Week 10: Books, Bottom Lines, and Spiked Lemonade

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 10: Recovering a Sense of Self-Protection

“This week we explore the perils that can ambush us on our creative path. Because creativity is a spiritual issue, many of the perils are spiritual perils. In the essays, tasks, and exercises of this week, we search out the toxic patterns we cling to that block our creative flow.”

Get ready for this recap, ya’ll. Grab a drink, pack some snacks, and make sure you’re comfortable, because I’ve worked some things out this week, and I’m bringing you along for the ride.

“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… Fun leads to creativity. It leads to rebellion. It leads to feeling our own power, and that is scary.”

Julia is totally spot on! I’ve had no problems with the Morning Pages, and even crave them sometimes. But the artist date? Not a priority. I don’t even know what to schedule, and even if I did, when and how would I get the time? Quarantine has made this assignment more difficult, but I think if I can work through it while it’s the toughest, it will only be easier later once the pandemic is over.

One of the main sections in this chapter is Workaholism, which I immediately resisted and discounted, as I didn’t think it applied to me. I don’t have a 9 to 5 job, where bosses, clients and employees are dependent on me. However, in “The Workaholism Quiz” the item I connected with the most was, “#18: I allow myself down time to do nothing; seldom, often, never?”

My answer of “seldom to never” brought on the revelation that I do have a job with people who depend on me, and where things could get tough if I didn’t show up.

“If you really have no time, you need to make some room. It is more likely, however, that you have the time and are misspending it.”

Damn, Julia. Harsh! She’s right again, of course. Thanks to this quarantine, I’ve been struggling to get my needs met. This need to be alone has roared its ugly head and sharp teeth in the past few weeks as the pandemic teased us with its descending numbers, only to climb again. It has made me irritable, finding fault with everyone and everything, most often with myself. And that is unacceptable. I am awesome.

So why couldn’t I read the 85+ words of my morning page task I was assigned to the week before? Why couldn’t I work on my book and organize my twisty plot of Act III? Why couldn’t I just sit at my desk and write without searching the internet for beach hotels and homes for sale?

Because Julia is right. My job is in the home, and not being able to leave “work,”now, I have no relief from it. I can’t shut the door on it the way people can walk out of an office building, transitioning into their family or social life. My usual respite is travel. I can “hang in there” because I know I’ll be able to enjoy living in a hotel for a short while, with enough distractions to keep me from thinking about the never-ending needs of a family and its home. How the siding and fence need fixing, the rooms need to be cleaned, and the uniforms need to be washed. Light bulbs need to be replaced, the refrigerator smells, who is going to take the dog out, what about dinner, appointments need to be made, and when was the last bath time? Where are the summer clothes? Which shoes don’t fit and where are they?

As desperation set in early this week, instead of waiting for my busy husband to send a text message to his parents (the only people my husband is comfortable interacting with during this quarantine), I did it myself, and asked if the kids could sleep over.

I got the space I so desperately needed and felt like I could put my Hulk away, returning back to Bruce Banner. I dove deep and finally read the first eight weeks of Morning Pages a week late. I noted all the times I mentioned the words “escape”, “trapped”, “stuck”, and “bored.” (A lot.) Every time I started a sentence with the word “Maybe,” it was immediately followed by an action I should take (which I found I usually acted on a few weeks later): Maybe I should try a new place to bike ride, maybe I should put boundaries around conversations, maybe I should let go of a certain relationship, maybe I need to practice writing certain scenes, maybe I should just book a room in Cape May, and maybe I should just keep writing.

“To write is to right things. Sooner or later—always later than we like—our pages will bring things right. A path will emerge. An insight will be a landmark that shows the way out of the wilderness.”

It was clear that I was in desperate need of getting away, creating space and finding alone time. I needed room in order to manage not only my life, but the complexity of holding and organizing an entire book’s plot and story line in my head, and to get it all out onto paper in a way that makes sense.

While the kids were at Grandma’s, I booked a short beach trip for that weekend, and it was perfect. We managed maintaining our distance from the crowds by adjusting our schedule. We walked on the empty beach at 7am and found all sorts of amazing treasures like seashells, horseshoe crabs, and giant jellyfish.

After enjoying alone time and quelling my adventure monster, I sat down at my desk a few days later, and had finally created enough space to be able to focus! I re-plotted Act III, giving me more direction and confidence in order to finish writing the last part of the book. I was so excited, and felt so validated after getting my needs met, that it made me cry when I shared the news with my husband.

I rediscovered this quote from “Girl, Wash Your Face,” by Rachel Hollis I read a few years ago, and wrote it in Sharpie on my wall later that morning:

“You’re allowed to want to be your best self, to pursue your dream, even if they don’t understand it. You’re allowed to push for something more, even if they don’t like it. You’re allowed to take time away from your kids, even if it’s an inconvenience to the person who has to watch them. You’re allowed to do something, even if it makes your partner uncomfortable. You’re allowed to tell people who you are and what you need instead of first asking if they’re all right with it. You’re allowed to simply exist without permissions or opinions or qualifiers. Grown-up women don’t ask permission.”

One of the tasks at the end of Chapter Ten is to set five “Bottom Lines” for yourself. It’s basically a gentler way of saying, “Set some rules and boundaries for your workaholic self, damn it,” in order to allow space for your creativity.

I actually made six Bottom Lines for myself during this Quarantine (or until the kids go back to school):

  1. Write from 6am to 10am every morning. This is nonnegotiable. It means saying no to anything else that pops up: email, exercise, kids, appointments, anything…no matter how appealing or fun. I have the rest of the day to do those things.
  2. I will not tolerate a week without at least a day to myself. Anything less is unacceptable.
  3. I will not stay up late. I need rest to be able to show up and work in the morning. I can find other ways to connect with my husband and friends.
  4. I will ask the Divine Creator for help.  I will trust that she will take care of the things I have no control over and the things I feel like can’t manage without me.
  5. I will take a walk, bike ride, or mediate every day. Through this challenge, I’ve learned that these activities create space in my head when I can’t get alone time.
  6. I will reward and treat myself weekly, if not daily. I will be compassionate. I’ll celebrate large and small victories, or just celebrate me. I will allow my artist child her desire to restart her keychain collection, to climb trees and lie under them in the grass, to dress up, and to sing at the top of her lungs in the car. I’ll buy her Zebra cakes and rainbow popsicles, let her wear the crazy earrings, and the red rain boots she loves. We’ll both enjoy getting lost in a YA fantasy book, riding bikes, going for walks, pirate video games, and playing with the kids.

____

This week, I:

  • Did my Morning Pages every day…even at the beach! My artist date was picking tiny tumbled rocks at Higbee beach (Cape May diamonds!) to put in a glass jar on my desk.
  • I read my weeks 1-8 Morning Pages and learned a lot about myself.
  • Found treasures at the beach with my kids and felt that chest-exploding happiness.
  • My husband’s sweet gift of a new, fancy office chair arrived this week. (He thought my old one was garbage and would injure my back). It’s great!
  • Rode bikes with a friend and then got lunch and drinks afterward at the Vault in Yardley, PA. Their homemade spiked lemonade is the perfect amount of tangy sweetness. Delicious!
  • Went to the bookstore for the first time in months. It was glorious. I bought all the books. All of them. This type clutter surrounding me at my desk is bringing me joy. Yesssss!
  • I brainstormed and outlined Act III of my WIP.
  • I rewrote Chapter 13, and some of 14.

 

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