Yesterday, I put this prompt up on the board for my creative writing students:
Write a scene in which a character standing in an open courtyard filled with people she (or he) knows finds out s/he’s been stabbed in the back by his/her best friend.
After they asked, I told them the open courtyard could be any super public place and the backstabbing could be figurative or literal.
When time was up, I asked how many of them got my literary reference. Two hands went up, but then one student admitted that she only got it after the other student explained it.
So, only one student got the literary reference. One!
Then, I asked if any of them knew what the day was, and a student said, “The Ides of March.”
And I said, “That’s right! The Ides of March!”
And then I showed them the following memes/gifs:
I didn’t post last week because, although I finished a book, I didn’t know what I was going to read next. Like, I honestly had no clue. My work schedule is so hectic (I’m teaching an overload, so six classes instead of my usual five) that my brain is mostly mush–not to mention I’m behind on everything. And by everything, I mean EVERY SINGLE THING. It is maddening. And unlike with my usual beginning of semester behind on everythingness, I’m not really seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.
Also, the start of the semester. One of those is more impressive than the other. Hint: it’s the one related to school.
Hello! I haven’t participated in this meme in a while (since mid-July! wow!), but I read two awesome books this week and wanted to share. I was going to do an August wrap-up, but honestly, all you need to know is that the best book I read last month was Days with Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel, which is, of course, a re-read. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all had a friend like Frog? I think so.
This book changed my life.
I mentioned in my musings on what I might do for my artist date that I was working through the book because I assigned it to my creative writing class and thought it might be a good idea to know what, exactly, I was asking them to do. I really wasn’t prepared for the impact this book would have on me.
The two biggest tools of the book are completing the morning pages and going on the artist date. That’s where I found the impact and the transformation. Well, those two tools and the reading deprivation during Week 4.
Basically, how the book works is that each week you read a chapter, write the morning pages, take yourself on an artist date, and complete some (or all) of the tasks at the end of the chapter. Repeat until the book is complete. Twelve chapters = twelve weeks.
How did it change my life?
The biggest deficit in my life is in the area of self-care. I suck at it. It is legit the hardest thing I do. What the morning pages and the artist date do is privilege self-care. Since I committed to completing the book, I committed to doing the work. (I am nothing if not a good student.) Doing the work meant writing the pages and going on the date. Every week.
I should note, though, that I rarely, if ever, wrote the morning pages in the actual morning. Even though Cameron says several times that it should be done before starting your day, that is not realistic for me. In fact, that’s what kept me from completing the book last time. Once I gave myself permission to just treat the morning pages as daily pages, finishing the work became manageable. I have done a lot of work on my perfectionism in the past few years, so understanding that I could do the pages imperfectly was key. Also, let’s be real: getting up a half-hour early is antithetical to my self-care.
Harder than the pages for me was the artist date. I had to start really small. Watching an hour of TV without doing anything else (like folding or separating clothes). Coloring at my dining room table. Going to the movies. However, as I kept with it, I started doing other things, bigger things. I went to plays. I took a West African dance class. I took a jazz dance class. I started planning other creative and fun things I could do with my time. Now it feels almost second nature to say yes to activities I would have previously told myself I didn’t have time for. I have made it a habit to sit down and watch TV shows I like because I like to watch them. I’m not too busy for the things I actually enjoy doing. It makes it a lot easier to do work or be creative when I know I’m not depriving myself of fun stuff.
Life is meant to be an artist date.
I will also note that I started The Artist’s Way in the summer when I wasn’t working. Completing the pages and the date became more difficult once school started back. But I kept at them.
The reading deprivation also marked a key point in my recovery (as the book calls it). I got a LOT of clarity. For one, I realized that part of the reason I was blocked (I haven’t written anything in years) was that I wasn’t interested in the type of writing I had told myself I needed to be doing or was interested in. I was, as they say, should-ing on myself, which kept me from doing what I wanted to do. The other major thing that happened during my deprivation is that I cleaned my room, set up an office, and opened up space for what I want my life to be.
So, yeah. Big changes.
I absolutely recommend this book for blocked creatives with the understanding that it is definitely not for everyone. The subtitle is “A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity,” after all. For anyone resistant to ideas of spirituality or discussions/mentions of God (though Cameron does point out that you don’t have to believe in any god to use the book and gives suggestions for what word to replace God with as you read, e.g., “creative force” or “good orderly direction” among others), probably you might not be as open to some of the suggestions or language Cameron uses. However, if you are willing or able to look past that language, I think there’s a lot of value here.
And, of course, if you are willing to do the work.
This fall, I’m teaching a fiction writing class for the first time, and I’m super excited. Because I’ve never taught the class before, I’m using a co-worker’s syllabus. (Sidenote: I was going to build the class from scratch but another co-worker talked me out of that, which is probably a good idea–especially considering that I have to build my two other core courses over again.) So, since this co-worker uses The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron for the class, I will, too.