Week 7: Compassion and Keychains

Quick Recap: I’m getting through Quarantine 2020 by doing the 12-week creativity recovery challenge in the book, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

Chapter Seven: Recovering a Sense of Connection

“We turn this week to the practice of right attitudes for creativity. The emphasis is on your receptive as well as active skills. The essays, exercises, and tasks aim at excavating areas of genuine creative interest as you connect with your personal dreams.”

A few sections in Chapter Seven that stood out to me this week and helped me grow creatively:

The section on listening: Instead of thinking something up or coming up with something, she suggests thinking about it as coming down, as if from a divine creative source. In the last two weeks, it has come hard and down clear that we as non-black Americans haven’t listened to the black community. Stella Terrill Mann says: “Listening is a form of accepting.” In this section, Cameron is talking about listening to divine inspiration and letting yourself be used creatively, and I think it applies. “We can learn not only to listen but also to hear with increasing accuracy that inspired, intuitive voice that says, “Do this, try this, say this…” The black community needs us to not only listen, but to act.

The section on perfectionism: This topic always hits hard for me, but I have been working on it the past few years. “Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move ahead…Instead of creating freely and allowing errors to reveal themselves later as insights, we often get mired in getting the details right. We correct our originality into a uniformity [blech] that lacks passion and spontaneity.” (emphasis mine).

This challenge has changed the way I attempt to write a first draft. Now, whenever I find myself wanting to go back and fix a chapter I’ve written, I don’t let myself. I just move on to the next chapter. The goal right now is to get it finished, and next goal will be to go back and fix it. It does NOT need to be anywhere close to perfect right now, especially since I don’t know exactly how it will end. “That is a normal part of creativity—letting go. We always do the best we can by the light we have to see by.”

The section on risk: In the last few years, I have worked hard and trained myself to be highly risk tolerant. It is coming in handy with my goals right now. By constantly trying new, uncomfortable things, I have accepted the possibility that even though I might not be incredible at something on the first try, it is still worth the risk. What if I love it? What if I found something I’ve been missing because I was too scared to try? And if I don’t love it, at least now I know and I’ve learned something.

And an added bonus: I am always doing something interesting and have things to talk about. Talking about something you’ve already done is less interesting then talking about what you are currently doing. It has more life and energy.

I have this quote by Ben Franklin posted on the wall in front of my face right now: “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”

Since “do[ing] something worth writing” about is severely limited right now because of the pandemic (Philadelphia slowly re-opened this week, but the virus is still at large with no vaccine), I have chosen now as the time to “write something worth reading.” However, doing so is particularly tough in this season since I tend to look forward to playing during summer break and taking it easy.

Thanks to another sticky note on my wall that says: “Creativity lives in paradox: serious art is born from serious play,” I have reframed my ideas about taking a break and playing in the summer (lazy days with drinking with friends, playing with the kids, and spontaneous beach trips). Writing isn’t work, it’s my true form of play, and I will make it my priority this summer. Every thing else is a bonus.

And lastly, one of this week’s daily tasks was to make this phrase a mantra: Treating myself like a precious object will make me strong.

I tend to think that being hard on myself will make me stronger—the Artist’s Way Challenge has shown me that I am the hardest on myself—so I am also going to reframe how I treat myself. I bought this book by Kristen Neff, Ph.D, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind To Yourself, to give me tools on how to treat myself better.

Neff helped me realize how much unnecessary suffering I experience by continuing to be hard on myself. She talks about how we all experience pain, which is unfortunately unavoidable, but the suffering that comes from our pain can be lessened. I have a lot to learn, and am already putting into practice Neff’s advice and tips, especially the parts on how to talk to yourself when experiencing hardship.

This week, I:

  • Did the morning pages every day and after eight weeks of this, I recognized a pattern: the word “grumpy” shows up in the first few sentences every day during the weeks I am hormonal. Heh.
  • Spent on average 3.5 hours a day writing and working. This week’s hours were lessened (significantly lower than my rise to 5-6 hours two weeks ago) as I tried to practice treating myself like a precious object. Some days were tough as I didn’t want to write at all, but I did the work anyway.
  • Finished chapters 9, 10, and almost 11 of my WIP.
  • Realized I might be finished my first draft in July. And did a little dance.
  • Submitted my writing for the first time to a short story contest! Did another little dance.
  • Did a character study for my main character for my WIP.
  • Artist Date: Fixed my brakes and took an hour long bike ride, going further than just the safety of my neighborhood.
  • Took an hour long walk, and wasn’t mad that I got rained on the last five minutes.
  • Had Zebra cakes and a White Claw or two almost every night. This is a treat for me as I don’t usually eat sugar nor drink by myself. I also bought myself a keychain of a Bermuda Moped (scooter), similar to my favorite one I had as a kid.