2 years ago in August 2011, I stumbled across a book that changed my life.
Julia Cameron's, The Artist's Way, came into my life mysteriously. But not so mysteriously when I examined the details.
The Artist's Way is a phenomenal work-book that has influenced millions of people around the world helping them break out of their creative blocks and offers, a spiritual path to higher creativity.
It's beautiful red cover would catch my eye each time I found myself browsing in a book store. Yet, I never approached the book to see what mysteries reside inside it. However, it seemed as if each time I was in a bookstore, the mysterious red cover would appear in the corner of my curious eyes. As if, it were strategically placed on the bookshelf, facing outward and not tucked in, for me to see.
I felt very lost last year.
Though I had just graduated college that spring, I had a good part-time/sometimes full-time job, a nice home to live in without paying rent, great friends and family all safe and sound -- my support system was in place and running sufficiently. Yet, inside. deep inside. I felt a big void opening up and when I screamed into that void, my echo resounded back, "who are you?"
On August 23, 2011, I purchased The Artist's Way at my local Barnes and Noble and excitedly took it home to explore it's wonderful lessons. It was an answer to a silent prayer my heart was putting out, of which the words I could not hear.
When I began the 12-week Artist's Way program last year -- it was an eye-opener, to say the least. My life changed. My work ethic. My true self began to emerge. And I found myself dealing with a myriad of issues; some frightening, some illuminating. I discovered different facets of my personality, my self, my being. But that's all still an unchartered path I'm trotting along. I was filled with a sense of awe and shock. Surprised that there are others like me, battling creative scars and censors. We are all fighting a tough war against resistance. But I let my censors and resistance beat me down. I was a culprit of "high jumping" as Julia Cameron describes on p.29 in Protecting the Artist Child Within section. I took a "creative U-turn" -- which is what brings me back to The Artist's Way the second time around this month: November 2012.
I am not the same person that showed up the 1st time in August 2011, when I signed the initial Artist's Way contract (yes, you do sign a contract with yourself). I have come a long way in my creative endeavors since then. But I have deep rooted habits that keep sabotaging my creative efforts, and I wasn't aware of how serious they were the first time around. I let my perfectionist inside me beat me to near submission -- The last couple of days, weeks even, if I count subconscious thinking .... but how would I really know? I digress ---
Recently, off my high of wonder and amazement. I began to experience bouts of cynicism, doubt and jealousy. I caught myself and this behavior very quickly, but I was cynical of my own pursuit and endeavors, doubtful of my talent and my own strength and jealous of all those around me that I thought were "doing better." In other words, comparing myself to others - placing myself in an hierarchical chain of command, where I planted myself at the very bottom of that chain. Who's the best actress? I also began judging my peers, which I have never done before. I felt as if I could break any moment. That, the string would snap and out of such a little thin strand, would pour out a massive ocean of turbulent waves and storms.
I also found myself rejoicing in the fact that I am so good at my part-time job -- which I never particularly found that much enjoyment in -- Recently though, I felt really happy there. Because I felt confident in my work. My customer service skills are excellent, I am organized, good at sales, efficient, fast and a great asset to the company. In other words, where I lacked in my creative life, I made up for it at my part-time job. The comfort, the knowing, the knowledge gave me comfort. There is no fear in that department. There is no advancement (creative) either. It is a dead-end position, pertaining to what I want to pursue, that does not feed my creativity but only my pockets ... so that I can pay for my acting classes and other expenses. Yet, in the midst of my creative breakdown, suddenly, I loved my job. I loved seeing my neat handwriting on the files, I enjoyed profiling customer information into the online database. I enjoyed such menial tasks that no one would enjoy unless it were masking something more serious. Unless, it pointed to a denial I did not want to face, created a distraction to convince me that I cannot ever do anything and be great at it other than this. My censor got smarter, as I got smarter in my initial recovery. Like an addict, I had a relapse. And though I have not acted outwardly from this relapse, though I am sure thorough examination might prove otherwise. But for the most part, it has been a silent battle and a war within.
I was going through a head game so serious, I wanted to give up my creative pursuits. I wanted to give up acting. I even partially convinced myself that I didn't have a passion for it. Until I saw a production of "Doubt" by John Patrick Shanley, at T.Schreiber Studios (my current acting school). I've never read the play, seen the movie or any other productions. I was a new audience to this piece of art. How funny and ironic this was? As I was experiencing the greatest doubt, to date experienced y myself pertaining to my artistic pursuits, I found myself watching a play about doubt. Though the circumstances and the context were different, the theatrical piece reflected my inner self.
