The Artists Way

    Reading misuthewitch’s thesis for my Artist Date today.

    [Image Description: A tablet in a purple case displays a paper titled, “Make-Up!: The Mythic Narrative and Transformation as a Mechanism for Personal and Spiritual Growth in Magical Girl (Maho Shojo) Anime."] 📺

    My first Artist Date!

    I don’t think I’m going to write up my annotations for the first chapter/week of The Artist’s Way, “Recovering a Sense of Safety,” for perosnal reasons but I thought I would share the outcome of my first artist date! I searched Google for “junk shop,” found this eBay seller, and created a Pinterest board where I stuck a bunch of items they’re selling that I thought were interesting.

    It’s got some big grandma energy, doesn’t it? That’s 50% what junkshops are about and 50% where my head is at. The sweaters are more 10-year-old Kimberly energy. (It was 1991-1992, okay?)

    What does this board make you think of?

    Currently reading: The Artist’s Way - Recovering a Sense of Safety 📚

    Finished reading: The Artist’s Way - The Basic Tools by Julia Cameron. 📚

    In this chapter, Cameron introduces the morning pages and the artist date, the two key tools for creative recovery.

    Morning Pages

    The morning pages are three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing completed longhand first thing in the morning. Cameron says that there is no wrong way to do these, but at the same time, I’ve seen her insist on her website that they MUST be done first thing, MUST be done longhand, and MUST be three pages. In my experience, having all of those requirements means they often don’t get done.

    Perhaps many people doing The Artist’s Way aren’t awakened by a cherub raring to go most mornings, but I myself am often wakened in this manner. If M. is up, it’s hard to do the morning pages first thing. So I do them as soon as I can. This usually means right after getting home from dropping M. off at school. Sometimes it’s later. Sometimes it’s at night. Sometimes it’s not at all. Cameron claims that doing them in the evening “allows us only to reflect on a day that we’re powerless to change” but I find that doing a brain dump is valuable any time of day. Getting little anxieties out on paper makes headspace for me, even if it’s right before I fall asleep. My friend Jeanie said, “I think I got hung up on her demand that morning pages can only be done in the morning and went full on ‘you can’t tell me what to do!'” and I replied, “Yeah. Mine get done whenever. She’s not the boss of me.”

    As for doing them longhand, Cameron says (again, on her website):

    Typing Morning Pages may give us more speed— but will give us less depth. Writing by hand connects us more intimately to our thoughts, and paradoxically is more efficient in terms of getting in touch with ourselves and opening the path to our most authentic selves and the day at hand.

    This is a very nice ideal but it leaves out all of the people for whom writing longhand may not be an option ever or sometimes. There are days when writing longhand is a challenge for me; on these days I tend to put on a crafter’s comfort glove and only write until my hand starts to hurt. Usually these are one-page days. For people for whom this is always a challenge, I think it would be perfectly fine to do your morning pages digitally by typing into a service such as 750words or by recording a voice note to yourself - pick an amount of time to just talk stream-of-consciousness and go, somewhere in the 5 - 15 minute range, I would think.

    So sorry, Ms. Cameron. I’m going to take you at your book’s word, not your website:

    There is no wrong way to do morning pages.

    Cameron talks about how the morning pages are a way to get around your internal censor:

    …always remember that your Censor’s negative opinion and not the truth.

    This reminds me of my favorite Calming Manatee meme:

    An image of a manatee with text overlaid: DON'T LISTEN TO YOUR JERKBRAIN. YOU ARE SMART AND PRETTY.

    Cameron says your inner Censor tells you, “It’s not Picasso.” This reminded me of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “A Matter of Perspective.” In the teaser for this episode, Captain Picard and a few other crew members are participating in a painting class. Data, who tends to approach a problem by immersing himself in all the recorded knowledge about it and thus approaches his own paintings in that fashion, offers critique to the other participants. He has high praise for Ensign Williams and Lieutenant Wright, but when he gets to Picard’s painting, he just says, “Interesting.” Picard says, “Oh, thank you. In what way?” At which point Data responds:

    While suggesting the free treatment of form usually attributed to Fauvism, this quite inappropriately attempts to juxtapose the disparate cubistic styles of Picasso and Leger. In addition, the use of colour suggests a haphazard mélange of clashing styles. Furthermore, the unsettling overtones of proto-Vulcan influences -

    before Picard stops him.

