January: a Sense of Safety

At last, the long-awaited (by me at least) post about What I Did This Month. (Last month.) With the Artist’s Way, that is.

Since I didn’t have my Good Idea until January was well onto its downhill run, there was not much time in which to work through Chapter One: Recovering a Sense of Safety.

The fundamental push of this chapter is to give you back the childlike feeling of being able to puddle about and create things without the terror that Mrs Danvers (or Col. Gaddafi) will leap out of the woodwork shouting “how dare you make such a repulsive mess, you miserable miscreant?!” (although really, I don’t think either of them had quite that kind of vocabulary).

In order to accomplish this, you confront the nasty critical voices of your past, and face them down with all the nice positive things you have heard, gleaned or discovered about your artist-self – or, if you have had a particularly hard go of it in that respect, the simple, stubbornly defiant statement that you have the right to create.

So nyah nyah to you.

Fortunately for the tight time-frame, I had gone through most of the exercises before. Naturally, some of the results of my exercising are not fit for public consumption (I know who lurks in the shadows of this blog) but I thought I’d share a few snippets.

I am fortunate that I have had relatively few harsh words come my way (hiding your light under a bushel works well, if you don’t mind the smoke getting in your eyes) and a few quite nice ones. But there is still the self-sabotaging voice of the internal Resistance echoing round my cranium.

I don’t think discouragement needs to take the form of words to make us doubt ourselves. So maybe we need to consider things which are not words, though they are harder to pin down and rebut. Thought In Progress.

I confess, exercise six warmed the cockles of my heart – gathering together every scrap of positive reinforcement of my validity as a writer. Took nearly a whole page of my A5 repurposed diary.

I went on an artist date, too – I went to the shop at the corner and dropped my shiny gold coin into a slot. I turned the handle, and boing, boing, boing, out came my multi-hued bouncy ball. And of course, one cannot have a bouncy ball without bouncing it.

As C. S. Lewis so aptly said (or rather wrote), “When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” My hero.

The ‘alternate lives’ exercise was another bundle of fun – I’ve always wanted to be one of these:
Reading-jester-q75-760x753
but I don’t know of any courts that are hiring.

I really struggled with the affirmations – not the basic mechanics of it, but the meaning it. New Zealand is not one of the societies where blowing one’s own trumpet is encouraged, or even tolerated. Self-deprecation is the order of the day.

So in order to say something like “I am a channel for God’s creativity, and my work comes to good” without a trace of sarcasm is a feat which more or less requires the wearing of a funny hat with bells on.

I should make me one.

My favourite affirmation (of the ones I came up with myself) said simply this: I am meant to be a dreamer.

Next week month – that is, this month (already a quarter gone!) I shall look at recovering a sense of identity. (Who, me?)

The War of Art

by Steven Pressfield.
Have you read it?

I read it straight through last night.
(That might seem like some kind of feat, but it’s an easy read – so much white space! Interestingly, he doesn’t feel the need to fill his page. Once he’s said what he wants to say on a topic, he stops saying it.)

It’s divided into three sections:
Resistance: defining the enemy
Combating Resistance: turning pro
Beyond Resistance: the higher realm

The first section is concerned with defining the force he calls Resistance, which is the antagonistic force within each of us which tries to stop us doing what we’re supposed to be doing – for writers, writing.

What I know #writing Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

This frequently takes the form of procrastination, but can also disguise itself, he says, as golf, sex, fear, depression and – perhaps most problematic of all – the voice of reason.

To combat this, he says in part two, we turn pro. I wasn’t entirely sure whether he meant literally giving up our jobs for it, but certainly a change of attitude is involved.
If something is your job, you show up, come hell or high water (particularly if you’re not eligible for paid sick leave) and you get it done. You don’t hover nervously wondering if your work (when you eventually produce some) is really good enough compared to others in your field (what if the other plumbers are better than me???)
You don’t go waffling on about how yours “is a high and lonely destiny” either.
You just get on with it.

What stood out to me most was his emphasis on being able to be miserable.
“The Marine Corps teaches you how to be miserable.
“This is invaluable for an artist…
“The artist must be like that Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell.” (Pressfield, 2002, p.68)

BEST OF THE MARINE CORPS - May 2006 - Defense Visual Information Center

If you wait til writing is the easy option, you will never write.
No excuses.
I got up half an hour early this morning in order to write this. In my own small way (warm dressing gown, hot tea, blue sky outside the window) I am being miserable.
I am sure the Marines could make themselves more miserable with the materials to hand, but hey, I’m not a Marine.
Plus it’ll be miserable enough in here come winter. (For those of you in the Northern Hemisphere, New Zealand houses don’t have central heating. Or that much insulation. We just put on more clothes.)

The third section is all about the unseen reality supporting us, which Pressfield peoples with a bewilderingly syncretistic array of beings: angels from the Talmud, the Nine Muses from the Greek pantheon, Krishna from the Bhagavad-Gita, “God” (unspecified), Nature, a good slosh of Jungian psychology and the ancient common ground of dreams and visions.

La danza d'Apollo con le Muse - Guilo Romano - Stengel

A bit of a mixed bag, which makes for something of an unfocussed read, but he has some good points to make about doing what we do because it’s what we do, not because we’re comparing ourselves to someone else – what he calls territorial vs hierarchical thinking.

This is a good book to read, albeit not a precisely argued one – you’ll pick up nuggets of useful wisdom in amongst his diatribes on fundamentalists being less evolved humans than artists and how doing what you’re supposed to do in this world can cure cancer (and apparently everything else).

So there you have it, people: just get on with it.

If you’re prepared to make the sacrifices, make them without complaining. If you aren’t, stop wasting your time and give up now.

Disclaimer: no-one gave me a copy to review, nor did I part with my hard-earned for it. I borrowed a copy from the library. You may consider that this makes me a cheapskate who won’t support their fellow artists; I consider that this makes me an unbiased reviewer.

The Censor

Chapter One of The Artist’s Way deals with “Recovering a Sense of Safety”.

One of the concepts Cameron introduces – or perhaps, more aptly, puts a name to – is the Censor. This is the voice in your head that tells you you’re a no-good talentless hack and it would be best for the literate world if you gave up right now and never strung two words together again.

Or something like that.

For some people, that voice belongs to a particular person in their past – or, God help them, their present – who is continually running them down and pissing on their dreams.

For others of us, it’s just the voice we all have in our heads – not that little helpful one which tells you when you’re about to do something really stupid, the other one. The vitriolic one.

But it can still help to put a face to the foe. If you have any artistic ability, you can render one yourself; the rest of us have to go hunting for one.

And when I tried to put a face to my nasty little voice, this is approximately what I found:

Muammar al-Gaddafi at the AU summit

Yup. That’s what the voice in my head looks like.

I don’t know what that says about me (any budding psycho*ists want to chip in?) but there it is.

It’s a good face to sneer back at (yes! we sneer in the face of destructive criticism!) but for some reason the person who had this face doesn’t seem attached to it in my mind. No ‘oh yes, and where’s your loyal populace then?’ retorts seem pertinent (although they could definitely be construed as impertinent).

The fruity dress sense? Well, that’s a different kettle of medals.

To be honest, I have still to work through all of the 10 exercises attached to the chapter. This time I think I’ll have a stab at some of the ones I didn’t try first time round.

I have til Thursday before I run out of month.

But I’m not weaselling.

Weasel Poupette

Promise.