No Noise (Artist’s Way Week 4)


Week 4 of the Artist’s Way is about recovering a sense of integrity. At the end of this week’s chapter of her book, Julia Cameron somewhat ironically challenges the reader to stop reading for one week. The idea is to stop filling our heads with other people’s ideas and to instead be still and quiet long enough to realize that we have plenty of our own. Reading is not inherently bad, of course. But if we do it as a default time filler, we might be gumming up our creative juices.

If I was going to have any integrity while tackling this challenge, I knew I had to cut out more than reading. I am guilty of letting hours slip away in front of a screen. I almost always have my phone with me when I’m nursing my baby. I always turn the radio on when I’m in the car. I have come to rely on watching Netflix to make doing dishes tolerable. And when I want to procrastinate, I skim Facebook or peruse Pinterest for new recipes until I’ve run out of time to do the thing I was supposed to be doing. Considering my post from Week 2 about being a good example for my daughter, I was brutally aware that I am not exactly modeling the healthiest relationship with screens and distractions.

So a week of no reading turned into a week of media deprivation. No Netflix, YouTube, TV, movies, texting, Pinterest, Facebook, email or reading for a whole week. Impossible? Kind of.

I wanted to rise to this challenge, but I also wanted to be reasonable. Our world is inundated with media and instant gratification. People expect us to communicate in certain ways and within a certain time frame. Besides, I didn’t want to go completely off the grid from my friends and family, so I came up with some compromises.

I decided that I wouldn’t initiate text conversations (email, texts or Facebook messages), but that I would respond to any time sensitive material sent to me by checking my email once a day and checking Facebook for 10 minutes twice in the whole week. I also felt that listening to music was fine, since I actually wished that I did more of that instead of w20160528_114200atching TV. But I did declare a single “no noise” day where I added music to the blackout list. Phone and video calls were okay. Calling people requires me to be more intentional with my communication and that seemed to honor the spirit of the media deprivation challenge.

So, how did it go?

It was quiet. Productive. Illuminating. And humbling. Oh so deeply humbling.

Searching for babysitters without texts or Facebook meant I had to make phone calls. And leave voicemails. And wait, actually WAIT for responses. When I nursed my daughter, I just sat there and fed her. When I did the dishes, I only did the dishes. On my special “no noise” day, I rolled the windows down and listened to the wind instead of my radio. I noticed some shops around my neighborhood that I had missed until then. Instead of my usual lunch dates with Netflix, I sat on the porch and enjoyed my food and watched the kids play at the park across the street. And I finally cleaned our fans and vacuumed. Instead of watching a movie with my husband after putting the baby to bed, we played games together. He played mad scientist experimenting with a new cocktail in the kitchen. I played my ukulele. And went to bed early.

Just reading over that paragraph leaves me feeling simultaneously jubilant and aghast. Is my normal routine really that laden with distractions? How is it that I’ve actually accomplished more in the last week doing just one thing at a time than I do with my usual multi-tasking? Everything I did was deeply intentional. I didn’t accidentally find myself watching an old episode of Once Upon A Time instead of scrubbing the bathtub. When I accomplished a task, I really gave some thought to what I wanted to do next. I didn’t hop on my computer and go into mind-numbing browse mode.

Nothing particularly phenomenal happened during my media blackout. I didn’t write a novel. I didn’t suddenly overcome my deep-seated insecurities about my musical abilities. I didn’t single-handedly start a theatre company or master crocheting. But I did pay attention. I really paid attention to everything I did and didn’t do during this past week. I accomplished an extraordinary number of chores. I played with my husband and daughter. I helped with the school play. I spent significant amounts of time just thinking my thoughts. And nothing remarkable happened. But nothing terrible happened either. It was simply and truly okay to be still. And I went to bed every night wondering where the time went, not because bits of my time got eaten my distractions, but because practically every moment was time well spent.

In short, this week has been utterly refreshing. I wish I could hold onto this lifestyle, but this level of media deprivation isn’t sustainable. If I tried to keep going indefinitely, I know that my resolve would crumble. And anyway, watching movies isn’t terrible. Neither is reading. In fact, this week made me realize that I would love to spend more of my time reading instead of in front of a screen. But I don’t want books to become the new Netflix either. So what can I carry with me from this experience?

