Week 12: Finishing the Artist's Way

TL;DR: You are allowed to play and growth is a spiral.

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. THIS IS THE LAST ONE, HURRAH. You can read recaps of past weeks here.

I did it! After twelve weeks of daily morning pages, weekly artist dates, and a whole lot of reflecting, I have finished the Artist’s Way.

The twelve-week mark was sometime in the last week of 2019 while I was in LA. I didn’t celebrate the accomplishment or feel any sort of finality; instead I kept the practice going. I continued to write morning pages every day, and though I wouldn’t be as strict about weekly artist dates, I would try to continue to do those too. I finished reading the book thinking the final week’s chapter was the same message that I didn’t need to hear over and over.

Today, I decided to reread the final chapter to have something to write in this post and publicly finish this experiment. You know how sometimes you’ll hear advice that you scoff at or think you already know, and other times you’ll hear that same advice and think, “this could not have come at a better time in my life?” I had one of those moments, feeling a swell of gratitude for the words I was rereading at exactly the right time.

Trusting Myself

Week 12 is about how creativity requires profound trust. My short-term memory does not recall if I read this chapter before or after choosing “trust” as my main intention going into 2020, but trust has been a theme that presents itself again & again. All the stressors, decisions, or conflicts that have been arising boil down to opportunities to trust myself. Do I trust in my past self and the path she wanted to go down? Do I trust that I work hard already, that I do not need to keep taking on more? Do I trust my vision and creative eye for the project I am creating?

Trusting myself is hard, and it often conflicts with ego-driven fears. I spent a good part of this weekend debating on whether to pause on job interviews because it was leading to stress/overwhelm and I felt very distanced from Modern Doing, the creative project I aim to launch this year (more on that in future posts!) Whenever I start asking the question of whether I should continue doing something I already know the answer (almost always “no”, and if it’s not “no” at the moment it will be in a few months).

Yet I still felt a compulsion to ask others for input instead of trusting what I wanted to do because of what it could say about me to pause or quit. Perhaps it would mean I wasn’t hard-working or responsible or competent, and did I really want to give up when I could just push myself more?

These passages of Cameron’s reminded me of what I thought I already knew, but deeply needed to hear again:

  • While we are ambivalent, the universe will seem to us also to be ambivalent and erratic. The flow through our lives will be characterized by spurts of abundance and long spells of drought, when our supply dwindles to a mere trickle.”

  • “We are an ambitious society, and it is often difficult for us to cultivate forms of creativity that do not directly serve us and our career goals. Recovery urges our reexamining definitions of creativity and expanding them.”

Here is my TL;DR of the Artist’s Way (slightly modified because though I love and appreciate this book, Cameron seems blind to the realities of many people’s situations). Are you meeting your basic needs (food, shelter, health, etc?) Then yes, you are encouraged to play. You are allowed to say no to the grind. You can choose creativity and the unknown over things that are inarguable productive accomplishments.

Play is the exultation of the possible. —Martin Buber

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Growth is a Spiral

In the introduction and epilogue, Cameron reminds us that the Artist’s Way is a spiral path.

You will circle through some of the issues over and over, each time at a different level. There is no such thing as being done with an artistic life. Frustrations and rewards exist at all levels on the path. Our aim here is to find the trail, establish our footing, and begin the climb.

Already I am being shown how much this holds true. I wrote in Week 10 about letting go so I can be less busy; less than a month later I grapple with letting go again (you would think I would have learned my lesson!! But the attachment to busyness and ego is strong).

Although there aren’t any radical changes from completing the Artist’s Way, I have seen numerous instances of change in my thinking & behavior. I take pride in having committed to this long process, though I had my doubts at the start. I believe, just a little bit more, that I am an artist devoted to my creative practice. I have made the decision multiple times to quietly work on my creative vision rather than seek instantly gratifying accomplishments.

Perhaps most importantly, I have been embracing joy. For most of these weeks I recall feeling happy and not stressed even with a steady stream of things to do. I still revel in my daily morning routine—it feels amazing to know that every day I have carved out this uninterrupted hour for myself. Through the Artist’s Way I ushered in the practices of affirmations and manifestation, which previously I judged as very “woo woo” but now I think: if it helps me be more positive and grateful and kind, then who cares?

Though I have technically finished, I am continuing to uphold the practices of the Artist’s Way, and I would like to revisit the chapters every so often to see what might resonate. Several of you readers have also started doing the Artist’s Way, which I think is so awesome! I really hope you share with me what your journey has been like so far, and please don’t be discouraged if you find yourself pausing and having to restart at another time. Remember that growth is a spiral—what we don’t fully learn now will come back to us again when we are more receptive and the time is right.