    Captain Picard holds a paint palette while Data looks at Picard's painting.

    Y’all know I love Data, but sometimes his approach isn’t the one we need, and doing our morning pages is DEFINITELY one of those times.

    Cameron suggests finding an image of your internal Censor that you can use to “pry loose some of its power over you and your creativity.” For over 20 years now, my internal Censor and any other negative voice in my head have looked like this:

    A Thesulac demon from the TV show 'Angel': a humanoid demon with wrinkled gray skin, red eyes, and sharp teeth grins, wearing a cloak

    That’s the Thesulac demon from the Angel episode, “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been.” It spends decades whispering horrible things to people about themselves and was exactly the externalization of a negative inner voice that I needed as I was first going into remission with my first strong bout of depression. It is still that voice for me. In fact, in Kim Werker’s book Make It Mighty Ugly, there’s an exercise where you make a physical manifestation of that voice and I made my own little Thesulac demon. You can see him on the far left in this group of mean voices here:

    A group of creations representing the ugly voices inside the artists' heads

    (For more details on this exercise, feel free to read the blog post I wrote about it.)

    Cameron says the morning pages teach us this truism:

    We have this idea that we need to be in the mood to write. We don’t.

    I love this. It’s definitely true if you’re doing stream-of-consciousness writing. If you’re looking to do something slightly less random, I recommend trying Anne Lamott’s exercise from Bird by Bird where you start with your earliest memories and just write down everything you can remember. I haven’t tried that yet, but I plan to when I’m through The Artist’s Way, if not before.

    Cameron describes the morning pages as a kind of meditation and says,

    We meditate to discover our own identity, our right place in the scheme of the universe.

    Identity is my overarching obsession so I really appreciated this.

    Cameron says some people try to write their morning pages, as in create good writing, but instead that we should just do them.

    Artist Date

    The Artist Date is a weekly “outing” (shifted somewhat in the time of COVID), taken solo, to explore something out of the ordinary for us. It is a play date and meant to be delightful rather than dutiful.

    When I started The Artist’s Way in September, I was saving my artist date for Fridays, which meant it never got done. I was treating it like a reward and I never felt I earned it. And I thought it had to be a solid two-hour block. It’s hard for me to book a two-hour block for anything.

    This time, to guard against invasions or feelings of being not worthy, I’m going to do my artist date early in the week. On Sunday or Monday I’ll select and schedule it, and then on Tuesday or Wednesday I’ll do it. Also, I won’t demand that I reserve a two-hour block for it. I’m looking at no less than one Pomodoro (25 minutes) and up to 4.

    Filling the Well

    Austin Kleon says that problems of output are usually problems of input. Cameron says so, too. She suggests that the morning pages are output and the artist date is input, and that we must feed our brains with images in addition to words. She said:

    In filling the well, think magic. Think delight. Think fun… think mystery, not mastery.

    Cameron points out that focused attention is key for doing this. She says, “Many of us read compulsively to screen our awareness,” which, guilty. In the pre-smartphone era, I did all the things people complain about people doing when they’re focused on their smartphones. I just did them with books. (Did I walk into trees? Only a few times.)

    This is a delicate balance when you have depression and anxiety, because it’s easy for the attention you’re focusing outward to suddenly turn inward and bring that nasty voice forth. I’m going to be working on finding that balance for a long time.

    I’d like to close out with this quote:

    Art is the imagination at play in the field of time. Let yourself play.

