On being a “shadow-artist,” a beginner’s review of The Artist’s Way

I was delighted recently with my friend Sri Kodakalla, making space in herself and in the world for herself as an artist.

I met Sri for the first time two or three years ago in the basement of The Jefferson music hall, at Charlottesville’s Goth Night. Somehow, in our introductions, we talked about creating art and being “sort of” artists. Between then and now, she dedicated more of her time and energy, honed her craft, and began showing her work. She creates atmospheric multimedia pieces that are at once personally emotive and visually engaging.

I spent a little time with Sri and other beautiful creative souls through the arts and music communities Charlottesville offers, most notably Aimee McDavit’s Creator’s Circle. Aimee created a community of artists, provided prompts to offer a catalyst for artistic exercises and offered her home for structured and unstructured nurturing of creativity. For a little while, I tried to commit myself. I love Aimee and wanted to be part of what she was investing her energy to create, yet I floundered.

I am 60% snark, which is a difficult majority to override. I often think of my snark as my “inner Holden Caulfield.” Snarkiness is not my primary creative barrier. My primary barrier is a sense of priorities and obligations, but snark gets a little credit. Snarkiness makes it damn difficult to read a book like The Artist’s Way. It chants at each lesson, with the audacity of a sixteen year-old critic, “Fucking, Duh!” Maybe my sixteen year old would have simply said, “No Duh!” but my internal sixteen year-old has fully integrated my adult language into their vocabulary over the years.

My sense of priorities and obligations moved me away from the Creator’s Circle, and often nearly to tears as I struggle to balance taking care of it all and taking care of my self. Of course, it all comes first. I have yet to figure out exactly how to manage it all. I look at the clothes often strewn across my living room, remains of once-toys and random fluff on the floor, dishes in the sink. The word, “mom,” repeated repeatedly in the midst of my attention towards anything, and little gets done. The needle of progress just budges. I have no idea how to do it all, and even less of an inkling how to prioritize my self.

It helps a little to assume this is universal. Please tell me its universal.

I tried to be part of book clubs. I quit. I found that I did not love the assigned readings and with my limited time for myself, it is important that whatever my energy goes into ignites something in me. It’s essential to konmari my time. If it’s not required and it doesn’t spark joy or at least stimulate my inner protagonist, out it goes.

I lack both time and discipline in my personal life. This makes me a sporadic friend and I am grateful for the friends that have kept me despite my inconsistency. One such friend is the multi-talented Daisy Rojas, who is a writer, a talented fundraiser, and manages to mysteriously be a mom and remain connected to her community. Daisy suggested The Artist’s Way. She had come to my house, and I hers, a couple of times with the intention of writing together. Again, as per usual, the follow-through drifted to somewhere, perhaps the realm of lost socks.

With due resistance from my inner Holden Caulfield, today I started. “Look”, I told my Holden, “I have to embrace a something. I need a something, however phony it may feel, however ‘duh!,’ to move me into an inspired place.” Holden shrugged and rolled his eyes and I started anyway.

As Daisy had described, The Artist’s Way prescribes daily writings which author Julia Cameron calls morning pages. Reading the text required suspension of my inner Holden as well as buffering my atheist inner-critic that recoils at the liberal application of the G-word. There is a lot of use of God, which makes good sense since the subtitle of the book is A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. When you’re in the absurdly cultural minority it’s important to reframe your lens as though you are in Rome, you know, “When in Rome…” and accept the lens through which the book is written, adapt it with the proper couplings to fit it to your own philosophical plumping.

So far, one chapter, and one day’s morning pages in, it is helpful and good. Really, that’s the only relevant barometer. The book asks for a commitment of 12 weeks to follow a regimen of daily writings, readings from the book, and a once-weekly date to nurture the creative self. Julia Cameron suggests the exercises and readings to take approximately 10 hours per week and recommends waking 30 minutes earlier each day to complete the morning pages.

I woke at 5:10am this morning to my daughter’s sing-song voice floating from her bedroom. She chatted with her friend who had spent the night. I asked them to quiet so that I could sleep. 7:30 is when my body agrees, “Okay. We can get up now.” I returned to bed, struggled with whether I should sleep or not sleep and just get started, and got up and wrote my morning pages. I was interrupted by my daughter’s voice, “Mom…” at least six times as I tried to get three pages on paper combined with the dogs’ demands for food, attention, and to go out to pee, and wondered at the privilege of people who have a dedicated uninterrupted creative time and space.

I filled three pages and my mind felt clearer. It is not glorious writing and I won’t return to it for some time. Cameron suggests not going back to your morning pages for at least 8 weeks, if ever.

So with a need for inspiration, for stimulation of my creative spirit, I will try it. One chapter in, I would recommend it with the caveat that it requires a willingness to quiet your inner critic and accept the framework from which it is written. As I continue, when I write about it here I will tag those posts The Artist’s Way to record this process.

In my reading to date, the concept of the “shadow artist,” described in Chapter One sits with me as does the Introduction that asserts that there exists an artist in everyone. Holden rolls his eyes and grits his teeth and begins to utter something. Oh, “Fucking, Duh.” That everyone is a creative soul and that to bring our truest self to the table is the work just is. It’s what I believe to my core. Holden gets annoyed when truths have to be spelled out. While I feel it’s important to accept that annoyance, it helps me to have those truths affirmed. Duality just is as well. We are multi-faceted creatures.

The concept of the shadow-artist resonated with my own story, in my love for Sri, for Aimee, for Daisy. Cameron describes the shadow-artist as the person who had made a life of staying in art’s periphery, but not manifesting as an artist. When I met Sri and, with all the reservation I have, said I was “sort-of” an artist, but not nearly so confident as to own that title, I spoke in the voice of the shadow-artist Cameron describes. The Artist’s Way is about healing the shadow artist, to allow the artist to do the work.

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