My Brain Hurts!

“What ‘real artists’ have is courage.  Not enormous gobs of it.  Just enough for today.  Creativity, like breathing, always comes down to the question, “Are you doing it now?”  The awful truth is that there is always one small creative act for which we can find the courage.  As with housework, there is always something, and all the little somethings add up, over time, to a flow.  Courage, after all is a matter of heart, and hearts do their work one beat at a time.” — Julia Cameron in The Vein of Gold: A Journey to Your Creative Heart

Blogging is so incestuous.  I read David Kanigan’s post from Monday, and knew I had something to say about courage, comfort zones and whacking the scales off our sclerotic dendrites.  At least I thought I did.  Or I wanted to think about those things.  Or my ego wanted to jump up and down screaming about them.  In public.

Monster

I feel pretty brave.  Except when I don’t.  Driving out to Artfest in Washington this spring didn’t feel particularly brave.  Except when I got home and spent the next two months rapid cycling and ducking from my brain’s suicidal dodge balls.  Latching onto art journaling to keep from getting hammered by red rubber didn’t seem brave, just a case of self defense.  It never occurred to me that drawing and painting when I used to be too scared to do either might be stripping some of the plaque off my craft.

What really felt brave was buying The Hollow Crown and sitting down to over eight hours of Shakespeare.  It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so dumb.  I listened to the pretty words, knew they were an old form of English, but couldn’t translate them.  I could feel my brain straining, flabby gray-matter-muscles forced to climb a junior high fitness test rope.

Oh, but, the music of the language!  That was the liniment for my bruised brain.  Plus, Great Performances emptied out The Royal Shakespearian Theater to cast these four plays, so all the British actors I adore speak this unintelligible music.

Whose Superpower is Britishness

I take comfort that I’ve never read Richard II, Henry IV (either Part One or Part Two) or Henry V.  I have no bits of them embedded in my hind brain next to the passages of Romeo and Juliet Mrs. Christensen made us memorize in ninth grade.

And, yet, it feels brave to be dumb, to be a Monty Python Gumby shouting, “My brain hurts!”

Sometimes, being brave means finding the right anesthesia.  Sometimes it’s embracing my full-out Gumby-ness.  Either way, my art benefits.

And now for something completely different.

Sacrilegious

handmade greeting cards, collage artI did something this morning I’ve never done in my life—I threw a book in the trash.  And it was by an author I adore.

I can just hear the Fires of Hell stoking up like a wheezy old furnace.  I’m headed there.  I know it.

Julia Cameron saved my life back in 2008.  I started writing Morning Pages as outlined in The Artists’ Way—three hand-written pages every morning to start scraping the scum off the surface of my mental pond.  My creativity was in a coma after ECT and the collapse of my previous life.  Julia’s humor and gentle guidance brought it back to the surface.

From her other books, I knew she was a recovering alcoholic and lived a 12-Step program, that her relationship with God was deep and meaningful.  So, when I found her book on God, I was thrilled.

Now, God is a touchy subject.  For some, even the word “God” sets off a whole cascade of resistance, prejudice, and fixed notions.  There’s a right way and a wrong way to God, according to most, and folks are eager to show you their road map.  I’m an “All Paths Lead to God” kind of traveller, and my atlas is huge and dog-eared.  I happen to have my own beliefs, but I love hearing what other people find comforting and useful.  I’m the only person I know who actually invites Jehovah’s Witnesses in for a chat.  Who knows what lovely bit of God might trail in on their shoes?

In God is Not A Laughing Matter, Julia Cameron presented her own path to God through writing, walking and opening to the wonder of nature, which are beautiful and full of poetry.  Again, she led readers into an exploration of their own relationship with God through journal questions and proposed activities.  I was lulled as I always am by her words.  So, my shock was profound when she ridiculed the practices that are most meaningful in my life—meditation and a vegan diet.

