I thought about Mary Ainsworth when I read Julia Cameron’s chapter on Roots in The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life this week.
Mary Ainsworth is the developmental psychologist who, in the 1960s and 70s, conducted extensive research on Attachment Theory. She identified three different attachment patterns between infants and adults: secure, anxious-avoidant (insecure), and anxious-ambivalent (also insecure).
The most desirous attachment pattern is the secure type (of course), in which the child uses the caregiver as a secure base to which he returns periodically—but otherwise freely explores his environment. The infants who demonstrated insecure attachment styles either were too anxious about separation to explore the environment or showed little relational interest.
Just as the more securely attached infants were found to be more socially successful, Julia Cameron believes that writers who also have a safe base, or roots as she terms it, will be more successful as well.
In order to bloom, all of us need a root system. Just as a regular practice of writing roots us firmly in our lives, a regular life roots us firmly in our writing. Those long sabbaticals everyone lusts after so they can be truly productive seldom yield the promised result. Too often the yawning vistas of time yield self-involved work that yawns on the page…”
Roots—those things that anchor us into life—allow us the freedom to explore. When we have that safe base to return to—whether that is a day job, stable relationships, or some other regular routine—that security gives courage to creativity. It is the foundation on which to build new experiences.
Fine. But I’m not ready to give up my sabbatical fantasy yet. I don’t know about you, but the idea of living on a tropical island and doing nothing but writing (and lazing in the sun…listening to the sound of waves lapping the shore…) still seduces my imagination. But I understand what Cameron is saying. How many times have experiences from my day job inspired writing ideas that would have otherwise gone untapped? And if I didn’t have the security of a regular income, would I have dared invest my free time in writing a book?
Writers need to live in the world, Cameron says.
Give us too much self-involvement and we lose our involvement with the world. Yes, then we are boring…When we center our writing lives on our writing instead of our lives, we leach both our lives and our writing of the nutrients they require.”
Maybe Julia Cameron has a point. Chances are, if I did live on a tropical island with no responsibilities but writing, I would probably do everything but (I’ve always wanted to learn to windsurf …).
But I’m holding out for a happy medium. I think I could spend half the year on island time and the other half as responsible psychologist. Don’t you? Do you think life will wait for me? Perhaps one day I’ll have the opportunity to find out, but until then, I’m keeping my day job.
How about you?
Next week we wrap up the book with the last four chapters. Join us for Stakes, Procrastination, Into the Water, and The Right to Write. See you on the page!
Week 12: I Eat with My Eyes
Week 11: Friendly Reader
Week 10: Feed the Horses
Week 9: Honesty’s Shy Younger Sister
Week 8: In Praise of Happiness
Week 7: Writing as Prayer
Week 6: The Letter
Week 5: I Go Alone
Week 4: Witness
Week 3: Invite the Muse to Tea
Week 2: Write from Love
Week 1: Start Where You Are