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Walking in This World: The Practical Art of Creativityby Julia Cameron
a Sense of Origin
This week initiates your creative pilgrimage.
You are the point of origin. You begin where you
are, with who you are, at this time, at this place. You
may find yourself hopeful, skeptical, excited, resistant,
or all of the above. The readings and tasks in week one all aim at pinpointing the "you"
you have been evading. When we avoid our creativity, we avoid ourselves.
When we meet our creativity, we meet ourselves,
and that encounter happens in the moment.
The willingness to be ourselves gives us
the origin in originality.
You say you want to make art. You want to begin or you want to continue. This is good. We need a more artful world, and that means we need you and the specific contribution that you and you alone can make. But to make it you must start somewhere, and that is often the sticking point.
"It's too late."
"I'm not good enough."
"I'll never be able to pull this off."
We all have our fears, and they feel as real as the chair you are sitting in. Like that chair, they can be slouched into or left behind. Sometimes we need to sit up and ignore the cricks in our back and shoulders and just begin. That's how it is with art.
We just need to begin.
Begin where you are, with who you are. In order to go where you want to go creatively, you have to start somewhere. And the best place to start is precisely where you are. This is true whether you are a beginning artist or someone with long miles down the track. In fact, seasoned artists can waste time and energy mulling the dignity of their acquired position in the field when the truth is, they still need to just start again.
Writing doesn't really care about where you do it. It cares that you do it. The same is true for drawing. I watched a friend of mine waste a solid year because he "couldn't work without a studio." When he did get a studio and went back to work, what he made were a few largish paintings but a great many beautiful miniature charcoal and pencil drawings that he could have done on a TV table had he been so inclined. No, he didn't work-not because he didn't have a studio but because he didn't work. There is room for art in any life we have-any life, no matter how crowded or overstuffed, no matter how arid or empty. We are the "block" we perceive.
If you are a beginning musician and want to learn piano, sit down at the piano and touch the keys. Great. Tomorrow you can sit down at the piano and touch the keys again. Five minutes a day is better than no minutes a day. Five minutes might lead to ten, just as a tentative embrace leads to something more passionate. Making art is making love with life. We open ourselves to art as to love.
Instead of thinking about conquering an art form, think instead of kissing it hello, wooing it, exploring it in small, enticing steps. How many of us have burned through promising relationships by moving too swiftly? How many of us have burned out in new creative ventures by setting goals too high? Most of us.
Doing any large creative work is like driving coast to coast, New York to Los Angeles. First you must get into the car. You must begin the trip, or you will never get there. Even a night in New Jersey is a night across the Hudson and on your way. A small beginning is exactly that: a beginning. Rather than focus on large jumps-which may strike us as terrifying and unjumpable-we do better to focus on the first small step, and then the next small step after that. "Oh, dear," you might be sniffing, "where's the drama in such baby steps?" Think about that for a minute. When a baby takes its first step, it is very dramatic.
Today my mail contained a manila envelope from a friend, a born storyteller who spent years wanting to write and not writing. Last June, on a perfectly ordinary day, Larry did an extraordinary thing for him: He picked up a pen and started writing. I now have a fat sheaf of stories in my hand. All he needed to do was begin. And then begin again the next day.
Often, when we yearn for a more creative life, we cue up the sound track for high drama. With great dissonant chords crashing in our heads, we play out the scenario of leaving those we love and going somewhere lonely and perhaps exotic, where we will be Artists with a capital A. When I hear this plan, I think, Okay. You do it. Experience has taught me that my artist performs best when the stakes are lower. When I keep the drama on the page, pages accumulate.
I hate to say this, but making art is a little like dieting. One day you just have to start and what you do that day is the beginning of success or failure. I cannot write an entire book today, but I can write one page. I cannot become an accomplished pianist, but I can put in fifteen minutes of piano time. Today you may not get a one-woman show in SoHo, but you can sketch the battered leather chair with your cocker spaniel sprawled in splendid comfort or you can sketch the curve of your lover's arm. You can begin.
Creativity is inspiration coupled with initiative. It is an act of faith and, in that phrase, the word "act" looms as large as the "faith" that it requires.
