Laissez Faire, anyone?

The Artist’s Way just dropped a new insight into my in-box.

For years I’ve been proudly describing myself as a “laissez faire” parent and teacher. Friend. Spouse. “A policy or attitude of letting things take their own course, without interfering.” I do it in my writing life, too, and I’ve written about it before. I’m not that unusual — most of us do our very best in our lives to avoid confrontations. But a story without confrontations would not be a story. And a life without confrontations? Hmm. Who wants to stay on the ocean floor, a spineless mass of jelly?

Why is it so hard for me to set boundaries and enforce them with my daughters? (Why do I think silence is a good strategy when Emma and I don’t agree on how she ought to be spending her time?)

Why am I not submitting my finished stories and poetry? (Why am I so reluctant to call any of it “finished”?)

Part of this insight, I can chalk up to my daughter Pearl. After taking some time off from college classes, after spending last quarter (finally enrolled again) taking choir and yoga, this quarter she enrolled in Math 90 and in — Journalism.

Journalism? I was shocked. She explained that all the English 102 classes were filled, and that journalism was equivalent, so why not?

I was shocked because, years ago, I wanted to take a journalism class, and I was afraid to. I didn’t label it as fear. I found other ways to rationalize not registering for it. But when it comes right down to it, I know that the thought of writing for a college newspaper, submitting articles for a college newspaper (being rejected!), writing under deadline, interviewing complete strangers — all of that just wigged me out.

Not Pearl. She decided to write her first article about President Obama’s State-of-the-Union idea to make two years of community college education free. She interviewed a classmate. She did an email interview with her favorite teacher. She read the State of the Union address (out loud, to me!), and she did some research via the college website on the number of students enrolled, the number already receiving financial aid, etc.; and she wrote the article! I sat up with her (Sunday night, until 1 a.m.) when she told me she needed moral support (she ASKED for moral support!). I even typed it for her. She submitted it to her journalism teacher, and (as required) to the Edmonds Community College student newspaper. We went to bed. No big deal.

This week she has to write another article. We had a homework date last night (Emma, too), and Pearl went back to the college website, picked out the blood drive scheduled for next week, and wrote a list of who she might interview. And, for the day, she was done. On to math homework.

Okay, okay, I know that from the outside it looks like I get a lot done. But there are also a lot of things I avoid. Why do I avoid them? Why do I make excuses (too busy, too old, must watch 3 episodes of The Blacklist, not polished enough yet, not good enough yet…)?  Today I realized that it is just fear.

Among the most helpful exercises in The Artist’s Way, for me, has been simply writing lists. Have you ever had that experience of learning a new word — kerfuffle — and then suddenly seeing it everywhere? The word existed before you were conscious of it. Presumably, it did not suddenly begin appearing everywhere. It’s just that it has now become visible to you. That’s what making lists does for me. Things that previously resided in an amorphous heap titled, “stuff that makes me nervous,” become visible.

Write down 10 things you would do if you had the money…if you had the time…if you weren’t afraid. Make it as simple as possible, fill in the blank and repeat:

If I had the money I would ______________________________.
If I had the time I would __________________________.
If I weren’t afraid I would _____________________________.

10 X each.

Now, pick one thing (just one!) and do it. If that’s too difficult, pick one aspect of one thing and do it.

What are you afraid of?

If what you’re avoiding is writing, check out My 500 Words. (Thanks to Jeff Goins for that.)

Getting Back on the Horse

The last time I worked my way through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, I had three young children (the twins were only 7 or 8; Emma was a toddler), and I was only recently tenured at Everett Community College. I frequently taught an extra class at the college, and I was able to work in our Writing Center for a scant one quarter per year; I was a College in the High School Mentor; I was a Campfire Girls co-leader. (I get a little weary just thinking about everything I was trying to do.)

Took a picture of a picture to get this — I really was BUSY in those days.

Admittedly, it was summer and I wasn’t teaching. Despite being plenty busy with my kids, I woke early, every day, and I wrote my morning pages faithfully. The rest of each day was a bit of a blur, and if I did the exercises, they were incorporated into my morning pages. The artist dates? With those I really, really, really went into serious avoidance mode.

Julia Cameron couldn’t possibly understand how busy
I was. What nerve to insist on a solo, soul-nurturing venture once each week!

When I first proposed doing The Artist’s Way this winter I decided that it was important for me to take the artist dates seriously. Very seriously.

My inner-critic is having a free-for-all with this. After all, as my husband is fond of pointing out, I take plenty of time for myself — not just putting my writing at the top of my to-do list every day, but also sneaking off to drink lattes and read novels. I’ve never been good at ducking out on my friends, especially the ones who like lattes…or wine…and novels. But Julia Cameron doesn’t count one’s work as a date; she doesn’t count a latte and 50 pages of a novel or even a heart-to-heart talk with a girlfriend as an artist date. This is what she says:

An artist date is a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. In its most primary form, the artist date is an excursion, a play date that you preplan and defend against all interlopers. You do not take anyone on this artist date but you and your inner artist, a.k.a. your creative child. That means no lovers, friends, spouses, children — no taggers-on of any stripe…. (18)

She compares the artist date to the date-night a married-with-children couple might commit to. She also stipulates that the artist date should not be something you are already comfortable with. In her video on the topic, she insists that the artist date should take you out of your comfort level. (By the way, I think that if you take a watercolor class for your date, you’re allowed other students, you’re allowed an instructor. That’s how I allowed for the people who facilitated my date this week at The Art Spot. But this rule is also why, when my daughters wanted to join me, I said “No, sorry, can’t. It’ s an artist’s date.”)

Back in December, when we first put our Artist’s Way group together, I brainstormed a list of possible artist dates; I asked the other members of the group for feedback; I asked for suggestions here at the blog. And I promised that one of my Artist Dates would involve riding a horse. Yesterday, thanks to poet Jennifer Bullis, and despite all kinds of attempts (on my part) to wriggle out of it, I rode a horse.

It wasn’t like riding the proverbial bicycle, a skill which it’s said one never forgets. When my posture and the simple ability to stay seated on Brownie’s lovely back during a trot seemed, to me, questionable, Barb and Jennifer encouraged me. One of them said:

 You have to keep riding every day to get the hang of it, and every horse is different. Try to ride the same horse every day, at least at first.

It was advice that sounded uncannily like what I tell my friends who come to me for encouragement about writing. Just keep writing. Write a little every day. Choose one project and keep at it, just see what will happen. 

And much thanks to my friend, Jennifer Bullis, for making this happen.