I’m sitting by the rocks on the riverbank, precisely 2, 130 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico and 1.1 mile south of Big Stone Lake. That’s what the big wooden sign says, anyway, here at the headwaters of the Minnesota River.
Usually I sit further upstream, closer to the lake than the Gulf, where pelicans gleefully nab dumbstruck perch from the water rushing out of the spillway, ignoring the fishermen standing midstream a few feet away.
Today, though, I sit downstream, where the water barely seems to move. I watch a hundred frenzied small birds dart in and out from under the highway bridge as though there’s something important to accomplish and with all their flapping they’re accomplishing it.
I feel more akin to these angry birds than I do the playful, full-bellied pelicans wiping fish scales off their long orange lips with the back of their wings.
I have an ice cream cone. It’s melting onto the grass. I stopped on the way to the headwaters because Julia Cameron asked me to list five of my favorite childhood foods, and then indulge in one. I didn’t list five; I listed two. The chocolate-dipped cone from Dairy Queen wasn’t on the list, but it probably should have been. I just didn’t think of it when she put me on the spot like that. And now I’m feeling angry at ice cream, something a reasonable person should never, ever do.
The margins of The Artist’s Way are splattered with retorts to what I read as the text’s paranoid accusations.
Do not expect your blocked friends to applaud your recovery. Blocked friends may find your recovery disturbing. (p. 57) Why must I be conditioned to think everyone is out to get me? Am I not already cynical enough for you?
Be particularly alert to any suggestion that you have become selfish and indifferent. (p. 57) But isn’t it possible that we are selfish and different? Can we not trust ourselves to be objective enough to pay attention to those with valid cautions?
We tend to think such behavior [focusing on our responsibilities to others] makes us good people. It doesn’t. It makes us frustrated people. (p. 57) Good people can still be frustrated.
Do not let friends squander your time. (p. 57) Yeah. Better to be unfriendly but creative.
We want to set aside time for our creative work, but we feel we should do something else instead. (p. 57) Crap, Julia! Sometimes I really should go do something else.
I knew this study would be difficult. The Managing Editor suggested I might “playfully struggle” through. But when I curse ice cream for Pete’s sake, one must wonder what moved me past playful struggle to perfectly angry.
And here we reach a place where I can agree fully with Cameron: anger is a throbbing red pointer finger.
Anger is meant to be listened to. Anger is a voice, a shout, a plea, a demand. Anger is meant to be respected. Why? Because anger is a map. Anger shows us what our boundaries are. Anger shows us where we want to go. It lets us see where we’ve been and lets us know when we haven’t liked it. Anger points the way, not just the finger. In the recovery of a blocked artist, anger is a sign of health.
Anger is meant to be acted upon. It is not meant to be acted out. Anger points the direction. (p. 73)
I may be an emotional neophyte in many ways, but anger (an emotion I’m good at) is something I have long trusted as a visible indicator of something else below the surface. Psychologists will tell us that anger is a secondary emotion, one that is always triggered by another: fear, hurt, humiliation, etc.
As I wonder what has the small birds in such a lather — what are they so afraid of? — I consider the same about myself. For it is clearly fear triggering my angry response. Fear of loss. I know that to embrace even a fraction of what Cameron advocates and more fully pursue the openness and freedom of a creative way of life, it means change. And even for the good, change spells loss. I sense the loss already.
Cameron requires a decision with every chapter. What will I embrace? What will I discard? What will either choice cost me?
There’s a good sized lake just over a mile to the north. I could sit with the pelicans in its wake and snag perch all day long. I wipe vanilla soft serve off green blades of grass and look to the south, where the water barely stirs but I know, just past the bridge, the current could take me clear to the ocean, two thousand miles away.
We’re exploring Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way together. How do you face resistance — internal or external — to your creativity? What made a mark on you from these chapters? 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 4 and 5, Recovering a Sense of Integrity and Recovering a Sense of Possibility. Feel free to do one or both chapters.
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.
Post and photo by Will Willingham.
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.