Review of The Artist’s Way

A part of the reason that it took me so long to complete the first part of the serial novel book that I’d first conceived of in 2009 was largely because I had a large number of beliefs about creation and writing, not to mention perspectives in general, that wasn’t healthy for an aesthetically productive life. While going through my journals I’ve been able to see that this knowledge wasn’t always lost on me, but I wasn’t always able to incorporate it into my creative practice and my periods of backsliding far outpaced that of my moving in the right direction. I don’t remember who suggested that I read The Artist’s Way, for the list who I had been complaining about my frustrations was quite large, but thankfully someone did and my mom purchased it for me for my birthday. It laid unread for a few weeks besides my bed, where I would pick it up and peruse the first few pages. I was reluctant to give it a try first out of pride – surely I didn’t really need a book to tell me how to be an artist, I AM an artist – and later out of aversion to what I perceived to be a New Agey philosophizing about the artist as a conduit of God. Once I started it in earnest, however, I immediately realized how much I needed it and how much my own conception of the Divine was actually connected to that which Julia Cameron described.

Since reading the book I feel immeasurably more cognizant of the habits of thought and behavior that prevent me from focusing on my work and the need for me to push through. Sickness is a power, and being frustrated is a way of feeling special – as if something going on in one’s life can take a magical form and prevent someone from creative production! Getting rid of that mindset through a number of steps that she outlines allows you to recover and become more aligned with what your hopes are.

One of the recurring instructions throughout the book is to just keep creating in some form and though it might not be exactly what you expect at that moment it will help you to realize it. Cameron here provides the reader with two main practices; morning pages written in a journal that are at least three pages in length and artist’s dates. The latter one writes upon waking. The idea is to help get all of the gunk out of your head so as to help reorganize your life in a manner that is more aligned with your artistic intentions. The latter is a commitment once a week to engage in some sort of aesthetic consumption that takes you someplace – be it an open mic night, a museum, a gallery, a book reading, etc. Going to these and experiencing other people’s art makes you more receptive to creation as well as provides you with a greater stock of material from which to pull.

At the end of each week the book asks you to track how much you followed these directions and also provides a series of steps to deepen the insight experientially. This can be writing a series of destructive thoughts that play in your mind as well as new affirmations to repeat into the mirror to negate them. Since completing a number of the weekly tasks, I admit to not completing them all, I find myself less likely to make myself feel guilty when I get derailed from my work and I’m clearer about my goals.

One of my main stultifying habits was not normally to value product over process, however I came to realize through one of the reflection writing practices that I came to adopt someone else’s perspective of the role of my art. Previously I’d written only because I enjoyed doing it and had no expectations that anyone other than a few friends would experience.
Another bad habit was to allow myself to get caught in a series of images of myself that made it difficult for me to have a clear self-image. What does this mean? Well, during my first marriage my partner, who was wonderful in many ways, encouraged me to go into a professional career despite my ambivalence towards it. I liked the challenge of being a successful lawyer, but it was never something that appealed to me in a deeper level. I began to research law schools, practice for the LSAT, think that devoting time to my creative work was a waste – though it was what I loved – and on and on.

While I frequently mark up my books, The Artists Way is by far my most annotated text. There are long passages of deep insight into a healthier worldview more productive to creativity. These I’d needed to help counter the false axioms and practices that I’d adopted from a number of the various life situations. One of them that I really like was:

“People frequently believe the creative life is grounded in fantasy. The more difficult truth is that creativity is grounded in reality, in the particular, the focused, the well observed or the specifically imagined.

As we lose our vagueness about our self, our values, our life situation, we become available for the moment. It is there, in the particular, that we contact the creative self. Until we experience the freedom of solitude, we cannot connect authentically. We may be enmeshed, but we are not encountered.

Art lies in the moment of encounter: we meet our truth and we meet ourselves; we meet ourselves and we meet our self-expression. We become original because we become something specific: an origin from which work flows.”

This helped remind me and reorient me in way that I knew, which reminds me of a quote by Henry Miller – and I’m paraphrasing – which states that those beautiful phrases which we fall in love with in certain passages don’t always tell us something new but touches upon those parts of ourselves that we’ve allowed ourselves to forget.

