You can’t be bad at art.

When it comes to art, even personalities that aren’t perfectionist suddenly descend into weird, nit-picky hangups.

“It doesn’t look right.” “It doesn’t look real enough.” The one who never alphabetizes her books will develop a dire need for right angles and even planes. The one who can’t keep his pantry in any semblance of order will agonize over brushstrokes that refuse his attempts at realism. “I can’t make it look the way it does in my head.”

“I can’t.”

More demoralizing, discouraging, and disheartening words probably don’t exist in the art world, whether you’re talking visual arts, writing, music, or performance. Artists in every medium and of every range of experience maintain this mental image of what their art should be — usually in comparison to someone else’s. “I can’t” — because nothing they produce ever measures up to that ideal they’ve carried around probably since childhood.

“They.” What am I talking about? This is a case of “we,” for sure, because I’m one of those artists.

Talking to Yourself

There’s this thing called the Self-Talk Cycle. Maybe you’ve heard of it; I can’t remember who first coined the term. But the Self-Talk Cycle describes:

how you talk to yourself about yourself in your head;
what emotions this engenders in you;
what actions you take based on those emotions;
what you tell yourself about yourself as a result of those actions;
and so forth.

Here’s a visual of what I’m talking about (click to embiggen!):
 

selftalk

 

So, imagine that you consistently tell yourself, “I’m bad at art. I don’t have a creative bone in my body. If I try this, I’m just gonna mess up. Besides, doing art isn’t productive. I shouldn’t waste my time or other people’s time.”

What we say to ourselves about ourselves always leads to feelings. How will you feel as a result of talking to yourself like this about your artist self? Your musician self? Your writer self?
Frustrated.
Overwhelmed.
Guilty for even thinking you could take the time for this.
Disappointed.
Angry with yourself.

What actions will you take as a result of these emotions?
Avoid your art projects.
Ignore your urge to create.
Dam up and wall off the impulses that lead to art, music, writing.
Block relationships with other artists, musicians, writers. Keep them at arm’s length so they don’t remind you of what you’re not doing. Heaven forbid they tempt you to try creating again.

What do you tell yourself about yourself as you take these unpleasant actions?
I’m alone.
I’m not as good an artist as ________, so they wouldn’t want to hang around me anyway.
I’m no good at art, music, writing. There’s no point in trying.
If I try, I’ll just waste people’s time.
I’ll just screw it up again.
I can’t.
I’m bad at art.

This circle is particularly vicious. It has teeth, and if you let it go on long enough, it will tear your spirit to shreds. (I should know.)

Don’t let that happen.

Fight that vicious, spirit-shredding monster with the Truth.

Here’s the Truth

You can’t be bad at art.

You can’t be bad at art.

You can’t be bad at art.

Read this and let it sink in:

Art is not about talent or skill. Art is about you. Spending time with you, getting to know you. Seeing parts of yourself that you love, some that you hate, but mostly parts that scare the very breath from your lungs. Art is not about technique or style. Art is learning who you are, and being brave enough to show the world. You can’t be bad at art, unless you are simply afraid to try. Art is a terrifying pursuit, because there is nothing more frightening than our own selves.”

~J.T. Hackett, artist
(@Jay_T1313)
(emphasis mine)

…and…

“When we say we are afraid to begin a project, we are actually saying something else: “I am afraid of how I will feel as I continue.” We do not want to start because we do not know that we can continue. It is not the start, it is the finish that troubles us.”

Julia Cameron

Part of the fear of beginning is the fear of being seen as a beginner…a novice or even an “inferior.” (I can’t remember where I originally came across this idea; possibly it’s more Julia Cameron.) Another part of the fear is fear of knowing ourselves. Fear is where the cycle of art-murdering Self-Talk begins. “It’ll never look right. I’ll screw up. I can’t…”

…because I’m afraid.

But you can.

Because you can’t be bad at art.

And you don’t have to let fear rule you.

Choose This Day Whom You Will Serve

That little subtitle there is a quote from the Bible, specifically from the Old Testament book of Joshua, Chapter 24. Some might accuse me of taking it out of context (though I really don’t believe that I am), but here’s the crux of it for this post:

You have a choice.

You can choose to be subject to fear.

You can choose to immerse yourself in the negative things you tell yourself about your art.

You can choose to obey your fear of being a beginner again.

You can choose to obey your fear of failure.

You can choose to serve your fear.

Or…

You can choose to be subject to freedom. Because that’s what art is.

You can choose life. Because that’s what art is.

You can choose to immerse yourself in speaking kindness, joy, peace, love, and beauty to yourself about your art.

You can choose the courage it takes to get to know yourself.

You can choose the courage it takes to show the world who you are.

You can choose to serve your art,

following where it leads,

even if it leads you to truths about yourself you didn’t want to know.

You can choose to serve your art,

thereby serving Truth and Life and Joy,

thereby serving Good and Light and Freedom.

