The Right to Write: Follow Your Bliss (book club)

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

It’s been a pleasure to read with you these past weeks. Originally, these posts appeared at The High Calling. We read through that first time during the summer months. Now, as we journey through Advent, I find some of Julia Cameron’s thoughts all the more poignant. This is the last installment of our book club. 

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This morning I sat out back and read the final chapters of The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life. My son joined me on the deck with his breakfast. I put the book face down on the table—ran my hand along the well worn spine and sighed deeply. We sat quietly for a while, letting birdsong and breeze speak for us. I picked the book back up, flipped through the last pages … set it down again.

“I need more coffee,” I announced to the air, wrapping fingers around my favorite green polka-dot mug.

I felt his eyes on my back as I went to the door.

“Are you procrastinating?” He asked.

I grinned.

How did he know I had just read that chapter?

It’s time to say goodbye to Julia Cameron.

I’m the kind of girl that when finished with a good read, I can’t move on to another quickly. I have to sit with the characters for a time … miss them some.

I have come to think of Julia Cameron as a friend these past weeks. Through her I met my muse, drew encouragement about my crazy writing schedule, and made my commitment to morning pages. I’ve made some new friends and strolled along with some familiars. Of most value, I think I have grown as a writer—having been courted, stretched, and loved.

The courtship is over, my friends. It’s time to step into the real commitment. Do you dare sign the contract? Do you dare follow your bliss?

If I’m going to marry this Writing Life, it has to be bliss. But, one thing I have learned from Julia Cameron is that the bliss can come after pushing through some pretty tough stuff. Isn’t that what marriage is all about?

If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are—if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.” –Mythologist Joseph Campbell, who coined the phrase follow your bliss.

I couldn’t say it any better. Go ahead. Say “yes” to the Writing Life. It’s a sweet invitation.

Week 13: Roots
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
Introduction: Invitation

Above image by Lívia Cristina L. C., sourced via Flickr, used with permission.

The Right to Write: Roots (book club)

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

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
Introduction: Invitation

Above image by Lívia Cristina L. C., sourced via Flickr, used with permission.

The Right to Write: Feed the Horses (book club)

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

A few years ago, a young patient that I worked with left a mark on me. The girl was admitted to the rehabilitation unit where I work with a severe brain injury. We like to believe that some aspects of recovery from brain injury follow a predictable course. But truly, each case is different—each individual emerging in his or her own unique way. It was fairly early in this child’s recovery. She showed little awareness of her environment. She was also nonverbal.

When will she talk? Her mother worried.

No one could give her an answer. Several weeks went by and there was little change. We began to wonder if the child would ever speak again. Often, at the end of the work day, I would sit beside her bed and pray—watching her noiselessly writhe around in the safety bed.

Finally, the day came. She spoke her first word. I’ll never forget the sweetness of that moment. That evening, I tried to capture the beauty in poem:

silence broken by
one lonely word—long
awaited. thin
voice, not as I
thought. tremulous,
leaf shiver, small
in life’s breeze. you
named her and we
cried as you
called out “mommy”

My young friend came to mind this week as I read our assignments from The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life. What a precious gift is our voice—both vocal and written. It is one of the things that make us uniquely ourselves. This week Julia Cameron reminds me of this.

… I believe that each of us already has a unique voice. We do not need to “develop” it; rather, we need to discover or, perhaps better, uncover it.

As writers we are told that there is perhaps nothing more important than finding our voice. But how? How do we uncover our voice?

Not surprisingly, Cameron believes the secret is daily writing.

I work daily. I get up to write the same way I go out to the barn and toss hay to the horses. It is unthinkable that the horses not be fed and fed in a timely way so they do not get too restless. My creative horses demand the same care. They, too, must be fed and in a timely fashion, and that is why I write first thing in the morning.

… writing regularly and repetitively and from the gut yields you a writing voice that is full and beautiful regardless of which genre you apply it in.

There is no better way to open a writing voice than to write regularly, repetitively, and from the gut…

Do you detect a theme here?

So … How are your morning pages coming? Evening pages? Mid-afternoon pages? Are you writing anything on a daily basis?

If Julia Cameron is right, this is the key to uncovering my unique voice. That rich world that lives in my head—the world of color and warmth and life—its way to the page is through practice. It starts with first words.

Every day I feed the horses. And in doing so, I too am fed.

Next week: Footwork, Practice, and Containment. And don’t forget to hug a Veteran today!

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
Introduction: Invitation

Above image by Lívia Cristina L. C., sourced via Flickr, used with permission.

The Right to Write: Witness (book club)

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

image by Lívia Cristina L. C.

When I looked back at my original posts on The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life, I had trouble identifying what chapters this entry went with. I was not a good record-keeper five years ago, apparently, and as I re-read the book, it’s been fun matching up my scattered thoughts from the first read. But this one? It reminded me how much I’ve grown, how much writing has given to me. I barely mention the original text. One phrase jumped out at me, and I went with it. See if you can find it? Thanks again for coming along on this journey with me.

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The honeysuckle blooms now, I smell her presence before I see her—senses get entangled in her vines. I have sweet memories of dusty roads and drops of her dewy honey dripped onto my tongue.

