Week 1: Recovering a Sense of Safety

“Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.”

Carl Jung

I know I said “Week 1” last week, but I think keeping the chapter numbers aligned with the weeks will help us all to stay on track so…Week 1, Take 2.

Whew! Okay. Chapter 1 really dives right in! 

[And in case you’re just joining, I am going through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron this summer with a few friends and documenting my experience here. You are welcome to tag along!] 

When I entered college I was a declared pre-fine arts major. I attended the Freshman orientation for the School of Fine Art. I became a live art model at Brigham Young University (not nude, but bikini’d) and signed up for a couple of computer design classes. I wanted to be a graphic designer. This had been my declared career aspiration since I gave up the idea of being a writer (I believe because of its impracticality) around age 12.  

I loved being in the Harris Fine Arts Center on campus, the building that housed all of the art and music departments. I auditioned for and got into the BYU Women’s Chorus halfway through my Freshman year. I also switched my major to communications when I learned how competitive it was to get into the bachelor of fine arts program for graphic design. I decided to do an adjacent major, the creative emphasis of an advertising and marketing communications degree. 

In some ways it was a sell out. I was always a good student, I got into BYU as a freshman, which is no small feat. And the idea of taking 5-6 years to graduate with an art degree felt unacceptably impractical. A big part of me wishes I was not so damn practical. 

But I got the degree and I worked my way up through Kinko’s and the the on-campus publications and graphics department, doing graphic layouts and production before I got a job at student auxiliary services doing marketing to students of campus services. This was where I got my first full time job after graduation. 

Thus the shadow artist was born. Cameron explains that a shadow artist is someone who takes a career adjacent to the arts, but not actually in the arts. Shadow artists, like me, are born of practicality. We often received messages from our trusted people that careers in the arts are impractical at best and irresponsible at the worst. My parents were very encouraging of my endeavors in the arts, but the culture of our family was that the arts are things you do adjacent to your career, hobbies for the nights and weekends. I’m not knocking that ideology because it is certainly better than cutting creativity off completely, but it is limiting to only view oneself as a hobbiest.

Cameron writes: 

“For all shadow artists, life may be a discontented experience, filled with a sense of missed purpose and unfulfilled promise. They want to write. They want to paint. They want to act, make music, dance…but they are afraid to take themselves seriously. 

In order to move from the realm of the shadows into the light of creativity, shadow artists must learn to take themselves seriously. With gentle, deliberate effort, they must nurture their artist child. Creativity is play, but for the shadow artists, learning to allow themselves to play is hard work.”

The rest of the chapter is about the antidote for the shadow artist—which is nurture. “Judging your early artistic efforts is artist abuse,” she writes. And this is where much of my work as an artist remains.

I have many core negative beliefs that I am constantly addressing as I go about creating. For years I was frequently told that I was “unreasonable.” Therefore, I consistently fear that I am being unreasonable. I worry what I write or draw will hurt my friends and family. I have given up income in the pursuit of my art this past few years. I often wonder if that is the right choice. I spent most of this last year thinking it was probably a mistake, until I tried doing more PA work. It felt terrible and I changed course again. 

Whatever the core negatives are, their purpose is to keep you scared, and fear is the midwife of creative blocks. Cameron points out that blocks are usually the result of either/or, black and white thinking. For example, “I can either be romantically happy or an artist.” And her advice is to begin to dismantle those beliefs by questioning them. What if the opposite is equally true? I cannot be romantically happy if I am not an artist.

Whatever the core negatives are, their purpose is to keep you scared, and fear is the midwife of creative blocks.

The homework this week is to dismantle some of the “historic monsters” that are the building blocks of your negative core beliefs. Here’s one my my biggest. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I was often good enough to make the choir, get my art selected for the special show or contest, take the advanced class, or play the sport. I was not categorically rejected from any of my endeavors, which was a really good thing. But once in those rooms, my perception was that I was on the B team. I was good enough to get in but not good enough to be the star, not enough to be great. This felt true in math, choir, student government, and volleyball.

There were upsides and downsides to this. The main upside was that I developed confidence that whatever I tried, I was more or less capable. THIS has really served me. But it would have served me more if it had not grown up along the belief that, unless you are truly great at something, it’s probably not worth doing. 

Where did I get that memo??? I know if I ran that by my parents, teachers and coaches, they would wonder the same thing. I imagine it was more of a message obtained from what was modeled to me by the people around me than anyone telling me I was wasting my life by pursuing art. 

Once you start looking back through your own life, things will show up. Maybe they were big traumatic experiences but maybe they were not. Maybe they were subtle. The point is to start looking, digging and questioning. She encourages you to draw a sketch of the incidences or describe them in detail on the page and then write a letter to the editor in your defense. 

Then explore the old champions of your creativity. My parents were easy champions. They have, as a rule, loved everything my sisters and I have attempted to create. Cameron reminds us to start registering and recording every encouraging word we have received or will receive in the future. 

This is something I first started doing consciously in my psychiatry practice. It can be brutal some days. My patients either love me, or the hate me, or they think I’m okay…(those are all the options, right?). It’s not uncommon for me to be yelled at at work—what I mean is it happens weekly. So I have learned to let the good stuff in. When a patient tells me I am good or kind or helpful, I really really try to let that in. But when they scream at me to, Eff off! Or “Go away!” or that I am the worst or unfeeling or uncaring or judgmental, I look inside of myself. I look for those things. I usually don’t find them, and then I let them roll gently to the floor where I leave them behind at the end of the day.

But the point is we need to hold onto some of the good feedback to counter balance all the negative core beliefs we’ve lumped on ourselves. 

This brings me back to the quote at the beginning, which more or less says the most influential thing I can do for my children is do my best to fully live my life. That’s a huge piece of my motivation. I want R to see me living as fully as possible so thereby he has permission to do the same.  

So dive in and start exploring the old monsters. They are not so scary when brought into the light! 

I have started a Facebook group for this. It’s available via my Facebook page, which you can find by searching “That I Would Be Free” on Facebook. There is a chat available there if you would like to interact with the community. You can comment below, comment on instagram or email me!

And if you want to receive email updates as we go through The Artist’s Way this summer, please sign up in the bar at the right. It’s one email a week at the most. No spam, just fun!

Sat nam! (Which means I see your true identity, truth is your name.)