Thank you so, so much for following this journey with me and letting me know each week what feelings or concepts resonated with you. Though the Artist’s Way recaps have ended, the newsletter lives on—I’m excited to welcome more unpredictability and variation in the posts I write, like the one-off posts I have been writing in between these weekly recaps (which have been so very fun to write)!

The week after the holidays

dealing with low/no motivation

Most of us are now back to reality, adopting our regular routines after the holiday and New Year frenzy. I genuinely hope you had a really nice time off (and that you did have some time off!) My two-week vacation felt both blissfully long and short, with many hours of rest and walks with loved ones and catching up with old friends. I was so paranoid about getting sick in the months leading up to vacation that I didn’t mind terribly that my body immediately crashed and stayed sick for most of the break; the rest was good for me.

Coming off a productive latter half of 2019, I definitely overestimated how much I would be able to work on personal projects and latent to-dos over break. There are the types of people who feel the compulsion to work on vacation; I am not that type of person. I now realize that my routine and atmosphere (the calm quiet of my apartment) are hugely important for me to find clarity and get things done. I need ample alone time, and I see that this need for quietness only grows as I get used to working from home and lean into the solitude. However I recognized that I am on vacation, I am meant to rest, I want to spend time with my parents as the days left to spend with them are finite. Work and purpose and vision and all these words I have clung onto as so important slip from my grasp.

Besides one day of skipping morning pages, I keep up with the ritual of journaling and meditating every morning despite doing it hours later than I’m used to. If anything I can be proud of myself for this, I think, that I am still showing up and grounding myself and connecting the person of the past to the person now. Though I have been back in New York for a few days now, back to my quiet apartment and normal routine, I feel severely disconnected with that person from two weeks ago who was harnessing her purposeful creative energy. All I want to do is huddle under blankets and cook warm soups and read really depressing books. And yet these are not “winter blues”; I am not sad. I am happy and have been laughing lots with the people I love and feel so much love and appreciation for my parents.

I have observed many times in my life that I will swing back and forth between moods and identities, and I will swing hard, under the ruse that my past selves don’t exist and I am completely reinvented. I feel this is well represented in this “stress signature” quiz I took a while ago (take it for yourself, it is enlightening!) As a reluctant sprinter I go go go, run my heart out and then collapse. I lean deeply into one identity and tire of it. I relentlessly chase answers to mind-draining questions on how to best make a life for myself without acknowledging any signs of tiredness and then my body responds for me: I am tired, I want rest. But I also fear rest, because I know how much I let rest take over me until I one day feel antsy again.

To you who might relate to this volatile swinging, or to you who can’t relate at all but is amused/interested, here is how I am navigating the lack of motivation this week:

  • I am refusing to lament or feel guilt about the type of person I am. In fact, isn’t it joyous that I can really relax and ignore work on vacation, that I can really rest when I am resting?

  • I am doing the bare minimum while my motivation comes back to me. Again this brings up feelings of guilt and pressure to hurry and achieve, but I try to recall past moments when I was really in my flow. I know I will get there again naturally. It does not help me to badger myself into doing things I don’t absolutely need to do. Instead I do a tiny task or two related to things I have been procrastinating and call that a success for today.

  • I am journaling consistently and reading old entries, notes, plans, and visions. As someone who is usually very future-oriented, it helps to take time for remembering and reflecting when I am in a different mood.

Week 11: out of the mind & into the body

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 recaps of past weeks here.

Happy new year! This recap of Week 11 is coming to you a week late—I’ve been in LA for the past week, enjoying the sun while also sleeping ten hours a night fighting off sickness.

This week Cameron identifies most blocked creatives as “cerebral beings.” We live in our heads, thinking of all the things we want to do but can’t, the things we want to do but don’t. To get from moving out of our heads and into a body of work, we must first move into our bodies.

Exercise teaches the rewards of process. It teaches the sense of satisfaction over small tasks well done… [it] is often the going that moves us from stagnation to inspiration, from problem to solution, from self-pity to self-respect.

I grew up barely moving my body beyond the requisite PE classes and a brief stint running short distance for track. Only after college did I start trying out different forms of movement, finding myself enjoying strength training and dancing and making exercise a regular practice. Truly I did not think I would reach a point where “working out” and “enjoy” could be found in the same sentence.

It’s hard to know how exercise can really make a difference in your mood and well-being until you’ve regularly made a habit of it. Even now, there will be days when I haven’t worked out in a week and when I move my body again, I’ll think “wow, I didn’t realize how much I needed that.”

