Artist's Regress

I was going to start this post with "Right now, I hate Julia Cameron," but somehow between walking the Dragon Baby to campus, eating lunch with colleagues at an annual end-of-year party, and waiting on somebody to show up for office hours, I've rather lost the fire. Which is the problem. I do hate Julia Cameron for being so unrelievably perky about how well Morning Pages have worked for her over the years. I mean, I've done M.P. just as she recommends, for weeks, months, even years at a time, but I am still waiting on that big breakthrough that she promises will come if only I open myself to God, Good Orderly Direction, the Muse.

Instead, I have this blog. Which nobody (okay, "nobody other than my incredibly loyal readers"--I love all of you!) reads, certainly not the literary agents and publishers whom Cameron promises should be knocking at my door by now begging me to let them edit my work. Okay, okay, so that's not exactly what Cameron promises. What she promises is ideas, ideas sleeting down through the universe, Pratchett-style inspirons, to which I only need open myself in order to create Art. She never promises success as such; indeed, she frequently warns her readers not to get distracted by worries about success. But if that is the case, if art is worth making simply for its own sake, simply as an expression of our nature as creatures of a Creator, why tell us over and over again about how many books she has published, how many musicals she has had performed, how many other artists and authors she knows who, on doing their M.P., became wildly successful, if not overnight, then, well, at all?

Damn her for getting my hopes up. Damn her for making me believe in myself even for an instant when, in truth, it was all lies. God may have plenty of ideas, but He is not giving them to me; God may have lots of money, but Cameron seems to have sucked it all up. Certainly, she's sucked up a good deal of mine, now that I have bought all four of her best-selling Artist's Way books, not to mention the Artist's Way journal and various books of prayers. So while she's been elevated to best-sellerdom, why am I still here drudging my way through exercises that go nowhere?

Again, okay, okay, so I haven't done M.P. regularly in several years; they make my hand hurt, I don't have the time in the morning what with taking care of the dog, seeing my son and husband off, trying to recover my yoga practice and working on my translation of John, not to mention preparing for class and grading my students' work. But I have been keeping this blog, now for just over three years, and there's a lot of good stuff in here. Comics, poetry, essays, thoughts about writing and books, reflections on fencing and history, psychology and prayer, not to mention marriage and dogs. I am a cultural phenomenon, by golly! And yet, I'm not; I'm just yet another blogger wishing she had something to say.

Which clearly I do, otherwise I would not have been able to keep going for anything like this long, but why hasn't it (whatever it is) transformed into something, I don't know, more real, more valuable, more like a book? Maybe I don't want to write a book, maybe I like keeping a blog. But. But. But....

I'm home now after a good conversation during my office hours with one of my graduate students and feeling much happier thanks to some of the advice that he gave me (plus the nice things that he said about what he reads in the blog), so it is hard at the moment to recapture even the degree of irritation that I was feeling when I started writing this post, never mind the crushing despair I felt walking into campus at noon, but I know that it is still there, lurking, ready to leap out at me when my blood sugar is low or I have tried to read a bit more in Cameron's most recent rewrite of how to stay on the Artist's Way.

I want to believe her, I really do. In many ways, she saved me back ten years ago when I first discovered her books. She gave me faith that it was worth trying to create, that I was not crazy to think that maybe I might be able to make something actually resembling art, but here it is, ten years later, and in even more ways, I'm still waiting. Waiting for the music to start playing in my head, waiting for the images to occur to me that I might want to paint, waiting for the stories that I would write if only I had the imagination. Okay, no, I haven't been trying to write music or paint or make up stories, but it really isn't as if I didn't listen for ideas all the years that I was doing M.P.; they just never came. I got other ideas, lots and lots of ideas for blog posts, even ideas for academic papers every now and then, but what I wanted and never got was something that might actually count as Art, something, I don't know, that my mother might want to buy on one of her trips to Santa Fe, something that my father might have liked to read, something, anything other than yet more scholarly arguments--and now I haven't even been having those.

"Fill the well," I suspect Cameron would say. "Take yourself on an Artist's Date. Go for a walk." Well, I've got the walks down thanks to the Dragon Baby, but I have never been very good at the Artist's Dates. Unless you count the decluttering I've been doing this past month as a sort of reverse Artist's Date, not going to a shop or museum (Cameron's usual examples) to collect things or ideas, but allowing myself to get rid of things so as to create enough space for something new to come in. But I have done Dates in the past and right now I distrust them, too. Sure, I'll come back all fired up and full of hope, but in the long run--which is what we're really talking about here--in the long run, I am afraid that the hope and ideas will just end up where so many of the other ones have, cluttering up my home and office with their discarded shells, leaving me with nothing to show for the inspiration other than yet another aborted effort that wouldn't have sold anyway.

Or maybe I am just (as always) afraid and so I don't really give myself a chance to succeed. No, I don't think that's it. Wouldn't I have written that mythical novel already if I had any talent in that direction? Besides, I have academic writing that I need to do. Hmmmm.... Am I really trying to tell myself something here, or is this just the usual rambling daydream I allow myself when I am doing M. (now late Afternoon) P.? There won't be any novel. There won't be any best-selling book on my spiritual journey, largely because I siphon off all of my writing that isn't for work into the blog. But if I didn't write the blog (the closest I can get to doing the dreaded M.P.) then how would I get any ideas at all?

Artists create not just to create but because they want to be heard. Maybe I feel like I don't have any ideas because I am not clear about what I want to communicate. But that's not what it feels like. What it feels like is that I have nothing to say that anybody wants to hear because otherwise, wouldn't they already be listening? It's not as if I've been shy about trying to speak. Nope, I'm not going to be able to think myself out of this one. See? God hates me and wants me to have a rotten life. 'Cause, you know, if He loved me like Cameron promised He does, I'd know what to say.


  1. Dear Fencing Bear,

    I am not sure whether you are talking about academic work or artwork, but if it is the latter, I have good news. I firmly believe that the greatest works of art are produced by tormented people with miserable lives, past, present and future. [Les plus désespérés sont les chants les plus beaux,/
    Et j'en sais d'immortels qui sont de purs sanglots.] Think about movies for instance. The ten best on my list are tearjerkers. No one goes to see a movie with happy people in it - it does not exist anyway, because it is way too boring. And happy people do not bother much about producing art because they are too busy being happy. So my point is you might have reached a happy sphere without realizing it.

    Julia Cameron has certainly found a way to make a fortune, but she might be selling the wrong goods. To happy people, at least.


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