Ongoing Book Review: The Artist’s Way By Julia Cameron, Week 3

Like most worthwhile endeavors, The Artist’s Way does not get easier as it goes along; it becomes more difficult as the novelty of taking time for one’s self and one’s thoughts wears off, and the challenge of getting to really know and live with the self begins.

It took me two weeks in real time to get through the third week of The Artist’s Way.

Morning pages are not an obstacle for me – I continue to write about dreams, and then about whatever comes to mind. Increasingly, these thoughts have been more and more about work-related and school-related matters. I think it is healthy for me to notice when my mind becomes overly focused on that particular area of my life, rather than to become entangled in that one particular domain without noticing, and then wondering why I feel burnt out.

The Artist's Way. All Day.

The real block I faced in the third week was coming up with a suitable artist’s date. Nothing seemed worthwhile. I kept brainstorming, but none of my ideas seemed worthy enough. I was overanalyzing the simple act of spending some time alone doing something different than I would ordinarily do. I had convinced myself that I needed to come up with a really grand idea. Well,I think that was just a procrastination.

Two nights ago, I became frustrated that I hadn’t yet completed my date. I got in my car and drove, putting on an old song I used to listen to repeatedly in college. The location of Trident Booksellers and Cafe popped into my head after being in the car for less than three minutes, so I drove there. Normally, I would avoid this area of town at night if I was alone. It was unsafe to take the train there by myself, and I didn’t know where to park. But on this night, I just went with it, and, behold, I found a parking spot, spent some time browsing and some time writing, some time drinking some Chai Spice tea, and so it went. And then it was over and behind me. I did it.

The third chapter of The Artist’s Way is titled “Recovering a Sense of Power”, and this refers to examining one’s limits as well as one’s ability to keep an open mind.

The chapter discusses the themes of anger, synchronicity, shame, and criticism. Anger and synchronicity are useful tools that we should attend to rather than dismiss, while shame and criticism are often destructive tools that we amplify and overemphasize. The writing exercises in the chapter examine childhood environment, traits, and accomplishments, as well as friendships and admirations. It is a chapter that will have you check your reality, and it is hard work. If you choose to continue The Artist’s Way, this chapter may leave you feeling raw and vulnerable, but you will also feel stronger and more in touch with yourself.

Ongoing Book Review: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, Week 2

Before beginning The Artist’s Way, I would wake up and instantly reach for my laptop. First e-mail account. Second e-mail account. Third e-mail account. New York Times. I would start the day by drowning my brain in communication with others. Well, The Artist’s Way has changed all that, and now the first thing I do is slide out the drawer of the bedside table to pull out my gold and red Chinese print fabric-covered journal and my InkJoy retractable pen and write down three pages of whatever comes into my mind. Since I am sleeping well for the first time in years, I actually have dreams that I can remember. I usually begin by writing those down, and then I write down whatever else is on my mind. Rather than infecting my brain will e-mails and advertisements, I am beginning the day by slowly massaging the thoughts from my mind and onto paper. It feels great.

Week Two focuses on rediscovering one’s own identity.

The second week of The Artist’s Way focuses on recovering a sense of identity through exploring self-definition, creating boundaries, and exploring one’s personal needs, desires, and interests. Ironically, these themes are something that I periodically I focus on with my own students, yet it never occurred to me to take the time to examine them for myself.

On page 43, Cameron states: “As blocked creatives, we focus not on our responsibilities to ourselves, but on our responsibilities to others. We tend to think our behavior makes us good people. It doesn’t. It makes us frustrated people.”

Prioritizing taking care of others over self-care is an extremely easy trap for those in the teaching profession or any human services career for that matter. In my teaching career, I feel an extremely compelling passion for and responsibility to my students and their families. However, there came a point last year when I began to felt burnt out or, as one friend said, like I’d been put through “the old-time, old-fashioned wringer”. I had spent nearly a decade putting my responsibilities to others over spending time taking care of myself, and I found myself feeling short-tempered, moody, and exhausted. Interestingly, since focusing more attention on myself, I feel more clear-minded, energetic, and self-assured, and I am better able to assist others with my stronger sense of self.

In this chapter, Cameron carefully cautions the reader to be wary of “poisonous playmates” and “crazy makers” in one’s life. She encourages the recovering artist’s to avoid those who diminish our self-worth and increase our skepticism and self-doubt. And she asks the provocative question: “What creative work are you trying to block by staying involved [with those who make you feel terrible and insane]?”

Ongoing Book Review: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, Week 1

Mom: What did you do today?

Jenn: Well, I went on a date with myself, my artistic self.

Mom: (knowingly) And how did that go?

Jenn: Well, I got dressed up. I wore the shirt that you gave me for Christmas. I went to a café by myself, and I downloaded piano music and listened to it for an hour.  I think we’ll probably go out together again. (laughs)

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

Self-dating, which the author calls “Artist Dates”, comprises just one of the unique tasks that Julia Cameron suggests will heighten the readers’ creativity and build their relationships with their creative selves . The Artist’s Way consists of 12 weeks of creativity courses, each with a discussion followed by a series of ten short tasks based on that weeks concept. For example, week 1, titled “Recovering a Sense of Safety” discusses negative self-talk regarding one’s own artistic endeavors as well as examining relationships that have either repressed or championed creativity throughout one’s life time.

In addition to the ten tasks, Cameron’s course also requires a commitment to both daily Morning Pages, three pages of long-hand free writing composed first thing after awakening, and weekly Artist Dates – spending time with one’s self for a couple of hours each week doing something creative.

Thus far, the program is encouraging me to pursue the creative work that I enjoy – writing, playing piano, and cooking – as the author points out that unless we ourselves are doing these creative acts, they will not happen.  She also highlights the importance of letting ourselves “try it to see what happens”. Although I do this with my own students, I often neglect to provide this sort of encouragement for myself. I have also been practicing yoga daily during this time. Between the tasks in Cameron’s book and the yoga classes, I have a sense of peace and my mind has been cleaned enough to allow creative thoughts to enter and creative tasks to occur.

For example, a few days ago, I practiced piano for about three hours straight without even realizing where the time had gone. I faced a difficult piece that I have wanted to play for the past twenty years – this piece has literally plagued me and nearly whispered to me: “You are not technically proficient enough to master me.” I even remember that a friend’s sister, two years younger that me, played this piece in a concert in high school. When I asked her if it was difficult, she said,”It’s not that hard.” As if my question was totally ludicrous. Nevertheless, I have been fearlessly practicing it this week, with many wrong notes, and I feel like I am confronting a demon.

At the end of each chapter, check-in questions encourage the reader to assess whether or not they have completed the week’s tasks, Morning Pages, and Artist Date. Although I have never been much of a person for New Year’s Resolutions (I felt affirmed when my yoga teacher offered that the resolutions we make often do not reflect and in fact actively work against who we are meant to be in this lifetime), this book does seem fitting for the time of renewal and rebirth that occurs at the start of a new year.

Citation: Cameron, J. (2002). The artist’s way. Tarcher.

Note: This book came out over a decade ago; I encountered it on the shelf at the library while browsing. I would expect that many libraries nationwide carry copies. Try before you buy!