Julia Cameron has flown through a snowstorm in the States to Britain, ready to re-visit her book ‘The Artist’s Way’ one of the most inspirational books for more than a decade. The event takes place at Cecil Sharp House and is run by Alternatives, a company as good as their name.
Julia’s students today, include me, a friend of mine and over 300 students, people of all ages, artists, film makers, poets, writers, actors, sculptors and others aspiring to any of those things and more. People are here from all over the world.
My copy of the book is so old it’s pages are browning, It has also been loaned out endlessly to friends, acquaintances, my students in adult ed. and clients in therapy. I had even scribbled in the cover ‘Please return in two months'(goodness knows why I was so arbitrary) and although sometimes this stretched to four or five, like a homing pigeon it always came back to me.
This post is really ‘mind body and spirit’ stuff so please stop here if that’s not for you.
Julia reminds us that her book ‘The Artist’s Way’ was written on her journey away from alcoholism. It became obvious to her creativity was her salvation and that it could be taught. She became an artist, wrote a musical, books of poetry, prayer and novels. However, teaching in person is obviously something dear to her heart.
Julia is dressed in a soft black somewhat baggy trouser suit, she has wavy blonde shoulder length hair, intense blue eyes. Nevertheless beneath the surface she appears to have a certain fragility I had not expected.
But this is still a well honed performance, where at steady pace, she steers us through the exercises in her book (she calls them tools) with an almost cool precision.
One to five she calls, urging us to make a column of numbers and then offering prompts so we can fill in the gaps from our own experience nut in a space of minutes. Tool one (her name of exercises) she announces ‘My dad thought I’, ‘My mum thought I’ etc. At the end of five (sometimes ten) such phrases we are directed to form into clusters. These are usually three from among this talented group of people to each share our answers/insights. different clusters each time. At the end of each such cluster we are instructed to award each other ‘popcorn’. Yes, popcorn is a bit of an american obsession, but let’s keep an open mind, here it is positive phrases, affirmations based on what has been shared. Later variations include imaginary gifts, trips etc.
There are two of three question and answer sessions over the two days. Many of them featured the hows, whys and wherefores of the ‘morning pages’. These she says “sweep the corners of your consciousness”, they are a ‘tough love friend’. She also explains the value of ‘an artist date’ which is something that one seeks out to’ feed the soul’ each week, a walk, an event, often on one’s own.
One exercise looks at aspects of our ‘demon figure’, our ‘fairy godmother figure’ etc. Onward and upwards we go, always changing clusters, meeting new people who are truly inspiring in their current creative endeavours.
By Sunday morning new 1 to 10’s to create a cinema self, (no not my favourite) I’m a theatre person. Later we are then asked what we would like to have in the best of all possible worlds. This is more appealing, my list includes a studio, my podcast completed, my on-line museum up and running, my new poetry book, pristine and enticing. .
Towards the end we are investigating our ‘secret selves’. Julia shares her’s and we learn the secret too of her black outfit! Her frivolous side etc.
My friend and I walked, sat in Regent’s Part in the lunch hour, shared one or two secret dreams. I accidentally squelched through mud to get my pictures, we laugh, we share our new ideas. Later we have a meal, book into our hotel, (still a fortune, but necessary) too many trains from Brighton have been cancelled for tomorrow.
I guess now ‘The Artist’s Way’ would have been produced an an e-book and/or would have to compete with all the creativity we glean from the internet, or check out on Youtube.
I notice in the back of the book Julia has given a credit to Natalie Goldberg, ‘Writing down the bones, she says it is ‘the best book of all time’. I loved it too, I am not surprised that they know each other and learn later they collaborated for a CD.
So well done Julia, her co-writer and her partner who gave her a network of support. A thank you to Alternatives who promptly answered all my queries and on the day were friendly and supportive. Thanks also to Cecil Sharp House whose re-vamped cafe serves yummy soup, a dish of the day and generous smoked salmon bagels. A big thank you to the personable owner of Sonic Violins who had a display in the foyer for another Cecil Sharp workshop. No hard sell here, he loves the instrument and even took time out to give my friend her first ever violin lesson, was she excited!
Last but by no means least, thank you to the calm and kindly guy from Cygnus books, with a handful of gems at keen prices. Julia’s of course but also ‘Write your memoir by Dr. Allan G Hunter. The new Natalie Goldberg ‘The true secret of writing’ I bought that one! But please remember these books are journeys. they are not, ‘here we go on the road to success and instant publication’. But lets face it self belief and talent can lead to such things.
I later checked out Cygnus on line, their ethics are wonderful and they have a really inspiring free magazine. http://www.cygnus-books.co.uk/about-us.html.
Now down to earth with a bump! Has my beach hut fallen into the sea, my allotment floated away, is the roof still on my house? Questions such as these will simply have to can wait for tomorrow, but good luck to all my warm and wonderful fellow ‘clusters’.
Over and out. Ann