power ,Integrity, Possibility, Abundance, Connection, Strength, Compassion, Self-Protection, Autonomy, and number twelve - Faith. For each recovery one must perform specific tasks and exercises, with a foliow-up Check-In, a kind of self-exam  to see if you are doing it all. No cheating.

It’s very time-consuming, so it was a good thing I was living alone and isolated; I had the time. More anon, but just a word about the basic tools and the reason I am dwelling on this.  Number One tool is Morning Pages:  "three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream of consciousness…the primary tool of creative recovery”.  Uncensored, and it’s a good thing. I hate to tell you what my morning pages look like now, after, lo,these many years - full of noodges and nags, reminders, bleats, fears, irritations, occasional ideas,  and gratitude. “Morning pages,” writes Cameron,”map our own interior.” Yes, well….

The other basic tool is the reason I’m writing this blog. Cameron calls it The Artist Date: “a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist.”  Doing what?  “A visit to a great junk store, a solo trip to the beach, an old movie seen alone,  a visit to an aquarium or an art gallery…a long country walk (how about a walk over a bridge to the nearest supermarket?), a sortie  to a strange church to hear gospel music…or your artist might like bowling.”  Solitude is essential.

That was the easy part.  I lived in solitude.  But finding the things that she mentioned (and more) -  finding them was difficult.  Books and videos (before DVDs) were easy; everything else was missing. or hard to come by.  So that’s why I thought of her today when I have such a wealth of “artist dates" to recall and review and treasure. 

One task, encountered in Week Four ("Recovering a Sense of Integrity”), while difficult, would not be possible where I live now. It requires a week of reading deprivation. The deprivation includes newspapers, movies, television, and your own writing, except, perhaps, the Morning Pages. Cameron offers a list of things you can do instead: listen to music, knit (hah!), make curtains (hah!), wash the dog, sort closets, file, repot some plants, mend, rewire the lamp (who, me?), rearrange the kitchen, cook something, walk, and more. I added one: clean! I guess all that’s what people do who don’t read.

Well, it was amazing.  I organised my closets and kitchen, listened to music - really listened - but best of all, I got my mending done, a real achievement. Such an achievement that I did the deprivation exercise twice, a couple of years apart.  It is, as Cameron says, a very powerful tool, and a very frightening one.

I remember coming out of each of those weeks feeling as if I were recovering from the flu, sort of light-headed and drifting.

Tomorrow I will begin reporting my artist’s dates.