Sometimes, following your creativity, following Truth and Light and Freedom, means looking into dark places. This seems a paradox, but it’s one of those universal paradoxes that crop up in our existence every so often.

Look into yourself, delve into the dark places, and find in them the Light.

“I know myself, and I will know myself further. I am brave enough to learn who I am. I am good at art. I feel free and strong in my art. And I am brave enough to show it to the world.”

You are everything you need to be, but you’re not there yet.

Become what you already are.
 

Play Cowgirl — If That’s for You

Greetings, dear inklings! Today, you get the privilege of hearing a fresh, lively, lovely voice that’s not mine. ; ) Patricia Middleton has been my friend for the better part of two decades — which means I’ve benefited from her wit, her enthusiasm for life, and her creative inspiration for nearly 20 years.

That’s pretty cramazing.

Dear readers, I like you a lot. So it’s my great pleasure and honor to share Patricia’s voice with you. It just wouldn’t be meet for me to hoard her away all to myself, would it? ; )

I hope she inspires you as much as she does me.

Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl from Toy Story

Patricia writes:

There is a feeling that I loathe. It is the feeling that amidst everything — whether I am busy or bored — there is something important I need to do that I am forgetting.

It’s always getting under my skin, constantly nagging at the back of my mind, and I feel that time is slipping away, time that could have been, should have been used to do….what?

Perhaps it’s easiest to explain by identifying when I don’t have that feeling. They are the times when time is flying by, in the best sense possible. When I’m having fun, creating, and forgetting all worries to lose myself in the joy of creativity. I recently realized that this sense of happiness and not just well-being, but best-being, was very akin to a child at play.

Frivolous Cowgirl?

“Play” for some conjures up this dread of inanity, of meaningless frivolity, of time wasted. I contend that for creative people, play is not only constructive, it is hard work…but we’re having so much fun we don’t mind much.

With that in mind, think about the things you did as a child that made you happiest. Let me share a few examples from my own childhood and draw out the patterns as an example.

What did I do creatively when I was a child? (Let me mention that as the oldest of eight kids, I never lacked for playmates.) My earliest creative memory was of playing “C.P.” with my brother. “C.P.” stood for “Cowgirl Patricia” and consisted of me drawing a map of a ranch on paper and pretending that I was the ranch owner, using my toy dogs and horses (who could talk) to make up stories. My brother played along as my ranch hand.

It’s Showtime, Y’all

Later, when more of my siblings were able to join in, I wrote “plays” for us to perform. I usually starred, not always out of vanity — but being the oldest and the author had its privileges. In one I was “Red Squirrel,” an Indian princess who was kidnapped and had to be rescued by whoever was my favorite brother at the time.

I loved “Mathnet” from the old PBS “Square One” show. I adored Detective Kate Monday, so I set up an “office,” gathering props and costumes to mimic the show. Later I discovered animated films. I was enthralled with stories that well-told and well-drawn, and found that with practice I could imitate the artwork. Not only did I constantly sketch Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine, I got my youngest siblings to play “Voices”.

This was quite a process. We’d (I’d) decide which movie to re-create, then we’d (I’d) assign parts via a (rigged) lottery. We’d recite as much of the dialogue and songs from the movie as we could before we fell asleep, and often took up where we left off the next night. I constantly corrected lines or inflections to be sure they were letter-perfect. I don’t think we made it all the way through a movie very many times, but everyone loved playing.

It was so much fun making up a world, inviting my siblings to interact as characters, and spinning a story together.
Looking back on this, a few patterns emerge: I loved making/imitating fictional worlds/storylines/characters, I enjoyed being a main character, directing (willing) accomplices, and there was a major effort to accentuate the visual in each case. You can guess where I’m heading…a fabulous career in theatre!

You can imagine my delight when I started college and discovered the fabulous world of theatre! (And consequently discovered my acting “skills” needed work.) I did it all….sound, lights, costuming, makeup, props, directing, and finally…acting. Not only acting on stage in a few plays, but winning a place in my college’s touring improvisational troupe, which wrote its own material and went to dozens of summer camps and youth gatherings to perform.

The Proof in the Pudding Pathos

I loved (nearly) every minute of it. I learned that peers were much less tractable than my siblings and that not all my ideas would be accepted. After graduating with my Liberal Arts degree, I went on to work for a few months at a regional theatre.

Then the dream ended. I sent out resume after resume, but couldn’t find any theatre work. I moved back home and took a job at a bookstore. I reasoned that I loved books, and I desperately wanted to live on my own. Besides, it’d only be temporary, right?

Seven years later, I acknowledged that I was burnt out. I’d quit drawing, the retail hours made working on any show impossible, and I was writing 1 or 2 skits a year. I was constantly discontent, snappish, angry with myself, moody, you name it…I was a mess.

I quit…right before the economy dropped and jobs became scarce, doubly so in my city where the aviation industry laid off thousands. For the first month, I was pretty happy. I had time to draw, write, read, play piano…and of course I sent resumes to every theatre within a three-hour radius. The second month, that radius increased to six hours (after all, I wanted to be able to visit my family every now and then).