I’m definitely going to be rereading this book again and as The Artist’s Way is a trilogy, Walking in this World: The Practical Art of Creativity and Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance the latter two iterations, I’m definitely going to be reading this as well and hope that I can, as Cameron suggests in the back, find others that have read it as well to create a creative cluster. When I think of my most productive times it has been amongst groups of fiction writers and poets that were also drunk in inspiration to produce creatively.

Review of “Drown”

I honestly struggle with how to start talking about Drown by Junot Diaz. To be quite blunt, writing this three months after reading it I had to review the notes on the inside of my book to remember much about it and I think that this reflects poorly on the book itself. The struggles of the characters are all relatable to some extent: how to deal with poverty; how to deal with social ostracism; how the young yearn for the ability to be who they want and the old wish they were young so they can remake themselves; how to deal with unrequited love; how to deal with non-traditional parenting dynamics; how to succeed or fail as an immigrant and how both tracks can be painful; how to, well, you get the picture.

Outside of that, though, there wasn’t much that really stuck with me in the manner that, say, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned did from the collection of short stories of the same name by Wells Tower did. Or that even Diaz’s other works did. Or that a number of other novellas have. I realize while writing this that it might be a matter of a certain prejudice that I have against short stories, but even then I don’t think that my preference for longer works de facto invalidates my disconnection. This is not to say that I didn’t like it – the stories have their moment. Just that, I guess, they never get to a point at which I find myself enamored with them.

The characters suffer or take pride in their roles, but generally express little agency other than a few primal urges that, even then, they seem to realize as banal. I recognize that this is an effect that Diaz is seeking in his work, an existential ambivalence if you will, but it makes the characters seem like poseurs. “Precisely!” Diaz might respond and I would counter with, Well then so what? Thinking specifically of Edward Limonov’s Memoirs of A Russian Punk, I would say that these similar themes could be interrogated, but in a more constructivist manner. I realize this is again my own aesthetic judgement – but it is nevertheless one I stand by.

There are a number of other things that I found myself dissatisfied with. For one: a not so subtle sexism. To me this was evident in what I would call Diaz’s generally singular portrayal of all men as machistas. I fully recognize that this – that is the categorization of women as sexual objects to be conquered, traditional caretakers of the family that can weather all sorts of infidelities and foul treatment to keep the family unit together or the mothers that protect their sons – is a realistic depiction of Dominican culture, neigh many cultures in general. However the only moment that I read which was in any ways empowering for a woman was in the last ten lines of the short story Boyfriend the girl, Loretta, who is shown to be used by a number of men cuts her hair short and takes pride in “looking fierce.”

Lest I be misconstrued as someone that needs some sort of overarching feminist message in their books to feel myself connected to it I have to point out that I am a huge fan of Henry Miller, who often, I believe, gets derided as a misogynist when I think it’s more proper to call him a libertine imbued with a generalized sexual vitalism. I’ve heard similar charges against Milan Kundera, who I also enjoy and find such categorizations as unfitting. But maybe this is perhaps because they do something more profound with similar characterizations that Diaz just doesn’t.

That said, there are a number of really good lines in the short stories that have just a huge amount of emotional impact within them. Like in Aurora: “I go back to sleep and when I wake up in the morning I’m laying in the tub and I’ve got blood on my chin and I can’t remember how in the world that happened. This is no good, I tell myself. I go into the sala, wanting her to be there but she’s gone again and I puch myself in the nose just to clear my head.” Or in Boyfriend: “ She let him fuck her every time, maybe hoping that it would make him stay but you know, once somebody gets a little escapt velocity going, ain’t no play in the world that will keep them from leaving.” Or in Fiesta, 1980: “Papi was old-fashioned; he expected your undivided attention when you were getting your ass whupped. You couldn’t look him in the eye either – that wasn’t allowed.” Compared to those in Diaz’s other works, however, I found their frequency lacking and the use of Spanglish more much more spurious.

I’ll likely pick this book up again at some point in time to give it a try, but on the whole I was unimpressed.