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Oh wow, you guys. We are ALMOST DONE! How's everyone doing?

I very stupidly came home from a work trip and FORGOT TO POST for three days; I don't know if this counts as a Cameronian U-Turn or not. I'm really sorry either way! I'm going to go ahead and late-post Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday now :(

Cameron begins the chapter with a discussion of the importance of faith, which for the purposes of this book seems to be a mix of “clear goals” and “trust in the process.” It's important, she says, to give our ideas some space and time to grow – she compares our ideas to embryos, stalactites, eggs, and root vegetables and reminds us that being in the dark is part of the process. She suggests lots of doodling and messing around and fewer outlines for people who tend to spend a lot of energy forcing their creative work in various ways.

Trust your own sense of what works. )

In the section called “The Imagination At Play,” Cameron talks about the importance of play and recreation, the experience of remembering old long-forgotten creative activities such as dancing or painting sets in high school, and concludes that we are intrinsically creative. You can think of this in the way Cameron does, as being created for a purpose or “intended” to be something, or you can think of it as a human capability, like language, that improves with cultivation.

Slightly OT side note )

Anyway, I like this part:

We want to do something, but we think it needs to be the right something, by which we mean something important

We are what's important[.]

Finally, setbacks happen. Avoid them if you can, and don't let them crash you in any case. Cameron suggests thinking of them as a test of your resolve – I'd just as soon say “shit happens” and move on. Morning pages, if you decide to continue them, can be a tool for dealing with, anticipating, and thinking clearly about setbacks of all kinds.

Don't forget to ask for support where needed and be aware of how the people in your life relate to your creativity. Which friends will support you no matter what? Which friends will be straightforward if you need them to be? I don't share Cameron's zero-tolerance attitude toward cynics and skeptics; I think a bullshit detector (your own or a friend's) is critical to the success of any self-help program. But it's a good idea to keep track of who makes you feel bad about your creativity and set some boundaries where you can.

Since it's the last week, spend some time planning for next week. What are you going to do differently once the workshop is over? What tools will you keep?

One last week of morning pages and artist's date! Don't forget to do them!
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Some themes for Week 11 are: accepting your artist self, accepting the importance of creativity, the pitfalls of success (again, it's easy to self-sabotage after a small success; big ones have the same risk magnified), work-life balance, the usefulness of physical activity.

It's heavy on the anecdotes, but the ideas are simple. Don't discount creativity because it's not "practical;" acknowledge it as an important part of your life. This can mean accepting the risks and complications of being an artist, and it also means accepting yourself (whether or not you fit the Cameronian ideal of a creative person).

The exercise section (predictably called "The Zen of Sports") is interesting, if not always clear. The main ideas here are that creativity is an embodied action and unblocking requires moving from the "head" into the body (please feel free to ignore my compulsion to point out that the head is part of the body), and that physical activity causes us to live in and pay attention to the present as a form of meditation. She encourages her readers to run around, take long walks, go swimming, or otherwise engage the whole body. Cameron doesn't offer alternatives for people with limited mobility, but the exercise stuff seems to be operating on more or less the same principle as the "filling the well" idea, where any attention-requiring repetitive action can help replenish creative resources.

The final section describes creating an artist's altar and reiterates the idea of making tactile and sensory changes to your creative space as a way of reinforcing enthusiasm, protection, and enjoyment.

Don't forget to schedule a date with your artist this week, and do your morning pages every day!
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Week Ten begins with a discussion of the "myriad ways" people use to block creativity. Her examples are food, alcohol, drugs, busyness, sad love drama, and sex. One potential blocking device that Cameron doesn't mention, but which is relevant to this workshop, is the buying impulse -- picking up a new journal in lieu of writing on the paper you already have -- or the getting-my-head-straight-first impulse, e.g. reading self-help books instead of working on existing projects. I can relate to that. If you have a blocking device or two of your own, you probably know what it is.

Some slightly OT musing )

More assessment, more boundaries )

Sometimes you may feel dried up )

There's a section on fame, competition, and the need for approval -- Cameron's theory is that we're all just hoping for fan letters from ourselves. She also suggests that when someone we know is successful, "That proves it can be done!" can be a more helpful reaction than, "Everyone else is succeeding instead of me." "The desire to be better than," Cameron says, "can choke off the desire to be." Don't be afraid to do things badly on the way to doing them well.

Morning pages! Artist's date! How's everyone doing, eh?
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We're always calling ourselves lazy. For “we,” read: I. Maybe you're not like that. A lot of people are.
Cameron says that laziness is the word blocked artists use for fear. I think there's probably some laziness mixed in from time to time, to be honest. But it's important to acknowledge that a lot of what we call laziness might actually be fear – one fear, or a bunch of fears swirling together.