The third month found me broke, frantic, and desperate for ANY job, my faith in everything crumbling to bits. I was writing (thanks to The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron), but it was full of despair and pathos. I finally found a “temp” job as a proofreader. I was proofreading…tax forms.

It has got to be one of the most boring jobs on earth. I have been doing this for the past three years. While it’s much less stressful and offers better hours than the bookstore, I am still unable to find opportunities to volunteer my time at any theatre. It seems to be quite the close-knit community, and unless you know someone, it’s tough to break in.

I found myself spiraling downwards once more…feeling hopeless, like I’d never get to do what I wanted to, and despising myself for my lack of courage to face financial and personal hardships for my art.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Brighten Things Up a Little

There is a silver lining to my cloud. I haven’t found my happy ending yet, but I have found some happiness. This is due in part to the book The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, which articulated for me for the first time how someone with great intelligence and a great sense of responsibility could still be true to herself, which in turn “brightened the corner” (to borrow Courtney’s catch-phrase) for herself and everyone around her.

Like many intellectuals, I have continually berated myself for not being able to “think” my way out of my funk (rut, routine, personal hell, whatever phrase you find apt). Gretchen acknowledges that we do need to spend time to think about what is going on in our lives….but that shouldn’t be the end of the matter. One needs to actively identify one’s priorities and define obstacles and act to change what you can to gain happiness.

This does not come naturally for me. Seeking opportunity, sure. Making time to be creative…I could do that with practice. Making creativity a priority even though I don’t have the perfect outlet or constant support…that’s a little harder. Setting creative goals? SO not my thing. I don’t even like to make “to do” lists. Yet I’ve found that the joy of conquering a creative goal is proportional to the challenge.

Pick Your Poison Pudding

Remember not every creative activity is for you…you may want to love it, you may even be good at it, but if you have to force yourself to do it and get no joy afterwards, it’s not what you were meant to be doing.

As much as I’d love to direct theatre someday, I hate conflict, and I’m not a natural leader. As much as I admire great costuming, I don’t enjoy sewing beyond the occasional button replacement. If you’re striving to make time for your creativity, make sure you don’t waste it doing things that are creative, but not enjoyable. Remember your time is precious! Get as close to creative nirvana as you can!

Don’t replace your creativity with someone else’s. Books, television shows, and movies are great for inspiration…but wouldn’t it be better if they were yours? Sure, what you create may not be an instant hit, but it’s experience you didn’t have before.

Am I going to produce my latest script? Nope. Let someone read it? Maybe after a rewrite or three. Am I sorry I spent the time doing it? No. You can read all the scriptwriting tips and tricks in the world, but until you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, theory will remain just that.

Were you concerned with rules and structure as a kid? Nope. You knew what you loved, instinctively knew what was good. You took the best parts and ignored everything else, followed your gut, did whatever put made you smile.

Have fun! Who cares what anyone else thinks? They’re just weird grown-ups, after all.

So go…play!

Remarkablogger and El Edwards Told Me To Write This

Universe? Is that you?

I talk a lot about synchronicity. That’s when a bunch of unrelated stuff happens, but it’s all pointing toward the same thing, and it happens and points over and over again until you turn your stubborn head and open your eyes to it and say, “Okay, I get it!”

And then you do something about it.

The Synchronized Universe Hits You in the Head (Ouch)

I guess this is what people used to call “serendipity.” But I prefer synchronicity, because I like the idea that a bunch of coolness in the universe gets synchronized in order to get a person’s attention. I think synchronicity affects every single one of us every single day — we just don’t pay enough attention to realize it.

I also believe that synchronicity is a conscious force that rejoices in our every breath and wants to permeate our every moment with beauty, truth, and goodness.

(At this time, I’d like to insert yet another plug for Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, the book that taught me to pay attention to synchronicity.)

I walk through life as half asleep as the next person, I guess…but sometimes, synchronicity slaps me upside the noggin and says, “Yo! Human! Get your heart and mind out of this befuddled daze you’re in and look! I’ve got all sorts of cramazingness waiting for you — all you have to do is reach out and embrace it!”

You get hit in the noggin often enough with love like that, you’ll eventually start looking for it.

I’ve been looking for it. And this week, I found it. Without further ado or adon’t, here’s what synchronicity plopped into my lap this week.

Remarkablogger

In comments on his post WARNING: Perfectionism will Kill You, Michael Martine and I had the following exchange:

Michael: Do what feels right to you but be aware of the edges of your comfort zone, your self-censoring and your perfectionism. …Being a little scared to hit Publish because you were raw or personal or opinionated is a good thing. : )

Courtney (that’s me): You really do hit the nail on its proverbial little head, don’t you? ; ) It’s true, I do censor myself too much. I’m still overcoming lifetime of training that says, “Don’t say that; you’ll offend someone. Don’t say that; you’ll hurt someone’s feelings.” Not that I want to hurt anyone’s feelings — but I do want to write truth, no matter how gritty it gets.
Oh crap. There’s another new blog post to write. *sigh* ; )

Impassionate

Every morning, I listen to El Edward’s Impassionate, audio posts designed to start your day with a little kick of joy and optimism. A few days ago, El talked about going big or going home. She encouraged her listeners to get out of our ruts and get out of our comfort zones. If there’s something we feel passionate about — or something we could become passionate about, if we’d only allow ourselves — then it’s time to stop dithering and worrying. It’s time to get out and do.

