I am now four and a half weeks in to The Artist’s Way program by Julia Cameron, and this is what I have learned so far: I have a really hard time letting myself play without feeling guilty about it. The two main pillars of the program are the daily Morning Pages and Artist Dates, one of which is easy and one of which is hard.
Morning Pages are easy. You get up and write three pages longhand first thing in the morning of whatever comes to your mind. I enjoy writing longhand anyway, and it is a relief to be able to spill whatever drivel comes to my head directly onto the page without judging it or wondering if it is publishable. I also find that I make connections between things while writing that I tend not to make if I am just thinking, which is fascinating.
The Artist Dates, however, are a little harder for me. This is where you take your inner artist out on a date. You ask your Artist child (gag) where she wants to go or what she wants to do and then you go do something that you really want. It doesn’t have to be particularly arty, Cameron says. Your artist might want to go bowling, for instance.
As a stay-at-home mom only just recently building my freelance work into something I call a business, I already feel a tad guilty about the flexibility I have with my time — not that I didn’t pay my dues during Daughter’s nursing, diapers and potty training years. But I take too much to heart the phrase, “guilty pleasure,” and figure that anything I take time off to do that’s pleasurable must also come with a bag of guilt, which I dutifully drag around with me.
So the thought of taking off up to two hours, two hours, every week to do something that feeds the creative spirit of the eight-year-old little kid inside who wanted to be an inventor when she grew up is a little hard to swallow. But, if I am going to do The Artist’s Way wholeheartedly, this is what I must do. So here’s what I’ve done on my Artist dates so far.
Week 1: I went to Lux Art Institute and caught the docent’s talk on the artist David Humphrey whose work was on exhibit. I’ve always told myself that I am not a visual art person. I have only a passing knowledge of art history, and never displayed much talent in the mechanics of making art either. People who were interested in art were creative and free-spirited, flighty even, and Not Like Me. I could therefore dismiss the entire field of pursuit.
However over the past five years I’ve discovered a hunger for exposure to visual art that I never noticed before. I know I’ll get overwhelmed if I try to Educate Myself on art, so I take it in tiny doses and pay attention to how it makes me feel. “Do I like this?” I ask. I’ve been careful to follow only where I feel a true interest. I did not feel particularly moved by Humprey’s work, or even like it very much, but was glad I went. I also bought a quirky little metal dinosaur in the gift shop and some notecards. I love notecards.
Before I left I sat in a sunny spot looking over the hillside and sketched a little scene in ballpoint pen in my trusty Moleskine notebook. I’ve never felt I had much talent for drawing, but discover that this also is something I want to do, just for fun.
Week 2: I didn’t want to do anything that was quite so, well, arty this week. So on the spur of the moment on a Tuesday morning I decided to watch a movie in the middle of the day. Yes, really living the high life. I borrowed my dad’s DVD of La Vie En Rose, about French singer Edith Piaf, about a year ago and never watched it. My husband wasn’t too keen on seeing it so I’d figured I’d just wait until a time when I felt like sitting down and watching a movie. Well you see how long it took me.
I closed the curtains, made popcorn and had just enough time to finish the story of France’s “Little Sparrow” before heading out to pick up Daughter from school. I felt remarkably decadent.
Week 3: Perhaps it was last week’s subtitled movie, or the French Pastry Shop near the CVS where the server has been letting me indulge my college French that triggered it, but I remembered that several years ago I noticed a weekly French Conversation group on the calendar at the library. I’d thought, “That’s something I’d like to do someday.” But of course, someday meant much, much later. Perhaps when I am an empty nester or have lots of free time. And of course, my French would have to be a lot better before I felt comfortable showing up.
Well guess what? I decided that someday is now. I checked the schedule and they were still meeting on Tuesday afternoons right before school gets out. Perfect. I found the meeting room with a whiteboard that announced, “Bienvenue! Nous parlons Francais ici!” I took my place among perhaps a dozen women and men at the table (I was by far the youngest), and thoroughly enjoyed an hour of catching as many snippets of conversation as I could and contributing en peu as well. I’ll definitely go back.
Week 4: This week was tough, due to a condensed schedule. With not enough time to go to French, and at a loss as to what my Artist Date would be, a circular rack of books caught my eye at the contract Post Office-cum-pharmacy-cum-giftstore where I was in line to mail a package. Next to the paperback classics was a rack of Dover Coloring Books. I used to love Dover Coloring Books. My parents bought them for me and I spent hours coloring in Native American Designs or Revolutionary War Uniforms.
The one that caught my eye was Dinosaurs of the Triassic Era. “I used to like to color,” I said to myself. “And I used to like dinosaurs.” (Still do, I guess). I flipped the book over. $3.99. I am so buying this. Once at home I dug out the colored pencils my grandmother gave to me (who was a self-taught artist and painter in her retirement years, interestingly), and spent 15 blissful minutes meticulously coloring an Archosaur red with orange spots.
So it’s been interesting, and the more I take the Artist Dates the less guilty I feel about it as I see the results of the program in my creative life. I highly recommend them for your inner 8-year-old.