Updated: Jan 21
This week involved the completion of Week 1 of The Artist’s Way, my second round of immunotherapy for melanoma and my first walk up the Saléve mountain. Ups and downs in every sense of the word!
As far as the creative recovery goes, I think I’m doing pretty well. I have managed to do my ‘morning pages’ (three pages/half an hour of splurging whatever’s in your brain onto a page) every day, although the time they happen has varied. I was oh-so-close to actually setting an alarm at 6:30am to get them done before my daughter wakes up, and then I had a chat with a good friend. She reminded me that it was better to do something in a way that worked for me, rather than insisting on perfection and probably not succeeding.
The fact of doing the pages is what’s important. Whether or not I have the time or implication to do them first thing in the morning shouldn’t stop me from working on my creative self. So I ditched the alarm idea (after all I also need lots of rest for other type of recovery!) and decided that committing the time to doing them was the main thing. Along the way, I discovered some interesting things.
Getting started is one thing, carrying on is quite another...
My Inner Critic
Some of the exercises (and all of the pages this week) involved ‘affirmations’ and ‘blurts.’ I have to admit, I find writing down positive things about myself incredibly cringey. Saying how talented, brilliant and prolific I am as an artist is not something that comes easily. Partly because of what comes out in the blurts, which are the reactions my gut/subconscious/inner critic gives me to counteract the positive stuff.
These, unfortunately, are far easier to think of. Everything from ‘you’re too old’ to ‘if you’re so good, why aren’t you making money?’ jumped onto the page. While the list of positives was short, the ways that I tell myself I’m not good enough are depressingly long.
One of the activities this week was to take each of those critical statements and turn them into something positive. It was a surprisingly encouraging exercise. I wonder if there was something about simply acknowledging the bad thoughts and letting them out, before finding ways to turn them around.
All too often I get myself into a spiral of thinking something negative, then getting cross about thinking negatively, which is just another way to berate myself. This way, I could write all the nasty, doubtful things out in black and white and see how some of them were unrealistic while others were just cruel.
Turning positivity back on yourself is hard. As is taking a selfie with a 'normal' camera...
For each one, I thought about how I would feel if someone said something like that to the people I care about. That their dreams are silly, that it’s a waste of time to work on something you love, that things that don’t make money are meaningless. I wouldn’t dream of saying these things to other people, so why do I say them to myself?
I also read an article about being confident which reminded me that this will be an ongoing project. Reassuring and comforting yourself and shutting down that nagging voice that tells you you’re no good is perhaps something we should all be spending more time on, no matter what our goals are.
I was surprised how much effort was involved in giving myself the time to do the exercises in the book this week. After all, I’m in a delicate physical state, so it’s not like I’ve got a busy schedule to keep me away from time spent on writing and recovery. But still, I found myself doubting, often before I’d even begun.
What was the point in writing every day? It’s not like I was coming up with new ideas. I’d done this before and not had a major ‘breakthrough’ in my creativity, why would it make a difference now? What on earth does writing a few pages every day and going out by yourself once a week do anyway? How does thinking up five ‘alternative’ lives have any impact on how good my writing is?
Because I was writing the pages while all of this was coming out, I was able to do some digging into where it came from. I think a lot of the ‘this is pointless’ stuff came from a reluctance to genuinely spend time on myself. All those years as a teacher, the last few as a mum, I’ve spent so much time being busy and doing things, it felt very odd to set aside even the smallest amount of time per day that was just mine. That couldn’t be taken away or negotiated.
Creating space that is only for yourself can be hard
There seems to be this idea that unless the thing we are doing is good for other people, that it’s selfish or useless. How much more content might we be if we genuinely cordoned off time from our days and chose to use it doing something we really enjoy?
I also think it comes from the spiritual elements of the course. While I like to think of myself as a very creative person, as soon as people start talking about Great Creators and Divine Inspiration, I get very uncomfortable. My logical brain barges onto the scene and starts shouting everyone else down.
The last time I worked my way through this book I changed the word from ‘God’ to ‘Goddess,’ so at least I could feel like the energy was more suited to me. But maybe I’m overthinking it. If I’ve committed to seeing this through, then I have to accept all of it. I don’t like the idea of things like fate because it makes me feel out of control, but if there’s some guiding force that wants to make me a better writer, I think I might be able to get on board with that.
Covid and personal health are definitely limiting my options here, but I wanted to make sure this was something ‘new.’ The idea is to do something fun, something that nurtures your inner artist child and allows you to ‘fill the well’ of your creativity, whatever that happens to be.
Deciding that cutting myself off from the digital world was important, I set off with a camera (old school), some chewy laces and a bottle of water, and headed up my nearest mountain for a walk.
Should I have been scaling mountains so soon after surgery? Maybe not. Was it the best thing to walk up an (admittedly very small) mountain without a phone? Most definitely not. But oh, it was lovely.
Probably not the standard food for walking up mountains
For starters, it was snowing. I love the snow. It doesn’t matter how much it causes traffic issues or makes things slippy, I’ve always kept that childlike glamour about cold white stuff falling out of the sky. So there I was, ambling through a forest, no-one about, with a gentle fall of snow. And I had no podcasts, no music, no Twitter feed to distract me. It was beautiful.
I spent a good fifteen minutes deciding what the snow falling sounded like (I decided it was sherbet sizzliing on the tongue). I then turned my attention to that wonderful sound your shoes make when you walk in it (leather-creak).
Despite my brain’s tendency to whirr off in different directions when left to its own devices, I kept trying to bring it back to the moment by looking at things. The scrunched-up leaves covered in snow, the way the snowflakes hung on cobwebs, the way it was strange to feel my heart beat loudly from exercise after so much lying around.
Of course it wasn’t quite as placid as intended. I was only going to walk for an hour at most, but I did want to see the cave. Turns out the cave was practically at the top of the mountain anyway, and I ended up slipping and sliding my way back down the path in a hurry so I wasn’t late picking my daughter up from school. Still, I’m sure the adventurous nature of it added to the creative spark.
Not exactly a blizzard but this was how much snow fell while I was walking
Slowly, my body is healing. It has its ups and downs. The day I had immunotherapy I was confined to the sofa, capable of nothing but watching TV and eating an entire bar of Dairy Milk Caramel. Today I felt sick and took a two-hour nap. But other days I prepared workshops, thought about a book launch event and designed a promotional slide for my book blog tour.
There’s no rush. My creative and physical recovery will take time. And I think, this time, I’m going to allow myself to have it.
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