My Julia?  Intolerant?  It didn’t seem possible.  But with each chapter, her scorn got a little sharper.  The very thing she was preaching against—Spiritual Bullying—seemed to be happening right there on the page.

I shut the book before I let it spoil my relationship with her.  She helped me remember who I am as a writer and artist.  I took courage and strength from her books.  I won’t let the fear and misunderstanding I just witnessed ruin that for me.

Obviously, Julia hasn’t met the right meditating vegan yet.  We’re not all rabid proselytizers and spaced-out stick-eaters.  I like to think that if I rang her doorbell, she might invite me in.  I like to think she’d see that I might have a bit of God stuck to my shoe, too.

So, okay, maybe the book doesn’t belong in the trash.  Maybe I’ll just think of it as unfinished.  She’ll write Part Two after we have coffee.  And maybe take a walk out into the desert.  That’s one path we have in common, and I’m sure we’d find an atlas-full of more.

Bipolar Bad-Ass Training, Revised—Part 2

The area I revised most in my Bipolar Bad-Ass Training after reading Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, was in Securing Down Time.  Rubin’s book showed me there’s lots more I might be doing to Fill My Well between battles.

I always loved the idea of Artists’ Dates, a practice Julia Cameron promotes as part of The Artists’ Way.  It’s a date with yourself, taken alone, to indulge your artistic and playful side.  It might be a trip to the zoo, if you love animals, or a stroll through a beautiful garden, or wandering through a toy store to find a box of 64 crayons just like the one you had when you were eight years old.

I’d gotten out of the habit of taking an Artist Date, and my playtime had gotten noticeably grim.  I go to movies, but only if I can smuggle in a can of pop from home to save money.  I go to Barnes and Noble, but only to read the art and crafting magazines, never to buy one.  My life has become governed by my checking account balance.

So, I’m determined to find new ways to tickle my fancy and get the creative juices flowing.  One thing I want to do is read more poetry.  I love poetry, but have never sought it out.  This weekend I checked out a collection by Mary Oliver.  It’s breathtaking and sumptuous.  Why didn’t I think of this before?

Another quest is to read more children’s literature.  Since reading is difficult for me, Kidlit ought to be a bit easier and, therefore, more enjoyable.  I’ve started a list to take with me to the library—The Golden Compass and books by Elizabeth Enright and E.L. Konisberg.  I’m actually looking forward to reading these books instead of dreading a task that’s “good for me.”

As a person of bipolar persuasion, cheerfulness can be suspect.  Glee is just downright symptomatic.  So, I’ve grown accustom to tamping down any giddiness just as I’ve learned to throw a net under feelings of melancholy and pensiveness.  The result is that I don’t foster cheerfulness, which is just not a way I want to live.  I want to laugh more, even if its only between episodes.  So, I need to hit websites like I Can Has Cheeseburgers and hang out more with my friends Matt and Jeff—sure-fire ways to laugh until I choke.  I need to celebrate my good days between episodes, share them, revel in them, create some kind of goofy tradition to mark those too-few moments.  I’m still noodling on that one.

Another thing that Fills My Well is being outdoors, but I hardly spend any time there at all.  I used to take walks in the old town cemetery and drive out to the corn and bean fields around town, but haven’t in a long time.  This past Labor Day I went to a big park and ate lunch in the sunshine.  I knew it was good for me, but I was depressed at the time and only felt lonely, which soured me on trying again.  I need to find new places outside to claim as my own, maybe places where I can sketch, or take walks—something.

What Fills Your Well will be different from what fills mine.  I hope you take a moment today to consider what would trip your trigger.  What kinds of things did you like when you were a kid?  What did you love to do?  Could you try those things on again?  Are there things you’d like to try if only…?  What’s stopping you?  And if the answer to that is being bipolar or in other ways challenged with mental illness, think again.  It might not be the barrier you think it is.  It might be something you can hop over on your way to glee.