Fear of failure. Fear of success! Fear of beginning and not finishing! Fear of not being good enough! Fear of hurting friends and family! Fear of not being good enough to justify hurting friends and family! As we talked about in the previous week, blocked artists often think in terms of huge tasks and terrifying life changes, instead of small steps. This makes it easy to be afraid.

Disguising fear as laziness makes it easy to laugh with and to keep around. A lot of the time, though, it's still fear. And sometimes a little laziness. But mostly fear.

The only cure for our fears is love. Cameron hopes that by calling fear by its right name, we can begin to show compassion for our artist selves, instead of rolling out eyes and saying, “Lazy.”

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

It can be hard to begin, even with small steps. Realize you can ask for help – from friends, from your Great Creator if you're about that, and from yourself. You can say, “I'm afraid,” and expect understanding and support.

Enthusiasm – which Cameron is happy to point out comes from a Greek word meaning “filled with god” – is as important as discipline in maintaining a creative practice. I'm not sure what to make of Cameron's extravagant dislike of the word “discipline,” since she doesn't seem to have any trouble with the practice – that's what “filling the form” and the morning pages are, after all – but anyway, she thinks it sounds boring and is over-emphasized and indulges in some false dichotomies in the service of a very reasonable idea: that if you enjoy what you're doing, you'll be better at it and do it more. She offers a few suggestions for maintaining enthusiasm. One that I like to do myself is switch up writing methods once in a while: see if using markers or your phone or acorn ink changes the way you write. I think it's a good idea, especially when creative work is still incomplete, to set aside some time to entertain your most self-indulgent ideas about the project - -the characters no one else loves, the dialogue that doesn't fit but is funny to you, and so on. Sometimes these can be the seeds of other projects, sometimes they're just a fun way to enjoy what you're creating.

Being blocked often feels safer than being productive – so much so that many people find themselves self-sabotaging just when things are going right. Cameron has a long list of examples of self-sabotage following a success: the screenwriter with an agent interested in this script given a few changes, and the screenwriter doesn't make the changes; the poet who gets approval at the neighborhood open mic, then enters a poetry slam, loses, and stops reading poems in public. She calls these setbacks "creative U-turns." In order to mend a creative U-turn, we have to first admit we're doing it. "Yes, I did react negatively to fear and pain.” Then we can begin to sort it out, to ask for help from supportive friends, and if possible, to get back on track.

You might try asking your artist self some questions at the beginning of a new project. You can ask them again when the work gets difficult or gets stuck.

1) List any resentments or anger you have in connection with this project.
2) 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 tiny bits of fear or anger?
4) Ask yourself what you stand to gain by not doing this piece of work.

Finally, 5) Make a deal with yourself. The deal is, "This week, I'll stop worrying about the quality and take care of the quantity," Leave the quality to chance or future revision or the alchemy of both. Sign it and post it if you want to!

On questions one through three, don't worry about how petty or irrational or insignificant the fears and resentments sound to you. They may all be big deals to your artist.

Don't forget to go on a date with your artist sometime this week and do your morning pages every day!
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I learn by going where I have to go – Theodore Roethke

So, a lot of things hurt. Growth hurts. Rejection hurts. So do impatient toleration, insincere praise, and lack of interest. So does realizing that something you were trying to make just isn't working right now. So does criticism sometimes, even if it's really good criticism that will help you in the end. In weight training, you learn that injury isn't just a roadblock on the way to strength – it's in an important sense intrinsic to it. You have to break yourself down in small ways in order to build back stronger.

Still hurts, though. )

'Cerebration' )

Gain disguised as loss )

"Do you know how old I'll be by the time I learn to play the piano?"
"The same age you will be if you don't."

There's a brief return to the idea that it's too early, or too late, to take up something new or pick up where you left off. This is shenanigans; creativity happens in the moment and the moment is whenever we say it is.

The most important thing is to keep taking small steps-- what Cameron calls filling the form. She doesn't explain this metaphor, but I guess it's like filling out the blanks on an application, one by one? The point is that a lot of people have worries about what might happen if they dedicated more of their lives to art – they'd have to move, there would be family drama, maybe they would lose friends, and then what if they wrote a whole novel and no one liked it? What if it's all for nothing? What if they become famous and then die, and Columbia University Press publishes all their second-person Jack Sparrow fanfic in a four-volume critical edition with copious footnotes and their ghost is embarrassed forever?

It's easy to worry about big-picture fears when we could be painting or sculpting or drawing or writing. “Contemplating the odds” is one way of avoiding taking small steps. Don't do it! Or at least restrict it to one evening a week, and leave the rest of the week for action.

