I never took the time to write down my thoughts in a journal – or anywhere else. They lived an active life in my head, twirling around like a majorette’s baton. Sometimes they flowed like a choreographed routine. Other times they crashed to the ground as they twisted and tumbled into each other. Writing was viewed as an English class skill used as needed to complete a term paper for school or a report for work. Then the book The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron, was recommended by a friend. I almost didn’t buy it – I was no artist and did not consider myself a spiritual person, so why did I need this book? But after a skim through in the book store, curiosity prompted me to take a small leap that would change my life in ways I could never have imagined.
It was a 12 week program. I took about twice that long to complete it. But complete it I did – reading every page and sidebar quote and completing every exercise at the end of the chapters. The basic tools: morning pages and artist’s dates, were added to my to do list. I wrote the mandatory morning pages at least nine out of every ten days. The three longhand stream-of-consciousness pages contained everything that popped into my head, no matter how petty, silly or stupid it felt – and no one else was allowed to read them. The mundane typically initiated the pages, including list after list of what I hoped to accomplish. Time seemed to be the main ingredient in a cocktail of complaints – never enough time to get the necessities done, much less fit in self –care or creative pursuits. It became clearer and clearer that though time was a real issue – with work, two busy teenagers, and a large house and yard to care for – it was also a convenient excuse. As the same unfinished project appeared on list after list, procrastination crept into view. I conveniently let it slide by without much attention. But as I continued the morning pages evidence grew, until one day my resistance to moving forward glared at me with accusing eyes. Did I really just write that on the list again? Who was I kidding?!
I also seemed to be forever writing about cleaning, organizing, and clearing out. But the cleaning never reached an end point and the mess continued to grow no matter what I did. The state of my home kept my door closed to unplanned visits, with an underlying fear that someone would knock unexpectedly and become witness to… what? The mess ??? (no more than most other homes I had been in and a good deal less than some). The dirty floors, counters, refrigerator, bathroom??? (maybe not pristine but nothing to threaten anyone’s health either!) Furniture, design or decor that were not good enough? (maybe not the latest trend, but put together with thought and effort.) Or was it something less obvious; cleaning as an attempt to bring some order and clarity to the disorder in my relationship with Ron? Or was it me that was not good enough or clean enough to pass inspection?
Resentments and agitations were hot topics on the pages while joy and happiness were rare visitors. But writing repetitive gripes down on paper gave them a place to land, taking them out of the orbit of my spinning thoughts – at least temporarily. I kept writing, despite the desire to just chuck it all and get back to other things. Who had time for all this silly self-examination anyway? But then, just as resistance was about to edge out persistence, something unexpected would spill out of my pen. Sometimes it was just an odd thought that I wasn’t aware of having harbored. Sometimes it was a new idea lodged between a list and an annoyance. Sometimes a few words led to a few more, and interesting paragraphs glided across the page. The pages recorded. The pages focused. The pages revealed.
Artist dates were a different story. The block of time I was asked to set aside each week to nurture my creative consciousness felt like just one more unachievable task. Then one day I saw Julia on a morning show talking about the dates: “They should be festive and fun… the purpose is to be inspired.” I had missed this part of the description somewhere along the way, so I tried harder to keep the date with myself each week. But coming up with things to do was a challenge. One day I simply went for a walk and picked up brilliantly colored leaves, then photocopied them in various arrangements. It made me smile. I used one as a card to a friend going through a divorce with some words about endings, colors, and preparing for new beginnings. I did feel inspired, and realized it might be simpler than I thought, maybe not such a chore after all! I sometimes let my gaze drift as I listened to nature’s music on walks in the woods. I played with water colors with no particular goal. I watched people passing as I sat in the mall. I went to garage sales keeping an eye open for small treasures – like the glass lemon squeezer that reminded me of the one my mother used when making dad’s favorite lemon meringue pie. The dates became as exciting and desirable as Saturday night escapades had been decades earlier. And I discovered that I often enjoyed my own company more!