Embracing My Creative Legacy

The Artist's Way

Last summer, my Mom gave me this copy of The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron when I was visiting Dallas, and encouraged me to read it. She had probably mentioned this book at least a handful of times before, but I was finally open to reading it. I can be a little stubborn, especially about what I read.

Cameron calls the book a do-it-yourself workshop in creative recovery for anyone interested in “living more creatively through practicing an art” or just “practicing the art of creative living.” She espouses a few basic tools. One of which, called morning pages, has become a key part of my writing practice. She also encourages her readers to sign a contact committing themselves to follow the process for the full twelve weeks, using her tools and methods. When I came to this page, I discovered that my mom had signed the contract in 1994, twenty years before I began reading it. As I read and worked through the twelve weeks of material, I thought a lot about the legacy of sharing this book with my creative, talented mom.

Over the years, my Mom’s creativity has had many outlets — calligraphy, sketching, bookbinding, letterpress, painting, watercolors, journaling, flower arranging, delicious cooking, and an eye toward decorating or designing almost anything. Nothing was too small to merit attention and aesthetic consideration. Her creativity has inspired mine, even when I was younger and didn’t want anything to do with it.

By being willing to be a bad artist, you have a chance to be an artist, and perhaps, over time, a very good one. ~Julia Cameron

For many years, I pushed back hard against this kind of crafty creativity. Writing seemed different initially, but art and creativity, especially the accessible daily versions, somehow weren’t serious or important enough in my mind. So instead I majored in finance in college, but i knew alost instantly that it was a bad fit for me as a career. While at a loss for what to do next, my parents suggested a career aptitude test. The results showed that my single biggest area of aptitude was artistic at 95%. I still remember the woman who shared the results with me explaining that any category measuring over 90% was considered a need. I stubbornly ignored that particular result, even though it’s stuck with me over the years. Looking back with hindsight, I think it’s more likely that fear of failing or being mediocre held me back from even trying.

My mom’s life, creatively lived, along with her love of fine art, gave me the permission to love art too, to admire artists and writers, and to begin to pursue writing myself. If she hadn’t been so committed to creativity as a way of life and largely incapable of living any other way, I may never have begun writing in any earnest or my writing might have stayed locked away in my journals. Now after decades of filling page after page, I understand that inability to live any other way. Writing is an intrinsic part of who I am.

Creative Contract

To honor this legacy, I signed the contract last summer right next to my mom’s name, added my own marginalia to the book, and began the journey she started twenty years earlier. A year later now, it’s been instrumental to my development as a writer, and my ability to own that title as part of my identity, which is still ongoing.

I’ve written more in the last year than in the last 36 years combined, even if much of that writing hasn’t made it onto this site or out into the world (yet!). I’ve seen my writing style begin to change too. Writing regularly while working full-time is challenging, especially in a job that has substantial responsibility and requires a lot of me mentally, but I’ve finally recognized that it’s also nonnegotiable. It’s a need. So I’m finding ways to make time, with the goal of finishing more writing and seeing my byline in print. I’ll share my progress occasionally here along the way.

Someday, I’d love to do my part in passing this legacy on, maybe sharing this well worn copy of The Artist’s Way with my own son or daughter or my sister’s children. We can be a family of artists and writers just as we are also a family of doctors, lawyers, executives, and accountants.

Notebooks

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P.S. — I just got back from a solo trip to Baja, Mexico, during the hot off season. It was a DIY writing retreat of sorts, including plenty of rugged Pacific beaches, forests of cacti, and lots of Mexican popsicles. Stay tuned for more about Mexico soon!

Yosemite’s Slow Reveal & One of My Own

Yosemite Valley Walls

Iconic national parks like Yosemite aren’t usually an easy last minute trip. Lodging isn’t particularly quick to come by, and campsites are challenging to secure too.  I’ve been meaning to visit for as long as I’ve lived in San Francisco, but somehow it’s just never happened. So after talking about it for long enough, availability aligned, and we made a reservation for three weeks later at the end of April. Finally, I’d visit Yosemite!

