In the mid-90s, five of my OCC friends and I formed a study group of THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron. It had been seven years from my first sale, and I had all but given up on the second sale. It was time to work through the emotional blocks and self-sabotage or call it quits. During the 12-week AW course, I sold again. Seven months later, my third sale. Seven weeks after that, my fourth sale. I thought my dry spell was over for good.
But things didn’t work out that way.
Most highly creative people can also be highly sensitive with extreme highs and lows. I am one of those types. I slipped away from OCC and into another valley of depression. When I came back up out of it, I volunteered at the chapter. If I couldn’t write—let alone sell another book— at least I could contribute to the support of other writers. According to Cameron, this is living as a “Shadow Artist”— someone who needs to be in the presence of other artists/writers when she can’t allow herself to express her own creativity.
I found myself back on the OCC board as Past President Advisor, and each subsequent year I buried myself deeper and deeper into the role of the Shadow Artist until it was my full time occupation.
Then, as OCC president, I asked then-program director, Bobbie Cimo, to find out if Julia Cameron would be available to speak to our chapter. Cameron was signing her latest book, The Writing Diet, at the Bodhi Tree Bookstore in West Hollywood. Although we couldn’t work things out for her, she strongly recommended Kelly Morgan, who has been an Artist’s Way workshop facilitator for 12 years.
That September, Kelly was the OCC afternoon speaker. There were some aspects of AW that I remembered but Kelly reminded me of so many more that I had forgotten. Most of all, she reminded me that there is a way back to the joy of writing, of creating art. I needed to enroll in her next AW workshop as part of my recovery.
Now, more than halfway through the course, I have been on a phenomenal journey so far. I don’t know where the road will lead, but I am learning more about my own creativity, what I do to sabotage myself, and the steps I can take to get back on track.
For those readers here who are actively pursuing their creativity without obstacles or self-doubt, this new column about the Artist’s Way may hold no interest. For anyone else who needs a little help in pursuing their creative path while Life goes on around them (and tugs them away from the computer or canvas): Welcome Aboard.
There are many books about creativity and I may mention them from time to time, but I am focusing on the Artist’s Way in these once-a-month blogs here at A Slice of Orange. I hope it will encourage your own creativity.
In July, the day before my scheduled blog post here on a A Slice of Orange, my mother passed away after only three weeks on hospice. She had moved into an Alzheimer’s care facility in March but had not yet reached the “tipping point” when a patient is no longer cognizant of reality. For this I am grateful. Ultimately, she succumbed to kidney failure. She was not in pain, but it was difficult to watch her struggle to hold on until my brothers arrived from out of state.
Not surprisingly, I did not have the time nor the state of mind to fulfill my obligation to write a blog entry for A Slice of Orange.
These last few weeks — months, actually — have been a deeply spiritual journey. All of life is a spiritual journey, as I see it. But some times much more than others.
Since starting this ARTIST’S WAY blog on A Slice of Orange, I have had to choose my words carefully because spirituality can be a sensitive subject, open to different interpretation by each reader. For this reason, I have avoided delving too far into the spiritual aspect of our creativity . . . of the Source of our creative natures, whether it is called God or Divine Mind or Universal Intelligence. But as the months progressed, as I have struggled with my own spiritual challenges during my mother’s illness, I have found it harder and harder to step gingerly around this subject.
And now another aspect must be considered —
A Slice of Orange is owned by the Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America — a business-oriented nonprofit organization that must adhere to state laws governing nonprofits as well as laws of the Internal Revenue Service. For this reason, the chapter blog needs to have basic guidelines for content. Understandably so.
Ultimately, the OCCRWA board is held accountable by the National organization to follow state and IRS laws. One of these rules is that the nonprofit business organization cannot benefit any individual, but only the group as a whole. In simple words, no author can be singled out for publicity. And yet, that is exactly what my blog has been doing for THE ARTIST’S WAY author, Julia Cameron. Also, I have been promoting the ARTIST’S WAY workshops at the Bodhi Tree in West Hollywood. I don’t receive any compensation, but it is an endorsement that is appearing here in the chapter’s blog.
