WEEK 2: RECOVERING A SENSE OF IDENTITY
It's hard enough for a person to let go of their OWN old habits...but what happens when others fight these changes too?
Self-attacks are common, recognizable, and very normal while recovering our creative selves. They're just another symptom. You know them well:
- "OK, I did well this week, but I'll never continue!"
- "Sure I got the morning pages done, but it WON'T last!"
- "I can't go slow...I MUST do something HUGE, and I MUST do it RIGHT NOW!"
And so on. By now we're familiar with the concept of self-sabotage. Giving in to these attacks allows us to remain stuck. We are relieved: we "know" the "reality" is that we're never going to change, so we surrender and stop moving forward. Whatever
"reasons" we have for it - from "I'm not really an artist" to "this will be great, but NOT RIGHT NOW!" - it's all just another way of saying the same old thing: I'm scared.
And, as if things weren't crazy enough, we get to fight OTHER people as well as ourselves. But don`t worry: recognizing the enemy without is a lot easier than figuring out the one within.
Now who would be so cruel, so awful, as to fight someone's creative recovery? Short answer: OTHER creative people who are NOT trying to recover.
An artist must feel secure. We saw that in Week 1. Part of that security is having safe companions: people who will encourage your work, your determination, and your results. It's not a difficult concept. But take someone who is blocked themselves and who see you recovering. How does this make them feel? Usually, they end up pretty much FREAKED OUT!
Think about it. Here I am, a person who knows (inside) that I'm a writer/actor/sculptor/painter. No, I'm not doing any of that right NOW, but I will someday. Um...I *think* I am...I mean, that doesn't sound too arrogant, right? That I think I'm an artist? I could paint something really pretty and...I mean, SOME DAY, not now. And maybe I could...er...give it as a gift? No, it won't be good enough right away, but maybe after YEARS and YEARS of hard work...
But what do I see here? A person who believes they're an artist, and who is - gasp! - DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT! Oh, no no no no! That's just stupid! Everyone knows that you have to suffer/starve/study for decades before you can even start to think of yourself that way. Right? Right?
Ever know someone who was drinking too much and decided to quit (or at least cut way down)? Notice how some people around them DIS-couraged this move. "Oh, your drinking is FINE! It's SOCIAL! Hey, I don't want to drink alone, have a few more!"
I know: it makes no sense. A recovering artist/alcoholic/addict would (you'd think) inspire admiration, not adversity. But whoever said people made sense? Fact is, blocked artist (or addicted) friends may well find your recovery disturbing, and may actively fight it. Why? Another easy one: BECAUSE IF YOU COULD DO IT, SO COULD THEY. That would require facing their own demons.
What could be scarier?
So they damn you with faint praise, or patronize you as "OK....for a beginner." And you fall for it, giving in to your own fears with the excuse that someone on the outside sees you for what you "really" are.
What THEY really are....are frightened idiots.
Be careful and safeguard that recovering artist in you. Facing the fears INSIDE is the hardest part; the badgering you get from the OUTSIDE voices only reinforce the inside ones. If I were to tell you, over and over and over, "you are a purple elephant," would you believe it? Of course not. At first you'd be amused....then annoyed....and eventually you'd want to shove socks down my throat. Big ones? Why? Because you know it's not true. It's ridiculous! You KNOW the truth!
Yeah. You do. It's not QUITE as ingrained as the fact that you are NOT a purple elephant, but the truth IS in you. Protect it. Nurture it. And let the poisonous playmates go and find other playmates. Maybe you can all get together at your first major show. You can give them a special discount....and you have my permission to be smug about it.
A word of warning: these early days need special protection. DON'T let people read your morning pages (not even YOU). DON'T go running to someone who doubts you with your very first sketch or painting or story, and wait with bated breath for their lavish praise. You won't get it. ALL change is scary. Why shouldn't YOUR changes be just as scary to them?
Oh, this is one of my absolute favourites! Bet you a giant chocolate chip cookie you know someone like this in your life.
Let's say you're trying to move ahead in something non-artist related. Maybe you decided to work from home as a party coordinator (or what have you). You have the ability, you have contacts, you're raring to go! You give out your cards and you get clients! YAY! Things are Going Forward.
Enter the Crazymaker.
He knows you have a Friday deadline, but calls you every day of the week "just to chat." These chats usually have a high degree of drama - "I swear I'll kill myself if she leaves me!" - and take forever. Gentle hints are pointless. "I have to get back to work now"; "I need to confirm the caterers"; "I need to.....". Oh, save your breath! Nothing short of a "GET LOST!" and a hangup will get rid of him. For a while, that is. I've never known a CM who stays away long.
