Two Tools and an Unexpected Story (Artist’s Way Week 12)

(This post, like the Artist’s Way program, is long and totally worth it, if you feel like putting in the effort. And the mushrooms will make sense at the end ;o)

I’ve officially completed all twelve weeks of Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way program for creative recovery. It feels good. Not exhilarating. Not incredible. Just simply good. To be honest, my last official day of the program was pretty anticlimactic, but not in a disappointing way. Yes, it’s good to acknowledge the progress I’ve made over the last twelve weeks, but really what I’ve learned is a new creative lifestyle and that’s not something that ends. I’m going to keep evolving as an artist. And I’ve already committed to continuing to use the two basic tools of the Artist’s Way, tools that I would like to share with you here and encourage you to try yourself, if you’re so inclined.

Mushroom 4Artist’s Way Tool #1: Morning Pages

Get yourself a notebook. Every morning when you wake up, write three pages. What should you write about? There is no “should.” Just write anything. Morning pages are a stream of consciousness exercise when you write down whatever comes to you in the moment. It might feel a bit like a diary or journal some mornings. Other days it will feel like a to do list as you gather your thoughts about the day ahead. Some days it will be a rant about the inconsiderate thing your partner did or didn’t do or the way your child has suddenly stopped eating anything that isn’t white. Other days it will be line after line of “This is stupid. I could still be sleeping. I have nothing to write about. This is stupid.” It really doesn’t matter what you write. Whatever you wind up writing is exactly what you need that morning, whether you realize it or not. Morning pages are not pretty. They are personal, sloppy and not to be reread or shared with anyone. Everyone can do them—not just those who consider themselves writers. They are a way to clean out the cobwebs before you tackle the day. They are worth waking up an extra half hour early so you can have time to yourself. They are exhilarating, excruciating, and illuminating. And they work.

Mushroom 2Artist’s Way Tool #2: Weekly Artist Date

Every week, plan an outing that feeds you artistically. The only rules are that you have to go alone and that it has to be fun. Artist dates are about making time just for you and even though you love your friends and kids, it’s not really a date with your artist self if you have to consider what other people want to do or how recently they’ve visited the restroom. The point is to make play time for your artistic wellbeing and to attend to your personal artistic needs and whims. Artist dates can be simple or extravagant. Here are a few that I’ve tried or hope to try soon:

  • Go for a walk.
  • Swing on the swings at a local playground.
  • Go for a long drive with the windows rolled down.
  • Go for a long drive and blast your favorite music and sing as loud as you want.
  • Go to a dollar store and browse. Buy your artist a present, like stickers or a bird feeder.
  • Go to a craft store and browse. Fabric and yarn are two things my artist loves to look at and touch.
  • Take yourself to a concert.
  • Go to a coffee shop and color while sipping your favorite beverage.
  • Visit your closest urban center and soak up the hubbub. Maybe try some new to you ethnic food.
  • Light some candles and take a bubble bath.
  • Dress up and go to a fast food place for a treat and a chance to people watch or doodle or both.

The options are limitless. The hardest part is making the time for your date and honoring it every single week. And believing that you deserve it. You do.

Those are the essentials. While I wholeheartedly recommend that you try the Artist’s Way course in its entirety someday, just experimenting with these two tools is a great start.

Mushroom 5

An Anecdote and a Story

Before I return to writing posts that are only indirectly connected to the Artist’s Way, I wanted to share one more anecdote with you.

On my final day of the Artist’s Way course, I had a bad morning.

It was our last day of vacation in the Adirondacks and my daughter had woken up before I had a chance to write my morning pages. It was too early to take her up to the main cabin where her aunts and uncles were still sleeping, so I wandered over to the neighbor’s house. They were away and had offered their beautiful screened-in porch for our use. I thought it would be a nice change of scenery for my toddler. But as soon as I got there, I realized how many breakable things were there. So instead of writing my morning pages or at least getting to quickly check my email and Facebook using the neighbor’s Wi-Fi, I spent a frustrating hour and a half saying, “No” and plucking fragile coasters and plants and bottles out of my daughter’s eager fingers.

Eventually, we’d both had it. I stomped back to our cabin, found my husband was awake and grouchily asked him to take over baby duty so I could finally write. He was more than willing, but the baby kept being grumpy and disruptive, so my morning pages were feeling fruitless and I was increasingly pissed off. So I raged in my morning pages about how infuriating it was not to have a tranquil writing experience on my last day of the Artist’s Way course in this beautiful place and how I might as well just write nonsense since I could barely concentrate through my frustration. So I wrote nonsense. And that nonsense turned into a story:

Once upon a time there was a painter. And she hated everything she painted.

