Thoughts on Chapter 4 of The Artist's Way. Part four of twelve on creativity.
Throughout The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron keeps coming back to one theme I find interesting partially because it is so practical and easily overlooked: the physical arrangement of one's life. The house or apartment you live in; the furniture (or lack thereof); your clothes. All of these are re-arrangeable, and this re-arrangement could happen in a number of ways — moving into a new home or city; renovating living or working space; or simply rearranging furniture. Cameron tends to stick to the simple: getting rid of clothes you can't/don't wear anymore; changing your furniture or home arrangement; getting rid of junk and actually pulling in the objects you find meaningful. In the fourth chapter she again discusses these things, and then of course brings up the dreaded topic of reading deprivation.
It's not difficult to see how these ideas fit together. And the first point I'd like to make is: I'm 100% on board with Cameron on the topic of clutter. Clutter is bad. Bad. Like, almost immoral. I say this because I've noticed again and again that clutter affects me whether I want to admit it or not. I spent years arguing with myself and others over this, but no matter how much I wanted to pretend that being messy is part of being an artist, or that I am the only human on earth whose brain is impervious to the effects of a dirty, disorganized home, it simply wasn't true.
I should probably distinguish somewhat between living space and creative working space. For some of us, those two overlap; others keep them separate. Creative space can get messy when you're in the middle of something. I'm mostly a writer, but I occasionally do crafty projects, and I'm not suggesting a painter or sculptor start worrying about the mess they're making. What I'm talking about here is first and foremost where I live, but also my workspace when I'm done with a project or need to get ready for a new one. I don't exactly believe in feng shui, but I think it's a great metaphor to get me to pick up my room.
My point is, clutter affects me. Garbage affects me. Dirt and bad lighting and clothes I haven't fit into for years and piles of dirty dishes, all of these affect me.
And then there is Cameron's idea of reading deprivation for week four of the course, which I am also pretty into. I wouldn't quote Cameron on many things, but I think she is dead-on for at least writers when she says, "For most artists, words are like tiny tranquilizers. We have a daily quota of media chat that we swallow up."
As a writer, reading is essential to me. Especially as a writer who has chosen to forgo the trend towards the MFA and instead rely on reading and writing and reading and writing and reading and writing. But somehow reading the work that inspires me can also silence me. After all, William Langland and Rumi get so close to speaking for my own heart; at times, they even manage a phrase or two that does speak for me. And then of course, those who are most inspiring can also be the most silencing. My Yeats/Eliot/Plath period was almost devoid of writing because I couldn't figure out what was left to be done.
So I suppose the first thing I want to say is: if you want to make art, clear some space in your life. If your home is full of junk, get rid of whatever you can. If it's full of stuff you don't think of as junk, but it's junking up your head, get rid of whatever you can. If you have clothes and books and just stuff that you've been holding onto for years telling yourself you'll find a use for it...isn't it obvious?
And yes, clear some space in your head too. Going without reading for a week is Cameron's recommendation for those doing the Artist's Way course, and I did it then, but I'll certainly do it again in the future. It's a great head-clearing tool, and since I chose to interpret it as meaning no internet (yes! do it! your brain so wants a break!), I felt like my head literally emptied out. I'm sure that a slight variation like screen-deprivation could work wonders.
I have only one caveat here, though. I have noticed many, many times that when I do things to allow for creativity I start grasping for creativity. It's understandable, of course. If I've gotten so desperate to write that I've actually cleaned my apartment, then clearly my writing isn't going so well. So I get hopeful — really, really hopeful — and start sort of clutching at things trying to get them to inspire me. So my giant caveat is, in my experience, there might also be some waiting involved. You might clear some space and not have anything show up for awhile. I certainly don't think that means a person should or would even want to just sit around doing nothing; but I do think that if you clear the space physically and/or mentally and you don't instantly have the inspiration and skills to write a great novel or paint some brilliant something-or-other, you have no cause to panic.
Clearing space for something to move in doesn't move anything in, and of course, you hardly know what you're inviting in when you radically alter your life. Anything — anyone — might show up, and they often do it on their own time.