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We left on Friday right after work. So by the time we had arrived, it was long past dark. The climb through the mountains and the following descent to the valley floor were obvious as we drove, but all the majestic beauty had simply faded into black. The valley walls that John Muir, champion and protector of Yosemite, had described as “mountains in size,” and “so compactly and harmoniously arranged … that the Valley, comprehensively seen, looks like an immense hall or temple lighted from above.” Those walls would have to wait, at least until the next morning.

En route we’d discovered that there was a winter weather advisory in effect for Yosemite overnight and for Saturday night as well. Filled with canvas tent cabins, Curry Village is the least expensive lodging available in the park, and the only option when we booked had been an unheated tent cabin with two single beds. Since it was practically May, we assumed we wouldn’t need the heat anyway. Now we weren’t so sure. Freezing temperatures were forecasted, and snow was possible.

Snowy Curry Village

Tent Cabin in Curry Village

We woke up the next morning to more than 5 inches of snow on the ground and more continuing to fall. Pillows, linens, and heavy wool blankets are provided, but if you come early (or late) in the season, you really still need a sleeping bag. Thankfully, ours were rated for freezing temperatures, and they actually kept us plenty warm, especially when we burrowed way down deep inside with no chance of noses or faces peaking out from within.

Snow from the Ahwahnee Hotell

We agreed upon waking that the best possible place from which to watch the beauty of the ongoing snowfall was from the heated comfort of The Ahwahnee Hotel. Morning had come, but the view I had eagerly anticipated was still delayed, now clouded by snow and fog. We lingered and enjoyed the breakfast buffet and ample coffee until the snow finally stopped. Actually, it might be more accurate to say there was a break in the snow quickly followed by slushy rain and fat drops of melting snow. The temperature began to rise, but the rain remained, and only nearby roads were open.

Map of Yosemite Valley

We wandered along the valley floor and stopped at each of the waterfalls — Bridal Veil, Horse Tail and Yosemite Falls — while still mostly bundled up against the cold temperatures and often under an umbrella.

Rainy Falls

Falls Under an Umbrella

Glimpse of the Walls

About an hour later, the rain eased, and the fog shifted moodily. By then we’d caught a glimpse of almost all the sights I’d hoped to see. An outline of El Capitan’s rock face was just visible beyond the fog. Highlighted for a moment and then gone again. Then the fog cleared enough that the walls slowly came into view. Only Half Dome stayed hopelessly out of sight.

Yosemite Valley Floor

The pitch and scale of those massive walls felt Gothic in magnitude, but to borrow words from Muir, “no temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite.”

Yosemite Walking the Valley Floor

Yosemite Walls Emerge

Yosemite Foxes

We weren’t the only ones excited to see the weather lift. These two foxes happily played and lounged on the valley floor while visitors like us gathered and watched in wonder.

Sunday brought all the sunshine and warmth we’d originally expected of this trip, and finally views of both Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls and the exceedingly elusive Half Dome.

Yosemite Until Next Time Half Dome

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Vernal Falls

Yosemite Vernal Falls Rainbow

We hiked the popular Mist Trail to Vernal Falls, and then basked in the warm(er) temperatures atop that giant slab of granite.

Yosemite Resting on Granite

On our way out of the park, we discovered that the road to Glacier Point had been reopened, and we couldn’t resist the diversion.

Yosemite High Altitude Snow

Yosemite Valley Walls

Yosemite from Glacier Point

Yosemite Falls from Glacier Point

It was an unexpected first trip to Yosemite — a dramatic, almost cinematic unveiling of natural beauty that I felt lucky to behold.

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P.S. – You probably noticed a new face in these photos! His name is Cesar, and one of the many things I love about him is that he’s always up for an adventure. He’s been a big part of my adventures over the last 8 months, and there are plenty more to come together. I’ve been meaning to share this for a while. Even considering my recent increased responsibility at work and the resulting travel, it’s overdue. Let’s just call it my own slow reveal.