There is (almost?) always one creative thing you can do, no matter how tiny. If you have five minutes or two minutes, you can sketch on a post-it note or a pad of paper (character-limited forms, like those on Facebook and Twitter, can be good for composing tiny stories or poems), jot down dialogue, mark down a tune that's been following you. Everything is made of something. Novels are made of words, paintings are made of brushstrokes, forests are made of trees which are made of branches and roots and leaves and bark and plant cells. Every step is a step. In fact, you should probably stop reading this and do a small creative thing right now.

Did you do your morning pages? Don't forget to schedule a date with your artist this week!
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This week's topics are perfectionism, risk, and jealously, and the importance of listening.

N.B.: In the spirit of overcoming perfectionism, I will be publishing this weekly post in its original unedited form, as I wrote it while waiting in an airport at 3 AM. I hope it makes sense but if it doesn't, that's a risk I'm willing to take. See what I did there? Woooooooooo. . . .

Perfectionism! )

Risk!! )

Jealousy!!! )

Cameron likes the idea that our creative works are waiting for us out in the world and we can reach up and bring them down like we would pick maybe an orange or a peach. She calls our attention to directional metaphors: getting things down as opposed to making them up. There's the apocryphal Michelangelo thing where the statue is inside the marble and all you have to do is chip it out.

I have mixed feelings about this approach but it's ok, I guess. But you do have to chip it -- it isn't going to bust out all on its own. That's the point, maybe.

There's also some stuff about searching your childhood some more for people who supported and failed to support you; maybe these activities are relevant to you and maybe not. If I were Julia Cameron's sleep-deprived editor I would call her up RIGHT NOW and tell her she needs to come up with some alternative activities because the degree to which Childhood Emotional Archaeology is useful is going to vary a lot from person to person.

This concludes a thing I wrote while sleep-deprived! Take that, perfectionism!

Don't forget to go on a date with your artist sometime this week and do your morning pages every day!
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Wow, do I ever have mixed feelings about this chapter. This is a hard one for me to approach, because I feel like there's a lot of good and bad mixed in together. Here's a summary of sorts (reprinted and adapted from [profile] alexconnal)

Luxury, says Cameron, is a thing we often deny ourselves because it is too expensive. Time to do art is a thing we often consider a luxury. Most of us think work should be work, not play, and if we want to do it, it is a frivolity.

Cameron says that we must have a little luxury to create art. It doesn't need to be much luxury—see Emma Goldman's quote up top—perhaps a twenty-dollar magazine subscription, or a couple-dollar basket of raspberries, or a wildflower in a cup on the table, free. Cameron describes people whose luxuries are new fun music, new watercolors; she might add that free time and space can be a luxury. One must be able to enjoy life, one must be able to enjoy art; one must do self-care.

Even if all the space we get for ourselves is a bookshelf and a windowsill, even if all the time we get for ourselves is fifteen minutes for morning pages and ten minutes to relax in the bathtub after work, we need the luxury of that space, we need the luxury of that time.

Cameron's exercise for the week is to track "every penny" of how and where you spend your money, and she suggests you keep it up for a month or more. The point is to observe yourself, not to judge yourself; to observe what you spend money on that you don't truly need or want and what you don't spend money on that you truly do.

We've talked before about how unexamined class privilege sometimes clouds Cameron's advice, and I feel like this is an example. This exercise is not going to make sense for everyone. If you don't have enough money to spend money on things you don't need or want, I don't know that it will do much good to remind yourself of it with extra bookkeeping. I am in this position currently, but I'll be trying the money-tracking exercise anyway this week to see how it pans out.

If having and spending money isn't a relevant issue for you, you might think of other resources that you have and spend – time, energy, emotion – that it might be worthwhile to record without judgement.

Don't forget to go on a date with your artist sometime this week and do your morning pages every day!
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We are traditionally rather proud of ourselves for having slipped creative work in there between the domestic chores and obligations. I'm not sure we deserve such big A-pluses for that. —Toni Morrison

Nobody objects to a woman being a good writer or sculptor or geneticist if at the same time she manages to be a good wife, good mother, good-looking, good-tempered, well-groomed, and unaggressive. —Leslie M. McIntyre

Toni Morrison has my number. I am constantly giving myself a giant A-plus for having no time to write, and it's no good.

Cameron's topics this week include what she calls the "virtue trap". She says a very common reason for maintaining a creative block is the need, or desire, to avoid "what would X think?" where X is a spouse, family member, or friend. For a lot of people, sacrificing something of our own time for the benefit of others can feel selfless or virtuous, and that feeling, or the need to avoid feeling selfish, can be very compelling.

Because of this, we might be reluctant to set aside time for fear of being selfish, or of losing the feeling of virtue that comes from never having time. We might even be reluctant to compromise where compromise is possible.

