Every September I go through some kind of deep rejuvination. Instead of winding down with the summer and the sun, my energy and productivity all seem to ramp up, nearly effortlessly. These days my thoughts are clearer, my intentions purer, my moods more balanced.
Part of this might be because I’ve been acutely focused on self care and reducing stress/pressure for well over a year now, and I’m finally gliding into a place where I’m ready to start actively producing again. I’ve been tending to old wounds, strengthening atrophied emotional muscles, unlearning toxic lessons and relearning how to live and love in a world that is incessantly giving us bad advice on how to do those things.
I’m in a good place right now.
I still feel the need to qualify that with all the ways in which I am still struggling, because some part of me wants to assure people that I am struggling, because I fear that if I am not struggling I’m not trying hard enough. But I am also learning that living doesn’t have to BE a struggle. That working hard doesn’t have to mean suffering. That I can identify areas and things that make me unhappy and aim to improve them instead of struggling with them.
The Artist’s Way – Redux
Some friends of mine from Truer Words Podcast (and fellow VCFA alumni) announced in August that they were going to do The Artist’s Way*. If you’re not familiar with The Artist’s Way, it’s essentially a 12 week program of essays, written exercises, and self care practices that are intended to help you “discover and recover your creative self.” For artists of any stripe, this book and its practices has been an absolute Godsend for over 25 years.
I personally first committed to and finished The Artist’s Way when I was still in undergrad, about 13 years ago. I was young and truly blocked, but not nearly as battle-weary as I feel at 34. Still, the program rocked my world and taught me to celebrate my identity as an artist. It prevented me from developing toxic thoughts about being an artist, and helped me validate and heal old creative wounds. I handed that book out to everyone I knew at the time, artist or not, because it was that powerful.
Though I’ve been struggling creatively the past few years, and especially since graduating from my MFA program, I had forgotten about The Artist’s Way. Or maybe the timing wasn’t right. Or maybe I knew I needed to focus on softness for a while, on kindness, ease, and rest. (Recuperating from chronic fatigue forces one to learn about all the ways in which they do not truly understand how to “rest”.) But as I’ve been feeling more and more energized and trickling towards the possibility of doing the practical, every day work again, I have kept coming up short, running into walls, running into self-sabotage and inner voices that won’t STFU and let me just create. I’ve learned to be patient and kind with myself, but can’t help but get a little bummed out about how little my life resembles the life I want to have some day.
So the moment my friends announced they would be going through The Artist’s Way (TAW) on their podcast and running a Facebook group to support people who wanted to participate, it was a hearty and immediate yes for me. The course is a commitment, no doubt: two of the core practices of TAW are morning pages (three pages of brain dump/stream-of-consciousness first thing in the morning EVERY SINGLE DAY) and artist dates (an hour or two of time with just you and your inner artist self/child, playing and having fun in the world, maybe going to a toy store or playing with clay or gathering flowers, WEEKLY), both of which are indispensable tools that you will endlessly try to talk yourself into skipping out on because they feel too “self indulgent.” And these are in addition to the readings and “tasks,” several written exercises meant to help you identify and clarify your wants, needs, and wounds as a human and an artist. (One of the exercises you can find in a previous post I made around this time last year: The Pie of Life)
But this is a commitment I knew at my core was the perfect challenge for me at this moment.
Today I’m in the middle of week 2: Discovering A Sense of Identity and as I write this, and I’ve already seen and felt such dramatic changes that, well…I felt the need to dust off this website and blog about it.
Morning pages alone have lifted my mood and cleared my head of all the clutter I apparently keep in there. Suddenly instead of gathering projects to do “some day” I’m making lists and figuring out when I’m actually going to do them. Instead of saying “I should really start a daily writing practice like I used to do” I’m actually waking up at 5:20AM to do my morning pages and write before work. Instead of stewing over the ways that people have hurt me and wondering weather or not I’m allowed to feel hurt by their actions, I’ve swiftly (relative to the lifetime of living without healthy boundaries) recognized that my feelings are valid and I have a right to express when they’ve been hurt, and also I don’t feel like I’m going to die from anxiety when I think about this.
I’m not saying everything is fixed and I’m on track again, but I’m getting there. I’ve been slowly “getting” there for a while, and now that the magic of September is here–now that I’m embarking once again on this tremendous healing journey called The Artist’s Way*–I have faith that I will get there.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned over my years of prioritizing my own healing and self care is that it is not only okay to love yourself and be gentle with yourself, but it is fucking necessary. It is necessary to talk to yourself the way you would talk to a best friend, to get impassioned on your own behalf, to stand up for yourself and what’s important to you.
It’s not an indulgence. It’s not something to “get away with.” It’s not shameful.
What’s important to you? Have you been prioritizing it? Have you been honoring it?
Have you been honoring yourself?
‘Tis the season for magic. And nothing is more witchy and magical than re-devoting ourselves to our own personal growth and healing.
* The Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, which means I may get a percentage of whatever you buy if you click through those. It doesn’t cost you anything, but it does send some money my way, which is awfully nice of you.