Clean and Elegant

Clean and Elegant

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Castles in the Basement

Those of you who know me may be aware that I am a recovering self-help book junkie.  Before admitting that I was powerless over my affliction and surrendering my suffering to high power, I came across Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way:  A Spiritual Path Towards Higher Creativity.    The Artist's Way is geared towards “blocked creatives” whose inner artist children have been deeply wounded, preventing them from producing the very excellent novels, sculptures, haikus and pottery that lie deep within.  I had never heard of Julia Cameron’s excellent novels, sculptures, haikus and pottery, but my own writing career had barely blossomed beyond dabbling in adolescent notebooks and journals.  Hence, I diagnosed my artist child as “VERY WOUNDED” and embarked on Julia Cameron’s prescribed spiritual journey. 

Along the lines of many other 12-step programs, The Artist’s Way is divided into twelve chapters. Each one is focussed on different recovery themes.  In Chapter one, we “recover a sense of safety,” reclaiming our right to live happy, creative and free existences, free of dysfunction and vice.  We compose affirmations:

“I, Erica Schmidt, can write a marvellous novel with joy, ease and without taking up narcotics.”  We address our creative injuries and forgive our grade two teacher Mrs. Douglas for not casting us as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.

In Chapter 6, we recover a sense of abundance and allow ourselves to throw out ugly clothes and buy our favourite fruits and vegetables even if they’re not on sale.  We can affirm this:

I, Erica Schmidt, buy and eat blueberries. 

Julia Cameron is adamant that it’s never too late to recover and discover a dormant and repressed artistic adventure.  She was also adamant that we should each commit ourselves, every day for the rest of our lives, to a daily practice called, “Morning Pages.”

In order to become a writer of morning pages, set your alarm 30 minutes early and use this time to write uninhibitedly for 3 pages. 

“But Julia Cameron,” you might protest. (I like to call her J.C.)  “I’m not a writer.  I want to carve ducks.”

“Phooey!” J.C. proclaims.  “Morning pages are not supposed to be REAL WRITING.”  Instead they are designed as a potent preparatory tool to serve you for the rest of your inspired, basket-weaving, duck-carving , narcotic-free, blueberry-filled existence.  JC considers morning pages to be a sort of Active Meditation during which all the greatest irritations and desires of your unconscious emerge to the surface.  By confronting various existential voids and hang-ups, we may magically devise more effective methods of doing our laundry, quitting our jobs and leaving the country.  In addition, you may also become aware of your deep longing to wax your pubic hair or have your toenails removed.  Finally, behind the details of laundry, hygienic ambitions and bad sex, artists may also uncover insight on their own art; lines from a poem, an image, an interesting character called Annabelle Gordon who could potentially make her way into your next short story.  Fabulous.  But again, “Morning pages are not REAL WRITING.” 

For four or five years, more or less every morning, I have diligently woken up, grabbed a pen and strived to reveal my higher creative self.  I don’t regret one page.  There is something redeeming and enlightening about forcing yourself to transcribe the details of your existence.  I have made interesting discoveries. 

“Too much coffee.  Out of toilet paper.”

“Bellydancing is a bit of a misnomer.”

“The dishes are full of sink.”

“I hate hamsters”

And poetic declarations: 

“I cannot throw knives at the walls of bathroom stalls.” 

“So much depends upon ovulation”

“A is for Alveolar Palate”

As well as extremely useful imperatives:

Get over Mike Snow. 

Act like a child of God.

Call your dentist.   Book a pap smear.

So as I said, no regrets.  However, I think it’s time to re-examine my tactics.  I now have piles of notebooks, filled with industriously scrawled  bits of self-awareness.  I’m all for self-awareness, and I like that my morning page have helped me keep track of the last couple of years.  I just don’t think that this ritual needs to take such a large place in my “Artist Routine.” 

I, Erica Schmidt, have maxed out on self-awareness. 

During my spiritual path towards higher creativity and beyond, there were many days when the only REAL writing I ever did was morning pages.  Alas, as JC maintains, is not actually REAL writing.  She’s right:  it’s brain puke.  Vomit is deceptively tasty when it hasn’t yet acquired too much acidity.  But most often, vomit is a personal thing that you don’t show other people. 

My friend Simon likens my morning page routine to “building castles in the basement.”  Your construction skills may improve and the process may be valuable, but your castles will never grow very high.  Plus, you’ll probably never finish one.  For me, the chronically unfinished novel (or any other writing project) is one of the most painful diseases you can endure.  Perhaps some people do just write, simply for the sake of writing.  The final product isn’t important and they don’t desire any sort of praise or recognition for their work.  They truly love writing and that is enough.  But I think that deep down, many of us basement writers have something we really want to share.  We want to connect with other people and we want to be understood. 

I would keep writing even if nobody read another word I ever wrote.  These days, this desire has become increasingly clear to me as I write my morning pages.  And it has become increasingly clear to me that whining about pap smears and laundry in a cute little pink notebook is not helping me connect with other readers.  Hence, I woke up this morning with the clear conviction that I would forego the thirty minutes of private agonizing over my existence. 

I, Erica Schmidt, hereby cease to build castles in the basement.

Get to your novel!  Your blog!  Flesh out those characters from your play! Anything besides whining about your life for three pages and thirty minutes.

I tried.  But the heaping basket of dirty clothes smells like mildew.  The only "clean" shirt I have smells like mildew.  Yesterday, two and a half new job prospects were probably extinguished.  It’s been a year since my last pap smear.  And I still can’t do karandavasana.  What to do with this agony?

I made coffee, opened my notebook and began my daily purge of written angst.  As Margaret Atwood says, “Old neurological pathways die hard.”  

The End.

I Let Go, by Erica J. Schmidt
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