Well, I have a new trick in my kit. When I’m feeling bogged down with life’s stuff, when every day feels breathless and I haven’t felt deeply creative or productive in too long, then I always have the option to commit to another media deprivation period. Maybe I’ll try it for just one day a week. Or maybe one week a month. Or one week in a blue moon. It doesn’t really matter. It’s just good to know that the option is there. I’ve done it once and I can do it again. I can take back the pieces of my life that I give up to multi-tasking and distraction. I can be honest with myself and really evaluate which habits I’ve indulged too much and which I can safely enjoy in moderation. Just because I can do it doesn’t mean I will, but it’s a start. And that’s all creativity is really–a beginning.




I Wish I Could Play There (Artist’s Way Week 3)

“Oh look. A playground. I wish I could play there.”

According to my parents, that’s what little girl Justine used to say in a pitiful, long-suffering voice whenever we drove past a playground. My ploy rarely worked. My parents would usually just grin or roll their eyes to themselves and perhaps agree that yes it did look like a very nice playground didn’t it. And then we would keep on driving.

I’m not a little girl anymore, but I still find myself using this tactic from time to time.

When someone posts a YouTube video of an up and coming musician doing an impressive cover of a current hit song, the little girl whine pipes up again. “Oh look. Another person who is more talented than I am. They can sing AND play an instrument? I wish I could do that.”

That’s just one example of the wishful thinking that sighs its way through my daily life. There’s nothing wrong with wishing, but it can get awfully heavy when it’s laced with a kind of “oh woe is me” passive aggression–as if someone else might pick up on my pain and somehow fix it. But it doesn’t work that way.

Julia Cameron (author of The Artist’s Way) talks about how everyone has an artist child within them–a playful, young-at-heart being that yearns to be creative. And, as we sometimes do with children, we often ignore it or consider its whims silly or unimportant and then wonder why it rebels inside of us. We wonder why we are plagued with this unfulfilled sense of longing or missing out. I’m about to wrap up Week 3 of the Artist’s Way, which focuses on recovering a sense of power–the power to open ourselves up to opportunities and to take charge of the things we want.

We might all have an artist child inside of us, but we also have what Julia calls a “Censor.” It’s the voice that undercuts every positive thought we ever have about ourselves. It’s the qualifier or disclaimer, the “but” or “never” that sabotages us. “I’m so happy I actually made time to write today,” our artist child says gleefully. “But what you wrote stinks,” the Censor cuts in. “It’s not like you could ever publish it or anything.” And then we tear our work to pieces or stuff it in a desk and try to forget that it ever brought us joy.

To combat the Censor and all of the nasty things it has to say, Julia suggests that artists work with affirmations. Take the negatives and flip them into positives. It might seem corny, but I’m telling you from experience that it works.

These days, I’ve been turning to a simple affirmation to help combat the Censor that tells me I can’t or shouldn’t have some of the things I want. These two words come to the rescue when I find myself listing off all of the things I wish I had, did, or could do. It might go something like this:

I wish I could go to that ukulele jam session I’ve heard about, but I can’t go.

Why not?

Because it conflicts with my fitness class at the gym and I can’t miss it. Because it might mess with my baby’s bedtime routine. Because $15 is a lot of money to pay to hang out with strangers and attempt to play an instrument with them. Because I’m scared to try something new and it might just remind me that I still stink at playing my ukulele even though I’ve had it for three years.

Ah. So that’s what’s really going on. All of those reasons (excuses) that I so easily come up with really mean one thing; I’m scared. Acknowledging that a lot of my excuses stem from a fear of failure has helped me to cut through some of my creative obstacles more efficiently. At first, the “why not?” helps me recognize my excuses and the real power behind them. Then “why not” becomes a shield between me and my excuses if I ask it before I even give the excuses room to breathe a single, “but.”

I wish I could go to that ukulele jam session…

Why not?

I can miss a gym class once in a while, especially if it’s for a very specific and creatively-fulfilling reason. My husband can handle putting the baby to bed even though she’s used to me doing it. $15 is manageable if I plan on spending it in advance. The first hour is designed for beginners, so no need to worry about looking like an idiot when I go. 