Not that they're bad to have around. Charismatic, charming, inventive, and with powerful personalities, people are drawn to them. But there's a catch: YES they have the charisma, but they also have ZERO control. Lots of problems, no solutions. It's all (anyone who is NOT the CM)'s fault.
If you think a CM is a pain when you're starting a business ("but of COURSE you can take time out for a 3-hour coffee...you're your own boss!"), then brace yourself for their terrifying attack on your emerging creativity.
Thing is, it's awfully tempting to join them. TAKE those 3 hours, it's not like you have anything IMPORTANT to do. Not like you're actually (giggle giggle) an "artist". Oh, sure, take them along on your Artist Date. I mean, we all REALLY know that you're not worth it, so grab your CM friend and let her regale you about her latest Torrid Affair rather than spend time with your own (scared) self.
As a writer, I must admit I LOVE Crazymakers. After four decades of learning how to separate myself from them, I can now watch them with a dispassionate eye (yeah, 40 years, so don't even THINK of going there yet!). You want DRAMA? Try an Italian father who knows that Nothing Is His Fault and an Italian mother who KNOWS It's All Her Husband's Fault. When you get to the point where you can step back and look at them as spoiled brats, you have material for a dozen plays, a hundred short stories, and a couple of novels to boot.
Ah, but that takes time. And you HAVE time. Just spend it wisely: avoid these nutbars and focus on yourself.
But maybe you're confused about just what makes a Crazymaker. Here's a short list:
1. They break deals and destroy schedules. They're ridiculously early or too damned late; they change plans (and don't tell you of course), they book the campsite for an extra week (and expect you to pay...AND turn your schedule around....AND somehow make up for the lost week's work.)
2. They expect special treatment. They're awfully ill/anxious/chatty (especially if you have a deadline looming). They are experts at making you feel awful if you don't wait on them hand and foot. They refuse to realize that the present reality of "oh no how can I make her feel less lonely?" should change to "why the hell am I even here, and where's the phone to call a taxi HOME!?"
3. They discount your reality. This is a biggie.
Is your deadline important? Of course not. Is your work schedule one that needs to be adhered to in order to succeed? Hell NO! The only reality that matters is theirs. And BUT is their favourite word: *phone rings at midnight* "I know you said you have to be up at five to make that class, BUT ..." or "I know you said not to drop by unexpectedly, BUT..."
The rest of that sentence may as well be "but you don't matter, and I do."
4. They spend your time and money. Borrow the car (return it empty, late, and maybe damaged). Demand a ride to/from the airport....the laundromat....the dentist. Are you working? Oh, goody! Then you won't mind slipping away JUST for a minute, and.....
Yeah. YOUR minute. A minute that ends up hours long.
5. They triangulate those they deal with. Come on, admit it: you know this person (or maybe you have BEEN this person!). They have their nose in everyone's business but their own. They have to be the center of everything, so they "accidentally" spill something someone else said about you. Or they make it up out of thin air. These are the people who say "now, I'm not saying this is TRUE, mind you, but so-and-so said....." and "oh no don't ask ME to take sides!" Of course not: she's on nobody's side but her own, but if people catch on to that she'll lose whatever power - real or imagined - she may have.
6. They are expert blamers. Here's a great example: "If you hadn't cashed that cheque it never would have bounced!" 'Nuff said.
7. They create dramas (but seldom where they belong). Whatever you are involved in becomes trivial compared to the CM's life. Your husband is in a car crash and seriously hurt. You call the CM to say you will NOT be meeting them for coffee (considerate of you indeed!). After a quick "oh, he'll be OKAY" comes the "now that you're on the phone...I know you feel you need to hurry BUT it'll only take a MINUTE....you see, I've been thinking of taking this new course, and I'm SO WORRIED about it.....I think I'm having a heart attack right now...or a panic attack...oh, I read somewhere that panic attacks can cause a heart attack...."
8. They simply HATE schedules (except their own). Time (others' time) is to be abused. Do you set your AD in stone? Then he'll appear on your doorstep with two ice cream bars and a chipper "let's be kids TOGETHER!" (clever SOB, ain't he?). You have an appointment to show your sketches to a perspective client and the CM promised to babysit? Chances are excellent that a sudden migraine/allergy attack/pocket earthquake will make that "simply NOT possible right now, my dear!"
