Many of my days were driven by my need to get more done, or do things ‘better than’ – as a screen to mask all my perceived imperfections. But procrastination also visited on a regular basis. How could I persevere with such intensity in one moment and stand immobilized in another? In week 9 – Recovering a Sense of Compassion -Julia explained that being blocked was not a result of laziness, but of fear. The truth made me uneasy. Fear followed me everywhere. Fear put the whip to my back, but also pressed the brakes to the floor. Fear of not being acceptable fired my drive, but I began to realize that fear of being ostracized for being too successful also kept my actions small. Plans that initially dawned with excitement often never made it into the full light of day. So I wrote, and I recognized a familiar, disapproving voice: “You’re no better than anyone else…” It was my father’s voice, criticizing my use of the ‘F’ word in a conversation as an adult. The rest of his sentence: “when you use language like that!” – a statement about my word choice, not about me as a person – was conveniently dropped from my recollection. I remember thinking ‘But I never thought I was better than anyone else.’ The part of his statement that clung to my memory summoned a fear that had followed me since leaving home – that my family thought I considered myself better than them because I had chosen a different path. If only they knew the truth about my daily struggle to feel ‘good enough’. I realized the origin of those words was located in my own head; neatly filed with all the other negative self-talk, ready to douse sparks of growing belief in myself. Through writing I was beginning to thin out those files and send them to the shredder.
“Examining perils that ambush us on the creative path” and “search(ing) for the toxic patterns we cling to that block our creative flow” were focused on in week 10 – Recovering a Sense of Self-Protection. I was beginning to see patterns in my morning pages; patterns that while preventing me from moving ahead, also provided comfort in their familiarity. There was a sense of control in the familiar, despite knowing it was not where I wanted to be. But comfort hit a rough patch of road when I recognized myself in the next words: “Obsession with painful love places choice outside (my) hands – obsession blocks fear and prevents risk.” Was I obsessed with pain? Was that even possible? But there it was, in black and white – and the shoe fit. Writing about this was difficult. I did not want to claim such a pitiful state of being. But it was true that I knew this pain. It allowed me to focus on Ron’s problems instead of our relationship problems, cleverly blocking examination of my own role and my fear of life without my marriage. The pain was intense, but the risk was minor – he had never been the one who threatened to leave; that was my tactic. A bit further down the page was another element I saw repeated in my pages – my constant sense that all I did was work, at both my job and at home, there always seemed to be more to do. “Workaholism – an addiction…jams the creative signal with self -induced static… very often working to avoid ourselves, our spouses, our real feelings.” Another possibility I did not want to look in the eyes. Another feeling of truth in my gut.
Finding acceptance for the many parts of myself that fell into the ‘inferior’ category, was an ongoing challenge. When week 11 – Recovering a Sense of Autonomy – suggested that I nurture and accept myself as an artist, it was no surprise that ‘artist’ was not even on the list! But one sentence caught my attention: “To be an artist is to … allow a sense of play in your relationship with accepted standards.” And there it was – my intense need to meet some standard that lurked just out of reach. I did need to play, to lighten up and enjoy moments without worry, to ease my rigidity. Play had always been limited to a bit part in my story. I had recently started kayaking and hiking as an attempt to expand my world outside of work and home. But my role within the wall of our house felt heavy and humorless. Ron was the jokester. I was the serious one who took care of everyone’s needs, often at the cost of my own. And I started to see that I was also the one who needed to value my own needs enough to make a change.
Heavy handed parental control throughout my first 18 years fed resentment and sent me running as soon as I could. When I left home I swore I would never be controlled by anyone again. That proved to be more difficult than I ever could have imagined. In my relationship with Ron, I fought the control his drinking had over our family by taking command of what sometimes felt like a sinking ship. In week 12 – Recovering a Sense of Faith – Julia stated: “Creativity requires faith. Faith requires that we relinquish control. This is frightening, and we resist it.” Letting go of what little power I felt I had was a tall order. But that sense of control did not lead to change. If anything it led to more pain, and certainly wasn’t helping my blood pressure – as evidenced by the need for multiple medications. Maybe it was time to have more faith in myself, to loosen my grip on fear of losing control of circumstances around me – something I really didn’t possess anyways. What would happen if I stopped listening to the ‘what if’s’, and the ‘be carefuls’?’ Maybe it was time to take the leap towards belief and away from fear.
Epilogue – “The road is never straight. Growth is a spiral process, doubling back on itself, reassessing and regrouping. …progress is often dogged by rough terrain or storms.” I continued journaling, even after completion of the book. Writing became an essential part of most days. It became my true voice, even if no one else heard it. Some days pages were filled with bits and pieces that felt unimportant. Other days some of those bits roared into fiery anger fueled from hidden reserves; or tears flowed with the ink onto a page of pain. There were days when I reread what I had written and wondered where the words had come from. They were a mystery, as if they had flowed through me, rather than from me. Writing evolved into a tool for exploration, examination and discovery. Writing gently guided my focus away from the turmoil that surrounded me, redirecting it to the turmoil within me. But the inner turbulence was different, springing from seeds I could choose to cultivate or discard in order to control the only thing I really could – my own thoughts and actions. In Julia’s words,: “The Artist’s Way is a spiritual journey, a pilgrimage home to the self…. The point is that you will hear something if you listen for it.” I was learning to listen, and to trust what I heard.