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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, and I was a Campfire Girls co-leader. (I get a little weary just thinking about everything I was trying to do.)

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 knew that I was going to take the artist dates 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 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. 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 (that one you never forget how to ride). But when my posture and ability to stay seated on Brownie’s lovely back during a trot seemed, to me, deplorable, Barb and Jennifer smiled and encouraged me. “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.

 

“I like to think of the mind as a room.”

doorway“I like to think of the mind as a room. In that room, we keep all of our usual ideas about life, God, what’s possible and what’s not. The room has a door. That door is ever so slightly ajar, and outside we can see a great deal of dazzling light. Out there in the dazzling light are a lot of new ideas that we consider too far-out for us, and so we keep them out there. The ideas we are comfortable with are in the room with us. The other ideas are out, and we keep them out.” -Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way (51)

The other day a friend wrote to me, explaining why she couldn’t do The Artist’s Way. 1) She was way too busy. It would be impossible to do Morning Pages as she didn’t have 15 or 20 minutes a day to devote to them. And then, 2) now that her children are older, she spends all of her time doing things solo, and has lots of personal time, so Artist’s Dates are completely unnecessary.

Huh?

It took me a little while to process this, and to realize that I make the same excuses, even now (even though I am committed). I’m too busy. I’m not busy enough, or (as I usually put it), I selfishly already spend plenty of time doing whatever it is I want to do….

Okay, Bethany, which one is it?

One of my favorite exercises from The Artist’s Way is the Imaginary Lives one–what other 5 lives can you imagine for yourself? I begin the exercise reluctantly, then I get into it. I would raise horses. Be a visual artist. A film-maker. A famous poet  (key-note speaker at conferences! leading a group of poets on a trip to Ireland! 8 or 10 books of poems! devoted disciples!). A mystery-novelist (like Agatha Christie or Donna Leon, with 18-100 mysteries!).

It’s fun to imagine creating a different life, especially when you don’t have to actually create it. (It’s impossible! I could never do that!)

But then Julia Cameron asks us to imagine what one or two small pieces of one of those lives you might insert into this life. And that’s where the real fun begins. Crack that door open, just let a tiny bit of change in, and see what happens.

windows

The Artist’s Date

carolsjournalI do a lot of daydreaming. I always have. I spend quite a lot of time alone. Even when I was teaching at the college, one of my guilty pleasures was going to a coffee place or (ideally!) a bookstore with coffee to write. When my kids were younger and I was really busy, I often wrote in my minivan at soccer practices…

My guilty pleasures now that I’m not teaching full-time are still writing-with-coffee. Also reading novels (I read a lot of novels…kind of an addiction). That, and meeting a girlfriend to write (over coffee, usually…okay, so coffee is definitely an addiction).

So, shouldn’t I have this Artist’s Date thing in the bag? Don’t I spend plenty of time, already, alone with my inner artist?

No, I don’t. It turns out that the artist’s date shouldn’t be work (even when it is the wonderful work of writing), and it shouldn’t be with other people. It should be play, AND it should get me out of my comfort zone.

Out of my comfort zone? Dang.

(To see Julia Cameron talking about the artist’s date, go to this site: http://juliacameronlive.com/basic-tools/.)

I have a couple of ideas for artist’s dates. For one thing, I’ve always wished I could draw…but my perfectionist tendencies get in the way. What if I pursued this, playfully, joyfully? Just for an hour or two this week?

images borrowed from http://www.ellenfelsenthal.com/pages/horses1_07.html

I also want to ride a horse, which I have not done in years, in decades.

What would YOU do on an artist’s date?