The Artist’s Way Week 12: Annie on the couch

This is my sixth blog about The Artist’s Way course. The first five are Everything Is Connected, Fasten Your Seat Belts, Reading Deprivation, Do Fury Honor, and Becalmed.

Week 12 is the final week of the course.  Not that the course is ever supposed to be “over.” The two key actions—morning pages and a weekly artist date—are meant to continue forever.

Morning pages

For twelve weeks, seven days a week, I have been writing three pages in longhand before I start the work of the day. By “writing” I do not mean WRITING. I mean putting down whatever comes to mind. Sometimes these pages are meditative. Sometimes they are really boring. When I re-read them after nine weeks, I was surprised at the insight and clarity that bloomed amidst the boring parts.

To do morning pages, you need to make up your mind to do them. That’s the main thing. Then you need a cheap notebook—Walgreens has them, and you could beat their price at Walmart. You should use a pen that feels good to the hand, because you are going to be holding that pen a lot. I like Papermate Ink Joy.

The morning pages are therapy. As therapy goes, they are an astonishing bargain. Your cost is about a half hour a day and the price of the pens and notebooks.

As I write these pages, I often think of the movie Annie Hall. Alvy and Annie spent a lot of time in their respective therapists’ offices, thinking out loud about their lives. With the morning pages, you write out loud about your life. “If I do X, then Y will happen. But if I don’t do X . . . .”

(Come to think of it, Annie was not on a couch. Her therapist had her sitting up in a chair.)

Here’s the thing: morning pages work the way that talk therapy does. You remember the same dreams, you work out the same issues, you return again and again to the same meaningful themes.

I didn’t know that to do talk therapy, you don’t actually have to pay anyone to listen. Writing gets it done.

Space now

I’ve spent the last month or so decluttering the place. I’ve donated things, made trips to Goodwill, and done all the throwing out, rearranging, and repurposing that came when I paid attention to things I had stopped looking at. I repotted the two permanent indoor plants and very happy they were that I finally noticed how cramped and suffering they were in old pots that they had long since outgrown.

At last! Things that should be put away are put away. Things I don’t like are gone. I know what I own. I found not only what I wanted to get rid of but peace_lilyalso good stuff I had forgotten I had.

There is space now. I can’t call it new because it has been there all the time.

Physical clutter and mental clutter have things in common.

Everyone instinctively knows what mental clutter is. It is the stuff that stands in your way, yammering about the past. It is old habits that no longer serve a purpose, or never did.  It is fears based not on reality but on self-talk. Such clutter does not go away easily. But it does,  like spring coming. Which spring is actually doing right now, peeking up through the snow and cold.

The Artist’s Way Week 8: Becalmed

This is my fifth  blog about The Artist’s Way course. The first four are Do Fury Honor, Everything Is Connected, Fasten Your Seat Belts. and Reading Deprivation.

It’s been a quiet and focused week: “filling the form” time.

Filling the form means work. Right now, work  means getting up at 6:30 every day; setting aside time at the top of the day for my writing; and then comes the rest of it. The effect has been an amazingly productive week.

The sequel to Cel & Anna is very close now—very close. I did something I’d been saying I was going to do since New Year’s Day: sent the first twelve chapters to my favorite readers, who happen to be my nieces (they will steer me in right direction). I finalized plans for a trip on which I had been waffling. I made two paying work deadlines and will make a third this afternoon. I did odd jobs related to de-cluttering.

I connected with friends. I DID stuff. Not thinking about it, just doing it.

The spilling-over energy of last week found a channel. Now, the thing is to deepen the channel so that it becomes a habit. There is nothing more useful than a good habit, for it carries you forward when you want to hang back. I am not saying I have solved all my problems. :)

Something that made me smile: when I decided to start my work week at 6:30 am rather than when I had been starting it (which was rather later than 6:30), I expected trouble. I expected resistance.

What I did not expect was to start waking up before the alarm, starting one day after I made the decision. This has happened every day, without a fight. My inner sleep goddess has decided to cooperate with the plan. This too happened quietly and calmly.

This morning I put an armload of sheets and towels in the wash, I did the morning pages, I am sitting here typing. Someday soon I am going to do an update on what is one of the most popular blogs I ever wrote, called Shopping at Ruthfred (Where?). There is an old shopping center not far from here called Ruthfred. Really.

I am happy to report, as a preliminary, that Ruthfred is still thriving.

The music of the morning is a peaceful little piano tune called “A Lullaby” by Nathan H. Taylor. It floated by on Pandora one day. iTunes let me buy it for 99 cents. (Thanks, iTunes. Thanks, Nathan H. Taylor. Thanks, Pandora.) I would post a YouTube link, but as it happens “A Lullaby” is the only piece of music in the world not available at YouTube, so you are on your own.

The Artist’s Way Week 7: Do fury honor

This is my fourth blog about The Artist’s Way course. The first three are Everything Is Connected, Fasten Your Seat Belts. and Reading Deprivation.

And it is a great moment in my blogging history because I finally have the chance to use the phrase “Do fury honor.”  I read it in a book about the Marx brothers by Joe Adamson. For a long time I have waited to steal it. I don’t know where he stole it.

