December: A Sense of Faith

Confession time: I didn’t think when this year began that I’d be able to withstand another year in the Dreaded Day Job. I cried, I begged, I pleaded, I fasted and prayed – and I stayed stuck. It was like fighting with the Tar-Baby – the more I fought the stucker I got (and like the Tar-Baby, He say nuthin’).

Twelve months on, and I’m still at the DDJ, and none of the myriad resignation letters I have composed in thought have yet been set to paper. (A question for any employment lawyers out there: what’s the legal status of an employee who sends in several different resignation letters in one envelope?) But the year has not been wasted.

Resignation Letter

During the year I have worked through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.  (Although I did miss some exercises due to a bout of zombieism bronchitis and I did get a couple of months behind at one point.) This has involved fun things like starting a scrapbook, playing with bubbles and making a jester’s hat. Less enjoyably, there was the dire Week Without Reading. Never Again.

While I haven’t been exactly religious in my observance of the ‘basic tools’ of the Artist’s Way – morning pages and Artist’s Dates – I have used them, and found them useful. One of the best things about the Artist’s Way is that it’s adaptable – not everyone has to do it the same way. It’s alter-to-fit, not One Size Fits All (which it never does).


The exercises for Chapter 12 include restorative and expansive tasks like mending something (in my case a summer dress that I can now wear after 18 months in the mending pile) or repotting a plant. I have brought home Bob the Parlour Palm (named after my favourite Simpsons character) and am on the lookout for a larger pot for him.

In the meantime I shall remove the freesia bulbs which ended up in the same pot (long story) and give them a taste of the fridge. For some reason they sprout in autumn, bloom in winter and die off in spring. Are they hemispherically confused?
I dare to dream that bringing Bob home from the DDJ is just the beginning of the longed-for ritual of Cleaning Out The Desk.


I am becoming unstuck. (Not in the two-sandwiches-short-of-a-picnic way. I think.) I wouldn’t say that the Artist’s Way is the key to creative freedom and the solution to all your problems, but it’s helped me push the boundaries of what I thought possible in my life – and to my delight, some of the boundaries give. (Although they do need to be pushed pretty hard…)

I am glad I did the Artist’s Way, and perhaps someday I shall do it again. But for now, I’m going to look back with gladness – and look forward with hope.

April: A Sense of Integrity

Not that I was enormously lacking in integrity before April – used car salesman I am not.

Used Car Salesman

This is more about recovering a true you-ness, something like what I mentioned in this post.

Synchronicitously, (is that a word? it is now) I keep encountering these two quotes from e.e. cummings of late:

“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”

e. e. cummings layout

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”

This is in some measure related to the Christian teaching that your truest self – the one God sees when he looks at you – is who he created you to be, not who you have so far made of yourself.
This chapter, then, is about the recovery or even discovery of that truest self – not all in a rush, but slowly, peeling back the layers of damage, time and grime until the masterpiece beneath is revealed.

Painting damaged by fire

So, other than the Reading Deprivation, of which I fancy you have heard enough to last you a lifetime (it’s certainly going to last me) what did this chapter involve?

The first task was to imagine your ideal environment. Booooks… Then you were to find an image (or make one, if, unlike me, you have more artistic ability than a meerkat on bad acid) and put this in your writing area. Ditto for your favourite season.

So, my little writing nook (the product of an unofficial Artist’s Date with furniture-moving) is now embellished with a cosy hobbit kitchen and an autumnal canyon-scape.

Four Seasons by Alfons Mucha, circa 1895

Also a picture of my Censor, which I keep on the floor – got to keep that voice in its place!

Then I had to go back and forth in time. “Describe yourself at eighty.” Frankly, I have no idea where my life is going and I doubt it’ll go that far, but if I do make eighty I bet I’ll be one of those acute old ladies who says what she thinks you need to hear and doesn’t mind how excruciatingly embarrassed you are by it.

And then memories of being eight. Not much came to mind, and I was a little hazy as to the actual year (I might have been seven) but I remember having purple and green dragon slippers with pink mohawks, and wearing jammies the colour of lemon meringue pie.

And speaking of pie, there was another look at the life pie – as munted as ever, and definitely needing work in the area of work. World's Ugliest Pie
As Task 9 asked, “Look at one situation in your life that you feel you should change but haven’t yet. What is the payoff for you in staying stuck?”
Well, in this case, the payoff is pay. Man does not live on bread alone, but it certainly helps.

