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.
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.
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!