Friday, July 30, 2010

Me and the ocean

Catching a ride down on an ATV

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the object it loves.”
--Carl Jung

I’m sitting at my desk, at 12:44 in the morning, listening to the Bravery. The crickets are singing outside, just loud enough to echo the beat of my song. I’m really tired. I spent all day wandering around one of the pieces of land I’ve been looking at for the last several months, praying that I wasn’t finding any poison ivy.

I dragged two friends up there to help me decide if I can deal with the access issues that exist for that piece. It’s a gorgeous spot, but I can’t drive to it. My knee is skinned right now because I fell on the walk back down. The access problems make it remote, in a way that’s delicious to contemplate, but I’m not sure it’s going to be so wonderful if I’m living there.

So we had a picnic at the home site, and talked about Julia Cameron and The Artist’s Way. I’ve never mentioned her book out loud here, but she’s been an influence on my thought for years. I first discovered her thanks to a friend in my book group in Chicago, but was always skeptical. How can an artist tell me how to be an artist? How can there be an artist’s “way”? Isn’t that just more of that self-help bull?

And it is. But maybe self-help isn’t such bull after all. More and more I’ve been realizing the efficacy of cognitive-behavioral therapy, the psychological technique developed in the twentieth century that’s been shown, empirically, to actually work. In one of my early journal entries,where I was struggling to take Cameron seriously, I compared her techniques to those used by Iraq war veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. The cognitive-behavioral techniques used by the veterans were twofold. The first were “pen-and-paper” exercises, which parallel the stream-of-consciousness writing Cameron asks her artists to do. The second were exposure techniques, where soldiers are asked to revisit the places—crowded movie theaters, busy malls, highway overpasses--that recall for them the most stressful moments from the war.

The parallel exercise that Cameron recommends for her artists is a two-hour weekly appointment for contact with culture and nature and the self, in solitude. She says, in this task, “you are receiving—opening yourself to insight, inspiration, guidance… [Time is] especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness.” I find it almost impossible. I can spend two hours watching television and not have a second thought, but to actually take two hours for myself feels profligate and sinful.

For a while I was attending the Independent Film series at a movie theater downtown, and even that was brutal. Going to movies alone is one of my absolute favorite things to do. Sitting in the silent dark while credits roll gives me a thrill that reminds me of when I was a child, of that feeling when the whole world was open to me, when everything I had yet to experience was part of the creative unknown. But every week would roll around and I’d convince myself not to go. It costs too much in gas, I’d say. The movie this week sounds awful. I have to do the dishes.

She says: “If you think this sounds stupid or that you will never be able to afford the time, identify that reaction as resistance. You cannot afford not to find time.”

She’s right. More and more I’ve been realizing that we don’t give ourselves permission to do the things that we allow children to do. Why are we so easy on them, and so hard on ourselves? If what we love to do is eat ice-cream sundaes, drive through farmland, camp in the backyard—why can’t we do that for ourselves, instead of waiting to be given permission to do it for someone else?

The other day, on a walk, I passed one of my neighbors, a grandmother crouched beside her sprinkler. She said, ashamed, “I’m not allowed to play in the sprinkler unless my grandson’s here. What will everyone think?” She had to pretend there was something wrong with the sprinkler, that she didn’t know how it worked, so she could crouch beside it and play in the water. Grandmothers aren’t allowed to play in sprinklers.

But they are. We all have a friend who lets herself do the things that we don't give permission to ourselves to do, and you know what? We’re envious. Why can’t we let ourselves do those things? What God wants for us is joy. So why do I feel so much guilt for finding it?


Red Sonia said...

I have a funny Dr. Jacobs story for you. My sister just met with a hiring manager for Oakland Community College in MI. The girl graduated in 2000 with an ENG degree. She told Dr Jacobs she could never get a job teaching and he said if you never apply, you will be right. She got the first job she applied to at OCC. So per our conversation, I think you should send your blog to Dr J.

Love this post!

Melissa said...

That's amazing! Good for your sister. I know English jobs are hard to get, but you do need to apply for things in order to get them. It's easy to forget that.

And glad you enjoyed the post.

A LIttle Birdy said...

Hi Melissa, Thanks for your comment on my blog. I've been traveling this summer a lot to see friends and family. I just wanted to comment that CBT is an amazing therapy. I have training in Applied Behavior Analysis to work with people with autism, which is one of the theories behind CBT. That is what I used to pull myself out of the depression/anxiety cycle. It took a couple years, lots of mini-goals, and two rounds of short-term therapy, but I am so much better now. I have tools now to manage myself better. I still have bad moments, but I know how to embrace and work through them now. Stick with it. It's not all pop psychology. ---Robin

Melissa said...

I completely agree with your comments about CBT. It's amazing, and so effective, and completely contradicts experientially everyone's stereotypes about psychology. I actually believe that the Artist's Way is effective CBT for artists. Artists just have a hard time accepting such things.

Glad you're having a good time traveling with your family!