As a member of the current OCCRWA board, I understand the need for regulation of subject matter and language, as well as the limitation of author promotion. While I did vote in favor of the new guidelines, I knew that the spiritual basis of the ARTIST’S WAY would no longer be appropriate material for A Slice of Orange as a representation of the chapter. These rules are in the best interest of OCC’s blog to serve as an encouragement to writers while following the letter of the law for nonprofit business organizations.
For quite some time now, I have been drawn more and more toward a spiritual calling. This past year as my mother’s caregiver, I have put almost everything else in my life on hold. I am now at a point where I can take a bolder step toward this calling, perhaps even ministerial school. (Stranger things have happened!
Thank you, OCCRWA, for allowing me to share my own thoughts about the ARTIST’S WAY these months. I have enjoyed this opportunity.
– Gillian Doyle
“If you feel stuck in your life or in your art, few jump starts are more effective than a week of reading deprivation.
No reading? That’s right: no reading. For most artists, words are like tiny tranquilizers. We have a daily quota of media chat that we swallow up. Like greasy food, it clogs our systems. Too much of it and we feel, yes, fried.
It is a paradox that by emptying our lives of distractions we are actually filling the well. Without distractions, we are once again thrust into the sensory world.”
In the workshop that I attended — http://www.artistswaylosangeles.com/ — facilitator Kelly Morgan had said that Julia has since updated this assignment to media deprivation, not just reading. Immediately, students protested. What about reading emails required for work? Same for texting. What about music on the car radio to and from work? Not to mention the traffic reports to maneuver the commute on the freeways? An hour’s drive in silence? You’ve got to be kidding! Elevators have video screens with news feeds. Some supermarkets have them in the produce section, meat department and at the checkout aisle!
We are in Hollywood, for god’s sake! Okay, technically, the class was being held at the Bodhi Tree Bookstore in WEST Hollywood, but still … This IS the Media Mecca of the world. Even billboards are full-featured video screens. One classmate works at a television network that has multiple flat-screen TVs lining the walls of the office. How do you implement media deprivation in that kind of environment?
The buzz of conversations in the classroom made me smile to myself. Wow, did this ever push the big panic button in everyone! Myself, included. It was probably one of the most difficult assignments. Some students did better than others. I must admit that I “fell off the wagon” a few times.
Aside from work-required media, Kelly did allow one small exception. If it meant the difference between doing or not doing the assignment, she suggested tuning the car radio to a station that played only instrumental music so that there were no words to draw attention away from your own “mind chatter.”
Then there’s the computer . . .
I think a lot of us writers get lured away from our writing with research-surfing or PR — texting/tweeting/emailing/blogging to keep our names out there among the readership. I know from my own experience how much these things drain hours out of our day. We think it’s just a few minutes here and there, but it isn’t. And I do believe that our brains get lulled into thinking that we did our writing for the day. Thus, when it’s time to get back to work on our novel, we don’t have as much energy as we could have.
Julia writes: “We often cannot hear our own inner voice, the voice of our artist’s inspiration, above the static. … If we monitor the inflow and keep it to a minimum, we will be rewarded for our reading [media] deprivation with embarrassing speed. Our reward will be a new outflow. Our own art, our own thoughts and feelings, will begin to nudge aside the sludge of blockage, to loosen it and move it upward and outward until once again our well is running freely.”
So if you are having a tough time with your writing these days, try this assignment. Just for one week. That’s a do-able time frame. Give yourself this opportunity to find out what this experience is for you. No two people will have the same experience. So it won’t do you a bit of good to hear about my experience, what I learned. You need to find out what your inner Artist is going to say to you. It’s a challenge, but well worth the effort. It doesn’t cost anything. It doesn’t require taking time off from work or flying out of town to a conference. What do you have to lose?