While the word exercise is mostly associated with bodily exertion, one of its definitions is "the act of bringing into play or realizing in action." Isn’t this exactly what we are aiming for when we create?

Rubin Museum

For my artist date, I went to The Rubin in Chelsea after a workout class (ha!) and a quick dinner. I felt one of those “only in New York” moments, knowing that I had the time and access to go to a museum after work hours so late on a Wednesday. Unfortunately starting in 2020 the Rubin closes on Wednesdays and closes at 5 PM even on the weekends, so I suppose it was short-lived, like many things in NYC.

The Rubin mainly houses Himalayan art. Many Tibetan Buddhist artworks are on display, its various symbols and iconography mapped out and explained. Unlike Western art, Tibetan art serves as a tool for enlightenment rather than self-expression.

Another exhibit shows the life and career of Shahidul Alam, a Bangladeshi photographer and activist. When Alam was jailed in 2018 for publicly supporting student protests in favor of improved road safety, he was detained in a prison in Keraniganj. The offer to exhibit at the Rubin came to Alam while he was in jail, and his team mostly made preparations. There is a 3D model of the jail housed in the exhibit based on Alam’s memories, co-created with his niece Sofia Karim.

After browsing the exhibits I sat down to read the Rubin’s free publication, Spiral. Though there were many thought-provoking perspectives on their yearly theme of power and how it exists within and among us, I’ll end with my favorite here:

In a world in which everybody is now much more able to produce art, where everybody is a creator in some form, expressing themselves creatively in a variety of mediums, what implications does that have for the future of art? Does that have implications for who emerges to become a major artist when you don’t have the same gatekeeper model? How does art get democratized? Can more people break through? Do you get art that is, itself, more participatory? What would a world look like in which art is being produced collaboratively by many people? This is a form that we’re seeing appear now in different ways.

2019 in 12 quotes

because you don't need another year-end favorites list

It’s the time of year for all the 2019 recaps, whether it be through Instagram highlights or Spotify Wrapped or numerous year-end (or decade-end!) lists. My cultural consumption this year was in line with what I deem “millennial city dweller basic.” I loved Parasite and Normal People and How to Do Nothing and listened to lots of Ariana Grande.

In the spirit of sharing something more interesting, I thought I would cull my screenshots, Bear notes and Pocket highlights for the most memorable quotes I saved this year. If you are anything like me you read lots of stuff and save about a quarter of that stuff and then promptly forget all of that stuff (just like what Maria Popova mentions below. SHE SEES ME).

Here are the twelve most meaningful quotes I saved throughout the year:

Zenhabits on practicing non-judgment, saved January 1

“What I’ve noticed, when I experience anger, frustration, disappointment…is that I am judging my experiences (and others, and myself) based on whether they are what I want, whether they are good for me or not. But why am I at the center of the universe? What about the other person? What about the rest of the universe?”

Lan Samantha Chang on the writing life, saved January 7

“To quote Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler: ‘But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them. It’s hollow.’”

Wait But Why on religion for the non-religious, saved February 18

“Thinking about this level of reality is like looking at an amazing photo of the Grand Canyon; a Whoa moment is like being at the Grand Canyon—the two experiences are similar but somehow vastly different. Facts can be fascinating, but only in a Whoa moment does your brain actually wrap itself around true reality.”

Olivia Laing on art’s purpose, saved March 23

“Well, I don't think art is just about proving our existence! Art does so many things—it's a place for exploring feelings, for provoking thinking, for wrestling with difficult ideas, for creating beauty, for resolving aesthetic problems, for communicating things that might not be possible in ordinary spoken language.”

"Dependence" by Yanyi, saved March 26

“What I also mean to say is that I recognize the focus. The impulse to know someone else before you reveal yourself. The impulse to know someone else because you have never been asked to reveal yourself. The impulse to know someone else because otherwise, you do not know yourself. The impulse to know someone else because you are self-conscious of your whole self, the one that fills up too many rooms, so much space. The impulse to hide how much space you need. The impulse to hide what you need.”

Sandi Tan in The Creative Independent, saved April 8

I want everybody who watches the film to realize that you can be all your different selves. You don’t have to be like this grownup self versus the naïve, innocent self. It’s not that. They are all part of you still going forward. It’s up to you if you want to take these former selves with you on your journey.”

Lisa Olivera’s Instagram story, saved May 30

“How do I tell the difference between resting (self care) and just being lazy?

Ask yourself if you’re engaging in self care to rest or to avoid. If it’s to avoid (my reframe for laziness), what might you be avoiding and how can you get curious about that?”