Sister Aloysius became my Censor or my Resistance (the term "censor" comes from The Artist's Way and the term "resistance" comes from another excellent, life changing book: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield-- I recommend it highly). To briefly define it: Censor and Resistance describe the negative force that keeps you away from your passions and your creative pursuits. They come up in many forms: the people around you, procrastination, fear, and doubt -- to name a few. Sister Aloysius was cunning and so certain of Father Flynn's sin, as certain as I was that I wasn't "equipped" to be an actor, whatever that means. I even tried to bargain it off to myself as a case of charity, "if I drop out of the race, I am letting someone else who is more deserving and who wants it more, get a better shot." I thought this.
Sister Aloysius represented that strong force within me that wanted the conviction. Wanted an "end all, be all" approach to the situation. I was ready to call it quits and crawl home to my comfort zone, where no creativity resides.
Father Flynn and Sister James -- as for them -- Father Flynn embodied or represented my creative self. Someone/something that was being attacked by a ruthless and cunning force. Forced to defend himself, backed up into a corner and later, forced to leave. Sister James represented all my doubts and uncertainty as to who I should believe. She represented my mind at night, laying in bed thinking and thinking .. trying to put together thoughts backed up by facts, measuring my success through other's achievements. Torturing myself with useless doubt, that at that point, I thought led me no where. But it led me here. It led me to this page with the fervent desire to write and express all this.
So, Father Flynn was forced to leave the school. No one knows the "truth" and I put that in quotation marks because its definition is quite subjective and shaky. Unlike Father Flynn, I did not have a choice to leave. I left my censors and resistance though, but they chase me everyday. I could not leave, as my analogy won't allow it, because I am one person that houses all these characteristics: conviction, doubt, uncertainty, defense.
I felt my doubt the strongest the last couple weeks. I felt the light within me at it's dimmest point. I sat in the audience and doubted each character's validity as I doubted my own. It was a tennis match occurring between my heart and head. Yet, art was unfolding before my very eyes. Beauty in human form and beauty I cannot describe because it could not be seen, but felt. In plain words, I believe I had my first cathartic experience. I've never yet been in a theater, or seen a show/play that left me so speechless, yet wanting to say so much. That invited me a glimpse into my own doubts and tribulations, that challenged me and coaxed me as an actor. I was so moved and so touched. I wanted to feel those words on my tongue, the beautiful language that is Shanley's. Watching the production of "Doubt" eased my own doubts. It brought me out of a dark void and into the light to assess the serious predicament of my soul. I don't write or say these things lightly. I was in agony. And it was because of that production, that the fire within me began to burn a little brighter. I was touched by a pure potential and creative spirit that saved me. All the actors on stage, the playwright, the director ... each one had a hand in everything I was feeling. I can't really explain it in a perfect way.
I realized that I was letting my doubts get the best of me. I doubted my own convictions and that led to my salvation. As Sister Aloysius cries out at the end of the play, "I have doubts. I have such doubts!" Even my doubts have doubts. Which brings me to an excellent quote from the playwright,
"Doubt requires more courage than conviction does -- and more energy; because conviction is a resting place and doubt is infinite -- it is a passionate exercise. You may come out of my play uncertain. You may want to be sure. Look down on that feeling. We've got to learn to live with a full measure of uncertainty. There is no last word. Thats the silence under the chatter of our time." -John Patrick Shanley
I walked out of the play wanting certainty, as I do many things in my life -- of which I contract so much anxiety from. I want certainty of my talent, where or not I'll be successful (however that is measured) and if my pursuits are worth it? And when I read this quote, I realized how badly I wanted conviction because "conviction is a resting place." Conviction is my comfort zone. That comfort zone became my part-time job, because I had the conviction that I was good at what I did there: sales, management, delivering the best customer service and my administrative duties. Yet, nothing that equals my happiness or my passion. That conviction only fed my ego: a place no creativity or pure potential resides. A place I do not want to rest for very long. And here I am, writing with a full measure of uncertainty still. Yet, I learned that it's okay. Because,
Here: there is energy.
Here: there is potential, growth, insight, creative development and lastly, illumination.
Here: it's a bit painful -- but lightning illuminates.
And lightning illuminates in sporadic flashes, only to hear the thunder later. In relation, I am seeing myself in these flashes that come about from my inner pain and longing and only later, do I hear the "thunder" -- or my words and thoughts reflecting on the matter. Only later, can I share my experiences as I am doing now.
The first time around, I went "too far, too fast" and I undid myself. I am back at creative recovery and this time, I want to take it slow. I wanted to be great, immediately great but that was a mistake because I fear I have injured myself greater. I abused my artist within. "Progress, not perfection is what we should be asking of ourselves." I am here to do just that. And I thank the day, Friday, October 26th that I was able to sit in a dark theater and watch a beautiful and sad world unfold before me, which led me to snap out of my hellish thoughts.
I am an artist.
I do not need superficial labels.
I am on a journey to recover myself from the wreckage and I'm walking away from a former self that fought the artistic ability within.
Today, I am really happy to have found the path again.
And I will take better care of myself and my artist child this time around.
Love, VanessaI am