– Gillian Doyle
“During a drought, the morning pages seem both painful and foolish. They feel like empty gestures — like making breakfast for the lover we know is leaving us anyhow. Hoping against hope that we will someday be creative again, we go through the motions. Our consciousness is parched. We cannot feel so much as a trickle of grace. . . . And yet we write our Morning Pages because we must.” – Julia Cameron, THE ARTIST’S WAY.
It is closing in on midnight. My blog entry here at A Slice of Orange is due to go up in a few minutes. But instead of writing it, I spent the evening at my mother’s bedside, trying to help her comprehend what is going on while her muddled mind repeats the same questions over and over. You see, she thinks she is dying. Maybe she is. My brother and sister-in-law are convinced she is. Though the caregivers and doctors disagree. However, I do believe that a person can will themselves to die . . . or to live.
My eyes are burning. My brain is throbbing. But I can’t stop thinking about my commitment to write this blog. To tell you the truth, it’s the only thing keeping me connected to my writing at this time. I haven’t even been able to keep up with my own Morning Pages. And yet I write my blog because I must.
Is that too much honesty? Shouldn’t I be burning the midnight oil to finish my proposal promised months ago to an agent? I know a writer who came home at 2 A.M. from the ER (after her mother was finally admitted), and sat down to write her daily ten pages. I thought, “Is she insane?” I admire her dedication. But she probably welcomed the chance to escape into her writing and forget about her real world for a while.
Okay-okay, so I AM burning the midnight oil to finish this blog. As much as I would love to escape reality and write a few chapters of fiction, my brain cells are begging for some snooze-time. Though I must admit that, lately, my sleep has been disrupted by the most bizarre and disjointed dreams. I suppose all that unexpressed creativity has to find a release somehow.
I opened this entry with a quote from Julia Cameron about going through a drought. Is this a drought? Not exactly. But I am trying to keep my writing alive, and that’s what is important. Some writers might disagree and consider me a slacker. That’s okay. I’m the tortoise, not the hare.
Oh, one last thing — Check out Dr. Bruce H. Lipton‘s, THE BIOLOGY OF BELIEF: The Science of How We Create Our Lives. I heard his lecture a year ago at a conference. He’s amazing. We really ARE what we believe.
And now I believe I am very tired and I’m going to bed. ‘Nite all!
In November of last year, my widowed mother was diagnosed with mid-stage Alzheimer’s. In January, she required a full-time caregiver in her home. In late February, she suffered a psychotic breakdown and had to be admitted to a secure facility. Thanks to a change in medication, she has come back around but her memory is deteriorating rapidly. In some ways, she is not aware of losing track of minutes, days, weeks. For the rest of the family, it is sad and frustrating and stressful.
While cleaning out my mother’s house, I found a poem titled “Don’t Quit” that she had tucked into a drawer. Ironic, yes. Her mind is shutting down. Her eyesight is failing from cataracts and glaucoma. The neurologist is concerned that she is beginning to show signs of renal artery failure. And yet here is this scrap of paper with words of hope. I don’t know when she clipped it. Or from where. It could have been years ago. Maybe it helped her hang on this long. She’s 88 years old now. Her mother was only 62 when she had died of complications from Alzheimer’s.
When I decided to share the poem in my blog this month, I discovered that it ties in nicely with Debra Mullin’s blog entry on yesterday’s A Slice of Orange, in which agent/author Lucienne Diver states: “Donâ€™t give up and donâ€™t let rejection get you down. Rejection is part of the process. . . . youâ€™ll never make it to the goal if you get disheartened and stop along the way. “
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill
When the funds are low and the debts are high
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh
When care is pressing you down a bit
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is queer with its twists and turns
As every one of us sometimes learns
And many a fellow turns about
When he might have won, had he stuck it out.
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow
You may succeed with another blow.
Often the goal is nearer than
It seems to a faint and faltering man;
Often the struggler has given up
When he might have captured the victor’s cup;
And he learned too late when the night came down
How close he was to the golden crown.
Success is failure turned inside out
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt
And you never can tell how close you are
It may be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit
It’s when things seem worst that you mustn’t quit.
– Author Unknown
Until next month . . .
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