Go big.

Dream or Nightmare?

Sometime along in there, between impassioned audio posts and admonishing blog comments, I woke up one morning from a very disturbing dream. I’ll spare you the rather awful details, but here’s the gist of it:

I dreamed that I was marooned on an island with a large group of people. Most were strangers; some were acquaintances. But while I was on this island, the whole group — strangers and non-strangers alike — regularly attacked me. I endured the torment for weeks before I managed to escape. “Escape” consisted of submerging myself in a pond beneath a dock by day, then creeping around at night to find food.

Eventually, the dream switched to a later time at which I was accusing some of my attackers — the acquaintances. Through tears, I demanded to know why they had treated me so horribly. I never got an answer.

Unstressed Syllables and Twitter

You’d think that by this time, I would’ve been getting the message. But no, synchronicity had two more nudges for me…and they came in the form of my own unexpected self-expression.

In this week’s edition of What I Learned About Writing This Week on Unstressed Syllables, I wrote on Allen Ginsberg. He said something really stunning about following our inner moonlight. In WILAWriTWe, I respond by taking myself to task for not having the guts to speak truth in its bluntest, basest form.

Later, “out of nowhere” (ha ha), I tweeted this:

Sometimes, the loudest rejection you can hear is another’s silence. Ignore it! Listen instead to the supportive voices who rejoice with you!

Egad and zounds, Watson-by-George, I think she’s got it.

Let’s Recap

Remarkablogger Michael told me to stop self-censoring and start saying what I really need to say — but be respectful of the consequences.

El’s Impassionate reminded me to stop dithering around in my comfort zone, get out, and go big.

Less than a week after I published my first novel, my dream revealed that I’m feeling vulnerable to strangers and acquaintances. (Me, feel vulnerable after publishing a book? Shocker.)

Allen Ginsberg admonished me to revel in being different, in being a little crazy, in being a little dark.

My tweet knocked me on the noggin, saying, “Hello? Helloooo! Anybody home?”

“Okay, I get it!”

The creative, benevolent, loving force that rules my life is sending synchronicity my way.

I am determined to open my arms and receive it.

I will speak the truth.

I will speak the fears, the loneliness, the rejection. I will speak the joys, the all-encompassing wonder, the acceptance. I will not hide these things from others. I will not secret them away for fear of the consequences.

I will not hide my heart.

And that is why I wrote this blog post. : )

P.S. A shout-out to Judy Dunn of Catseyewriter for inspiring the title. ; )

Photo credit Julie V. Photography.

A Quiz on Virtue — See My Results?

(With many emoticons, for some reason.)

A Goody-Two-Shoes in Recovery

So. Last week, my darlings, we talked faux Virtue, self-sabotage, and other fun stuff like that. A very great many of you were very greatly quiet in the comments. 😉

Actually, I was hoping I’d get some negative responses, simply so I could now digress upon the *ahem* virtue of receiving critiques along with positive feedback.

But I have some Virtue Trap Quiz results to share with you, so I shan’t make you wait for those any longer. 😉

Confession Time

In The Artist’s Way, one of Julia Cameron’s exercises on the Virtue Trap is a complete-the-sentence quiz. Here is how I completed the sentences back in the summer of 2008:

Courtney’s Virtue Trap

1. The biggest lack in my life is … intimacy.
2. The greatest joy in my life is … writing and relationships.
3. My largest time commitment is … writing and The Artist’s Way, currently! 😉
4. As I play more, I work … harder and better.
5. I feel guilty that I am … taking time for me when others aren’t taking time for them.
6. I worry that … my creativity will never generate financial income.
7. If my dreams come true, my family will … be supportive but perplexed.
8. I sabotage myself so people will … think I’m as stressed as they are and accept me more readily.
9. If I let myself feel it, I’m angry that I … sold out to stronger personalities.
10. One reason I get sad sometimes is … I can’t be “like everybody else.”

Looking back nearly three years later, I see that 1 and 10 are directly related. But the most telling numbers to me are 4, 5, 8, and 9 — and I have learned from them.

This Is The Truth

TRUTH on #4
I don’t just want time to myself for artistic play (which looks like “doing nothing”) — I need time for artistic play, which looks like doing nothing! It’s when I’m “doing nothing” that my soul rests and my creative brain taps into the Source of its strength. My creative play infuses me with energy and motivates me to work beyond what I thought were my limits.

TRUTH on #5
I am not responsible for anyone’s choices but my own. If others don’t take time for themselves, that is not my fault. My guilt resulted from an overblown sense of self-important responsibility. (Let’s talk about that in the comments!) I refuse to feel guilty when I take care of my needs.

