Thursday, July 21, 2016

Daring to Dream Along The Artist's Way

A Modern Australian Aboriginal Perspective on Dreaming*
So already, for the last eight weeks, I've been doing The Artist's Way creativity course. Having started the course once before and dropped it, I was determined to complete it this time. Looking back, I realize I began it "carefully but hopelessly," just as the bird in one of the poems in Louise Glück's Vita Nova** seemed to be building its nest (37). I "carefully" executed each week's tasks--the word "execute" speaks clinical volumes--as I worked toward expectations I kept "hopelessly" low: small insights and changes, I told myself, would be a good enough result of my efforts. How like me to dream self-protectively small; I suspect I've paid a high price in my life for that tendency.

The problem is that even though it couldn't be more supportive, The Artist's Way is all about high, joyful expectations--one's own for oneself. It's about personal transformation that comes from recovering one's buried creative self--the self that long ago rolled itself into a self-protective ball and hid itself away for any number of reasons. It's about embracing that authentic inner self, replete with all the sparks of divinity that make it shine and yearn to reveal itself--and then caring for it, protecting it, challenging it, encouraging it, asking of it, giving to it, bringing it along so that it actually can and will express itself in the world. It's about reclaiming and nurturing old dreams--the dreams of that authentic inner self--that died and shouldn't have. It's about crafting new dreams that reflect that inner self as it comes to recognize itself, exert itself, and trust in its relationship with its divine source. And then it's about pursuing those dreams that bless and reveal us and even sometimes shine on the world.

At the moment when it finally dawns on us how lofty yet grounded the course's goals are for each of us, we also understand that we can't expect a long, smooth ride toward self-discovery and creativity. But we trust that we'll eventually get there: Cameron's always there to tell us that there are moves we can make, tools we can use, and attitudes we can take when we're under siege. We're urged to have compassion for ourselves, to treat ourselves and our creativity gently, to try to believe that our efforts will garner a supportive response from the universe, but also to keep moving and keep doing: the smallest moves count!

My personal challenge for the first six weeks of the course was imagining what wasn't--a serious challenge, since fantasy is an important tool for making contact with one's inner self. I might have been able to invent a future or envision an inviting, supporting work space for someone else, but I couldn't do that for myself at all. When Week #1 asked me to imagine several different lives I might have had, I finally managed to list them, though I hated doing it. But when Week #2 asked me to consider if if I "could be doing bits and piece of these lives in the one you are living now" (57),*** I couldn't move mentally or physically. I was too used to thinking and not doing, too perilously used to defining myself by what I had always done and what people often expected me to do and respected me for doing. As the narrator in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" said it, "In short, I was afraid."

During Week #4--a real breakthrough week for me in some ways because of my experience of the reading deprivation requirement--I struggled when I was asked to describe my ideal environment. I was accustomed to making my actual environment as ideal as possible, but it wasn't my way to imagine ideal environments to which I believed I'd never have any kind of access, that I believed I'd never have the means or opportunity to create. But then I wondered for the first time, was I wrong to think that creating or experiencing those environments was totally out of the question? Cameron seemed to be advising us to rule nothing out.

Slowly things began to shift for me, and I began to be able to imagine. When I had to envision an ideal day during Week #8, I could imagine more than one. I suspect that both Week #6's focus abundance and extravagance  and the experience of visiting Algonquin Provincial Park after having imagined what it would be like contributed importantly to this change. I took great pleasure in envisioning the park and myself in it, and then the experience of it more than met my expectations for pleasure and meaning. Imagining suddenly was becoming less about what couldn't be--and much more about what already was and could be.

A few nights back, my imagination seemed ready to roll. Right after I read the tasks for Week #9, one of which requires us to describe ourselves engaged in some creative goal "at the height of your powers" (161), my mind was immediately flooded with images of myself actively being creative in a space conducive to that creativity. So I grabbed my journal and began writing everything I could see, hear, feel, even though I wasn't exactly sure what I was creating. Three days later, I still don't know.

But another major Week #9 task may be just the thing for helping me get clear--or clearer--about what I am and should be making and doing. This week, we're assigned to read our last eight weeks' worth of morning pages (the three pages of handwritten stream-of-consciousness writing we're directed to do each morning). This is something we had been expressly forbidden to do until this point in the course. I'm excited and scared by the prospect of doing this, but more excited than scared because I'm so curious. Though my pages will probably suggest actions and reveal insights, as the course says we're intended to do--and plenty of moments of revealing discomfort and disappointment, too--I expect they'll offer potent images and motifs, and new insights as well. And yes, it's possible that they will answer, in some way, the question of what I am and should be creating--you never know. I will definitely blog about how it goes!

* Personal photo of a painting in the "Everywhen" exhibit at the Fogg Art Museum. I believe--but I'm not sure--the painter is Naata Nungurrayi. 
** Quotation from "Nest":  Glück, L. (1999). Nest. In Vita nova (pp. 37-39). Hopewell, NJ: Ecco Press. 
*** Cameron, Julia. The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Perigee, 2002. Print. 

Good News from The Boston Globe

So already, words are one of the few things that almost everyone has. So what do our words say about who we are as individual people who necessarily share the same times, spaces, and places with one another? A number of the stories in today's Boston Globe had me thinking not only about the words we choose to use, ignore, embrace, and deplore, but also about the ways we arrange and deploy the words we use. Depending on our choices, we might include or exclude, harm or heal, right or wrong, divide or unite, discourage or encourage. And anything in between.

