Bliss Habits Book Club : Chapter/Week 10

Welcome to Tuesdays with Chel.

photo by Shana Novak

“Remember this: each of us is our own country, an interesting place to visit. It is the accurate mapping out of our own creative interests that invites the term original. We are the origin of our art, its home-land. Viewed this way, originality is the process of remaining true to ourselves.”
– Julia Cameron

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.

The title of this week’s chapter is “Recovering a Sense of Self-Protection.” As usual, it’s *exactly* what I needed to read this week. I have been wanting to start a new series of paintings and have done *everything* to prepare for them EXCEPT actually sit down and paint. It’s been very disconcerting for me. I can feel an almost physical resistance to it, and it’s actually quite painful. Sitting down and reading chapter 10 in Artist’s Way gave me some insight.

Cameron started out by discussing what she calls “DANGERS OF THE TRAIL”- the blocks that keep us from moving forward in our creative work. She writes: “If creativity is like a burst of the universe’s breath through the straw that is each of us, we pinch that straw whenever we pick up one of our blocks. We shut down our flow. And we do it on purpose. We begin to sense our real potential and the wide range of possibilities open to us. That scares us. So we all reach for blocks to slow our growth… The object of all of this blocking is to alleviate fear.”

This was insightful to me because I realized that my big struggle with painting is basically me being really, really scared. Of what? I wasn’t quite sure. Cameron goes on to say:

“Blocking is essentially an issue of faith. Rather than trust our intuition, our talent, our skill, our desire, we fear where [we might be headed] with this creativity. Rather than paint, write, dance, audition, and see where it takes us, we pick up a block. Blocked, we know who and what we are: unhappy people.”

Now, I don’t think I’m *generally* an unhappy person. But I do understand Cameron’s point that painting will open up some things, and maybe I’m hesitant to sort of commit and sit down to that opening. Creativity *is* a flow, like a stream of water. Sometimes it’s just really hard to not only step into that flow and allow yourself to be taken down stream, but to *want* to go on that adventure, even if you know exactly what you might be headed for.

I think my fear is always rejection. Or just ambivalence. If I don’t paint, there’s no situation of me having poured my heart and soul into something and then have it not be received well.

Understand that made me realize that I still have a TREMENDOUS amount of work to do around the idea of “reception”, which is basically approval. Why the heck do I care SO MUCH about approval? I’m working on this. But the good thing is that I’m starting to make sense of my blocks, little by little. Even though the blocks frustrate me so much, at least I can recognize them and attempt to dismantle them, or at the very least, work around them.

“As we become aware of our blocking devices—food, busyness, alcohol, sex, other drugs—we can feel our U-turns as we make them. The blocks will no longer work effectively. Over time, we will try—perhaps slowly at first and erratically—to ride out the anxiety and see where we emerge. Anxiety is fuel. We can use it to write with, paint with, work with.” – Julia Cameron

WORKAHOLISM is a common block, which was interesting for me to read. I always thought “workaholism” was sort of a noble, admirable thing. I mean, even if the work isn’t great, it’s getting done, right? But creativity isn’t ABOUT product, it’s about process. So when you think of it that way, “workaholism” is actually quite dangerous. Cameron writes:

“Workaholism still receives a great deal of support in our society. The phrase ‘I’m working’ has a certain unassailable air of goodness and duty to it… There is a difference between zestful work toward a cherished goal and workaholism. That difference lies less in the hours than it does in the emotional quality of the hours spent.”

I really understand this. Last summer as I was spending a lot of time on the Etsy shop, I fell into a very comfortable little mode where I was doing a lot of WORK (repetitive tasks) and not much creative. It was really kinda nice, to be honest. There was nothing much at stake- I just had a huge list of things to do and I tackled each project, one after the other. But there was little personal reward at the end. I didn’t walk away from establishing an Etsy shop with any sense of personal growth, other than “hey, I launched an Etsy shop.”

When I put in the time and heart and soul into a creative project, I always walk away with a sense of deep personal accomplishment. Even if the project sucks, or isn’t well received, I DO learn from the experience, always. And I will be the first to say my biggest breakthroughths came after years of creative struggle. I mean, it took me something like four years before I made a single bead that was not cringe-inducing. Now I make beads like I was born to do it. I have to keep reminding myself of this. And when I look back at those days of monkeying with clay on the kitchen table and making ugly beads over and over again, it’s a happy memory memory. It frustrated me, but I enjoyed the medium. So it was worth the time and effort, even though it took a long time to get to a level where was I was producing would end up in another place than the garbage can next to my workspace! Practice, practice, practice.

Cameron writes:

“Play can make a workaholic very nervous. Fun is scary. For most blocked creatives, fun is something they avoid almost as assiduously as their creativity. Why? Fun leads to creativity. It leads to rebellion. It leads to feeling our own power, and that is scary.”

Fun CAN be scary. We are conditioned as adults that productivity is valued and useful to society and play is frivolous and self-indulgent and downright selfish. Why is that? All work and no play makes us cranky, closed, resentful, and clenched. How on earth does that benefit anyone? We get grumpy and tired, our bad mood effects those we love, and those we don’t even know. Just like misery is infection, so is happiness. We need to underdtand that as creative people we were given the responsibility to *translate* what we see and feel to those around us. That IS our work. It feels like play because it involves paint or words or dance or whatever, but it IS work.

Of course, one of the biggest blocks is creative DROUGHT. That’s always a doozy.

