Welcome to Tuesdays with Chel.
Learning is movement from moment to moment.
– J. KRISHNAMURTI
Welcome to the Bliss Habits Book Club! For the next several weeks, we’ll be discussing and working our way through The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. This week, we’re discussing chapter/week nine.
The discussion is continued on Facebook, as well. Please join us.
Once again, Julia Cameron is hitting the nail straight on the head for me with this week’s topic: “Recovering a Sense of Compassion”. Around the holidays I started thinking a lot about the idea of self-compassion, which is something I am working on this year. So when I opened “The Artist’s Way” and read the title of the chapter, I was immediately on board.
First, Cameron starts by discussing creative blocks. This is also apropos- I know a lot of us are struggling with getting back into the creative routine after the holidays. I am *really* struggling, to be honest. I have ideas and inspiration, just no energy or drive to make any of it happen.
“We have wanted to create and we have been unable to create and we have called that inability laziness. This is not merely inaccurate. It is cruel. Blocked artists are not lazy. They are blocked. The blocked artist typically expends a great deal of energy on self-hatred, on regret, on grief, and on jealousy. … Unfortunately, the view of an artist’s life as an adolescent rebellion often lingers, making any act of art entail the risk of separation and the loss of loved ones. Because artists still yearn for their creative goals, they then feel guilty. This guilt demands that they set a goal for themselves right off the bat that they must be great artists in order to justify this rebellion.”
This really resonated with me. I’ve often written about my little fixation on the idea that creativity needs to be “worthwhile”, and the work I produce does not fit *my* criteria of “worthwhile use of time and energy” because it’s NOT PERFECT.
“The blocked artist does not know how to begin with baby steps. Instead, the blocked artist thinks in terms of great big scary impossible tasks: a novel, a feature film, a one-person show, an opera. The need to be a great artist makes it hard to be an artist. The need to produce a great work of art makes it hard to produce any art at all. …. Do not call the inability to start laziness. Call it fear.” – Julia Cameron
I’m not unfamiliar with the idea of procrastination and avoidance being about fear, but this forced me to take a close look at it and start taking it more seriously. I think it’s something we all need to do- take a good, close look at our fears.
Cameron gives a simple suggestion:
“First of all, you must give yourself permission to begin small and go in baby steps. These steps must be rewarded. There is only one cure for fear. That cure is love.”
And we show our inner artist love by creating ENTHUSIASM for our creativity and the ways in which we put it to use. Cameron writes:
“Over any extended period of time, being an artist requires enthusiasm more than discipline. Enthusiasm is not an emotional state. It is a spiritual commitment, a loving surrender to our creative process, a loving recognition of all the creativity around us. Enthusiasm is grounded in play, not work. … it is joy, not duty, that makes for a lasting bond.”
This is such a simple concept, but I have never thought of the creative process in this way. For years I have assumed that in order to be a “serious artist” I needed to be completely serious about all aspects of it. But the fact is, I love art because it’s joyful and vibrant. So in my desire to create a “serious career” I wound up losing sight of the reason I create art in the first place.
“As artists, grounding our self-image in military discipline is dangerous. In the short run, discipline may work, but it will work only for a while. By its very nature, discipline is rooted in self-admiration. (Think of discipline as a battery, useful but short-lived.) We admire ourselves for being so wonderful. The discipline itself, not the creative outflow, becomes the point.” – Julia Cameron
I think any of us who have tried to create a structured, scheduled-down-to-the-second creative routine knows what Cameron is saying. When I’m blocked, it’s very easy for me to find comfort in a fixed set of steps. I don’t have to think, I just sit down and *work*. But that’s not necessarily creating- it’s *producing*. Don’t get me wrong- sometimes it’s necessary. Sometimes in the process of “production” we find that inspiration kicks in and takes over. But sometimes we get so obsessed by workflow and schedules and creative routines that the creativity itself gets lost inside it.
I think it’s very important to distinguish between creative practice and creative discipline. One is flexible and a “work in progress”, and the other is about precision and minding rules.
Cameron writes that we need to engage with not only our creativity, but the inner artist. Instead of scheduled time to paint or write, think of it as a “playdate”. She writes:
“Our artist child can best be enticed to work by treating work as play. Remember that art is process. The process is supposed to be fun. For our purposes, “the journey is always the only arrival” may be interpreted to mean that our creative work is actually our creativity itself at play in the field of time. At the heart of this play is the mystery of joy.”
We need to find the enthusiasm for our creative work in order to keep it appealing to us on a daily basis.
But what happens when we’re doing good, flow-y creative work, and we start to sabotage ourselves by little acts of rebellion? Cameron calls that “CREATIVE U-TURNS” She writes:
“Many recovering artists become so threatened that they make U-turns and sabotage themselves. In dealing with our creative U-turns, we must first of all extend ourselves some sympathy. Creativity is scary, and in all careers there are U-turns. To recover from a creative U-turn, or a pattern involving many creative U-turns, we must first admit that it exists.”
Basically, “U-turn” is anything we do to derail a project. Stop working on it. Not take an opportunity when it arises. Change something that is working really well into something that isn’t. And it happens constantly, and to the best of us.
“A successful creative career is always built on successful creative failures. The trick is to survive them. It helps to remember that even our most illustrious artists have taken creative U-turns in their time. Have compassion. Creative U-turns are always born from fear—fear of success or fear of failure. It doesn’t really matter which.” – Julia Cameron
Basically, we need to not only be open to creative U-turns, but anticipate them with compassion. Step away and see what we can do to remedy the situation before it just grows into something destructive. And also to know that sometimes we WILL make creative mistakes that cannot be fixed, and that’s PART OF THE PROCESS. Cameron writes:
“Think of your talent as a young and skittish horse that you are bringing along. This horse is very talented but it is also young, nervous, and inexperienced. It will make mistakes, be frightened by obstacles it hasn’t seen before. It may even bolt, try to throw you off, feign lameness. Your job, as the creative jockey, is to keep your horse moving forward and to coax it into finishing the course.”
And how do we keep moving forward? We BLAST THROUGH BLOCKS.
“In order to work freely on a project, an artist must be at least functionally free of resentment (anger) and resistance (fear). Remember, your artist is a creative child. It sulks, throws tantrums, holds grudges, harbors irrational fears. Like most children, it is afraid of the dark, the bogeyman, and any adventure that isn’t safely scary. As your artist’s parent and guardian, its big brother, warrior, and companion, it falls to you to convince your artist it is safe to come out and (work) play.” – Julia Cameron
We need to give ourselves the time and energy to work through the fears and blocks that are weighing us down. Cameron has a great set of steps for doing this:
1. List any resentments (anger) you have in connection with this project.
2. Ask your artist to list any and all fears about the projected piece of work and/or anyone connected to it.
3. Ask yourself if that is all. Have you left out any itsy fear?
4. Ask yourself what you stand to gain by not doing this piece of work.
5. Make your deal. The deal is: “Okay, Creative Force, you take care of the quality, I’ll take care of the quantity.” Sign your deal and post it.
I think the deal part is crucial. I never even considered that before. But I know many writers who actually have written deals with themselves. They sit down and write, and that’s their deal. And it works!
So what can you do to show compassion to your creativity? What can you do to help figure out the fears? What can you do to create an enthusiastic environment and attitude towards creative work? And finally, what can you do to blast through your blocks?
Chel Micheline is a mixed-media artist, curator, writer, and avid gardener/reader/swimmer who lives in Southwest Florida with her husband and daughter. When Chel’s not making art or pondering the Bliss Habits, she’s blogging at gingerblue.com (come say hi!) or posting new things in the gingerblue etsy shop.