The Globe stories that particularly caught my attention as I considered the power of words fell into several action categories:

Taking Responsibility
Attempting to Avoid History
Reporting Hate Speech and Its Aftermath
In terms of people and institutions using words to behave responsibly, we saw or learned of Twitter's, Yvonne Abraham's, and Meredith McIver's doing the the right thing after having done the wrong one. McIver said, "'This was my mistake'" regarding her having plagiarized from Michelle Obama's speech of four years ago. Abraham apologized to Mitt Romney for her failure to have appreciated fully that "your speech was a model of civility and hope." And Twitter banned Milo Yiannopoulos from its site, issuing the following explanatory statement: "'People should be able to express diverse opinions and beliefs on Twitter. But no one [Twitter was no doubt referring specifically to the ongoing verbal abuse that Yiannopoulos had been heaping upon Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones] deserves to be subjected to targeted abuse online, and our rules prohibit inciting or engaging in the targeted abuse or harassment of others."

In addition to reporting about Yiannopoulos' online nastiness, the Globe also reported about two other instances of  speech's being used to disrespect  and denigrate--perhaps even to incite. In response to a series of racist comments made on Facebook by Wellesley High School students--"diatribes" might be a better word for these comments that the article's headline characterizes as "rants"--both school and police officials are working to develop a plan to address racist attitudes and behaviors.  

Meanwhile, a New Hampshire official called for the execution of Hillary Clinton for treason. When questioned by an WRKO reporter, New Hampshire state representative Al Baldasaro said he stood by his comments, explaining the aptness of his prescription for Clinton. Apparently, the Secret Service is investigating, but to date, Baldasaro is defending his comments as free speech and others seem to be accepting them as such:  “'Freedom of speech is a beautiful thing. I spoke my mind about how I feel. She’s not above the law. Any other State Department employee or veteran did the same thing, they’d be in jail.'”  

If only Anne Hutchinson could have said, "Freedom of speech is a beautiful thing" and then just gone on about her business in 1600s Puritan Boston!  Hutchinson's legacy as a woman of "courage" and "strength" was honored yesterday in Boston. As the article about that event explained, "Things were going well for in the new world until she began to critique the sermons of the male ministers in Massachusetts. She was charged with sedition, declared a heretic, banished from the colony, and was later killed with most of her family in an Indian raid in 1643."

In Boston, there's history that some Bostonians are glad be reminded of that other Bostonians would rather ignore. Illustrating this, the main editorial in today's paper talks about the successful efforts of a group of Bay Village Bostonians to effect the removal from their block of a plaque that, since 1993, had reminded passersby that they were standing at the site of the1942 Cocoanut Grove fire that claimed so many lives. The goal of the activist citizens, most residents of a new luxury condominium complex, was to protect not just their personal privacy but their abilities to "'enjoy our homes in peace, without tragic memories,  . . ..'" 

Would the absence of those words really mean peace and peace of mind for the Bay Village condo owners? I began to wonder if Bay Village's newest residents are as sensitive to and concerned about language that conveys present-day race- and gender-based hate and threatens present-day violence as they are to language that summons memories of long-ago tragic events. But because of the editorial, I avoided falling of the cliff into the land of passionate, self-righteous anger and disapproval. 

Though it lays out the self-serving reasoning of the condo owners, the editorial explains that, despite the plaque's having been moved, no harm was really done: Boston's mayor Marty Walsh had already committed to the "building of a large-scale memorial to the fire’s victims, to be built with private funds."

And then it offers a gentle, cautionary history lesson--to all of us: 
"History is part of the unique fabric of everyday life in Boston — . . .. History here isn’t just in museums or specially built parks. It’s underfoot and in the air. Property owners should show due deference before they think of plowing it under or moving it down the block.The Cocoanut Grove is part of that history. Mayor Walsh is right to support a memorial. He should make sure it happens."
Rather than lambasting the Bay Village property owners to for asserting their personal interests with little to no regard for Boston's history generally and the continued significance of Cocoanut Grove fire in particular, the editorial first reminds us of the omnipresence of history in Boston. Only after that does it urge any and all property owners who in the future might think of tampering with "history" to consider some other perspectives before acting exclusively on their own. No one is left to feel shamed, humiliated, or excluded as the editorial concludes: if anything we're newly all in it together as regards taking care of the historical legacy of the city we love and share. 

In today's Boston Globe, for every story of hate speech, there is a story of love speech--or perhaps I should call it respect speech. The lesson of that is that being responsible, civil, and generous is very much within our capacities. Every time someone in print, online, or in life acts well, we're all emboldened and encouraged to use words and other means to act well ourselves, separately and together. If we act on that encouragement, we may indeed find ourselves part of a civil society that can solve its many problems.

* Today's paper 07/21/2016 - the boston globe epaper. (2016, July 21). Retrieved July 21, 2016, from 
** Horowitz, J. (2016, July 21). Melania Trump's speechwriter takes responsibility for lifted remarks. The Boston Globe, 290(21), A12.
*** Abraham, Y. I am so sorry, Mitt. The Boston Globe, 290(21), B1.
**** The Cocoanut Grove fire and the importance of preserving history [Editorial]. The Boston Globe, 290(21), A12. 
***** Thadani, T. (2016, July 21). A once-scorned rebel is celebrated. The Boston Globe, 290(21), B2.
* (6Graham, R. (2016, July 21). Hashtag this, Twitter: Stop racist, sexist abuse [Editorial]. The Boston Globe, 290(21), A13.  
* (7) Isaac, M. (2016, July 21) N.H. official calls Clinton 'garbage.' The Boston Globe, 290(21), C5
* (8) Wang, V. (2016, July 21). Students' racists rants online stun Wellesley. The Boston Globe, 290(21), B1, B5.
* (9) O'Sullivan, J. (2016, July 21). N.H. official calls Clinton 'garbage.' The Boston Globe, 290(21), B1, B4.