Artist’s Way: Tools for 12 Weeks

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I’m writing this post for any other smart, creative mamas who find themselves stretched a little too thin these days. You are my people. And I am hoping you might join me in my latest adventure with The Artist’s Way and The Artist’s Way for Parents. 

So what is this whole Artist’s Way thing, exactly?

One cultural commentator aptly describes it as “a book that can be classified as self-help but is more like common sense. Billed as ‘A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self,’ the book is a program designed to help readers reject the devils of self-doubt on their shoulders and pursue creative activity not as a profession but as a form of therapy.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself–hence the long quote!

Each chapter offers guidance for a different themed week, providing related background reading and exercises. Topics include “Recovering a Sense of Power” and “Recovering a Sense of Abundance.” In addition to the reading and exercises, workshop participants also write Morning Pages and take Artist Dates.

Morning Pages are three pages written longhand first thing every morning, though in The Artist’s Way for Parents author Julia Cameron acknowledges that many of us may have to finish our pages later, after various interruptions. Basically, the pages are a stream-of-consciousness brain dump. I like to think of them as the intellectual equivalent of unclogging a sink–all the gunk and muck has to come out to enable a healthy flow of ideas and feelings.

Artist Dates have entered the general cultural lexicon as “self-care.” It’s a commitment to do something for or with yourself once a week. It has to be alone time. And it has to be something you actually enjoy. (Finally going to the dentist may be an important kind of self-care, but it doesn’t count here.)

Those are the basic tools. But wait! There’s more! After the astronomical success of her first book, Cameron published follow-ups aimed at niche markets… hence The Artist’s Way for Parents. Here, she adds two more tools for anyone seeking more fulfillment in relationships with their children.

Creative Expeditions are known as family adventures around our house. The parent and kid(s) plan, look forward to, and take these adventures together. They’re an awesome anecdote to becoming a shut-in, or letting your life devolve into an endless round of soul-crushing errands. (So says the woman who’s spent the past few months shuttling between Jiffy Lube, the grocery store, and the veterinary clinic.)  Like artist dates, Cameron recommends taking a weekly creative expedition/family adventure.

“Highlights” is the phrase Cameron uses to describe a little parent-kiddo bedtime connection. She advocates for each person sharing their favorite moment of the day. Of course, any mama with a Pinterest account probably has a feed full of additional suggestions. In our family, we share (a) a favorite moment of the day (b) our hardest moment of the day (c) a good question we asked, something we learned, or an interesting mistake that we made. We call it the daily check-in.

It’s not terribly revolutionary stuff. I do all of it occasionally (the kid-care much more regularly than the self-care… shocker, I know). But I’d like to make each of these items a habit. And I find that the style of Cameron’s books work for me. Relentlessly positive commentary, coupled with structured assignments and deadlines? Why, you’ve managed to please both my Inner Hippie Girl AND my Type-A School Nerd! Hurray!

Who else out there is going to join me with morning pages, artist dates, family adventures, and/or daily family check-ins? (You could do it, even if you never buy or check out the book/books!) 

I ask this fully acknowledging that The Artist’s Way really won’t be everyone’s cup of kombucha. So alternatively, what are you doing to stay sane, feed your soul, create art, and feel good about your life? 

 

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Writer’s Block. Mother’s Block.

Books by Julia Cameron

There is safety in cynicism.

I should know. I’ve been cruising on irony for years, and when that fails me I fall back on judgment, jealousy, and guilt. Bonus: technology has given me new tools for self-shaming. Yeah, I keep my nose pressed to the Pinterest boards like the proverbial kid with the candy store window. Do my various pins inspire me to live a better life? No, more often than not they show me how very far I’m falling short of my own ideals.

Sick, but true: I like to keep track of all the ways that I’m failing–as a wife, as a mother, as a writer, as a person. It’s cruel and debilitating and totally toxic, yet oddly enough I just can’t seem to get enough.

Who in their right mind would so willingly and consistently punish themselves like that on a regular basis? Um, apparently a lot of us. As creativity expert Julia Cameron writes, “Most of the time when we are blocked in an area of our life, it is because we feel safer that way. We may not be happy, but at least we know what we are–unhappy. Much fear of our own creativity is fear of the unknown.”

Well, I’ve got two blocked areas in my life. When I think of both my writing and my parenting, the word “quagmire” leaps to mind.

Two years ago, I quit my teaching job so that I could focus more intentionally on my kids and my creativity. Our little family would do tons of fun art projects! We’d take spontaneous day trips! We’d engage in constant dramatic play and STEM-related activities! Then, while the children were magically otherwise occupied, I would finally finish and publish my best-selling novel! Of course, this would all happen while keeping a spotless home and cooking up gourmet yet well-balanced meals. My husband would praise me! My fans would adore me! The other co-op preschool moms would secretly envy my constant and intimidating perfection!

Oddly enough, real life hasn’t aligned to my starry-eyed expectations. And my general reaction to the disconnect has born a striking resemblance to the Five Stages of Grief. But I think I’ve finally landed on some level of acceptance… which is probably why I’ve actually got the energy to confront my mother’s block and writer’s block.

Over the next 24 weeks, I’ll be working through both The Artist’s Way and The Artist’s Way for Parents, alternating focus texts each week. Having done The Artist’s Way before, I can attest to its efficacy and overall value. I’m excited to revisit it! I’ll try not to get too navel-gazey here, but I will be blogging about my process. I want to write publicly again. And I also want to offer up some thoughts for other creative mamas. So there you go.

Any encouragement would be appreciated. I’d love some company, too–so grab yourself a copy of either (or both!) books, and do a read/work-along! (Shameless pitch: both titles are readily available at most libraries.)