The Life Coach School on self-confidence, saved August 28

“The last one people say is, ‘I don’t want much attention.’ You have to ask yourself ‘why?’ If you’re going to go out there and do amazing things in the world and make a contribution, people are going to notice that. Here’s what I’ve found. When you give yourself your own attention, other people’s attention is okay.

James Clear’s newsletter, saved September 19

“To improve, compare little things (marketing strategies, exercise technique, writing tactics). To be miserable, compare big things (career path, marriage, net worth).

Comparison is the thief of joy when applied broadly, but the teacher of skills when applied narrowly.

Maria Popova on meaning in a digital age, saved October 7

“The true material of knowledge is meaning. The meaningful is the opposite of the trivial, and the only thing that we should have gleaned by skimming and skipping forward is really trivia. The only way to glean knowledge is contemplation, and the road to that is time. There’s nothing else. It’s just time. There is no shortcut for the conquest of meaning. And ultimately, it is meaning that we seek to give to our lives.”

Zadie Smith on the theme of her writing, saved November 22

“Everybody’s born and everybody exists. But to be fully human takes a little bit of effort. I think my novels are about the challenge of actually being human and not avoiding the responsibility of being human, which is very heavy.”

Rumi on the spiritual realm, saved December 22

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.”

To briefly reflect on the above, this year I focused on slowing down, genuinely working and resting, creating space and time for my multiple selves, recognizing my ego and thinking outside of myself through spirituality and awe. Some of these areas I can see clear progress and for others very little, which is perfectly okay—growth is a spiral.

The end of the year is a great time to reflect on what you were maniacally Googling and reading throughout the year and distilling both what you have learned and what you can re-learn. If you’d like, browse your phone screenshots and article archives to think about what you were preoccupied with this year—let me know what you find!

Week 10: counteracting busyness by letting go

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 recaps of past weeks here.

What are the ways in which you block your own creative flow? There are lots of possible ways—food, alcohol, drugs, sex, media—but one of the most common blocks is busyness or workaholism.

I will admit it: I am addicted to being busy. Something about seeing a full calendar makes me feel important, special, even if last weekend I had three holiday parties in one day and I was disintegrating from the stress. Though I don’t think I am overworked at my day job, I have grown accustomed to juggling multiple side projects and responsibilities outside of work.

In creative recovery, it is far easier to get people to do the extra work of the morning pages than it is to get them to do the assigned play of an artist date. Play can make a workaholic very nervous. Fun is scary.

Cameron’s quote above describes how I’ve been feeling the past ten weeks. I was quite easily able to be a stickler about writing three morning pages every single day, yet many of the artist dates have been half-assed, a few twenty minutes snuck away here and there. It often felt like I was doing the date wrong, especially when I was alone. Fun feels scary because I think I will still be tested—that I will be required to gain some inspiration in some precise, measured way or that I need to gain some skill or feel x amount of joy.

My addiction to busyness is not a new realization. The biggest lesson I learned this year was that I cannot keep adding onto my plate without compromising on other things. For many years I have told myself I can simultaneously grow in all the different areas that I want to if I just learn the skill of balance; finally I am pressing the stop button, giving myself some relief from the pressure.

Letting Go

I announced this week that I will be stepping down from leading the Cosmos Book Club, a book club for Asian women that I created in 2018. I had made this decision a few months prior and have been working on the transition plan, throwing one last community event, and writing this article on our history and how you can start your own book club.

It feels very bittersweet and weird to quit something that, to be honest, fed my ego a lot and made me happy that I was bringing people together and inspiring conversation, but didn’t feel fully aligned with my purpose to help others overcome mental blocks and create meaningful work. Of course I couldn’t verbalize any of this until I had defined what my purpose was, so it just sat as a wishy-washy feeling percolating in my gut for over a year.

It’s funny, once you decide to let go of a responsibility, many other things will immediately swoop in to command your attention and time. Letting go of the book club itself does not solve my attachment to busyness; I am still admittedly too busy for my liking. But today I want to be proud that I lovingly said goodbye to something that I created and poured my energy into.

Making Gift Wrap

For my artist date this week, I went to a CreativeMornings field trip to make gift wrap paper for the holidays. The workshop was led by the artist Hayden Davis and we gathered in the CreativeMornings office space to cut potato stamps and use paint markers to decorate brown kraft paper. Potato stamps are so fun, I thought I was in kindergarten again! I also can’t remember the last time I wrapped a gift (lol) so it’s been special to be able to wrap my gifts this year with something handmade.

Discoveries of the week:

Learn how to take energizing breaks with the help of this work/break matrix.

100 books that defined the decade.

Loving these illustrations.

Yearly Compass, a free booklet to help you recap 2019 and plan for 2020.

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