Learning Curve

So, I ‘ve been fiddling with my new computer for a couple of days, trying to get used to a”Trackpad” instead of a Mouse (swiping and pinching and flinging like a sorceress), all the changes and improvements in the programs I like to use, and the astounding advancements in technology since I got my previous computer six years ago.  Six years seem like a pittance of time, but in techno-speak its millennia.  That’s always bothered me.  I want to buy a tool and use it for 35 years, not have it go obsolete by the time I get out of the shower.  It feels like a scam to me, how new computers won’t support old software, but that’s the game.  And if you want to play, thems  the rules.

It is exciting to learn this new stuff.  Good for my brain.  Good for my sense of accomplishment and growth.  Yesterday, when I got stuck on how to set up a spreadsheet, I called support services.  Even they didn’t know how to answer my question, but together we dinked around until I stumbled across a partial solution.  I was thrilled to have figured this out and even more thrilled to beat the teenager on the other end of the phone.  Perverse, yes, but we must claim these little victories of middle age whenever they occur!  Once I got off the phone, I found an on-line help source that gave me step-by-step instructions on how to fix my problem.  Even then, the answers weren’t complete, but I figured it out. Success!  Mastery!  Happy Dance!

This all ties in with the notes I’m taking on Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project.  I’m finding her approach is part Bipolar Bad-Ass Training, part Julia Cameron’s The Artists’ Way, and part a 30-something New Yorker’s way of growing the hell up. Her whining does get tiresome.  Here’s a woman with a loving husband; two beautiful, healthy kids; doing work she loves; living in a lovely home with family and friends all around.  Plus she has plenty of money and is in wonderful physical and mental health.  What in Gods Name can she possibly tell me about getting happy?  It tickles me that she’s just discovering how to live in the Now and that nagging her husband is a counterproductive activity.  But, I find myself rooting for her when she manages to sing her daughters awake in the morning instead of carping about the mess they made the night before.  And I relate to her constant push to be productive and efficient, even though that mindset is a trap.

I’m learning a lot and incorporating it into my Bipolar Bad-Ass Training.  It’s becoming more a way to live life instead of living crazy.  When I’m done percolating, I’ll serve up a cup.

Dreaming

≈ ≈ ≈

As I start to allow myself to dream, I find I’m flailing.  My subconscious feels like it’s falling and jerks awake.  I’m hunting through my books, looking for a guide.  Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way seems appropriate.

Most of us never consider how powerful the creator really is.  Instead, we draw very limited amounts of the power available to us.  We decide how powerful God is for us.  We unconsciously set a limit on how much God can give us or help us.  We are stingy with ourselves.  And if we receive a gift beyond our imagining, we often send it back.

God has lots of money.  God has lots of movie ideas, novel ideas, poems, songs, paintings, acting jobs.  God has a supply of loves, friends, houses that are all available to us.  By listening to the creator within, we are led to our right path.  On that path, we find friends, lovers, money, and meaningful work.  Very often, when we cannot seem to find an adequate supply, it is because we are insisting on a particular human source of supply.  We must learn to let the flow manifest itself where it will—not where we will it.

In this chapter about possibility, which seems apt for dreaming, she suggests an exercise that appeals to me.

Starting an Image File: If I had either faith or money I would try… List five desires.  For the next week, be alert for images of these desires.  When you spot them, clip then, buy them, photograph them, draw them, collect them somehow.  With these images, begin a file of dreams that speak to you.  Add to it continuously.

So, if I had faith or money I would:

  1. Spend a month in the desert around Tucson
  2. Get a new Toyota Rav4
  3. Make art/write every day
  4. Get a masters degree in psychology
  5. Sign up for Teesha Moore’s art camp in Washington.

I’ll watch for these desires to pop up in images and build my file.  Then, I’ll make something with the images and post it here.  This is a commitment to dreaming.

There’s a list I cut out of a magazine somewhere, sometime, that I keep on my studio table.  It dovetails with dreaming.

Why Make Art (or Write)

• To give form to an idea

• To create something unique

• To give a smile to myself and others; to amuse and mystify

• To answer the question: Who am I?