When we do not act in the direction of our dreams, we are only "dreaming." Dreams have a will-o'-the-wisp quality. Dreams coupled with the firm intention to manifest them take on a steely reality. Our dreams come true when we are true to them. Reality contains the word "real." We begin to "reel" in our dreams when we toss out the baited hook of intention. When we shift our inner statement from "I'd love to" to "I'm going to," we shift out of victim and into adventurer. When we know that we "will," then we couple the power of our will with the power of future events. In this sense, what we "will do" becomes what "will happen." To prove this to ourselves, we need to couple the largeness of our dream with the small, concrete, and do-able "next right thing." As we take the next small step, the bigger steps move a notch closer to us, downsizing as they move. If we keep on taking small enough next steps and therefore keep chipping away and miniaturizing what we like to call "huge" risks, by the time the risk actually gets to our door, it, too, is simply the next right thing, small and do-able and significant but nondramatic. Many of us falter, thinking that in order to begin a creative work we must know precisely how to finish it and, beyond that, to insure its reception in the world. We are, in effect, asking for a guarantee of our success before we have taken the single most important step necessary to insure it. That step is commitment.
When we realize that we want to make something-a book, a play, a sketch, a poem, a painting-we are yearning for the completion of that desire. We hunger to make art the same way we may hunger to make love. It begins as desire, and desire requires that we act upon it if we are to conceive things.
Despite our culture's well-earned reputation for encouraging instant gratification, we are not encouraged to act decisively upon our creative desires. We are trained to think about them, doubt them, second-guess them. We are trained, in short, to talk ourselves out of committing art or committing to art.
When movie director Martin Ritt told me "Cerebration is the enemy of art," he was urging that as artists we follow that Nike slogan, "Just do it." He wasn't saying that brains were counter to the creative process, but he was urging us to use our brains to actually make art, not think about making art. Thinking is not the enemy, but overthinking is.
If you conceptualize launching a project, you begin to understand the issue of overthinking. Think of your project as "the arrow of desire." Imagine yourself eyeing the bull's-eye, pulling back the bow-and then thinking about it. Worrying about it. Considering whether you are aiming exactly right or whether you should be a smidgen higher or lower. Your arm begins to get tired. Then your aim begins to get shaky. If you manage to finally shoot the arrow, it does not sail with confidence and strength. You have that in your vacillation about exactly how you should shoot. In short, you have mistaken beginning something with ending something. You have wanted a finality that is earned over time and not won ahead of time as a guarantee. You have denied the process of making art because you are so focused on the product: Will this be a bull's-eye? We forget that intention is what creates direction. If we aim with the eye of our heart-"That I desire to do"-then we aim truly and well. "Desire," that much-maligned word, is actually the best guide for our creative compass. Horseback riders who jump the Grand Prix fences of terrifying heights talk of "throwing their heart" over the fence so their horse jumps after it. We must do the same.
We have attached so much rigamarole to the notion of being an artist that we fail to ask the simplest and most obvious question: Do I want to make this? If the answer is yes, then begin. Fire the arrow.
We take no step unpartnered. We may feel like the fool from the Tarot deck, stepping heedlessly into blank space, but that is not reality. The Great Creator is an artist and he/she/it is an artist in partnership with other artists. The moment we open ourselves to making art, we simultaneously open ourselves to our maker. We are automatically partnered. Joseph Campbell speaks of encountering "a thousand unseen helping hands." I think of these hands as an invisible web ungirding any creative endeavor. It is like throwing a switch or toppling the first domino-there is a spiritual chain reaction that occurs the moment we act on faith. Something or somebody acts back.
It is when we fire the arrow of desire, when we actually start a project, that we trigger the support for our dream. We are what sets things in motion-people and events resonate toward our fiery resolve. Energy attracts energy. Our arrow is the speeding pickup truck that attracts summer dogs to chase it down the road. We generate the energy and excitement. Then others will give chase. "Build it and they will come."
Creative energy is energy. When we are worrying about creating instead of actually creating, we are wasting our creative energy. When we are vacillating, we are letting air out of our tires. Our pickup is not speeding down the road and may never even get out of the driveway. Our project goes flat.
Does this mean we should race off wildly? No, but it does mean that once we have a heart's desire we should act on it. It is that action, that moving out on faith, that moves mountains-and careers.