One of Cameron's examples is a woman who wants to take pottery classes, but it would mean missing some of her son's baseball practices. Instead of taking the classes and attending as many of the practices as she can without missing class, or even taking some classes and only skipping a few practices, she skips the classes entirely to attend all the practices, and pushes the pottery classes into the category of things she would like to do if supporting her son didn't come first.

At some point in your creative life, Cameron says, you will have to be selfish. Try not to be afraid.

Being afraid to be selfish can be a kind of self-destruction. Organizing our lives without care for our creative self is a kind of self-destruction. Many of the tasks in Week 5 focus on possibilities that we have relegated to the past (when we were young and stupid) or to the future (when we're older and have more money or fewer responsibilities). We're encouraged to bring these possibilities back into the present.

Cameron has three quizzes in this chapter:
The Virtue-Trap Quiz:
1) The biggest lack in my life is _____.
2) The greatest joy in my life is _____.
3) My largest time commitment is _____.
4) As I play more, I work _____.
5) I feel guilty that I am _____.
6) I worry that _____.
7) If my dreams come true, my family will _____.
8) I sabotage myself so people will _____.
9) If I let myself feel it, I'm angry that I _____.
10) One reason I get sad sometimes is _____.

Leading into the second quiz, Cameron says one of the things blocked creatives often do is say no to ourselves in many small and large ways.

Forbidden Joys: List ten things you love and would love to do but do not feel allowed to do. Post the list somewhere highly visible.

Wish List: List nineteen things you wish, as serious or frivolous as you like but list them as fast as possible, and a twentieth thing you most especially wish.

Don't forget to go on a date with your artist sometime this week and do your morning pages every day!
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[Note: Due to my current, hopefully temporary state of swampedness-by-work, this week's Weekly Post is reprinted from [profile] alexconnal's original, with minor changes]

The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run. —Henry David Thoreau

Cameron has several topics this week:

Anger is a powerful motivator, if we let it be a motivator instead of denying we feel it or burying it as deep as we can manage. For example: angry at a filmmaker for making a poorer film than one could do oneself? Time to learn how to make films. "Sloth, apathy, and despair are the enemy," says Cameron. "Anger is not. Anger is our friend. Not a nice friend. Not a gentle friend. But a very, very loyal friend. It will always tell us when we have been betrayed. It will always tell us when we have betrayed ourselves. It will always tell us that it is time to act in our own best interests." She continues, "Anger is not the action itself. It is action's invitation."

[. . .]

Shame is another weapon against us. People try to make us feel ashamed of ourselves for doing things that embarrass them. Often the making of art is among those things. A lot of criticism of art is meant to make us feel ashamed of poor art, or art that's poor in the critic's eye, but poor art is a necessity in order to get to good art and also the critic doesn't necessarily know what they're talking about. Especially if they're disparaging or dismissive or ridiculing or condemning, which are the things critics do to create shame in the person critiqued.

Of course, hardly any good art got that way without some helpful person showing the artist where to improve. Dealing with criticism is a necessity. The distinction between useful and useless criticism, however, is vital. Cameron has a list of rules for dealing with criticism of any sort:

1) Receive the criticism all the way through and get it over with.
2) Jot down notes to yourself on what concepts or phrases bother you.
3) Jot down notes on what concepts or phrases seem useful.
4) Do something very nurturing for yourself--read an old good review or recall a compliment.
5) Remember that even if you have made a truly rotten piece of art, it may be a necessary stepping-stone to your next work. Art matures spasmodically and requires ugly-duckling growth stages.
6) Look at the criticism again. Does it remind you of any criticism from your past--particularly shaming childhood criticism? Acknowledge to yourself that the current criticism is triggering grief over a long-standing wound.
7) Write a letter to the critic--not to be mailed, most probably. Defend your work and acknowledge what was helpful, if anything, in the criticism proffered.
8) Get back on the horse. Make an immediate commitment to do something creative.
9) Do it. Creativity is the only cure for criticism.

"Growth is an erratic forward movement," Cameron says: "two steps forward, one step back." A week will go really well; a week will go really poorly. Don't get discouraged. This is normal. The morning pages will seem a waste of time. They're not, but seeing them as such is also normal. Cameron suggests, as well as keeping up with the morning pages and artist's dates, being kind to yourself in small ways. Eat better; buy a house plant; take five to meditate or stretch or just be; take a moment, several times a day, to ask yourself how you're feeling, and listen to your answer, and respond kindly.

Don't forget to go on a date with your artist sometime this week, and do your morning pages every day!


artistsway: Varicolored markers and white paper (Default)
Twelve-week creativity workshop!

August 2014

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