Thanks, Joe, wherever you are.

Anyway . . .

… Looks like a storm’s a brewing

(Another stolen line, this time from the movie NASHVILLE.)

I mean this in the best possible sense. The “fury” I am talking about is not anger. It is energy, like the energy of a storm.

What happened over the weekend was that one of the track lights in my office burned out, so I dutifully did what I always do: bought a $20 replacement light at Home Depot. As I snapped it into place, I looked up at the track lights and thought clearly:

“I never liked track lighting.”

Then (it was a great weekend for stolen lines), I thought of a line from SLINGS & ARROWS, the fabulous Canadian miniseries about a dysfunctional classical theater troupe: “I hate it all.”

That comment has a lot of context in SLINGS, but basically a director decides the day before a show goes live to change everything about his production, including the set design. He’s been heading in the wrong direction and suddenly realizes it. The actors, who all realized it from day one, cheer.

[The immediate meaning for me: the clutter in the place, the neglect, the stuff on the floor that should not be on the floor. And especially the track lighting.]

By the time I stopped cleaning on Sunday, I had aggravated an old wrist injury and felt peaceful. A feeling not troubled by the fact that I have MUCH MUCH more to do. I have already made one Goodwill run. There will be more. I threw things out while humming “Everything old is new again” from ALL THAT JAZZ.

Every closet, every drawer, every room needs an overhaul. At that point, there will be room for the new.

I cannot credit The Artist’s Way 100% for this. Good friends just redid the second floor of their house, and I’ve been hearing about how beautiful it looks. Also, I was contemplating my “home theater,” which consists of a 12-year-old Toshiba tube TV, a 16-year-old Sony dual-deck DVD/VCR, and a fairly new Z-Vox sound box (like a sound bar) that would surely do a better job of enhancing the sound if I could use digital rather than analog connections to the TV.

Makeover time.

The Artist’s Way Week 4: Reading deprivation

For Christmas a friend gave me a copy of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.  In a vague intuitive way,  I thought  “something good is about to come from this.” It has. It will.

I had the mistaken impression that The Artist’s Way was one of those feel-good books for creative types, to be read once in cozy circumstances and then relegated to a bookshelf, to be removed when you need to feel good again.

Not so. The Artist’s Way is a twelve-week course in recovering creativity and focus in daily life. It is intensive. It brings up hidden things. Julia Cameron also links creativity to spirituality (a nonnegotiable point for her), and any time you venture into that country with an open mind, you embark on an adventure around every corner of which may be something you did not expect.

The tasks vary from week to week. The primary task of week 4 is Reading Deprivation. That means to stop idle-time reading. Cameron might have meant to stop reading entirely, but on a practical level this was impossible, not to mention undesirable. So I set two conditions:

  1. Social media (Facebook, Twitter) 1X/day.
  2. No reading in the evening. AT ALL.

Wait—ONCE a day?

I was an early adopter of social media.  I’ve been using these sites in one iteration or another since the late 1990s. They are about connection. Also  they are about hiding out from work, about being bored with work, and about nothing more than habit.

Here’s what I learned: the number of times I used to check into Facebook was too many, but once a day is not enough. Not for me. I am spending a half hour there every morning rather than the usual 5-6 minutes. I miss half of what I would otherwise have seen and barely respond to anything because that half hour is agenda driven. It is not fun. It is like skimming through 8,000 emails to see if there is anything important.

When the purpose is connection, all kinds of things can be important, including trivia. Sometimes especially trivia.

So when the week is up, I’ll give myself 3X/day and see how that goes.

Not surfing the Internet to waste time (as opposed to doing research) turned out to be surprisingly easy. That does tell me how little the purposeless surfing added to my day. It did nothing, basically.

My oldest habit—broken

I always read in the evenings. Even before I learned to read, books were part of the night, because I was read to. Going cold turkey on this particular habit was a major change.

The first thing reading deprivation did was to produce a flurry of housecleaning. The place now has better-looking kitchen cabinets and a number of other improvements. I stopped short of rearranging office furniture, but I did do a lot of throwing out and sorting.

There was something of the “new broom” about this cleaning. Reading deprivation is a big enough deal that it felt like a harbinger of change.

I was halfway through a new book when reading deprivation week came around and have been looking at it wistfully. A purchase from Abebooks arrived yesterday and I did not open it.

I have rediscovered the music on my seven-year-old iPod. I went through a Gregorian chant phase a few years ago. That’s nice music to get sleepy to.

An odd discovery: when I look at photos in a catalog and do not read the accompanying text, the photos look different. Imagination provides the stories rather than the sales pitch I am not reading. It’s nice.

When I lived in Washington, DC, I bought a beautiful art book from the National Gallery on the 17th century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer. That was a fine thing to rediscover. Look at his paintings.

To waste time (I knew I’d find a way), I discovered an addictive little computer game called Balloon Pop. If you know someone whose organizational skills and productivity have always annoyed you, Balloon Pop will derail them. It is part of a sweet and charming animation called Circus. It costs two dollars, and you can give it as a gift.

Just saying . . .