I’ve been remembering happiness lately. This is new for me, as the sorrow most often announces its presence even in the midst of joy.

Most of this is due to the introduction of Morning Pages into my life, I know. This dictation of the constant flow of thoughts that pass through my head has caught me by surprise more than once. Old wounds are gentler when written on the page. I am able to witness these things, as Julia Cameron says, and pass by without bruising.

People grow weary of listening to the brokenness of others. I weary of my own. In the spring the little road that I run on becomes crowded. All the grasses and wildflowers fluff out, spill over like a river cresting its banks. What is left is a tiny path, strewn with beauty and brambles. The red-winged blackbirds fuss at me as trudge by and the meadowlarks call out from their hiding places in the deep grasses.

But in the summer and early fall, the brush hog comes through and clips it all back, tidying things up and widening the world again.

That’s what writing does for me. First comes the spilling out before the order can be obtained. There are too many words, too many thoughts, too much pain and joy to contain them in this shell.

In writing, I notice my life. Each moment takes on sacred presence. I do not have to write about God for my words to be pleasing to Him. He sees each moment, recognizes the holy. Life is filled with breath and sweat and blood. How can I walk on by?

There are things intangible in the writing life…benefits not readily seen by the eye.

I read this article, at a friend’s bidding, and pondered. The discussion is about whether to encourage our children to seek higher education or not. The author cites research about the financial strain of a college education and numbers of adults who, having gone to college, end up in positions that do not require such an education.

The article has its merits. There are practical reasons for some to pursue vocational training, to be sure. But it was the words of Morton Schapiro, and economist who is the president of Northwestern University, that resonated.

“You get some return even if you don’t get the sheepskin,” Mr. Schapiro said.

He warned against overlooking the intangible benefits of a college experience — even an incomplete experience — for those who might not apply what they learned directly to their chosen work.

“It’s not just about the economic return,” he said. “Some college, whether you complete it or not, contributes to aesthetic appreciation, better health and better voting behavior.”

Schapiro’s comments reminded me of the words of an older friend. She once told me that her father used to say: If you educate a woman, you educate a family.

She grew up in a time where it was unusual for a woman to pursue a college education. My friend now has her Ph.D., if I’m not mistaken.

Our experiences rub up against those in our lives, influencing how they see the world.

What does this have to do with writing, you ask?

I see. The way that I see is a gift to my children and others in my life. Writing allows me to peer deeper into this world; to see beauty that others pass over.

I write. I see. I witness my life.

Come along with me. There are rewards intangible.

Next week, three more chapters Body of Experience, The Well, and Sketching.

Week 3: Invite the Muse to Tea
Week 2: Write from Love
Week 1: Start Where You Are
Introduction: Invitation

Image by Lívia Cristina L. C., sourced via Flickr, used with permission.

The Right to Write: Invite the Muse to Tea (book club)

tea mugs

My muse is not happy with me.

She has caught wind of all the niceties Julia Cameron lavishes on her writer-self to care for Inspiration. In our reading of The Right to Write this week, Cameron reveals the wooing:

I explain…that I take my writer out for treats, that I buy it expensive coffee concoctions with foam like clouds. I take my writer on train rides to write and admire the view. I buy my writer journals, race-along-pens, an embroidered writing chair that I place by the window with good light. I try not to bully my writer or attack it. I try not to make it write only “should” without also writing “want-tos”. My writer has learned to trust me, to enjoy my company, and to treat me well back.

What about me? Muse asks, petulantly. All you’ve ever given me is sleep deprivation.

I had no idea, I tell her. I had no idea this was part of it all.

But this is not entirely true. Haven’t I felt the romance? Don’t I know how writing seduces? I know this love affair with words must be nurtured and fed just as sure as any relationship. But like a pampered lover, I wait for Muse to come to me. And then I wonder why she sometimes does not show up. I am like Cameron’s young friend Regine who wants to be ravaged, swept away, “taken” by her writing.

Cameron says:

I do understand. Sometimes my writing takes me like a fevered lover … More often, my writing and I meet halfway like a couple who wants to make love amid a busy week and don’t know quite how to get started… I have been encouraging Regine to invite her creative pregnancies, to pay attention to her stirrings, to invite the Muse to tea at regular hours to see if her writing can become a little less mysterious and more matter-of-fact.

Invite the Muse to tea? Really?

I like café au lait, she says. Or maybe one of those pumpkin spice lattes.

We sit by the window and sip our creamy café from heavy mugs. Something about the way the light moves through the glass brings to mind a childhood memory. It feels so close, so real, that I feel tears begin at the edge of my eyes. She reaches over and touches my hand.

Thank you, I say.

You are most welcome.

She grins. And I can’t help noticing the faint mustache of froth on her upper lip.

In our book club discussion this week, Julia Cameron talks about nurturing our writer, writing as appetite, how mood plays into this writing life, and the importance of keeping the drama on the page.

What spoke to you this week? Come share in the discussion, we’d love to hear your thoughts.

Three more chapters next week: The Wall of Infamy, Valuing our Experience, and Specificity.

Image by Ginny. Sourced via Flickr. Used with permission.