The book you are holding now is a book that I am writing on Riverside Drive in Manhattan and in my upstairs bedroom in northern New Mexico-also, in the car and in truck stops as I drive cross-country between the two. None of this behavior matches my drama about being a real writer. In that drama, either I have gone to Australia, where I walk the beaches and beg for inspiration, or else I am freezing in a cabin near Yosemite with nothing to do all winter but shiver and write. When we approach creativity that way, it smacks of the creativity firewalk or the creativity bungee jump-definitely terrifying and not something I'd want to try in the next few minutes or without my will made out. It is one of the ironies of the creative life that while drama is a part of what we make, it has almost no place in how we make it. Even those famous artists who suffered famously dramatic lives were remarkably undramatic in their actual work habits. Hemingway wrote five hundred words a day, wife in and wife out. Composer Richard Rodgers wrote a composition every morning, nine to nine-thirty. His colleague, Oscar Hammerstein, rose at six and put in banker's hours on his farm in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Unseduced by glamour or by drama, their output was both steady and prodigious. This argues that we get a lot further creatively by staying put and doing something small and do-able daily in the life we already have.
So much of the difficulty with beginning lies in our perception that we have "so far to go." We have separated art from process into product-"So far to go until it's finished"-when we think like that and we have also separated ourselves from God. When we are afraid to begin, it is always because we are afraid we are alone-tiny, like little Davids facing giant Goliaths. But we are not alone.
God is present everywhere. The act of making art is a direct path to contact with God, and we do not need to travel any geographic or psychic distance to experience the grace of creation in the grace of our own creating.
Goethe told us, "Whatever you think you can do, or believe you can do, begin it, because action has magic, grace and power in it." This was no mere bromide. It was a report on spiritual experience-an experience that each of us can have whenever we surrender to being a beginner, whenever we dismantle our adult's aloof avoidance and actively seek the Great Creator's hand by reaching out our own to start anew.
If we stop watching the movies in our head with the scary sound tracks and start listening to things like "Whistle While You Work" or "Zippity Doo-Dah," we may begin to make a little headway. We need to get into reality. Art is about making art, nothing more dramatic than that. Puccini may have written Madame Butterfly, but he still hummed as he walked on a sunny street. He still ate pasta and he still spent enough time with his friends to concoct a plot the village gossip might handily have provided. High art is made by people who have friends and the need to dine on more than inspiration soup.
What the Hell, You Might As Well
Often we experience a sense of powerlessness because we do not see any direct action that we can take to concretely alter our sense of being stuck, in a particular way. At times like this we'd do well not to be so linear. Sometimes, we need to exercise just a little elbow grease in any creative direction that we can find. If nothing else, taking a small creative action moves us out of the victim position. Suddenly, we realize that we do have choices and options and that our passivity may boil down to a stubborn laziness, a sort of tantrum that says "If I can't make X better right now, then I am not going to do anything." Instead of a tantrum, try doing this instead:
Take pen in hand and number down from 1 to 20. List 20 small, creative actions you could take. For example:
1. Paint the kitchen windowsill.
2. Hang lace on my bedroom door.
3. Put the primrose into a good pot.
4. Change the downstairs shower curtain.
5. Buy photo albums and put my dog pictures in one.
6. Send my sister the fudge recipe she asked for.
7. Send my sister fudge.
8. Buy red socks.
9. Wear them to church.
10. Make a computer file of poems I love.
11. Send a great poem to each of my friends.
12. Photograph my current life and send the pictures to my grandmother.
13. Designate something a "God Jar," a special incubator for my dreams and hopes.
14. Designate something else a "what the hell!" basket for my resentment, annoyances, and fears.
15. Throw a slumber party and request that each guest bring a good ghost story to tell.
16. Make a pot of soup.
17. Give away every outfit I even mildly dislike.
18. Get a CD player for my car and stock it.
19. Go to a great perfume store and get one great perfume.
20. Take an elderly friend to a good aquarium.
Very often, calling it professionalism, we become too busy to make art for art's sake. We are committed to a certain careerist, professional agenda and we tell ourselves that is all we have energy or time for. This is false. When we make the art we love, it makes time and energy available to us for our professional pursuits. Why? Because we feel more vital, and that vitality is assertive energy that makes room for its own desires.
When we say "I will articulate my true values, I will express my essence," that word "will" throws a switch. When we "will," then we "will." In this sense we are predicting our future and shaping it simultaneously. Everything is energy. Ideas are simply organized energy, a sort of mold into which more solidified energy can be poured. A book begins as an idea. So does a social movement. So does a building. We cast our dreams and desires ahead of us, and as we move toward them, their content takes on solidity. We cocreate our lives. This is both our responsibility and our privilege. A symphony moves both through and ahead of a composer. As he moves toward it, it moves toward him. In a sense, as artists, we both pitch a ball of creative energy and catch it.
