Somewhere around the fifth grade, I sat cross-legged on the cool linoleum tile floor of my basement and rolled a red-striped tube sock up the sides of an empty tennis ball can. I stood it upright in a white sneaker and tied the laces snug. The sneaker’s mate had been torn asunder when I stepped carelessly into the opening of a storm sewer grate. After walking the rest of the way home from school with a stocking cap wrapped around my foot, I memorialized the lost shoe with a sculpture of recycled objects.
At Julia Cameron’s prodding, I set off last week to retrace the steps of my creative history. Armed with my GPS and a fireplace poker, I frisked bushes and flipped over stones to ferret out the “historic monsters,” insidious brick masons who constructed the wall of negative core beliefs surrounding my creativity. In The Artist’s Way, Cameron considers the importance of early nurturing:
One of our chief needs as creative beings is support. Unfortunately, this can be hard to come by. Ideally, we would be nurtured and encouraged first by our nuclear family and then by ever-widening circles of friends, teachers, well-wishers. As young artists, we need and want to be acknowledged for our attempts and efforts as well as for our achievements and triumphs. Unfortunately, many artists never receive this critical early encouragement. As a result, they may not know they are artists at all. (p. 41)
With works such as the Hollow Leg sculpture to my name, one would think I could have found those monsters right there on the linoleum floor of my childhood home. But I couldn’t.
My parents, while they may have giggled good-naturedly at my latest effort, applauded my work. They equipped me with Chinese bamboo brushes for my watercolor paints and brass nibs for my calligraphy pens. Quick to support my efforts, they continue to show more confidence in my abilities than I do.
Finding no monsters in the comfort of home, I moved on to school. An English teacher was so pleased with my writing he stopped giving me assignments and put me to work grading others’ instead. Misguided, yes (I could have used the work). But hardly malevolent. One art teacher entered my batik panels in a competition. Another choked up the morning he had to tell me that my sculpture — a bust I’d spent an entire semester on — exploded in the kiln.
My local newspaper gave me a regular column when I was just 17 years old. The non-profit that hired me out of college to type letters and prepare mass mailings sent me on writing and photo assignments instead. Even now, I find myself writing within encouraging, supportive communities.
So where are my monsters? Oh, sure. There was the art teacher who told me that Salvador Dali had nothing to fear from my early attempts at surrealism. And there was that one guy on Facebook a couple of weeks ago who didn’t think much of my stick figures. But I shrug them off. They just don’t understand me.
This “time travel” exercise to which Cameron calls me leaves me oddly perplexed. I have no shortage of negative beliefs. These core negatives, she says, “come to us from our parents, our religion, our culture, and our fearful friends.” (p. 46) But I find no cruel Sister Ann Rita at whom to vent my squelched creative angst.
And so I wonder, can these core beliefs also simply come from inside of myself? When the thing I believe most easily about my writing is that “I will do bad work and not know it and look like a fool,” is it reasonable to accept that it’s no one’s fault and that I’m just simply frightened? Despite the monster-hunt, Cameron seems to suggest it is. “What you are is scared. Core negatives keep you scared.” (p. 47)
If anything, I suppose, it might have helped to run into the occasional critic, to lend credible balance to affirmation. I wonder what may have happened if someone had told me I couldn’t go far on a Hollow Leg.
We’re exploring Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way together. How have you experienced nurturing or wounding of your creative spirit in the past? What core negative beliefs can leave you blocked? Did you experiment with Morning Pages or an Artist Date? Perhaps you’d share in the comments about your experience or any of the tasks you tried.
For next week, we’ll consider parts 2 and 3, Recovering a Sense of Identity and Recovering a Sense of Power. Feel free to do one or both chapters.
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