I had just graduated with a bachelor’s in English at 33. My late graduation was the result of a decision to take a year off in the middle of sophomore year. That year morphed into ten. Meanwhile, I birthed two life-changing humans, acquired two husbands, and got rid of one. I kept my favorite, co-bought a business, and relocated to New Hampshire.
I was exhausted. The extent of writing then consisted of papers for grad school along with poem remnants in a spotty journal. I stumbled upon Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way because of a neighbor’s kind gesture, a bookstore gift card, for a childcare exchange.
The night before a family vacation I took that gift card and wandered the aisles of the long since vanished Walden Books at the Nashua Mall in New Hampshire. The image of Mount Fuji’s snow-covered peak on The Artist’s Way’s cover captured my attention. I leafed through the pages, and every phrase I read resonated. I bought the book.
The next morning chaos ensued as we packed boogie boards, bikes, and blankets. I tucked away my new purchase. We convoyed to Ocean Park Maine: two cars, four bikes, along with beach chairs, and umbrellas. When we arrived at the cottage, there was Mount Fuji’s snow-covered peak framed in a print on the living room wall. Back then I regarded this occurrence as a positive sign.
Soon I discovered the term synchronicity within the pages of The Artist’s Way. Carl Jung coined the phrase for what appears as a meaningful coincidence, and Julia Cameron quotes Jung often in her book. I’d never heard that word before, but as a Buddhist, I was already a firm believer in the law of cause and effect. We are always making causes and experiencing effects simultaneously. Encountering Mount Fuji’s snow-covered peak twice in a twenty-four-hour period felt significant.
Later that evening, while the children slept in the loft above and my husband snored in the bedroom next door, I curled up on the couch, sipped peppermint tea, and opened The Artist’s Way. Soon Julia Cameron and I became BFFs.
She advised writing three pages every morning, even before coffee. I thought writing before coffee was cruel. She recommended artist dates. This idea reminded me of growing up in New York City. When I was a teenager, I explored museums and art galleries, and attended foreign films solo. Cameron’s rationale for taking oneself on artist dates and writing morning pages was to awaken the creative child-self. Somewhere in the process of having children, I’d lost that part of myself.
Creative children, Cameron claimed, required nurturing, encouragement, and playfulness. She prescribed radical self-care long before it was popular. I interpreted that as carving out time to play.
I also imagined my creative child-self needed hugs and gold stars because writing can be brutal. Let’s face it, rejections are hard. Cameron cautioned creatives of all types to be cautious of sharing dreams with naysayers and cynics. They may dampen a creative spirit by diminishing accomplishments and measuring success in terms of monetary value and fame. Perhaps you know the type, they were the mean kids in school. They have gotten older but haven’t really grown up. They are still lurking, gossiping, and judging creatives of all types.
After reading Cameron’s words that first night, I woke up early. I made coffee, ever so quietly, and tiptoed out onto the porch. Wisps of dreams from the night before drifted into my morning pages. Curious words spilled on to the page.
As the years passed morning pages provided the space to create fictional worlds, brave the truth of memoir writing, and try my hand at flash fiction. I make sense of the world through writing.
Decades later, I continue on the journey up Mount Fuji. I am writing because I want to be read by others. It has taken a lifetime to feel confident enough to share my words. I embrace feedback, especially from those who care about the meaning each word conveys.
I realize the importance of being true to my creative child-self. Here’s the bottom line: I teach all day, five days a week. These days I teach remotely and that’s a grueling paradigm shift. Nevertheless, I keep writing.
Julia Cameron remains my BFF because, after decades of writing morning pages and enjoying artist dates, I still appreciate how her words in The Artist’s Way paved the way for my creative journey.
In recent months, living through a pandemic makes me appreciate how the universe supports my creative intentions in a myriad of ways. For example: I am grateful for meaningful work as a teacher and wonderful students whom I encourage to write about living through a pandemic, and therefore I need to model by example. I am always grateful for my husband’s encouragement and sustenance. “I’ll clean up the kitchen. You go write,” he says, even after he’s already made a sumptuous meal.
We writers need to be cheered on. I require strong hugs when the writing goes well and gentle holding when the writing isn’t happening at all to my liking. Sometimes there are tears because writing can be a slog.
Solitary as writers are, we still need others, now more than ever. I am grateful to belong to Boston’s Grub Street writing community where I am blessed with a cadre of writers. We support each other, even as social distancing has made in-person gatherings impossible. Zoom has taken the place of our favorite cafes.
As we live through such uncertain times, it’s remarkable to still be able to enjoy the constant encouragement of fellow writers. These days challenge us all in so many ways. Yet when I return to the page or send out a piece of work, I know that I’m another step closer to reaching Mount Fuji’s peak.