AW2: Recovering a Sense of Identity
Finding the safe space from the crazy within, the crazy without
My copy of Artist’s Way is littered with notes from my younger self. Most of it is sweet, some of it like I was unconsciously leaving messages for my future self, breadcrumbs leading to a realisation that I could only fully comprehend much later in life. Every few pages or so I write something like ‘If I start writing I will be left alone’.
It was before my life spun out into a kind of contained chaos. Soon I would find that I didn’t need writing to be left alone I just needed to keep fighting myself. And boy, did I keep fighting.
A memory surfaced from another one of these notes scribbled in the margin of this chapter, one I hadn’t forgotten, but one that had slipped below the surface.
In high school, our English teacher set us to task writing a short book about our lives – front cover, back cover, front matter (contents, publishers page etc), chapters and so on. I started mine the only way I could: ‘I didn’t care that my mother died.’ Or something to that affect.
Those were the days when home computers and printers were the realm of the parents alone and so when it came time to print it out I had to ask my father to help. It didn’t occur to me that he would read it. Or maybe I hoped he would so that we could at least say something about it.
He didn’t speak to me for two weeks and when he finally did it was all rage. Silence and anger: the continued story of my mother’s death. I can’t remember what he said; I threw the book away.
If I start writing, I will be left alone.
Into the bitter core
Recovering a Sense of Identity is about going sane, about defining yourself as a creative person in a space and how your creativity lives (or dies) with the people around you.
I breezed through the beginning of this chapter (thanks therapy!). No big deal. Poisonous playmates? Nope. Worked and working those boundaries. Crazymakers and codependent chaos? Not any more (mostly), thank you very much.
And then we got to skepticism.
In The Magus, the narrator, Nicholas, an Oxford dandy running from his middle-class upbringing, says: “The truth was that I was not a cynic by nature; only by revolt. I had got away from what I hated, but I hadn’t found where I loved, so I pretended there was nowhere to love.”
I realise on rereading Artist’s Way, that it was probably one of the first places I latched onto the ‘be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid’ concept; the idea that if you put the first step down away from ‘not here’, life will somehow meet you with the opportunity to move in a direction. The universe will start ‘cooperating with our new and expanded plans’ as Cameron writes.
I’ve spent a great deal of psychic energy arguing the Great Out There that I haven’t seen this in my life. That I’d gotten away from what I hated, but hadn’t found where I loved because those mighty forces weren’t showing me an outcome I expected.
“Sure, okay,” I’d say. “And what have I got for all these steps? A great publisher? A three-book deal? International fame? Millions and gazillions of readers? A SPOT ON OPRAH (I DON’T CARE THAT SHE’S NOT DOING IT ANYMORE) IF I DON’T HAVE THIS THEN WHAT DO I HAVE NOTHING THAT’S WHAT i am failed THIS IS BULLSHIT …”
My ego is a tiny, angry Napoleon – suffering from unrequited love, fighting wars of domination it will never win.
Reading this bit on skepticism gave me a moment to pause and consider it for a while. Consider how it’s kept me from seeing how that magic has worked in my life; that for every step I took away from pain, a door was always opened, directing me closer to a life I love. It might not be on a bestseller list, but it’s filled with love, contentment, time, beautiful spaces and experiences and – above all, in this context I guess – a consistent and clear connection to my creative spirit. Which is amazing, considering the shit it’s been through … and the shit I’ve put it through.
If I’m honest, I have to accept that my continued skepticism and cynicism doesn’t do my experience any justice. If the path hadn’t opened up before me with every step I took on faith that things could get better, I wouldn’t be here.
I used to wonder how one could pray for faith. Now I’m starting to think that faith is a practice. Like making a snowball, it gets bigger the more you add to it.
It’s a conversation I wasn’t expecting to broach in The Fulcrum, but then Pietro came along. “You have seen me now,” Em says. “You have seen, many times over, the truth of the matter. Millions believe with less.”
Maybe it’s time to start believing again.
Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash
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