My Extended Artist’s Date plan (Task 7) starts with a morning going the rounds of the second hand clothing shops, moves on to a leisurely lunch followed by a walk on the beach and winds up curled on the couch with a hot chocolate and a classic movie.

(Poll: would you say that “Plan a small vacation for yourself… Get ready to execute it” means
a) plan it and then do it
b) plan it, and then await instructions to carry it out
c) plan it, and then prepare to shoot it at dawn?)

I also wrote an Artist’s Prayer (Task 6) which I shall likely soon share – and hopefully start remembering to use.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968)

Reading Deprivation

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but this week I am trying to take Elle MacPherson’s advice on reading: “I don’t think you should read what you haven’t written.”

Elle Macpherson at Myer 17 Sept 2011

Julia Cameron often includes an exercise in the body of the chapter, in addition to the Tasks enumerated at the end. Usually they’re mildly interesting and you glide over them without too much time or effort required. Remembering your favourite things as a child, for example. That sort of thing.
This month: go a week without reading.

Er – what?


Admittedly, I am presently nearing 19 hours into the reading deprivation, which may account for the edge of hysteria in my tone, but really!

Those close to me may wish to verify this, but I don’t believe I’ve gone that long without reading since I was three. And couldn’t read.


In the years since, I have gone to quite some lengths to avoid running out of reading material.
I would read the encyclopedia, or failing that, the dictionary. (The telephone directory was one A4 sheet, so not worth the trouble.)
At the age of six and a half, I ran through all my books on a family holiday and embarked upon my mother’s Agatha Christie.

This is a little more complicated than just not reading, though.
There are nuances.

The idea is to minimise input – especially in the form of words – so as to hear what is actually going on in our inner silence. Or something like that. I was too busy panicking to take in the delicate details.

Cameron makes an exception for her own book (gotta do those exercises!), and I intend to make an exception for reading Scripture – a girl’s gotta eat, after all.

However, since the aim is to drain out the words rushing in, that means no being read to (one of my favourite pastimes), no movies, no television, no radio. Silence.
I make another exception for conversation, since a) I am not a Trappist, and b) I have to talk at the Dreaded Day Job and if I don’t get to talk at home as well I Will Go Mad. Ditto for emails.

Madeleine L’Engle says “It’s a good thing to have all the props pulled out from under us occasionally. It gives us some sense of what is rock under our feet, and what is sand.”

The Ruined Castle

I think I am coming to realise just how much of a prop reading is to me.

When I’m stressed, I read. When I’m curious, I read. When I want to relax, I read. When I find a fascinating little morsel on the library catalogue, I READ IT!
Take away reading and being read to, and you have most of my week’s leisure time accounted for. Take away television as well, and you have the half hour that was left.

So what am I going to do this week?

Lots of sewing, knitting and mending – although I will miss being able to do this while listening to the Caped Gooseberry read. Say what you like, re-elasticising old jammie trousers is not sufficiently mentally taxing to hold the mind in thrall.

(Plus the CG has a really nice reading voice. He starts reading aloud, and catweasel #2 will appear out of nowhere to curl up on his lap and gaze at him adoringly. I find this annoying, possibly on the grounds that we despise most in others the weaknesses we see in ourselves.)

120301 Day 255 adoring

Sleeping – not much point staying up late to finish the book you aren’t reading. Ditto TV, although I don’t bother staying up late for that anyway.

And hopefully writing. These are the only words that are not only permitted, but encouraged. I shall write blog posts. I shall write journal entries. I shall write morning pages. I shall try to write as much as possible on my Work In Progress.

The clock stops at midnight next Sunday.
There are two possible scenarios at that point:
One, I am so thoroughly purged of the babbling detritus of modern existence that I glide serenely through life, possibly emitting a faint humming noise, and not even noticing that the reading ban is over, so enlightened am I.

holy glow

Two, I stay up late in order to feast my starved eyes on the fat deliciousness that is The Book. (Touch the book. Smell the book. Kiss the book. Read the book Read The Book READ THE BOOK!)
Brand me a pessimist if you must, but I believe the second scenario to be somewhat more likely.

Did I mention that due to the national commemoration of the war dead (i.e. ANZAC Day) I will have a whole extra day at home this week?

Did I mention how many books I have at home? (Hundreds. Over a thousand, I think. I haven’t had time to count them in the last few years. Possibly something else that can be done while Not Reading, if you’ve always wondered what it would be like to be Tantalus.)

Tantalus Gioacchino Assereto circa1640s

Did I mention that I bought an 878-page book online last week, and it arrived today?

My timing is impeccable.
All inquiries care of the Nut House.