Week 8 of the Artist's Way: time as a creative block

we are not too old or too young, too early or too late to make art

Hi folks! Through this newsletter I have been sharing my progress with The Artist’s Way, a self-help book for creative recovery by Julia Cameron. You can read more about the decision to start the twelve-week program here.


By a certain age in our lives, we feel for the first time that we are predestined to the path we have chosen. It feels too late to change a career, leave a relationship/marriage, or move to a new country. The age itself differs—for some it’s in their 40s, for a lucky few it’s almost never, but for a lot of people I’ve met it’s in their early 30s, when they feel like they just missed the boat of the desirably unstable, risk-taking 20s. To stray would mean disappointment and fear and giving up stability—all of which seem Bad Bad Bad!

Certainly these same blocks and perceptions of time apply to creative desires, which is the topic of this week’s chapter. Have you had a thought along the lines of, “I wish I could draw or dance or tell jokes or make music…but it’s too late, I’m too old?” Cameron pins this excuse as an avoidance tactic for having our ego deflated. It feels humiliating to be a beginner—oh no, we can only fail and look silly when we are young kids too dumb to know better, or old and slightly crazed without anything to lose. For any age in between, we think the creative dream better lead to something worthwhile.

Cameron states it is an artificial ego requirement to accomplish certain things by certain ages. Though I agree, she also conveniently leaves out the sense of loneliness and neglect felt by not accomplishing certain things by certain ages. Pressure to reach milestones by certain ages is very much entrenched in our society’s fabric (at least the American one).

Nevertheless, the overall message to embrace a beginner’s humility and openness is really wonderful. As someone who values curiosity, what could be more in line with welcoming curiosity than adopting a beginner’s mindset and taking the steps to create despite any promise or guarantee of great work?

Focused on process, our creative life retains a sense of adventure. Focused on product, the same creative life can feel foolish or barren. We inherit the obsession with product and the idea that art produces finished product from our consumer-oriented society… Fixated on the need to have something to show for our labors, we often deny our curiosities.

Other fun tidbits within the chapter deal with artistic losses. Though much of our early fears around creating can come from our parents, teachers and other authority figures in schooling are of equal influence. Quote Cameron, “many academics are themselves artistic beings who are deeply frustrated by their inability to create.” We can experience subtle disregard of our art.

Yet, “intellectualism runs counter to the creative impulse.” Much of art is based on feeling. This is hard for me to accept since I am heavily reliant on my cerebral nature to carry me through life, because it was the only guarantee of success with clear measures. Funnily enough, when a prompt asks to identify a teacher who shipwrecked my confidence, my sophomore year English teacher immediately comes to mind. Getting a subpar SAT essay score is another. I grew up learning that my worth was tied to grades, and to not receive high grades in the subject closest to writing was demoralizing.

For more practical tips: Cameron advises to think of gains disguised as loss. Instead of “why me?” we can ask “how” and “what next?” Funds don’t come through for a project. How can the project be bootstrapped? You learned flat illustration and want to get clients but find that it’s becoming out of fashion. What else can you learn that excites you?

House Dance

For this week’s artist date I dragged my butt to Cricket’s beginner house dance class at PMT. I have been meaning to learn house dance all year, mainly to improve my footwork and someday be able to freestyle confidently.

TL;DR House is a street dance primarily danced to house music (in its original form, not the more modern electro house). The footwork is complex whereas the upper body is loose and fluid (this choreography is a good example). The dance style emphasizes freedom, improvisation, and musicality. House dance appears very easy and loose—I even thought it boring for a while because it doesn’t have the flashy elements found in jazz or hip hop.

Going to a house class is VERY SWEATY. You will really be on your feet the whole time, doing basic steps but drilling them over and over again! What I appreciate about the beginner classes at PMT or House of Movement is that the teachers really emphasize the basic steps of the dance style. The class was a welcome break from the more typical routine I’ve fallen into with dance classes, where I am so focused on learning the choreography that I’m not really able to practice and absorb the underlying movement.

Reflection

I’m at the 2/3rds mark of the Artist’s Way, set to finish by the end of the year. I have not broken the morning pages streak (yay!) but artist dates are quite often a pain in the ass. I feel that I already prioritize time for hobbies and creative activities and though I welcome new adventures, I also enjoy preserving routine to maintain my current hobbies and going on artist dates with friends. For many of the weeks, the artist date is a two birds one stone deal—a stand in for exercise, for example.

Anyway, happy December to all! Here’s to comfort food and fuzzy blankets and watching all the Vanessa Hudgens Christmas movies on Netflix. 🎄

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