TRUTH on #8
I sabotaged myself by not getting enough sleep. When others complained about being tired, I could complain along with them, thereby creating a false sense of camaraderie and solidarity.

I sabotaged myself by not eating healthy or exercising. When others complained about being sick and out-of-shape, I could complain along with them, thereby creating a false sense of camaraderie and solidarity.

Yay, we’re all ridiculously exhausted, out-of-shape, and unaccomplished together!

What the…?!?

TRUTH on #9
I was angry when I wrote that list. I am still angry about this part of it. I haven’t yet forgiven myself for selling out. I suspect that’s going to take a long time. So thanks for listening to this part of it, dear readers — telling you about it is part of my therapy!

Foolish — With Enthusiasm!

You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.

–Colette

Sharing this list on the Internet — making myself this vulnerable — is incredibly foolish. I’m opening myself up to attack from all sides, and it’s scary. But I’m doing it with enthusiasm! Because this is what’s behind the Virtuous shell. This is what’s behind the Acquiescent Good Girl persona.

This is the source of the fear. And I refuse to be subject to it anymore.

Last week, I told you the story of my foolish parents, who pursued a creative dream to the other side of the world. They did it with enthusiasm!

The world told me that its brand of Virtue was wise. But true wisdom — discarding false Virtue in favor of Truth — appears foolish to the world. I’ve read about that concept in the Bible my whole life. Finally, I’m starting to understand what that means.

Finally, I’m starting to live by it. And with enthusiasm!

_____________________

I know you’re out there. I can hear you breathing. 😉

How do you sabotage your creative self?

How have you sold out? What does your Virtue Trap look like?

Do these thoughts make you angry? Why?

Is Virtue Your Trap, Too?

(Or: Confessing My Creative Recovery, Pt. 2)

Awhile back, I promised to do a series of posts on Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.

This might or might not be the first post in that series. I don’t know yet. I’ve been keeping myself pretty well confined to Confessions of late, so after today, I might need to break out of that for awhile. We’ll see.

Today, however, I’m definitely talking about my experiences with The Artist’s Way, and I’ll start by saying this:

If you’re a practicing Creative, then you need to work this book.

If you know you’re a dormant Creative, then you need to work this book.

If you’d like to be creative, then you need to work this book.

I say “work” instead of “read” because this book is work. I won’t hide that. It’s work, and it is painful, hard work.

But it’s worth it. If you work it the way it’s meant to be worked, it’ll change your life. At the very least, it’ll alter in a positive way how you see yourself. And that, my lovelies, is always worth the effort.

Get Well? Yes, Please!

There’s a whole ‘nother story behind how I ended up with a copy of The Artist’s Way in my grubby hands (thanks, Gail!), and maybe I’ll tell you sometime. For now, all you need to know is that this book grabbed me from page one, because I had realized I was very, very sick (see posts on boundaries, fear, God, confessions).

And though I’d already started on my journey toward creative recovery, the start of that journey was similar to that of Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: I ran out of my proverbial house in a panic, carrying with me no supplies but the clothes on my back. No shoes. And not even a pocket handkerchief!

I knew I was on a journey of healing, and I desperately wanted to get well. I’d reached a point in my journey that called for finding supplies or giving up and going home.

Cameron’s The Artist’s Way was my Gandalf, my dwarves, and my stop at the inn to catch up with them all and catch my breath.

The Virtue Trap

Cameron’s book consists of cramazing thoughts on creativity and practical exercises to go along with all the thoughts. Today, I’m sharing with you some of her ideas. Next week, I’ll open the door and let you see the start of the bonfire her thoughts sparked in me.

Cameron writes (p. 97-98),

For an artist, withdrawal is necessary. Without it, the artist in us feels vexed, angry, out of sorts. If such deprivation continues, our artist becomes sullen, depressed, hostile. We eventually become like cornered animals, snarling at our family and friends to leave us alone…

Many of us have made a virtue out of deprivation. We have embraced a long-suffering artistic anorexia as a martyr’s cross. We have used it to feed a false sense of spirituality grounded in being good, meaning superior.

I call this seductive, faux spirituality the Virtue Trap.

Cameron goes on to talk about how, when we fall into the Virtue Trap, we abandon self. Like a wounded animal, our artist self goes to ground because we’ve sold it out in favor of others’ approval. The only thing left for the world to see is this Virtuous shell that everybody likes.

This is what happened to me when acquaintances disapproved of my art and mentors called my writing a selfish waste of time — and I abandoned my creativity in favor of a Virtuous shell.

Rage Against the Machine Myself

My Virtue was fake, it was deceptive, and it enabled me to go on self-destructing on the inside, where nobody had to watch. I was leeching blood from myself, vampirizing my soul.

When that one acquaintance called my art “demonic,” I hid my dark fantasy paintings away — in exchange for apathy and resignation.

