Monday, October 19, 2009

The Artist's Way

Our AW cluster. L, N, M, M & H in front of Hillbilly Junction

I'm only a few months behind on my Artist's Way posts. Actually, my group has finished The Artist's Way and are into the next book, Walking in This World. I realized over time that I wasn't interested in giving a week by week, blow by blow, review. Because, for those of you who have read it know the week's tasks can make you giddy, busy, depressed, spastic, etc. I will instead write an overview of what the book is and how it works for those of you who have been wondering what the book is all about. Because, usually, when you ask readers about it they get that big-eye-little-eye crazy look on their face and prattle on about how awesome it is o.O

AW is usually noted as being for artists and recovering your creativity, whether you are a writer, painter, dancer, photographer, etc. Well, this is true to a point but a little vague and misleading. The book is for everyone, not just “artists” or people who have lost their creative spark. Instead of teaching a person how to be creative, (to physically choreograph, paint, have awesome ideas, etc.), it teaches you ways to be more “yourself”. That may seem a bit abstract but if you think of the AW book as a text book, and you are taking a class about Yourself, and learning ways to more openly be “yourself”, AW will better help you express “yourself” in your daily actions. This then can lead to a happier more complete person/artist/whatever. You may learn that you have always been an artist/creative person when you thought you were not. Think of AW as a “life class” all about you.

AW has tasks that you should complete at the end of each chapter. Some easy. Some hard. Hard in the sense they make you think about things you may not want to, or hard in the sense that you have to tell your spouse to watch the kids so you can have 30 minutes of private time to write, paint, etc. Some tasks may make you feel silly like writing personal affirmations or making collages out of magazine clippings. The tasks, particularly the “Morning Pages,” are what drive the book's effectiveness. Remember, this is a class about Yourself. You should do the tasks to the best of your ability, even if they seem silly. (Think of the Karate Kid's, “wax on, wax off.” There is a reason for all of the tasks in the book.)

AW is full of spiritual references, and the terms “God” and “Great Creator” are used frequently throughout the book. The book does state that you are to read it within the context of your own religious or non-religious overtones and to keep in mind that the “Great Creator” is a title to the spiritual and creative part of the universe and to apply it to your reading as you see fit. So, don't assume the god references are specifically Christian, Muslim, Jewish, etc. And for those of you who are non-religious, don't let a “God” reference scare you off. The spiritual references are meant to be open-ended for each reader. You can't have a class about Yourself and not discuss the aspects about life and the universe that are spiritual and unexplainable.

Ok, that is the gist of the book. As readers begin to assess and rediscover things about themselves, they begin look at their surrounds anew. This is what leads to the creative explosion that seems to take place during and after reading AW. If you are interested in the book at all, I recommend picking one up (they are super cheap on eBay) and just giving it a go.

If you are able, I also recommend a cluster to help keep you on task and for encouragement. In my cluster (group o'gals who meet after each chapter to discuss,) we like to joke that our get-togethers are “group” or “group therapy” because we spend most of our meeting airing grievances, sharing new ideas, supporting each other's breakthroughs, discussing complex personal life issues, and so on. Doing the AW tasks help you to define different aspects of yourself and your life you may not know you have or haven't explored in many years. Being in a cluster, you can discuss and brainstorm with your friends. This allows you to get a different point of view on the issues you have defined during your tasks. However, learning about your friends can be unpleasant. It can make you frustrated to hear about their problems and hurtles. You may find yourself mad at their friends or spouses because you want to “help” and “fix” their issues. But clusters are meant to be non-judgmental. Ideally, they are safe places to talk about the things you are discovering in your “life class”. You don't have to meet in a cluster but if you have friends you are comfortable with and who are interested in reading AW with you, I recommend it.

I also recommend not reading ahead but finish each chapter and the tasks before moving on. And if there is a chapter that is just too much to handle one week, you can always come back to it later. You can also repeat any chapter that you completed before but felt unsatisfied with some of the personal issues that it brought to light. The point is, to come back to it and try again.

For me, AW has helped me pull myself out of kind of a self imposed mental lethargy. Not just in my creative life, but my life in general. Despite the ideas and emotions I felt I would just mentally mope about instead of acting on them. I would make lists that I would never complete. I would sleep in too late and then kick myself for wasting my day, my life, etc. I would ignore chores, or people, or whatever seemed to remind me of the things that I was sitting around waiting on to change. I, like many people, have spent a lot of time just sitting around waiting to become “happy”.

No, AW didn't give me the holy grail of happiness by any means, but it has helped refocus my thoughts and better define what I want and what I want to accomplish. I was able to, on my own, look at myself and say, “WTF?!” and then tackle those issues that only I can resolve. Instead of inaction, I take action. Instead of, “why?”, it's “why not?” That sounds kind of silly, like I'm spouting from those cheesy Inspirational Posters, or I joined a cult and had a “coming to Jesus” moment. My new bursts of creative energy have definitely resulted in a raised eyebrow or two from the Husband Person. This is also the reason for my lack of blog posts. I've been super into all of my side projects and not into blogging.

Well, I'm not really satisfied with my summary here but I feel that I'm beginning to just prattle on and on. Which is a good sign for me to stop. If you've done AW and want to leave feedback that would be awesome.


Now playing: Escape from New York
mood: caffeine and protein!

*edited to add*
AW did help give me the little push I needed to get started on the mystery Performance Art piece I am working on with some fellow dancers. Without me reading the book and thinking, "why not?" I would still be just daydreaming about the project instead of actually moving forward and making it happen. From a BD's perspective it helped me define and act upon my dance in a more creative and challenging way.


Najla said...

Naima, I love to hear your thoughts on completing the book. I'm currently on Chapter 5...and yes I did break my reading deprivation to read your post (I know...can't seem to stick to that task). As a fellow dancer, I'm already inspired to go a different direction artistically and feel so much less of a dance funk than I did earlier this year. I'll be interested to hear how things progress for you!

Naima said...

(This is a comment I received in my email)

I, of course, can't post on your actual blog because work blocks me, and if I wait till I get home, I'll forget, SO ...
I am so, I don't know, proud? of you for the post on the Artist's Way. It's been hard for me to explain it, over the years, but a course in "you" is the best explanation I've seen.
I really credit AW for getting me out of newspapers and onto something else. Now, I'm still not sure what the "something else" will be, entirely, but I spent a solid three years KNOWING I needed to get out of that biz, knowing it wouldn't improve and I was slowly killing myself w/ its toxicity, but also kind of frozen in place, unable to do anything about it. AW, and the morning pages in particular, pushed me to make a decision and then figure out how to act on it.
Now, I still don't know what I want to be "career" wise, and I'm not even sure I'm a "career" type person, but I know, for sure I'm a writer, and that's something the AW taught me. It also taught me that where or what I write isn't important, so long as I do it.
Now, I'm going back to AW, and to walking in this world, to help me with part 2 of my life: dance. And whatever else comes up ... I've heard some people say they do it once a year, every other year, etc. I just do it when I'm at that "huh, what now?" phase. When I'm bored and restless and driving Scott and my mom crazy ... That's when it's time to take the focus inward once again, and leave my poor loved ones alone.

Carly said...

I can't seem to get myself out of bed before 7am, which is already cutting it very close for the 8am class I teach, so despite buying the book (after our trip to Gma's) and trying to start it twice, I didn't even get past chapter one because I couldn't get up to do the morning pages... :(

Lucinda said...

megga kudos!!! great explanation/description. I'm so glad we've done this!!!