9. They hate order. As you go along, you will establish your Place. This Place serves you and your creativity. It may be a desk, a room, a corner of the kitchen table....but whatever it is, the CW will have everything from laundry to junk mail on it. And if you have particular tools, just WATCH that lovely box of conte turn into broken sticks . "It's your own fault, I needed to write down this phone message and they were right THERE, how should I KNOW that they're not to be used for anything but your fancy-schmancy DRAWING thingy!" (Gee, maybe the fact THAT YOU TOLD HIM NOT TO TOUCH YOUR DAMNED ART MATERIALS ABOUT A THOUSAND TIMES might have a little something to do with it, hmmmm?)
10. THEY DENY THEY ARE CRAZYMAKERS. "I am not what's making you crazy. It's because YOU...(fill in stupid excuse blaming yourself here)."
Ok, so it's clear they're trouble. WHY THE HELL DO WE PUT UP WITH THEM?
You're not going to like the answer.
You really won't.
Ok. I warned you.
It is because WE are that crazy. And WE are that self-destructive.
As blocked creatives, we are willing to go to almost any lengths to remain blocked. As nuts as life with a CM is, we find it far less threatening than the challenge of a creative life of our own. There is a fear, sometimes deep sometimes not, that if we allow ourselves to unblock our creativity, we will abuse those around us...just like a CM. This fear because a big, strong excuse to run and hide.
Are you involved with a CM? Then admit it. Admit you're being used. Admit you are using the abuser as an excuse. Then stop dancing this destructive pas-de-deux. It's called CODEPENENCY, folks. That word alone should mean a lot to you. If it doesn't, pick up some Al-Anon literature or Google the term.
It takes two.
Your task: go from "he's driving me nuts!" to "I'm letting him keep me from something I need to do for myself....hmmm...what IS that something?"
We've covered this over and over since day one. So I'm just going to do a short mention here.
The two words that can destroy an artist are: "so what?"
"I finished writing a novel!" (So what, it'll never sell, it's bad, you're stupid for trying.) "I have my own show coming up - all my own photos!" (So what, no one will buy anything, and they'll all see you have a lousy eye.)
"So what? After all, the the work that you're doing NOW, TODAY, THIS VERY MINUTE YOU ARE READING THESE WORDS is...
A waste of time.
Not up to a "real" artist's standards."
So you did this work? So what?
But words that are weapons AGAINST you can also be turned to work FOR you. I choose to turn those words around. The work I'm doing is not up to professional standards? SO WHAT?! I LIKE it! It's better than I did last week, and next week I'll do even BETTER. And if I don't improve that fast? SO WHAT!? I'll improve ANYWAY!
Keep moving steadily, keep progressing. That "so what" will turn into your TRIUMPH, not your torment.
There is an old (is there ever any other kind?) Buddhist story:
A young monk goes to the Master. "Master," he says, "Please teach me the way to live a full life." The master takes a brush and paper, and writes one word: "Attention."
"Master? I don't understand!" says the monk.
The master writes again: Attention, Attention. Again the monk is at a loss.
The Master finally writes in a flurry "Attention! Attention! Attention means ATTENTION!"
Yes, it does. Attention means sanity. And sanity is part of healing.
Have you ever stopped and paid attention? Or have you let the outside world fly by in a blur? Stop reading right now. Stop and hear, smell, taste, and see.
Me? I feel my hair tickle my neck, feel the elastic pulling my braid a little to the left. Feel the heat from this south-facing window. Notice the cacti are looking greener, the birch growing outside my window has started to turn golden and lose leaves. WOW my ficus religiousa has come back nicely. If that cat doesn't stop nibbling my dracinea, he's going to lose a life or six. My breath is a little constricted; I'll need my aspirator soon. That must mean dust and pollen outside....yes, I hear the wind now. That smell? It smells like fresh snap peas, the kind you eat jacket and all. That woodpecker is back, and so is that yellow-breasted flicker. Shannon's grandkids are hollering, they must be there for the week. Oops sounds like World War 3 going on over there - toddlers VS baby. Another breeze...ACHOO! Oh! *sniffle* That's not snap-peas, that's honeysuckle. I forgot, it should be in bloom right about now....
All that in just a moment. And you thought I was sitting here typing.
Someone - I *think* it was Voltaire, but don't quote me - said the way to a good life was easy: "Externalize! Externalize!" Look outside yourself. Distract your inner critic with the outside world. Tune out your mental bellowing about how rotten you are by putting all your attention to something outside yourself.
This is more than just good mental health. Just WHERE do you think the material for your work COMES from? It's not from Ye Olde Ideas Shoppe down the road. It's the life and the world around you. You are connected to that world - ALL OF IT - and it is by your attention that you both maintain that connection and enrich it.