• To challenge myself and continue to evolve

• To have a focus for all my life experiences and observations

• To create a sense of balance, harmony and order in a chaotic world

• To reveal things that couldn’t be seen in any other way

• To be good to (and honor) my gift.

Dreaming feeds creativity.  The juice and succulence of possibility waters the soil of the soul.  The art rising from such soil must carry a more colorful promise into the sunlight, stand on sturdier stems, bear richer fruit.  I will practice dreaming, even though it frightens me.  I will practice dreaming for the sake of my art and the life of my soul.

Run Away! Run Away!


Never underestimate the inclination to bolt.

—Pema Chodron

There are two things I do every day—workout at the Y and write.  If I skip a day, my world loses order, so I don’t skip many days any more.  As far as my writing life goes, this is a miracle.

Most of my life, I’ve been scared to write and scared not to.  I attacked writing, and then scampered off before it could retaliate.  I journaled diligently for years, then abandoned the practice for no reason.  When I took a college course in Creative Writing a few years ago, I made this vow:  I’ve spent the last fifteen years not-writing.  I will spend the next fifteen writing, and I will get published.

I worked and worked and finally got a short story published in an obscure horror magazine.  Pocket Books almost published my Star Trek novel.  I stuck to my vow.  But, as I worked on my second Star Trek book, I got scared.  I was driving home over icy roads and, as usual, the characters carried on long dialogues while I listened.  I needed them to turn the volume down so I could concentrate on my driving, but they kept on.  I realized I couldn’t control them anymore.  And when a person thinks to herself, I can’t control the voices in my head the implications seem dire.  I thought I had two choices: keep writing and go crazy or stop writing.  I stopped.

I just read an interesting novel by Noam Shpancer called The Good Psychologist. In it, his protagonist talks about fear and avoidance.

Avoiding fear does not solve the problem of fear but adds to it the problem of avoidance.  The effort to avoid is exhausting, and unsuccessful, and injurious.  If you are unwilling to feel something, to think something, then you will by definition feel and think that very thing.  The way to neutralize the pain associated with a certain word, a certain memory, is to move toward it; to accept it; to embrace it; to realize that these are words, noise, and movement of the lips.  No word can ever hurt you more than a habit of avoidance will.

After ECT, after losing my job and apartment, after moving back to my hometown with no money and no brain, I was desperate to find something to do.  I needed something to make me feel alive instead of the living dead.  I borrowed my friend’s copy of The Artists’ Way and started journaling again.  Every day.  Three pages a day.  After doing this for a couple of months, a thought struck me.  I finally had the time I’d always wanted to write.  How many times had I prayed for just this gift?  And I stopped writing because I had been afraid of going crazy.  There I sat, mentally ill with lots of time.  The path seemed clear.

So, I wrote.  And I felt the urge to run.  But, something had changed.  All that mattered was showing up, placing one word in front of the next, paragraph by paragraph, page by page.  The power of my old fears must have boiled off with the ECT, because what made me stagger once in a while was simple procrastination.  Author Julia Cameron says it best:

At its root, procrastination is an investment in fantasy.  We are waiting for that mysterious and wonderful moment when we are not only going to be able to write, we are going to be able to write perfectly.  The minute we become willing to write imperfectly, we become able to write.

Procrastination is still a form of fear, but, somehow, I conditioned myself to stay instead of run.  I wrote crap, and it didn’t kill me.  I just kept writing.  I hesitated a lot, and wrote more crap to push through the stall.  Each time the urge to bolt rose up, it got easier to stay and be imperfect.  And the more I wrote, the more my love affair with writing resurfaced.  I love what Julia Cameron says about this:

I experience writing as a love affair, one I am free to leave, but choose to enjoy.  It is intimate.  It is daily.  It is year in and year out, but, oh, it is romantic.  It is free.  It is passionate—like a long and intricate conversation with a fascinating man.

Try running away from that!

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