“In any creative life there are dry seasons… Life loses its sweetness; our work feels mechanical, empty, forced. We feel we have nothing to say, and we are tempted to say nothing.” – Julia Cameron

I was kind of in a drought after the holidays. What an exhausting time. But the key for me was to just set a schedule in my art studio and show up and go through the actions. Pick up the beads, the scissors, the pen… and just go through the actions. I was surprised to find that I got into the flow fairly quickly. Not immediately, of course, but soon enough. Last year I just “sat” with the exhaustion after the holidays. This year I tried to create THROUGH it. It made a huge difference.

As much as I honor the idea of downtime and breaks, and think they are of monumental importance, I am starting to realize that sometimes the best “downtime” is just getting back into the studio and letting myself make a mess. It gets the creative flow up and running, and it keeps me in the right “zone”. Camerone writes:

“In a creative life, droughts are a necessity. The time in the desert brings us clarity and charity. When you are in a drought, know that it is to a purpose. And keep [showing up]. Sooner or later—always later than we like—our [showing up] will bring things right. A path will emerge. An insight will be a landmark that shows the way out of the wilderness.”

Next up in Chapter Ten is a big, big issue for most creative people who share their work with others: the issues of FAME and COMPETITION.

Cameron writes:

“When we focus on competition we poison our own well, impede our own progress. When we are ogling the accomplishments of others, we take our eye away from our own through line. The desire to be better than can choke off the simple desire to be. As artists we cannot afford this thinking. It leads us away from our own voices and choices and into a defensive game that centers outside of ourselves and our sphere of influence. It asks us to define our own creativity in terms of someone else’s. Instead of saying, ‘That proves it can be done,’ your fear will say, ‘He or she will succeed instead of me.’ …”

I really admit to doing this. There’s several blogs that recognize clay and jewelry design. I had to stop reading them because it really HURT (I’m being super honest here!) that my work wasn’t included. Every time I saw a new post, I would just think that it was one less opportunity for me to be mentioned on those blogs. Not that there were still MANY opportunities left, since most of them are “daily” type blogs, but that I lost yet another slim chance of approval.

I know that sounds so twisted, but it’s true. And the more I focused on who *was* being mentioned, the more I focused on their work and their style and I started feeling less and less connected with my OWN work. My OWN style. My OWN story. And that really took a big toll on my work and my deep feeling about it.

Cameron writes:

“Remember this: each of us is our own country, an interesting place to visit. It is the accurate mapping out of our own creative interests that invites the term original. We are the origin of our art, its home-land. Viewed this way, originality is the process of remaining true to ourselves.”

By constantly looking over our shoulder, comparing what we do to what others do, noticing what is successful and “trendy” and marketable, we lose sense of what we have to offer the world.

“The point of the work is the work. Fame [or the need for success] interferes with that perception. … [For example,] instead of writing being about writing, it becomes about being recognized, not just published. We all like credit where credit is due. As artists, we don’t always get it. Fame is really a shortcut for self-approval. What we are really scared of is that without fame [or success] we won’t be loved—as artists or as people.” – Julia Cameron

I think fame and recognition might bring outside approval, but if we stop doing the work that matters and makes sense to us, it will be a TRULY empty experience.

And Cameron also notes that a HUGE part of the creative process is the evolution of an idea, of a project. Any creative person will tell you that the BIGGEST JOY is experiencing an idea develop through stages of creation. I mean, that’s HUGE. It’s so much fun, it’s so rewarding. WHY would we sacrifice that? That’s the best part of being creative!

She writes:

“The spirit of competition—as opposed to the spirit of creation—often urges us to quickly winnow out whatever doesn’t seem like a winning idea. This can be very dangerous. It can interfere with our ability to carry a project to term. Let the critics spot trends. Let reviewers concern themselves with what is in and what is not. Let us concern ourselves first and foremost with what it is within us that is struggling to be born.

“An act of art needs time to mature. Art needs time to incubate, to sprawl a little, to be ungainly and misshapen and finally emerge as itself. The ego hates this fact. The ego wants instant gratification and the addictive hit of an acknowledged win. The need to win—now!—is a need to win approval from others.”

We have to honor ourselves enough not to short ourselves of the very best aspects of being creative. We have to love and respect ourselves that much, that we need to learn to turn away from the others and just look deep into ourselves.

“As artists, we must go within. We must attend to what it is our inner guidance is nudging us toward. We must learn to approve of ourselves. [through] concrete, small, loving actions. We must actively, consciously, consistently, and creatively nurture our artist selves. Only when we are being joyfully creative can we release the obsession with others and how they are doing… Showing up for the work is the win that matters.” – Julia Cameron

The discussion is continued on Facebook, as well. Please join us.

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 (come say hi!) or posting new things in the gingerblue etsy shop.

One thought on “Bliss Habits Book Club : Chapter/Week 10

  1. Karen B says:

    Hey Chel, this is a good one this week! I recently ‘got’ the idea that some of us fear success more than we fear failure. I think the Marianne Williamson Quote is something like “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” This made no sense to me at all until I understood that my identity is so invested in ‘not being good enough’ that any suggestion that I might be good at something threatens that identity and if I’m not that, then who am I? It’s safer to be ‘not good enough’. I know that place. I know how to behave in that place. I feel safe in that place. And so, maybe my fear is of…… I don’t know what!

    And as for competition, don’t get me started! Everyone else is better, more original, more proficient! I guess the secret is not to compare. To undertake creative work merely for the pleasure of it – for my own enjoyment, for the experience rather than the result would get me around that one – though I also have the feeling that doing things for ‘fun’ – things that are like playing – is frivolous, and who do I think I am playing when there are constructive things to be done?

    Can you tell that this chapter resonated with me?

    Keep up the good work! xxx

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