Head Above Water


This coming weekend will mark the first time I’ll get to teach Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, since I’m using it as the framework for the creativity workshop I get to run this summer. Appropriately enough, I’ll be doing this nearly twenty years to the day — the 8th of July, 2000 — when I first started reading The Artist’s Way myself. That book wound up changing the trajectory of my life in a major way over the following twenty weeks, and it’s hard to avoid looking back right now on how my life has changed over the past twenty years, especially when I’m working on one of the first tangible results of my going through The Artist’s Way: This website.

It seems like I write about that book almost every time I mark the .org’s anniversary, and I’m sure that I’ll do so again come this November. For all the tools that I gained from reading The Artist’s Way, maybe the most important of all was the courage I needed to turn away from things that were making me unhappy, and to pursue the things that would make me happy, regardless of the obstacles I might face along the way. I’d watched The Power of Myth enough times by then that I might as well have had “Follow Your Bliss” tattooed on the insides of my eyelids, but something about Cameron’s more practical approach to identifying and pursuing that bliss just did a lot more for me there.

To be sure, my path has had its share of rocky patches and dips over the past two decades, especially when I put my trust in the wrong people, but that’s only to be expected. I wouldn’t dare to say that my life is perfect right now, but I’m about as content as I can be under the circumstances. Those circumstances, though, continue to get more and more challenging, and I know that they won’t get easier for a long time to come, despite the pronouncements of some people who have a vested interest in papering over the real problems that so many of us are facing right now.

When I emailed a friend of mine last week to let her know how I was doing, I told her that I was keeping my head above water, but that was about all I was capable of doing. In all honesty, that might have been an overstatement; I’ve been engaged in training for work (we’re all quadrupling down on gaining facility in online teaching methodologies and pedagogies), and I’ve been doing a lot of reading these past few weeks as I research my next book. It’s not like I’ve been curled up in bed, afraid to pull the covers off and face an ever-scarier world. Maybe I’m just not gauging my activities and mental state all that well, but doing so is incredibly difficult for those of us who are continuing to self-isolate while the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, since we don’t have frames of reference around us like we’re used to.

At the same time, though, between all the things going on in the news, and all the personal difficulties I’m having to deal with (nothing that big, but a lot of small issues that have the collective heft of bigger stuff), it’s not easy to maintain even a neutral outlook on the future. The world of 2020 is a lot more complicated than the world of 2000, and summoning the courage to do the things I need to do isn’t as easy as it used to be. Even with the knowledge that my friends are going through similar problems, as are so many people all around the world, it still feels like I’m having to invest too much of my energy in avoiding the temptations to give in to despair and other similar feelings. Maybe I wasn’t overstating things when I told my friend that I was barely keeping my head above water right now.

As I’ve said before, one of the forces that drives me in my teaching is to be the kind of teacher for my students that I needed when I was younger. Teaching new material always presents its own challenges, and even though I’m very familiar with The Artist’s Way as a reader, I’ve never used it as a “textbook” before in my teaching. I hope I can find the courage I need to meet this new challenge, even as I struggle with all these other issues. These new students of mine deserve nothing less.

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