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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