Commit to make something you love and you will find that the needed supplies come to hand. You must "catch" them when they do. A free studio for recording. Use of an editing bank. A windfall of costumes from your aunt's attic. A church space newly renovated and looking for a worthy cause, like your embryonic theater company. Our creative energy triggers a creative response.
Commit to playing the music you love, and the music of life becomes more lovely. Just as making love can quite literally make love, so, too, making art-a form of the verb "to be"-can quite literally make art out of being. The art of creative living, like the actor's art, is a moment-to-moment receptivity, a harmonious leaning into the unfolding melodic structure of existence such as great string ensemble players use in cocreating chamber music. Those who create for love-like the devotees who practice their spiritual tradition with ardor-give off a certain undefinable something that is attractive, and it attracts to them their good.
When we make art for the sake of making art, we tend eventually to make money. Money is energy, and it follows the path we lay down for it. When we commit that we will do something, the finances that allow us to do it follow. Our committed intention attracts supply. This is spiritual law, if not what we are taught to believe. Money is really a codified form of power. Often we think we need X amount of money to attain Y space, but what we really need is the space itself. Intention creates power, often as money, sometimes as access. Art triggers abundance, but it triggers it in diverse forms. Our cash flow may not immediately increase, but our opportunity flow will increase. So will many benevolent coincidences or synchronicities that will enrich our lives and our art if we let them. Receptivity is key, and that key unlocks the treasure chest.
Faith moves mountains, and when we see art as an act of faith, then we begin to see that when we commit to our art, mountains may indeed be moved as a path becomes clear. Committed to the "what," we trigger the "how"-needed money may appear in the form of an unexpected bonus, a timely and lucrative freelance job, a surprise inheritance, matching funds, or even a corporate scholarship. When we invest energy in our dreams, others often invest cash. A gifted young pianist receives an unexpected year's financial backing from an older couple from his hometown who are "betting" on him and his talent. A young actor, similarly marooned in a backwater, is given travel funds to audition for the conservatory that chooses him and gives him a scholarship. As we commit to our dreams, something benevolent commits back. Supportive coincidence can be counted upon. Artist to artist, we can safely have faith in the Great Creator's interest in our creative pursuits.
Art is a matter of commitment. Commitment is of interest to the Great Creator. When we display the faith necessary to make our art, the Great Creator displays an interest and an active hand in supporting what it is we are doing. We receive supply in all forms.
A composer who works most often on commission for others recorded for himself a small personal work that he thought of as a musical prayer. It is a simple piece of music and a simple, short recording. So simple and so short that the composer looped it four times and considers the resulting twenty-minute version something a person might meditate to-"just something I made for myself, for my own spiritual use."
Staying a few days as a houseguest at another composer's house, he played the brief recording for his friend. It happened to be running when the doorbell rang and a prominent record company executive came to visit. "What's that?" he immediately wanted to know.
"Just a little personal something I laid down to express myself."
"You mean a prayer?"
"Something like that."
"I've just been made the head of a new division on contemporary spiritual music. Do you think you could build an album around that?"
"Yes, I suppose I could."
Out of the tiny recording, a large and beautiful album was born. Out of the album, a new direction for the composer's career was born. He began to work with larger choral groups and to write more music for voice. This new direction was profoundly satisfying.
"I had always loved chorales, and the idea of a modern oratorio expressing our spiritual values was like an answered prayer for me-a prayer I had barely voiced before it was answered."
It may well be that the "self" in self-expression is not only the voice of our finite, individual self but also the voice of the Self, that larger and higher force of which we are both subject and substance. When we express our creativity, we are a conduit for the Great Creator to explore, express, and expand its divine nature and our own. We are like songbirds. When one of us gives voice to our true nature, it is contagious and others soon give tongue as well. There is an infallibility to the law that as we each seek to express what we are longing to say, there is always someone or something that is longing to hear precisely what we have expressed. We do not live or create in isolation. Each of us is part of a greater whole and, as we agree to express ourselves, we agree to express the larger Self that moves through us all.
--from Walking in this World by Julia Cameron, Copyright © September 2002, J. P. Tarcher, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.
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