When that one mentor told me I was being selfish for wanting time to myself, I gave up that time — and the result was a secret, uncontrollable rage.

But nobody knew I was feeling both apathetic and furious at the same time, because all anybody could see was my outer shell of likeable Virtue.

Our artist is not merely out of sorts. Our artist has checked out. Our life is now an out-of-body-experience. We’re gone. A clinician might call it disassociating. I call it leaving the scene of the crime (Cameron, 98).

Whose crime?

Mine. My crime was selling out my artist self to everyone else’s opinions, desires, and demands. My artist self met with disapproval — and because I’m an approval addict, I set out to destroy my artist self with hidden apathy and rage.

Weird Enough?

Virtuous to a fault, these trapped creatives have destroyed the true self, the self that didn’t meet with approval… The self who heard repeatedly, “Don’t be selfish!” The true self is a disturbing character, healthy and occasionally anarchistic, who knows how to play, how to say no to others and “yes” to itself (Cameron, 99).

I’m a weirdo who grew up as a Creative immersed in several different cultures at once. That’s disturbing enough in and of itself. But now I’m supposed to become even more disturbing by defending my artist self and saying “no” to people? I’m supposed to become that weird?

I couldn’t face it. So I constructed the Virtuous shell and systematically destroyed myself on the inside.

I didn’t become consciously aware of all this until I read what Cameron wrote about the Virtue Trap.

Come back next week, and I’ll let you peek at my Virtue Trap homework.

Good grief, that sounds dirty. 😀

_______________________

What can you relate to about the Virtue Trap?

What about this feels familiar?

What do you think about Cameron’s claim that we develop a Virtuous shell out of a sense of superiority?

Have you worked any of The Artist’s Way? Share your experiences with us!

Left Brain, Right Brain, Or Ambidextrous Brain?

When I’m talking about writing or about creativity in general, I can’t go for very long without mentioning Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.

Creative Sees Shot, Analytical Lines Up Snails

At some point, yes, I will do a series of posts on my experiences with that book and how it is still changing how I see the world, almost three years after I worked through it. In the meantime, you’ll have to make do with snippets.

Here’s another one:

In her book, Cameron says some fascinating, invigorating things about a concept called “synchronicity”:

We call it anything but what it is — the hand of God, or good, activated by our own hand when we act in behalf of our truest dreams, when we commit to our own soul. …[T]hose dark and romantic notions…call to our deepest selves. When we answer that call, when we commit to it, we set in motion the principle that C. G. Jung dubbed synchronicity, loosely defined as a fortuitous intermeshing of events.

…Don’t be surprised if you try to discount it. It can be a very threatening concept…the possibility of an intelligent and responsive universe, acting and reacting in our interests.

Cameron also writes,

Answered prayers are scary. They imply responsibility. You asked for it. Now that you’ve got it, what are you going to do?

These thoughts, my darlings, could be the basis for an entire year of blog posts! And yet, I’m going to focus in on a few relatively small details. (And yet, monstrous waves do begin as tiniest ripples in the sea…) Maybe the comments section would be a great place — for now! — for discussion on the subject of God-or-no-God, a responsive universe, and answered prayers as the (subconsciously unwanted?) results of “ask, and you’ll get.” In the meantime, I’m going to talk about synchronicity relating to the concept of left-brained and right-brained.

Left Brain and Right Brain

My whole life, left brain vs. right brain has been a topic of conversation in my family. And it really has been Left Brain vs. Right Brain: My left-brained mother has lamented for years the disorganization and heads-in-the-cloudness of her right-brained husband and right-brained daughter.

A junior high and high school English teacher, Mama had a place for everything, and she wanted everything in its place. Daddy walked in at night from his fulltime job as an opera singer and left a trail of clothing through the livingroom. Mama had compartments in her purse for every doohickey and whatnot a woman might possibly need while out and about. I was chronically without tissues, nail files, chapstick, and pens. The inside of Mama’s secretary was a shining beacon of organizational light. I crammed things into my wardrobe, slammed the doors shut, and wedged furniture (and sometimes my own body) in front of them to prevent explosive decompression.

“Oh, you right-brained people!” was a common, exasperated exclamation in our household. Mama’s cause was likely utterly lost when the right-brained daughter went out into the world and found herself a right-brained husband.

But left- and right-brained issues pursued me even outside the home. In high school (which, in the German school I attended, meant grades 7 – 13), I excelled at languages (English, German, and French), the visual arts, and any lessons in Social Studies or Religion that dealt with human emotion and its expression. Biology and chemistry were fair-weather friends. Math and physics were my nemeses.

Things got a little better in college, where I could specialize and focus on my arts. One semester, however, I took both Creative Writing and Media Writing. Creative Writing was a right-brained heaven. The left-brainedness of Media Writing made me feel like I had dissociative identity disorder (aka multiple personality disorder). In Technical Writing, I almost floundered.

I did witness a fascinating exchange once, though: A professor asked a fellow student, “Andy, are you right-brained or left-brained?” Not missing a beat, Andy replied, “I’m ambidextrous-brained.” Laughter ensued, and among some of my friends, the concept of ambidextrous-brainedness turned into a running joke that went on for years.

