#14: The Artist’s Way.
Guys, if you know me at all, you know I’m a Project Person. Projects are what antsy procrastinators like me did in college instead of homework. When I graduated college, I didn’t just find a job, I started a theater company. When I desperately needed to get into shape, I didn’t start going to the gym sometimes, I did a ferocious 90-day workout program. And when my buried creative self cried out for a reawakening, I put the Artist’s Way on my 35 Before 35 list, and I did it. Again. (I’d tried it once before, in my twenties. It didn’t take. So I went to grad school instead.)
Let me preface this by saying to anyone considering this undertaking: if you have a child, a crazy job, a lazy work ethic or a tendency to leave started projects unfinished—this one isn’t for you. The amount of time I devoted to digging up forgotten artistic instincts would be impossible to find under any of these circumstances. I almost didn’t make it, eking out my last drops of focus at the very end, while my patient fiancé waited expectantly like a kid on a road trip (“Are we there yet??”). The author warns you to put aside about an hour a day for it, and at least two hours one day a week, and she ain’t lyin’. This 20-year-old blueprint for soul-diving is not meant for the faint of heart.
The gist, for those of you who have no idea what this mysterious Way is that I’m referring to: the book calls itself “A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self.” It’s for people who either once had an artistic drive and feel as though they’ve lost touch with that part of themselves, or people who want to find out if they even had one to begin with. It involves reading a chapter a week; doing homework items that consist mainly of writing and the occasional task; writing Morning Pages, or three pages of brain dumping in the morning upon waking; and (my personal favorite) the weekly Artist Date, or two hours of uninterrupted alone time doing something—anything—creative, freeing or even just silly.
I don’t want to delve into the depths of the Why behind this item on my 35 Before 35 list, but suffice to say that, for someone who has her Master’s degree in a Fine Art, I’ve been feeling less than artistic for a couple of years now. While I knew I didn’t want to reverse my path completely and go back to being an actor, I also knew I had to jump-start that part of my brain again. It had been dormant for far too long, and I know better than that; that need in me is too innate. I can’t really be happy without nurturing it in some small, regular way. This blog was actually the beginning of my process of reminding myself of that. The Artist’s Way was Phase Two of “Project Recovery: Finding the Artistic Coins in My Proverbial Couch Cushions.”
And while it’s a lot of work (man, is it a lot of work), it’s also a lot of fun. My Artist Dates consisted of chunks of time spent wandering around bookstores (a nostalgic pastime) or watching The Labyrinth, my favorite childhood adventure movie. I even picked up some of my old sketch books…and realized that I had some dusting off of my drawing skills to do (not that I was judging—that is against the rules of the Way). The weekly tasks were more plentiful and laborious, and truth be told there were some little ones that I skipped altogether. (Like, sorry, but that one week when we were supposed to collect rocks? Yeah, that didn’t happen. We don’t have rocks in Williamsburg, we have broken cement. I looked.)
I’ll give you a glimpse of the tasks I did enjoy. Shockingly, they usually involved lists, my sad little indulgence. For instance, make a list of five jobs you would pick if you had five other lives to lead. Next week, five more. Week after that, five more. Or five adventures you would take if money was no object. Or even, twenty things you enjoy doing. (Really, it was sad how long that took me to complete…a sign unto itself that life has been too much work and not enough play. How many of us could probably say that?) One day I wrote down what I was like at eight years old, and wrote a letter to her. Another day I made a God Jar (God in the larger, individualized spiritual sense, not the Christian sense), and put pieces of paper with my fears into it. I devoted Pinterest boards to my assignments, and made a mental note to let the author know that such a thing exists now and she should update her assignments accordingly—Pinterest is made for people doing the Artist’s Way.
Morning Pages are the main thing that I will continue to do. And that’s the One More off my 35 Before 35 list—#19: Make meditation a regular part of life. The Way taught me to recognize that purging my runaway thoughts every morning is a form of meditation. I now sit down in my little nook, light a candle and write for at least 20 minutes before I jump into the shower. It’s as sound a way to meditate as crossing your legs and chanting om, and great for hyper-thinkers like me. We have somewhere to put those thoughts, described by a friend as “free-range chickens,” instead of envisioning them like meditation coaches will tell us, “like fish in an aquarium, swimming by.” Ethereal metaphors were never really my thing.
So, what did the Artist’s Way do for me? That’s the big question. Admittedly, I was a little disappointed to not feel…transformed. That is the chief adjective I always hear ascribed to the book: transformative. I wanted to feel giddy and childlike again, like I did in acting school. Awakened. Enlightened. Whatever.
But then I think about it. I had some amazingly cathartic moments over the course of the Way, such as my unforgettable drive up California’s coast. The author speaks of synchronicity, which basically refers to those moments when life answers the prayers you didn’t necessarily realize you’d put out there. My biggest struggle of the last few years had been my corporate job. It was soul-sucking. At once very comfortable and yet draining the life out of me. My major moment of synchronicity came after I re-read my morning pages, and realized how many times I’d written the sentence “I need to find a new job.” The next day I received a call for an interview, for the new job I started three weeks ago. A job in which I use both sides of my brain. A job in theater. A job that’s perfect for me.
Look, I still work too hard. But I take out my camera more to snap pictures of fun things on my way to work. I wear more bright colors. I have a creativity notebook. I started writing a play. I got engaged. I changed my career path.