Being there

I was on vacation in western New York for not long enough.  It was so good that when I returned, rather than feeling comforted by the familiarity of being home, I felt as though I were moving into a sublet. How convenient that the place has laundry soap and food in the cupboards, and that I have a key that fits the lock on the front door. It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with me, even though the mail has my name on it, and I have the mysterious ability to pay bills and do work.

Convenient. But not home. Home is the place where I was. (Why, yes, it was a great time.)

One of the best things about getting away is how it reorganizes priorities. Things that were routine go out the window. New things crowd it. In the time I was away I never turned on a television; for some reason, the idea made me flinch. I think it was because I was in the midst of the REAL. Doing things, being places—not watching electronic reproductions of all that.

I used the iPad to keep up with email—you have to—and uploaded a few photos to Facebook. Checked the local weather. That was it for the internet. My work and all the nonsense I use to distract myself from work fell away as if it were made of mist.

So I am here at this Pennsylvania sublet with my name on it. Mentally and spiritually I am still in western New York, by the lake.

P1000874

Porch and parrot, Chautauqua, New York

The Artist’s Way week 5: fasten your seat belts

Last week I blogged about doing the twelve-week course in  Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.  That was week 4: reading deprivation. This is week 5.

The topic

This week’s overall topic is barriers: self-sabotage/things you do to keep yourself stuck. Seriously working on week 5 results in a bumpy flight. (And why would you do the work of this course if you DIDN’T take it seriously? What a waste of time that would be.)

The tantrum

On Monday night around midnight, I was in the kitchen, tired and hungry and unable to sleep, making some hot milk with honey, and the honey bottle slipping out of my hand and knocking over the sugar bowl, which hit the floor and shattered.

Sugar is a lot like sand, on the floor.

I slammed the honey bottle down on the counter—WAY more angry than the situation required. The top to the bottle broke, something I did not realize until I tried to squeeze some honey into the hot milk and got about a cupful of honey to a half-cup of milk.

Honey is sticky, especially when it is everywhere.

What was strange about that situation was that I was angry at my inner artist. I blamed her for the broken sugar bowl, the spilled honey. I wasn’t just cursing myself for being careless; I blamed her.

What was THAT about? Was I just tired and frustrated? Was the artist grabbing for sweetness?  Whatever the motive, I’ve been calmer and more balanced since. Kinder.

The lesson

A task this week was to draw a cartoon that  illustrates “your favorite creative block.” Although I can’t draw, I drew a picture of someone standing next to a table on which was a cake. She was looking away from cake while reaching toward it. The caption was “I want this. No I don’t.”

Halfway effort is waste of time. It leaves you both satisfied and unsatisfied. Better things ahead.

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 . . .