Lately, however, I’ve started thinking that it was no joke. And this is where the synchronicity kicks in.

Left to Right and Back

I excelled in languages and arts but felt tortured in math and physics. However, at the end of my high school career, we all had to take a comprehensive final exam (two years’ worth of class material) in four subjects. Mine were English, Art, Religion…and Chemistry — because by that point in my high school career, my Chem and Biology grades were above average. Why?

Growing up, I fought my mother about keeping my room, my purse, my life organized. However, I’ve always alphabetized my books, and even as a kid and a teenager, I could plan out advance details of an event like nobody’s business. What was this right-brained Creative doing organizing anything?

My right-brained father, who spent 27 years as a fulltime, professional opera singer, doesn’t drop his clothes all over the house anymore. And, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become far more observant of the nuances of my parents’ personalities (funny, how that works), and I’ve realized that there are a great many things that Daddy likes to have just so. Books. (Hmmm…) His knife collection. His haircuts. Certain philosophies. How does this right-brained man end up dealing with some areas of life from such a black-and-white perspective?

My left-brained mother is staying busy in her retirement. She has taken a few events-to-plan under her organizational wings. As I’ve mentioned before, she’s my primary beta reader, and her left-brain skills are invaluable for keeping me on track in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and plot structure… But she is also taking a painting class. Over the last few months, she has completed four paintings and is starting on her fifth. This isn’t abstract stuff, either. This is landscapes, scenery, and organic still-life. And every painting is better and more creative than the last. My left-brained mother — an artist?

Ambidextrous Brain

Synchronicity kicked in again last week during a conversation with my friend Brian. Brian is an architect, a job one might “assign” to an entirely left-brained person. But Brian surprised me by revealing that when he’s in the conceptual phase of a new building, he has to be “in” his right brain. And this state of mind isn’t just confined to his brain, either: When he’s working on the rough draft of a new building, his desk must be in a state of mess and chaos, otherwise he can’t work!

Things change, he said, when he moves on to the next drawing phase, getting the building out of the rough draft stage and solidifying the concept both in his mind and on paper. At this point, he says, he moves into the logical, more critically-thinking realm of accurate measurements, crisp lines, and clean structure. His surroundings change in accordance with his thinking: Now, the desk must be organized, or the distraction of the mess prevents him from thinking straight about his project.

As if these recent examples weren’t enough to get me thinking, I got another dose of inspiring and synchronous? synchronicitous? food-for-thought when Becca blogged about relating to her left-brained kid and her right-brained kid. (Go read that and come back here! It’s so very worth it!) Finally, after mulling over her article, I sat up and went, “Hmmmm…..”

I think somebody is trying to tell me something.

I Need Chaos! I Need Order! GAH!

It’s funny and frustrating how one can adopt a philosophy whole-heartedly…but then it takes years and oodles of effort and buckets of sweat and tears for that philosophy to permeate the soul and then crystallize in one’s life. I first read Thoreau in college, and that’s when I first realized (on a conscious level) that I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live with intention. Like Thoreau, “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” But now, more than a decade later, I feel I’m only beginning to understand what that philosophy really means!

For me, part of this deep, deliberate living has been to get to know myself as a Creative and, more specifically, as a writer. It’s kind of like marriage: the longer you live together, the more you find out about each other, even though you thought you knew each other pretty well when you said, “I do.” The longer I live with my creative self, the more I’m finding out about myself. Some of it’s scary, some of it’s annoying, and some of it makes me ask, “Why did I ever get into this with you?!”

Some of what I’m learning has to do with my writerly habits. I’ve found out that:

…I write best in the early afternoon and late, late at night. (There’s something marvelous and darkly romantic about being the only one awake in my world at night. There’s an intimacy with my characters that I don’t get at any other time.)

…I can write happily and productively in the same spot for weeks, and then I suddenly have to switch writing spots, or I get bored with my story! (This might mean moving my laptop from the couch to the table. It might also mean I can’t write in the apartment at all anymore and must seek out an eclectic coffee shop.)

…for over a year, I couldn’t write at my desk because there were two many tax documents on the shelf above it. (The documents are gone now, but I haven’t recovered enough to go back to the desk yet.)

There’s more, but maybe you get the idea.

Now, to top it all off, I’ve got this synchronicity about left- and right-brained going on, and I’m realizing the following:

1. I’m not as right-brained as I thought I was. Obviously, I have access to my left brain; otherwise, the alphabetizing, the chemistry grades, the event-planning, and the general orderliness of my present-day home would not have happened. I am a right-brained Creative, yes — but that does not have to limit me. I can use my logical, analytical side to make myself a better writer…and a more balanced human.

2. I think I’m ambidextrous-brained, and I think both of my parents are, too. Daddy and I lean to the right; Mama leans to the left. But all three of us can access both sides at need. Maybe this is genetic…but maybe every human has this ability. I tend to think the latter, because I know we’re all capable of logical thought to some degree or another…and I believe quite strongly that we’re all creative in some way. A lot of us just don’t know it or know how to explore it.