    Currently reading: The Artist’s Way - The Basic Tools by Julia Cameron 📚

    Currently reading: The Artist’s Way - Spiritual Electricity: The Basic Principles by Julia Cameron 📚

    Finished: The Artist’s Way - Introduction by Julia Cameron. 📚

    Cameron’s introduction is very introducey, setting a foundation for understanding the work of The Artist’s Way and explaining her own story. My favorite quote from this section is probably “Accumulate pages, not judgments.” (p. xv)

    Cameron spends a fair amount of time here talking about her use of the term “God” in the book, and how it’s there because this is a spiritual path but you don’t need to be a theist to follow it. She suggests substituting something like “good orderly direction” or “flow” if “God” makes you uncomfortable.

    I think I’m going to substitute “Cosmic Art Mom.”

    I am agnostic, humanist, and a bit witchy. I haven’t identified as Christian for a very long time, and I’m no fan of the idea of a sky bully, but from a tiny age I believed in a Sky Mom, and I kind of still do.

    My earth mom is a theologian by training, and taught me a lot about who God is supposed to be before I ever went to church. When I finally went to a church and they kept referring to God as “he,” I was outraged. I said, “No! God is a Mommy!” because everything my mom said - creation, unconditional love - these things were, in my mind, things moms did.

    I didn’t know I was doing the toddler version of Goddess Spirituality, but I pretty much was. In spite of my agnosticism, I still fall pretty squarely somewhere on the Goddess movement spectrum. I have an intuitive sense that there is a Sky Mom - or maybe I’ll just stick with Cosmic Mom from now on - out there looking out for me. I can get a bit Deist about it at times because obviously stuff goes wrong for me specifically and the world at large - but especially now that I’m a mom, I kind of get it. Moms mess up. Our attention wanders sometimes.

    Like many ancient deities, Cosmic Mom can bear a variety of epithets. I’ll probably imagine Cosmic Art Mom, who, for the record, is pretty much a deified Carrie Fisher, as I work through The Artist’s Way.

    What do you think of when you see “God” in The Artist’s Way?

    Currently reading: The Artist’s Way - Introduction by Julia Cameron 📚

    Join me for a super low-key Artist’s Way Creative Cluster.

    A composition notebook and a copy of the book The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron

    I mentioned in September that I was going through the Artist’s Way. I got about three weeks in when I realized I was only doing morning pages and reading, but not doing artist dates or any of the exercises. My motivational tendency is obliger, so I thought maybe if I were doing it in community, I’d do better.

    But then I thought about organizing a whole community and I got weary immediately. I looked over Julia Cameron’s Guide for Starting Creative Clusters and registered a big old NOPE.

    So I’m planning to do it MY way.

    My life mantra is WHAT I CAN, WHEN I CAN.

    I’m inviting you to participate. Here’s how it’s going to work.

    1. I’m going to do morning pages as often as I can, but I’ll be keeping them to myself. I might occasionally blog about what I’m learning from doing them.
    2. I’m going to do Artist Dates as often as I can. I’ll blog about them, with what I did, and my response to it.
    3. I will end both morning pages and Artist Dates posts with a question about how they’re going for you, what you did, and what you’re getting out of them. You will be able to reply in one of a few ways:
    4. I’ll essentially do the same process for exercises, writing about my response to them and maybe even my answers, then asking if you did the exercise and how it worked out for you. You can reply in the same ways mentioned above.

    I’m not in a place where I feel good about confining myself to a 12-week schedule, and I know if I try to turn it into 12 months or something I’ll lose steam around the 8 month mark, so instead, I’m just going to do it WHEN I CAN. Here’s what that will look like:

    1. I will make a short post when I start a chapter/week.
    2. I will make a short post when I finish a chapter/week.
    3. And all the exercises and stuff above, I’ll make a note of what chapter/week it’s from.

    Here are the rules to participate:

    1. Do what you can, when you can.
    2. Avoid trying to fix people’s problems or offer advice; “listen” to understand. I encourage you to respond, but try not to have it be advice-focused.

    That’s it. I really hope you’ll join me.