Perfectionism pinched all of the play from her work. She could never get her colors just right. Her compositions were always a bit askew. And no matter how hard she tried, the proportions were always off. Day after day, she’d paint and rage. Her friends would stop by and compliment her work and she’d insist that it was rubbish and they’d sheepishly leave and she’d keep painting and keep hating it and her paintings would get messier and messier as the day went on until she was overloading her brushes and her paint strokes ran like tears down the canvas. Then she’d throw herself in bed and do it all over again the next day.

Until the morning she woke up trapped inside one of her paintings.

She rubbed her eyes with an effort, her elbows unaccustomed to the two-dimensionality of canvas. At first she didn’t recognize that she was stuck in one of her own paintings. It was a painting of a forest floor with fingers of light filtering through the unseen leaves and resting on a cluster of toadstools and mushrooms. She never painted anything that simple and fanciful anymore. It must have been one of her earlier disasters, she thought to herself.

Ah. Now she remembered. She had been in her fairy tale phase then. This painting was inspired by Alice in Wonderland and the mushrooms that Alice ate to grow larger and smaller. What a stupid subject for a painting and what a horrible place to be stuck. The painter was starting to feel claustrophobic in this flat world of useless flora. How did one escape a painting? Then an idea tickled at her like whiskers. The mushrooms. Alice ate them to escape sticky situations in the story. Maybe one of these horrid creations could transport her back to reality and three dimensions. What did she have to lose? So she bent down, grimaced, and nibbled the edge of a red-capped mushroom, vaguely thinking that if this didn’t work, she’d never make it to her dentist appointment on time.

Apparently, thinking about being late while in an Alice in Wonderland-inspired painting was a bad idea. Her nibble of mushroom did successfully transport the painter back to the real world, but as she blinked and stretched, she realized that she was far too short. Not only short, but white and fluffy. And craving carrots…

 After a few terrifying incidents involving traffic and a red-tailed hawk, the painter found that she had hopped to the edge of a circus tent. While she was admiring the prowess of the lion tamer, she suddenly found herself snatched up by the ears. She was nose to nose with the circus magician. Before she knew it, she was a part of the circus magic act, being stuffed into and pulled out of a musty top hat. At first it was quite fun. She had always loved magic shows as a child and she enjoyed the applause. But after a while, she grew bored. Magic wasn’t so fun when you knew they were just tricks. Besides the repetition was excruciating. So she ran away.

 After more incidents with traffic and an under-exercised and over-excited border collie, she found herself stuck in some bird netting laid across a small patch of strawberries in a suburban garden. The painter squeaked in alarm as a curious cat came stalking into view. Lucky for her, a little girl came out onto the front porch at that moment, spotted the painter, scooped her up in her arms and adopted her with all of her heart.

They were inseparable. The painter slept in a rather spacious hutch right outside the little girl’s bedroom. She had plenty to eat and drink and was allowed to hop freely around the house, provided the doors and windows were closed. They had tea parties together, played dress ups and doctor, snuggled during thunder storms, and whispered secrets to each other without saying a word.

One day, the little girl was painting on a big pad of paper propped up on an easel in her room. It seemed a lifetime since the painter had picked up a brush. The little girl had no sense of color combinations, composition or proportions, but her creations were certainly expressive. The painter felt a twinge of jealousy. As she turned to distract herself with the bedside lamp cord, the little girl paused in painting her landscape of endless grass and sky and noticed the satisfying fluffiness of the painter’s white tail. She had an idea.

 The little girl scooped up the painter and gently dipped her tail in a smear of yellow paint. Then she studied her landscape and moved the painter’s posterior towards the blue part of the page. The painter panicked. There was far too much paint on her tail. She knew from experience that the color would run and the little girl’s picture would be ruined. The painter struggled to get away, but the little girl held tight and squished her tail solidly against the page. Then she put the painter down and admired her work. The painter was right. The yellow would-be circle had drips oozing down the blue and into the green. The painter sighed sadly and looked up at the little girl. She was grinning. “Look,” the little girl said, “the sun is reaching down to touch the grass.”

The painter sat transfixed, twitching her nose, and vaguely aware that she was getting yellow paint on the carpet. But she didn’t care. She was a rabbit in the presence of a painter and her masterpiece. And it was perfect.

The end, for now.

Mushroom 3