3. I need to pay closer attention to the hows of my Writing Life. I need to be more deliberate about it — which will enable me to live deep in my creativity and suck the marrow out of it. Which side of my brain do I access during which parts of the writing process?

Left side for prewriting? Outlines, character description, plot arcs, planning chapters scene-by-scene… That definitely sounds like logical, analytical thinking!

Right side for writing the rough draft? Letting the story flow, listening to characters’ voices, deviating from the outline when the adventure calls for off-the-beaten-path… Writing the first draft requires me to follow my heart and let my characters get into trouble that no logical person would countenance.

Do I go back to the left side for the editing process? Return to the right side for flourishes and poetry in the final draft? And, as I consider Brian and the way he has to change his surroundings, I wonder if I unconsciously change mine, too. When I’m in the mess of a rough draft, do I feel more inspired amidst chaos? Do random ideas pop into my head more frequently when there are books and papers and sparklies scattered across my workspace? But do I go into one of my famous cleaning frenzies as soon as I start editing?

Time and conscious observation will tell.

What about you? Do you consider yourself wholly left- or right-brained?

Or are you ambi-brained-ous? Which way do you lean, and what are your activities when you’re accessing the other side?

Oooh, how about this one, for the bloggers: When you blog, which side are you in? Does blogging require access to a different side of the brain than other forms of writing?

(And don’t forget, you can discuss the God, prayers, responsive universe, synchronicity stuff in the comments, too.) 🙂

Passion Doesn’t Nibble — It Bites

For me, the acquisition of something red — anything red — is a sure-fire pick-me-up.

This is called a Naked Lady. I don't know why.

Which brings me to my very first mention here of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

If you read this blog with any regularity, my dear inklings, you’ll inevitably read hear me mention this book in more detail in the future. For now, know this: If you ever find yourself in a creative funk, or if you’ve ever felt driven to make or do or be something, but you’ve never given yourself permission, then Cameron’s book is for you.

It’s about healing the creative part of you that has sustained damage. It’s all about creative recovery.

Touch Me Not

In her book, Cameron talks about “touchstones.” Touchstones are things that you love, things that you connect with. To me, touchstones are tangible things that remind me of the parts of me that are intangible.

My touchstones are tangibles that resonate with the intangible in me. My touchstones are physical representations of aspects of my soul. And lest I digress into some new-agey, psycho-spiritual ramble, here’s an excerpt from a list I made a few years ago:

Touchstones: Things I Love

swimming
my Polish pottery
Mama’s Mexican soup
honeysuckle
sunsets
swinging on swingsets
being out in a boat
the smell of the air after it rains
locust song
painting
dark chocolate
clothes that make me feel sexy
singing
my wrists and ankles
conversations that last until 4 a.m.
sparkly stuff

 
Some of these touchstones remind me to seek beauty — in the world, in others, in myself. Some of them nudge me back toward the kid in me — the kid who remembers how to play, how to believe in magic, how to laugh.

Some of these touchstones are my therapy for writer’s block! When I can’t write, using my fingers to slap some oil paint on a canvas is a sure-fire way to unlock the words I’ve got stuck somewhere in the back of my head.

And there’s nothing like a good bowl of Mama’s Mexican stew to fill my belly with the kind of comforting warmth that says, “Yes, all is well, and all is well, and all manner of things are well.” *

Gimme More — Please

To my list of touchstones, I’m adding “buying items that are red.” Deep red, to be exact. Deep red, black, and purple are my favorite colors; I have to remind myself to buy clothes in other colors and color schemes. The brilliance and vibrancy of the color red just draw me.

I read somewhere that this year, red lipstick is all the rage. Baby, that sounds like my kind of year.

Give It To Me Raw

Over at Unstressed Syllables, some of you have heard me talk about the heartache, the effort, and the pain that go into writing — or, rather, the tears, the sweat, and the blood.

I suspect the blood might be most important. What novel could live, if not infused with the lifeforce of its author?

I doubt it’s a coincidence this vibrant, sensual, alive color is the one that resonates most with my writer’s heart. We writers sink our teeth into the meat of the psyche. And we like it raw. Give me the passion and the grit and the thrill of the unapologetically real. Let’s paint everything red and throw our arms wide and scream out the truths that everyone else is afraid to whisper.

When I see and touch things that are red, I feel excited. Energized. Ready to go out and do. All the better if I’m buying it new: fresh, a symbol of new beginning.

Red is the color of birth, too. When I’m working on a rough draft of a novel, I’m giving birth to something. And it needs my full attention and my energies, otherwise it’s going to wither and die. Or it might go feral and turn on me. You never can tell with these wild, newborn writings. Red touchstones remind me of what I’m doing.

Red touchstones remind me of why I’m here.

* I am paraphrasing Julian of Norwich, who wrote, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”