We may well be, as Rilke says, "unutterably alone." But by turning our huddled pain into outward attention, we defy that alone-ness. Pay attention to all life - from folks to cats to bugs. To all colour. To all smells, sights, textures, tastes. Look into concentrated forms of attention, like Miksang Photography (I give you a link at the bottom of this piece: explore from there if you wish.) Perform that always-lovely (and usually astonishing) meditation of eating an orange WITH FULL ATTENTION. (A marvelous demonstration of this is found in the film "Zen Noir", which I can't recommend strongly enough; it is an ode to Attention.)
There are a thousand worlds out there. Go find them all.
If you have TAW book, read this section over a few times. Julia writes a great deal more about pain. I've chosen to put more of my own life and observances into this section rather than just paraphrase her. You might say....we have each put out attention in a slightly different place.
1. Affirmative reading. Every day, morning and night, get quiet and focused and read the Basic Principles. Be aware of any shifts in your attutude over time. These principles (verbatim from TAW) are:
Rules of the Road
In order to be an artist, I must:
1. Show up at the page. Use the page to rest, to dream, to try.
2. Fill the well by caring for my artist.
3. Set small and gentle goals and meet them.
4. Pray for guidance, courage, and humility.
5. Remember that it is far harder and more painful to be a blocked artist than it is to do the work.
6. Be alert, always, for the presence of the Great Creator leading and helping my artist.
7. Choose companions who encourage me to do the work, not just talk about doing the work or why I am not doing the work.
8. Remember that the Great Creator loves creativity.
9. Remember that it is my job to do the work, not judge the work.
10. Place this sign in my workplace: Great Creator, I will take care of the quantity. You take care of the quality.
2. Where does your time go? List your five major activities this week. How much time went to each? Which were "wanna", which were "should"? How long did you help others? How long did you ignore your own wants and desires?
Make a circle on a sheet of paper. In the circle, list the things you need to protect. Also place names of supportive people. Outside it, put the people you need to watch out for right now. Add names and comments as appropriate ("Kathy always talks a blue streak; only call when I have lots of time to chat."; "Aunt Ann always puts down Mom; I don't need the hassle.")
3. List 20 things you enjoy doing. When was the last time you did each? Place the date next to each entry. Yes, even if it's been years. In fact, it's USUALLY years! This list is a great resource for Artist Dates.
4. From the list in #3, write down 2 things you have avoided and make them this week's goal. SMALL goals, if you please! Do you love stained glass? Well don't go and decide to make a cathedral window just yet. Make the goal - for example - drop an email to Spectrum and Bullseye (glass companies) and get their latest pamphlets. Or go to a materials shop and buy a small piece of RED glass (red glass is made with gold dust, so it's expensive and often hard to find). Or...well, you get the idea.
5. Look back to Week 1. Read the affirmations. Which ones cause the most reaction in you? The strongest resistance? Choose 3 affirmations, and write them five times each as part of your morning pages (there, you have 1/2 page done already!).
6. Look at last week's Imaginary Lives. Add five more. Check and see if you could do bits of these lives now. I want to be a Buddhist nun, so I'm going on a 2-day retreat. I want to be a cowgirl, so I'm going horseback riding for an hour. And so on.
7. Life Pie. Draw a circle. Divide into six pie-cuts. Label them: Spirituality, Exercise, Play, Adventure, Work, Friends, Romance/Adventure. Put a dot on each piece to show how satisfied you are with each. Think of it as a reverse bullseye: a dot near the center means "pretty lousy", while one near the edge means "really happy with it." Connect the dots. This shows where you're lopsided.
Early on, this picture is more tarantula than mandala. Give it time. Perhaps use a different colour and re-do this each week.
8. Ten Tiny Changes. From the small to the huge (or vice versa), list ten changes you'd like to make for yourself. Start each with:
I would like to _____________________
I would like to _____________________
As we write the Morning Pages, we move more and more into the present, more into the land of Attention. Small shifts lead to larger ones.
9. Select 1 small item. Make it a goal for this week.
10. Do that item.
1. How many days did you do MP this week? 7 would be great. How's that experience going for you?
2. Did you do your Artist Date this week? What did you do? Did you enjoy it?
3. Did anything else really awesome happen? Did you suddenly have an "I GET IT NOW!!!" moment? Did you end up backtracking a little? How did it go?
AN INTRODUCTION TO MIKSANG PHTOGRAPHYwww.youtube.com/watch?v=wG4ZuRYBBkQ