Taking no prisoners. Including herself.

I’m joining a group that’s going to do Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way in the new year. I have mixed feelings.

*

Every time I think of The Artist’s Way, I think of JT, the boy who classically broke my heart. He was working his way through the book when we were dating, trying to unleash ‘the creative beast within’ [insert snarl here].

At the same time, I was sinking deeper into a depression that would eventually swallow me whole, and our ‘relationship’ (we were young then: 19, 20) was consequently spinning down the toilet. I don’t blame him in least. I was probably quite a drag — for the uninitiated, depression and creativity don’t mesh.

He would do the Morning Pages exercise, where you keep pen and paper next to your bed, and upon first wake scribble down three pages worth of those ‘first thought, best thought’ thoughts.

“Before you even do/say/think anything else,” he told me, “you just write. Even if it’s stupid, you just write.”

At the time I rolled my eyes and secretly called him an idiot. Not because I didn’t think it was a worthwhile practice for him, but because I didn’t need help being creative, thankyouverymuch.

“Three pages of rambling? That’s your idea of brilliance? Penning the Great American Novel–now that’s creative ambition, my friend.”

What’s that? Yes, of course I was just jealous. He had committed to a simple, but daily, practice.

*

Historically, there has not been a lot of space in my life for daily acts of failure, or play (they being related creatures, I think). There is instead an emphasis on perfection, and creative achievement. But who can shit golden bricks without learning first a little alchemy?

“But seriously, come on!” I would think, back when I wrote moody poetry and listened to Jewel, “anyone can freakin’ scribble for three pages! I know how to morning-wake my creative juices and let flow impulse-driven words. It’s called unleashing the uncensored! Muzzling the critic! It’s free-flowin, word-riffing, stream-of-consciousness creativity! I am all about the drop in, dip down, double up, don’t-give-a-fuck, balls-to-the-wall, let-it-all-hang-out-so-you-can-vomit-up-the-gold-mine kind of writing, bitch!”

Or so I would be, for inconsistent bursts.

*

Consistency is not my forte. I wasn’t (and still am not) a woman of small, regular gestures. (Go big or go home). This means I’m either launching into a massive undertaking–writing a novel, playwriting my own show, relocating to Vietnam, building a house with my bare hands–or feeling like a failure. You can see why I have difficulty with a more modest daily practice.

My own ambition gets in my way.

It would be years later until I really understood the value of small, daily, often painfully-mediocre action. It was only after studying with Natalie Goldberg that I saw the power of a 10-minute freewrite. Or after laboriously quilting together for three years my “unimpressive” daily essays to create my first one-woman-show. Or during those years when I sat zazen and swallowed the seed of truth daily like a vitamin and let grow out of my mouth inch by painful inch this great sunflower now hungry for light. During those years, in my mid-late twenties, you couldn’t stop me from writing. And I failed and fumbled and furied–a lot.

Those were the years I was most alive.

And now these past couple of years I live in frequent states of half-dead. A certain kind of numbness has set in since rounding into my third decade. Born, I think, of trying to curtail my grandiose efforts at brilliance, without successfully replacing them with small and consistent efforts. Now, I just look at myself in the mirror and remember once feeling creative. Once feeling alive.

I’ve experienced so many times the quiet glory of faithful diligence–journey of a thousand steps and all that. So why now this returned resistance to practice? I’m afraid to acknowledge where I really am, how ‘not far’ I’ve really come. I feel once again like a temperamental mare in need of breaking-in. Doubt creeps in that perhaps it’s over. Maybe my greatest creative outputs are behind me. No more creativity, no more discipline, time to surrender to the truth that I’m now a voiceless human who once knew how to sing with god.

So it’s with a mixture of doubt and hope that I pull out the worn and dog-eared copy of The Artist’s Way. Dog-eared because I bought it used. I’ve never actually completed the course. [Ahem]

Here I go: to begin again as student, learning the basics of creative practice. To subordinate myself to be a disciple of the word, hungering again for that birthing process, of reaching slowly, hand over hand, toward the light.

**

§1345 · December 30, 2013 · This Modern Life · · [Print]

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