It’s not the prettiest lake. The shoreline is steep and craggy in most places, without much sandy beach. Where I am now, in a city park just across the border into Minnesota, there isn’t a beach at all. Just large blocks of granite cut and hauled in to stave off erosion and flooding.
By this time of year, unless the wind is blowing just so, the water is thick green, and parents often rebathe their painted alien-children as soon as they pull them from the water so the neighbors don’t worry about who is moving in next door.
So it’s here that I sit, one last Sunday afternoon, to do Julia Cameron’s bidding.
I’m still gathering myself after her suggestion that ice cream may be a culprit in a dulled creative mind, when a ruckus starts about twenty feet out from the rocky shore, where a small family of ducks had just paraded by. One by one, a contingent of fish (probably the despised, large-lipped carp) start to chase their tails, flapping in and out above the surface of the water until it seems the whole small bay has come to a rolling boil.
I creep down on the rocks, hoping for a chance to see closer up without somersaulting into the water and putting on green alien paint. And now, five sea gulls begin circling in a flyover operation, diving toward the surface hoping to nab one of the fish careless enough to get a fin above water.
The fish retreat from the gulls’ pecking onslaught, and eventually the birds leave hungry. I clamber back up the rocks and allow Julia to restart her tutoring.
My mom always taught me not to do a job halfway. With that ethic jogging alongside red blood cells in my veins, when we embarked on The Artist’s Way I couldn’t just skim the chapters and fake the assignments like a certain college student I used to know. So I did the tasks, as best I could. I wrote my Morning Pages, went on Artist’s Dates, and took a lot of walks.
Julia turned up the heat.
More than once these past weeks I’ve felt that everything around me had broken into that rolling boil.
One Monday morning I pounded out an email to the Managing Editor suggesting she might need someone else to write the post because I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t send that message, and I did manage to wrangle out an article, but not before I sent a different email describing how my miserable life would look if Julia had her way. I’ll spare you the details, but it ended with me washing up penniless under a set of waterfalls in South America.
And I’ve watched how some of you take the heat, too. Diana pushed through her resistance to write — and later read — the Morning Pages, finding, in a single rose blooming, enough hope to extend herself a little extra compassion and gentleness. Cindee found a simple fill-in-the-blank question posed by Julia nagged at her all day until she realized what she considered a neutral thought about money was a keen sense of claustrophobia.
And then there is Donna, who seems to thrive in the boiling water. Undeterred by waves or swooping birds, she caught moment after crystal moment of synchronicity, from Raffi in her Twitter feed to a vision for creating art with fused glass.
The gulls circle back as there is renewed splashing near the shore. Even with their speed and stealth, I know they can’t pull a fish out of the bubbling water. Carp can be twice the size of the sturdy white birds and just too much for them to take on. But one swoops onto the grass under a tree near my chair, a tiny minnow hanging from its beak and a sort of gleeful moan coming from its throat, as if to gloat over its achievement to the other gulls who stand defeated, empty-mouthed on the rocks.
I watch as it bobs its head a few times, then swallows hard once.
The minnow is gone, the bird satisfied for now.
Maybe it is okay, I think, to let Julia have at least a small manner of her way. If growth “is a spiral process, doubling back on itself, ” we don’t need to eat a whole carp in a day. A minnow could do just fine, thank you.
We’ve been exploring Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way together, concluding our book club this week. What’s a significant milestone you think you’ve crossed as you’ve worked through the book? Perhaps you’d share in the comments about your experience with Morning Pages, an Artist’s Date or any of the tasks you tried.
If you post about the book at your blog, please place your link in the comments so we can join you there, and feel free to use our Book Club button on your page.
And consider joining us for our new (much lighter) book club, beginning Wednesday, July 18. Get ready to laugh and learn about poetry with, The Anthologist, a novel by Nicholson Baker.
Buy a year of Every Day Poems, just $5.99— Read a poem a day, become a better poet. In June we’ll be exploring the theme Trees.