When my parents brought me to the emergency room for the second time in as many weeks, they worried that, even in the 1960s, my sudden susceptibility to injury might raise suspicions of mistreatment.
I already wore Raggedy Ann-like black stitches on my face after a mishap involving a swivel chair, coffee table and locked bathroom. Now x-rays confirmed a fractured collar bone after a dead-man’s fall off the back step onto the concrete patio that would have made a B-Western movie actor proud.
It’s not that I was particularly clumsy. Nor was I adventurous or reckless #outside of my own mind. But even as a young child, I expected mastery from the very first effort, refusing to so much as try a new task until I could ensure flawless execution.
My family tells the standing joke that the answer to any question about when I might do something was my current age plus one year. When would I learn to tie my shoes? When I was six. When would I ride a bike? When I was seven. When would I stop biting my nails? We’re shooting for forty-nine.
Unfortunately for four-year-old me and my left clavicle, Learn to #Operate a Door Knob was not on my agenda until the following year. When I returned home from playing, I would wait for someone, anyone, to open the door and let me back into the house. Sometimes, I might have to shout for attention. That day, the fist-pounding on the door cost me my balance.
Julia Cameron suggests this is a common obstacle to creative pursuit.
We deny that in order to do something well we must first be willing to do it badly. Instead, we opt for setting our limits at the point where we feel assured of success.
. . . In order to risk, we must jettison our accepted limits. We must break through “I can’t because . . .” Because I am too #old, too broke, too shy, too proud? Self-defended? Timorous?
Usually, when we say we can’t do something, what we mean is that we won’t do something unless we can guarantee we’ll do it perfectly. (The Artist’s Way, p. 129)
I struggle as a writer at times because, in all the time I’ve been writing, it never occurred to me start with a rough draft. When the first words to hit the page must be the final and best words to hit the page, getting a full sentence down can be like giving birth, each agonizing push only producing more worry that what comes out will be all bloody and slimy, making terrible sounds and not doing at all what it’s supposed to.
Only recently have I allowed myself to take the risk of writing badly, on purpose, with the aim of inducing labor, or perhaps even going straight to Cesarean section and cleaning up the mess later.
Cameron pushes for the risk:
Living within these bounds, we may feel stifled, smothered, despairing, bored. But, yes, we do feel safe. And safety is a very expensive illusion. (p. 129)
It seems silly, perhaps, to be afraid of a benign rough draft. But then, refusing to experiment with a door knob to get into the house probably seems a little silly too. I wonder, as I see myself standing there on my back step, what might have happened if only I’d have taken hold of the door handle. Even if I weren’t able to turn the knob, it would have given me something to hang onto when the equilibrium shifted.
We’re exploring Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way together. This week, she suggests that “anything worth doing might even be worth doing badly.” If you didn’t have to do it perfectly, what might you be willing to try? (A painting class? Learning a language? Shooting video?)
What stood out to you in the chapters this week? Perhaps you’d share in the comments about your experience with an Artist’s Date or any of the tasks you tried.
For next week, we’ll consider parts 8 and 9, Recovering a Sense of Strength and Recovering a Sense of Compassion. Give yourself the freedom 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.
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.
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