In the summer of 2007 I embarked on a journey called "The Artist's Way". The Artist's Way is a program written by Julia Cameron, and is intended to help you "discover and recover your creative self". Stella wasn't even two years old at the time. I hadn't done anything for myself since before she was born, let alone lift a paintbrush (there was a time, years ago, when all I did was paint, sleep and drink). I was working for my former employer from home to pick up a little extra cash, and the rest of the time I was nursing Stella day and night, out on all day walkabouts with her, dinner on the table, and repeat. It's not that we weren't happy, we were actually very happy, but I had no idea how to make time for myself anymore within our family dynamic. It is so important to find a way for everyone to have an outlet. We are still finessing that now within our family of four.
David had been holding onto a copy of The Artist's Way for years. I asked to borrow it one day, and I dove right in. The program consists of twelve weeks of deep introspection (detective work), exercises, and lots of writing.
The two constant tasks are the daily "morning pages" and the weekly "artist's dates".
Morning pages are three hand written pages every morning where you can dump a lot of the chatter in your head before you start your day. Bad dreams, recurring thoughts, to-do lists, rants, sometimes just repeating an affirmation over and over until it triggers a new direction in your writing. Sometimes I hated having to do it, but it was so helpful in letting go of some of the petty things that can cloud your daily thinking. I can definitely see myself doing these again one day.
Pages and pages of "morning pages".
Artist's dates are a way to "refill your artistic well". Sometimes when we are not creating, it is because there is nothing inside us to draw from. We might be depleted. These dates help reinspire. They were especially meaningful to me, a first time mother, who until this point had only left the house without Stella maybe five times total since she was born. I felt naked without her, at first.
I remember one of the first dates I went on was to see La Vie En Rose at the Clay Theater on Fillmore. I bought a huge sandwich across the street from the theater. Sitting there as the theater darkened and the movie started, mouth full of sandwich I said out loud "This is awesome!". It was.
Other artists dates included a trip to the SFMOMA, hours at the SF Main Library, pulling out a huge pile of architecture books that I later found out I couldn't check out. A trip to Flax to look at all the art supplies and think about what I wanted to do next, followed by an hour at a tea house with my new sketchbook. One time I spent three hours at a cafe with recent issues of Vogue, Artforum and Dwell, another time I walked through the Japanese Tea Garden and the Conservatory of Flowers. It was a magical time for me.
On top of all this were the exercises. I filled books (books made from recycled, bungled architectural check prints) with lists of childhood monsters, affirmations, memories, descriptions of what my ideal artistic environment would be, more affirmations, and so many more exercises I can't even begin to list. I made collages, graphs showing who I felt safe around and who I didn't, I wrote letters in my defense to the monsters of my past. What a journey.
Childhood accomplishments. Piano + swimming = success.
Forbidden joys. Obviously, conditions changed (see item #12).
Jealousy map. Wish I could show it to you, but you're probably on it.
Collaging. I took issue with this as I wasn't about to start chopping up my precious architecture and fashion magazine collections. So it was slim pickings for images. I think what this collage says about me is that I want to be an architect with a sleek firm who builds in concrete, while maintaining a faux-French shabby chic style and buying all my lamps from Artemide. Are you getting that vibe?
In the four years since I made this collage, I've finally let go of wanting to be this woman.....
.....but I think I've got a whole lot of this lady left in me.
Describe your childhood room. I loved this exercise, I loved my room.
Reach out to five people who you haven't heard from in a while.
Something Facebook has remedied, for better or worse.
Image file. Filled with photos of mostly material objects and places to visit and things to do
in life. Since then, several of these images have become a reality (most notably having a piano
in my life again). You have to visualize, people!
Comments from some of my personal champions. It's nice to write these down.
These are all champions of my architectural work, would've been nice if I
could've thought of some regarding my spirit or personality. Needs work!
Self-nurturing toys list. My favorite is "a million Sharpies (black) Ultra Fine Point
markers" with a note which says "MILLIONS OF SHARPIES" pointing back at it.
Time travel. Letter to myself from my 80 year old self.
Unfortunately, near the end of my ninth week of the program I got some very sad news and had to stop so I could handle my grieving. I never went back to finish the last three weeks. I also didn't pick up a paint brush immediately like I thought I would.
But I took away so much from this program. It built me up more as a person. Sometimes we forget we have a past, or forget what we've accomplished in the past. I attribute a lot of that to living in an area where there are no seasonal changes and no olfactory triggers that remind me of home. This work helped me remember the artist I had been in the past, as well as who I was when I was a child and a young adult. It also helped me get up the courage to leave my former employer and start my own architecture business. The exercises and a recurring theme in the morning pages made it apparent that this was what I needed to do. That in itself was worth all the work.
Recently, after years of self flagellation regarding not "being creative" (we are all creative in our daily lives, here I think I mean "not creating"), out of the blue I found myself inspired again, truly inspired! Of all things, I feel I've found a real calling in costume making and design, and choreography, and performance. I love it, and I am compelled to work on these types of projects whenever I can. It doesn't matter if the house is a mess or if I've other things to do. If I can find ten minutes or three hours I will dive right into it. I've created some really beautiful costumes and some performances I am really proud of. I need to mention here the creative, talented and wonderful Bombshell Betty Field, the one who opened my eyes and inspired me when I started studying burlesque with her at the end of last year. I may never have come to this if it wasn't for her.
Maybe I wasn't blocked, maybe I was just barking up the wrong tree. If you are feeling that way, maybe you are too. Just know that one day or other, there's a good chance you'll find your artist again.