Week 7: Recovering a Sense of Connection

I am sitting in bed with a cold La Croix because I have a summer cold this week. Does everyone have a summer cold this week?!? It’s not covid—I’ve been testing. And it feels like a while since I had a regular, boring cold. I have not missed it. River’s home this week and we’ve been having a great time. I booked him in a Minecraft Lego camp that’s three hours each morning and I’ve been surfing while he goes to that and then we are spending leisurely afternoons with friends or at home….I think people call this a staycation. If that’s what it is, I’m a big fan. 

Before I jump into this week of The Artist’s Way, I wanted touch base last week’s exercises. I didn’t track my spending in a notebook, but I did look at my credit card transactions for the past week. First—everything is SO expensive right now—lots of money going to gas, groceries, some eating out. I’ve already been making an effort for the past few months to spend less on restaurants and take-out but when I do, the salad that used to cost $12 is now $15-20. 🙁 sad. 

But Cameron’s purpose for the spending tracking is to identify our values and see where our spending might not align with those values. I noticed I have conflicting values, for example, I value living within my means and not spending on things that I can easily make or have at home, but I still buy coffee a couple times a week from a coffee shop. I make really good coffee at home so it’s not like it’s a treat, it’s absolutely just for convenience. So that showed me I value being thrifty, but also convenience and sometimes those values don’t align. That’s okay. That’s normal and they should probably take turns winning out in those conflicts. 

Week 7 starts today and this week is about recovering a sense of connection. Again with the echos in my life! I just finished a class about finding oneness and connection so I’ve already been meditating on this topic. I love Cameron’s perspective on art: 

“Art is not about thinking something up. It is about the opposite—getting something down. The directions are important here. If we are trying to think something up, we are straining to reach for something that’s just beyond our grasp…When we get something down, there’s no strain. We’re not doing; we’re getting. Someone or something else is doing the doing. Instead of reaching for inventions, we are engaged in listening.” (Cameron, 117)

Haven’t we all experienced this at some point, in some way? It feels like something is happening through me rather than because of me. The two poems I published on Sunday in my last post were that way. They came as dictation, from where I’m not sure. But I didn’t set out to write a poem, I simply started writing and out they came. Poetry is the medium that most frequently works this way for me. 

But it’s not just art, Oprah would call this state “being in the flow.” She talks about that extensively in her writing and speeches. I’m curious, how have you been taken by the flow? Where have you seen that in your life? 

Living through this past five years, has taken an incredible amount of effort. It hasn’t been easy. It’s been terrifying and hard and uncomfortable and angry and sick and quiet and unsleeping. But even in that, I have found moments of flow, and more and more of those recently. I think I’m getting better at listening (many of the strategies I use, we’ve already covered in the previous chapters of this book), and I think I’m getting better at getting out of my own way. What I mean by that is getting honest with myself about perfectionism, risk and envy. 

I’ll start with perfectionism. Perfectionism masquerades as being really smart, high-taste, refined, and hard-working. But, perfectionism is actually just procrastination in nice clothes. Before I could start blogging, I had to confront this. I was listening to a life coach who insisted that B+ work was all that anyone expected or needed. So I let myself turn out B+ blog posts. And people read them and even liked them. I still have typos in my posts from time to time because I don’t have anyone to edit for me and I don’t want that to be a reason to slow things down. 

But even more important than typos was this—in order for me to write honestly about my life, I had to be willing to write the truth, even if the truth might change in a week or a month or five years or ten years. I had to have enough mercy with myself to publish a truth that might change, that likely would change. In my 20s I wrote very little and it was mostly because I was aware that I could write something and then change my mind about it later. I knew I would get wiser as I got older and I could not tolerate that I would have to interact with writing from some younger, more foolish version of myself. 

Perfectionism masquerades as humility but it is actually egotism. It’s not a quest for the best, but a pursuit to cover and hide the worst of ourselves. Giving up perfectionism is giving up control. It means at a certain point you just have to be done. It’s got to be good enough and you have to live with yourself. Oof. All of a sudden making art seems much more like a metaphor for my entire life. 

This leads straight into the next topic—risk. If we give up our perfectionism then we have something to risk. If we move out of our heads and into action, then something more is on the line.  “We’ve all heard that the unexamined life is not worth living, but consider too that the unlived life is not worth examining,” Cameron writes (p. 121). In order to be creative and live creatively, we must take risk. 

There is a censor inside each of us that says, “If you do that, you’ll look stupid.” Mine is such a prominent part of my psyche that I almost exclusively listened to her for two decades. She kept me from playing the piano, singing, writing, taking trips I wanted to take, going to schools I wanted to attend, keeping in touch with friends that I missed, and on and on. And during this time, I was perceived by others as a confident person, but that was kind of easy because I only did things I was confident I could do well. My risks were all very calculated.

When I took a figure drawing class a couple of years ago, one of our homework assignments was to sit in front of the mirror and draw a self-portrait. I took pictures because my attempts were hilarious, and it is with great humility I will show them here: 

Please! Laugh—it’s the only appropriate response! I don’t know how much better I would do if I tried again today. But I have gotten somewhat better because I was willing to draw this first terrifying zombie face. 

“Usually, when we say we can’t do something, what we mean is that we won’t do something unless we can guarantee that we’ll do it perfectly.” (Cameron, 121) In other words, anything worth doing, is worth doing badly! So ask yourself, what you would do if you did’t have to do it perfectly or even well?

The last piece is about envy or jealousy. Envy is I want what she has. Jealousy is I want what she has and I want her not to have it. So they are close cousins. Envy is always a map because it will show you what you want. If you find yourself saying, Must be nice living in San Diego…what you actually mean is, It would be nice to live in San Diego! It is nice, by the way!

Cameron asks us to make a jealousy map where we will list who we are jealous of, why we are jealous of them, and what we can do to take action in the direction of having what we want. Here’s mine. I sort of lost motivation by the end….

WhoWhyAction Antidote
Elizabeth GilbertShe’s a celebrated author who lives a very free life.Write books, try to get them published, and live free!
Kendall Kyra (@kendallkyra)Her art is so fun and she is constantly making it.Make more art and try to have fun with it.
Kristen BellShe’s so smart and fun and successful.Forget it. You’ll never be her. 

There are several more exercises at the end that help you to uncover and befriend your inner artist/child. The first one is to make this phrase a mantra: Treating myself like a precious object will make me strong. I’m pointing this out because I think many of us don’t believe it. I certainly didn’t. But I have learned that I am the best one to take care of me and if I’m not taking care of me, treating myself, speaking kindly to myself, etc., then I don’t have any strength. Strength is a product of care. So I now am very serious about how I care for myself. I make conscious attempts to give myself joy, peace, freedom, good food, health, beauty and kindness. Self care, real self care, is the practices that remind you that you are a precious object, that you can trust yourself, that you are already cherished. 

This is what I hope you remember this week. You are already cherished. Be the one to cherish yourself. The easier it becomes to connect with yourself, the easier it is to connect with others and into the flow of life. Sat nam, mamas and papas!