If you are one of those folks who never lost that childlike curiosity and willingness to take risks—this piece is not for you. It’s for those of us who consider spontaneous fun just a bit too irresponsible. I became that person at age ten.
My fifth grade teacher had just transferred from the high school. He assigned a comically heavy load of homework. Each afternoon, I fanned the books and papers out at the foot of my bed and began to fret, wondering how I would get it all done. One afternoon, I spotted my bright blue roller skates sitting in the corner. They hadn’t been touched since I opened the box at Hanukkah and took them out for a spin. Without a thought, I grabbed them and marched out to the front porch. Up and down Quiet Lane I raced until the sky streaked orange, yellow, and pink. I slowed my pace and rolled up the driveway, lungs burning in the high desert air. As I pulled off each skate, I promised myself, I’d do this everyday.
I never did it again.
The next afternoon, a voice in my head scolded me: you are not a frivolous person who puts fun before work. No skating.
Cut to forty years later—I asked for a pair of roller skates for my birthday, just this month. Up until recently, I was still the type who wouldn’t waste time on such a silly hobby, nor would I risk injury that might bench me from yoga or running. What caused the change, you ask?
In short, it was Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. I’m here to tell you, it’s not just for artists, it’s for anyone who straight up wants more joy in their life. My sister Dinah recommended it when I called her a while back, upset after receiving some hurtful feedback on a piece of writing from someone who’s work I respected. Dinah had some pointed advice.
“She’s your wet blanket. You can’t show her your work,” she said, matter-of-factly.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
She talked about those people who, when you have something exciting going on, will plant doubt in your mind, claiming it’s “for your own good,” their comments serving only to stomp on your enthusiasm. A “wet blanket” is the polar opposite of a “creative champion,” someone who can be counted on to offer encouragement and constructive criticism– a generous and self aware friend or colleague. I ordered the book immediately.
“The Artist’s Way shows you how to keep your own counsel. It helps you tune in to yourself and figure out which people you need to keep around. If you follow the program, you will let go of what’s holding you back and gain a crazy kind of momentum.”
I just completed week twelve and have been officially reacquainted with fun. And my creativity is gangbusters.
The exercises are based on the concept that we should do the work to maximize our creative power because, “there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money,” according to Cameron. In other words, want to live your best life? Get yourself a copy of The Artist’s Way. And don’t be put off by all the spiritual talk, if that’s what throws you. She’s a twelve-stepper, just so you know.
So how do you go from being an overly cautious pre-worrier who is super intimidated to share her creative work and stresses out about everything? I’ll tell you because that was me. Each chapter of The Artist’s Way includes exercises that are mostly just play that you will love doing. For example, one night after dinner, I sat on the couch and cut out photos from magazines of beautiful places I want to go and things I want to achieve. I pasted them into a collage like I had for friends back in high school. It now hangs in the bathroom where I see it every day. And some of it’s already happening. I was invited to a magical yoga retreat–when the world had been canceled for months–spent a day on a boat having deep, satisfying conversations with new and old friends, I’ve been swimming in the ocean, and now we’re talking about staying in the mountains while the kids attend school remotely.
And before you think to yourself, that sounds like a goofy vision board—no gracias. Expressing your desires in a tangible way programs your brain to seek those things out. It’s simple science—like deciding to buy a Mini Cooper and suddenly they are swarming around you in the streets. If you don’t believe me, ask Elizabeth Gilbert, Martin Scorsese, and Anne Lamott who are all over the book jacket. My pal Liz has done the program three times. After the first, she decided to 1) travel to Italy and learn Italian, 2) go to an ashram in India, and 3) return to Indonesia to study with an old medicine man. This decision resulted in, you guessed it, Eat, Pray, Love.
I suggested the book to a dear friend who is searching for her next thing. She said, “I really don’t want to blow up my life, so I better not.” No one is forcing you to change anything. This is all information that is stored up inside you already. Self-knowledge is the greatest power you can harness.
This book deploys techniques to evade your inner censor. You know, the one that shuts down opportunities before you even explore them. The Artist’s Way has you speed write a Wish List.* You go so fast that the answers come straight from your subconscious. Your mean little critic can’t catch up to say, that wish is stupid. Cameron explains, “because wishes are just wishes, they are allowed to be frivolous (and frequently should be taken very seriously).” How great is this? And just so you don’t get the impression that it’s an exercise in daydreaming on your apple pie in the sky, here’s the deeper work: it explores the limitations placed on us by receiving wrongheaded messages from parents and society. It interrogates our fears and investigates why we may have lost faith that life will work out in our favor if we go after what we really want.
And don’t even get me started on the signature exercise of The Artist’s Way: the morning pages. Writing for three pages in a dedicated journal, longhand—without planning or stopping to think—turbo boosts your intuition and has you answering all of your own questions.
Here is the end result. I say YES to spontaneous fun. I am sharing my creative work not just once a week, but every day— little mini stories on Instagram (@elizabethheise1) and a longer piece like this once a week. I didn’t even have Instagram until now. After reading The Artist’s Way, I will go to the beach on the weekend, instead of being the foot soldier of my To Do list. I jump in the surf in a bikini. I used to dress in a sun protective swimming costume that would have worked great on the Jersey Shore in the 1930’s—modern day Miami Beach, not so much. I am more carefree than I have ever been in my life. I am not trying to be any certain way. I just am.
So order the book already. It’s going to be okay.
*Writing Prompt: As quick as you can, finish the following phrase. Repeat FIFTEEN TIMES:
I wish _____________.
Finish with this last one:
I most especially wish _____________.