And lo and behold, the wish becomes a possibility, simply because I asked, “Why not?” and realized that there wasn’t really a significant reason.

It’s not always that easy. In fact, it’s usually not that easy. But using the affirmative “why not?” has proven an effective way for me to detect whether my excuses for not reaching toward a dream have any weight behind them or if it’s really just me getting in my own way. Sometimes it’s easier to trick ourselves into thinking that the things we want are impossible than it is to realize that they are possible, but we’re just too scared to make them happen. But we can start to take that power back little by little. Eventually I would love to be able to compose songs using my ukulele–or at least be able to hold a strumming pattern while singing. But for now, I will keep going to that ukulele jam session once a month and get some beginner’s help.

And who knows? The next time I drive past a particularly enticing park and the artist child in me pipes up, “Oh look. A playground.I wish I could play there.” maybe I’ll pull over and say, “Why not?” Grownups need to play too.


In the Spotlight (Artist’s Way Week 2)

There are two things that are almost always true for me these days:

1. I miss performing.

2. I’m tired.

But then I consider that maybe I’m tired so much of the time because I am always performing. Sure, I haven’t starred on a conventional stage in a little while. But I am constantly performing even if it is for an audience of one tiny person who can’t even talk yet.

It’s common knowledge that children learn from their parents. They watch us. They notice what we do and say. Or what we don’t. They pay attention, even if it’s not always in the ways we want or expect. Like an audience, they let us know if what we are doing is working or not. They laugh if we’re funny. They cry when we disappoint them. They even clap when things are particularly thrilling. Or throw things when they’re not.

On her fast-track of toddler discovery, my daughter is becoming more and more of a mirror for me. Of course she is her own independent little human and I know we’ll have plenty of differences. But she reflects what I am modeling for her.

Right now, everything is a cell phone. A wooden block, my shoe, the rubber door stop–any small item becomes a phone in this little girl’s hands. She holds them up to her ear and starts to jabber away in the language that only she understands. It’s adorable. And terrifying.

I love that she is using her imagination already. Yes! The block can be a phone, a piece of a house, a bed for a doll–anything! But what am I teaching her? Am I on my phone so often that she thinks pretending to talk on a phone is the best way to imitate me? Phone equals mom? Phone equals grown up? Yikes. That’s not a lesson I intended to teach.

I might watch her all day, but she’s also watching me. I have to be careful about the performance I’m giving.

Sure, performing the role of mom is not the only role I want to play. I can and will make time for conventional performance again. But for now, I want to put a little more intention into this performance of role model for my daughter. I want her to equate me with courage, kindness, respect, honesty, playfulness, imagination, creativity, curiosity. Not my cell phone.

Every day is a new performance opportunity and my daughter is both my audience and my improvisation partner. She wants to eat what I eat. She wants to wear what I wear (my scarves and bras are apparently the coolest things ever). She wants to read what I read, even if I know how to flip the pages gently and she doesn’t. Whatever I do, she is going to imitate me. And that intimates me.

She might rebel and eventually make conscious choices to not do as I do. And sometimes, that will be a blessed relief. I don’t want her to be exactly like me. I can’t perform my best all the time. She’s going to see the failing and flailing and I’d rather she didn’t replicate those. But like it or not, she will. She will reflect my shining moments and shortcomings back at me. And she will choose her own costumes, say her own lines, and play her chosen roles.

For now, I need to perform the best I can. I need to avoid the pitfall of “do as I say, not as I do.” If I’m going to be on my phone in front of my little girl, I want it to be more than a mindless distraction. I want to teach her that it’s a tool for communication and knowledge. The same goes for my computer. I waste plenty of time on it. But what I want to teach my daughter is that it is a magic box for creativity and self-expression. Yes I use it to watch Netflix, but I also use it to write and to find inspiration for crafts and to reach out to other artists.

I can’t fix everything, but I can make a point of trying to use these devices more conscientiously. After all, that’s an easier, more tangible effort than, say, working on the emotional outbursts I might occasionally be modeling…

Week 2 of The Artist’s Way is about recovering a sense of identity. Some of us are blocked artists who know we’re blocked. Other artists don’t know they’re blocked and some don’t even know they’re artists. It is important to take the time to sort out who we are and what we want. How can we be positive role models for our children if we don’t take time to be the kind of people we hope to be?

