I’ve been reading Martha Beck’s The Joy Diet, a self-help/Life Coachy recipe for uncovering and going after your Heart’s Desire. If you haven’t been in therapy for decades, and feel like there’s something missing or off in your life, this would be a decent place to start.
I started therapy when Ronald Reagan was President, so none of the material is new to me. Still, I like hearing things presented in a new way, especially when the author has heart and a sense of humor.
Take her chapter on Treats. These are the things/experiences we’re to reward ourselves for taking a risk toward that Heart’s Desire. Very Pavlovian. But Beck also wants her readers to give themselves at least two other Treats a day, just because folks generally don’t do that enough. I liked that.
And Beck’s definition of “Treat?” Anything that makes you feel like smiling. Since most of us are programmed to grimace automatically in public, she gives homework to help the chronically repressed find what actually warms their cockles. I like how she takes her readers by the hand, breaks each step to Nirvana into tiny, measurable actions instead of leaving them stranded in nebulous Woo-Woo Land. And I like how she compares us to pigs.
So some of these ideas percolated in my hind-brain as I played with my art journal this weekend. I worked on a cross-over spread, taking characters from a short story I’m writing and doing cool things with letters they’re writing to each other. I adapted a Dixie Chicks song that I love and made it my character’s. I treated pages from an antique, hand-written journal to use as their stationary. It thrilled me to come at these characters and their story from a different angle, and to make something so gorgeous.
But, when I tried to write my new lyrics on this scrumptious paper, no marker or pen I owned made a consistent mark. I worked for hours, going over the blotchy, ragged letters again and again. It still ended up looking like a serial killer’s tease for the FBI.
I stopped when my hand cramped too much to hold a pen, and I was willing to let it go. Some experiments don’t work. That’s why they’re called experiments.
But as Henry walked across my shins in bed this morning, I got one of those lightbulb ideas. The problem wasn’t with my pens, it was the paper. I’d made it too slick. How could I give it a little bite?
I jumped out of bed and went to work, mixing matte medium with a few drops of gesso, adding paint, then taking fresh pages out of the hand-written journal and applying this concoction with a roller and paper towels. I tested one corner with a gel pen before spraying the pages with fixative. It took the pen beautifully.
The whole process filled me with joy. Setting a problem aside, receiving the answer as I passed through the Creative Gold Mine between sleep and wakefulness, using media I didn’t own two months ago, and actually creating a thing the way I imagined it in my head.
When I finished the spread, I couldn’t stop grinning. Here was everything I loved—my writing, my art, my music, Richard Armitage. . . Layers of meaning overlapped like the layers of paper (I love a metaphor you can actually touch), and color fed some hungry animal inside me.
Probably a pig.