Here’s what I know about my identity so far; I am an artist mom. And this is the role of a lifetime.




Sunshine and Shadows (Artist’s Way Week 1)

I have officially kicked off Week 1 of The Artist’s Way course by Julia Cameron. This is a self-guided program for artists who need to rediscover and heal their creativity in some way or another. This week has focused on recovering a sense of safety–identifying people and incidents that may have injured our artistic self-worth and also identifying those who have nurtured our creativity. These negative and positive influences directly feed into our own impressions of ourselves as artists. They are where the little voices that tell us that we’re frauds or that we’re talented come from.

It’s been a kind of Jekyll and Hyde exploration into my artistic past. Basking in the glow of some of the kindest compliments I’ve ever received about my performing. Shrinking away from memories of botched scene studies and auditions. Sorting through snap shot moments of sneering faces, shaking heads, and butterflies in my stomach that turned into paralyzing wasps. Grinning at the thought of smiling faces in audiences and on stage.

The last time I did the Artist’s Way course, I was pregnant and wondering what on earth I was going to do with my artistic pursuits when my baby came along. I found myself wondering if I had been doing enough artistic work before I got pregnant. What if I had completely missed out on some opportunities? What if I had wasted the few years between undergrad and a blooming baby bump? Should I have done more?

There is a lot of regret in being an artist.

Missed chances. Risks we might have taken. Times we should have stood up for ourselves, but instead shrank in the face of cruel comments. Or offhand remarks about how we’d never make any money.

Julia Cameron talks about “shadow artists.” These are artists who are blocked. Instead of pursuing their art, they pursue somewhat similar vocations–a would-be actor becomes a theatre critic–close to what’s in their heart, but not quite.

Reading about shadow artists makes me uncomfortable. There is that unfortunate saying that those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. I know that’s a load of baloney. But it’s amazing how often I come back to fearing that I became a teaching artist because I was too scared to really try becoming a performer.

And maybe it’s true.

Maybe I did decide that teaching would be safer. That teaching would keep me close to my love of performing, but shield me from the disappointment of trying to make it as a professional actor. Maybe I became a teaching artist because so many people told me I’d make a good teacher.

Again, all of those things–troubling as they might be–are true. In many ways, I am a shadow artist.

But here are some other things that are true.

I love teaching. I sincerely love it. I have learned more from teaching than I ever did as a student. Yes, I am scared of rejection. But that’s not why I decided not to pursue a career as a professional actor. I didn’t want the lifestyle of a full time performer. I didn’t want the crazy hours–the nights and weekends. I knew that I wanted to get married and start a family while I was still in my twenties. I knew that I wanted to be a stay at home mom, at least for a while. I was so clear about those things, and honestly, as much as I loved and do love performing, I was less clear about how I wanted to pursue the performing arts.

It’s easy to think of the choices I’ve made as things that are holding me back from something I should be doing. As if my marriage and baby are keeping me in the shadows. But they’re not.

Being a teaching artist, a wife, and a mother are helping me to figure out what kind of performer I want to be. The options are endless and I can savor this time to experiment. Am I on a slower artistic track than some? Sure. But it’s my way of having my cake and savoring every single bite.

No one gets to tell me that I’m living my life in the wrong order or that my priorities are out of whack. The Artist’s Way is an excellent reminder not to let my artist identity fall to the wayside. I need to constantly find ways to keep growing and keep figuring out what I want to do as an inherently artistic person. But the other roles I play can nurture my artistic self if I let them. They can help me figure out exactly what kind of performer I am and want to become. This is my time to dream and take baby steps towards making those dreams a reality.

I took a step by starting the Artist Parent Theatre (APT) Lab. And last week, I met and daydreamed with a fellow artist parent and her daughter. We would never have met if I hadn’t started APT Lab. As we sat on a picnic blanket and watched our little girls play with the ribbon wands my new friend had brought with her, I realized that becoming a mom made that meeting possible. Becoming a parent inspired me to start rethinking how performances are made. Sometimes I feel overshadowed by artists who have chosen a different path. But my path isn’t wrong. It’s mine. And it’s marked with a sunny yellow balloon, telling me I’m headed in the right direction.

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