Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Week 1, Day 2 — My Champions

It's day two.  I got up an hour earlier than yesterday to write my morning pages rather than enjoying a long lie in bed on my day off – I want to be keeping good habits to stay committed to the course this time round, so I'll be up another hour earlier tomorrow to fit things in before my normal getting-ready-for-work routine kicks in.

After writing such a long — and quite mentally draining — first blog post yesterday, I decided not to tackle my monsters or blurts straight away.  Besides the huge to-do list I had to get through, I felt like I needed a little nurturing and nourishment, so instead I opted to jump straight to the task where I thought about my champions.

This was a very encouraging and motivational exercise.  It's easy to get wrapped up in your own paranoia of believing the world is against you, that nobody supports you and they all think you're crazy, your art amounts to nothing and you'll never make anything of it.  It's also easy to forget that there are many people out there who champion what you're doing and really do support you.

The exercise calls on you to think of three old champions of your creative self-worth and to find positive affirmation in their words, actions and compliments.  While I still have my fair share of monsters who allow negative self-doubt to creep in (and I'll return to them later), I'm fortunate to have a healthy pool of supporters who encourage me in my endeavours, with many of them happy to give praise and honest feedback.

Over the past few weeks I've been hosting a small exhibition of my writing, at which I recite some of my short stories and have previewed sketches from the play I am writing at present.  An opening launch night was organised, and I spent two agonising weeks leading up to it worrying that not a single person would turn up.  And once I started to hear back from a few people that they'd definitely make it along, I started to worry instead that I'd muck up the readings and make a fool of myself in front of the crowd regardless of how many people were there.  I worried that they'd judge the writing I had selected to exhibit, or that they'd visibly hate the scene from the play right there yards from me while I performed it, giving me doubts about completing the whole project.

I needn't have worried.

I was told 25-30 people could attend, and 27 turned up.  I had friends and supporters there from all areas of my life, past and present, home and away, who all turned up to be part of that special night.  All I had to do was trust they would come, read well, speak clearly, and — the part I had been forgetting until then — try to enjoy myself in the now.

Several of those I consider to be my greatest champions were there.  I wrote about one of them last night in my journal in great detail as part of this task, and I reflected fondly on the couple who took me to dinner after the event:  they told me how proud they feel to have shared in the journey I've been on this past year.  I honestly didn't know I had that affect on people, or that they cared so much about what I've been doing.  Some of my oldest and dearest champions couldn't be there; one was simply too far away to make it and the other had a work engagement back home that couldn't be rescheduled, but they didn't leave it with a simple 'sorry I can't make it'.  One sent a card with a beautifully written message of support and encouragement (which I have pinned above my writing desk where I will see it every day), while the other sent me emails and text messages and wanted to hear all about it on the phone afterwards.

I've never found it easy to accept compliments.  I find it slightly embarrassing and awkward to have people talk positively about my work.  This, in spite of my training as a counsellor and life coach — I find it easy to preach to people about accepting praise and positive affirmation when it is honestly and genuinely given, but have failed in the past to take good feedback on board myself.

I have my blurts, my doubts and my inner self critic to tell me that people don't mean it, they don't know what they're talking about and I don't deserve it.  My 'monsters in the hall'.  No point putting them off any longer — they will be today's task.  It's time to drag them out of the dark and into the open where they can be dealt with.


Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Week 1, Day 1 — Third Time Lucky


One of the first things you read about in the introductory pages of The Artist's Way is triggering synchronicity; how universal change is set in motion by the act of undertaking the daily tasks — by doing.  Synchronicity is also when two apparently unrelated events come together or happen by chance.  When I picked my copy of The Artist's Way off the bookshelf on Sunday night, dusted it down and thought  'yes — now is the right time', little did I know that 400 miles away, my good friend Debbie in London had done precisely the same thing and made the very same decision.

It didn't come as a surprise, really.  There were tell-tale signs and events on Twitter that probably led us both to the conclusion; Debbie has completed the twelve week programme in the past and had recently given an interview about her participation and experiences.  It was Debbie who first introduced me to Julia Cameron's books just over 8 years ago (my, how time flies) while I was spending a gap year 'recovering' in Australia.  I had experienced a difficult few years marred by accidents, injury and debt as I struggled from my teens into my twenties, and after sorting out my financial affairs ended up spending time in Byron Bay, NSW — a mecca for anyone creative, artistic or alternative — where I lived with my Auntie, who is one of the kindest, most generous and free spirited people on the planet.  At that time, I should have been primed and ready for The Artist's Way, but was faced with the ever-present threat of having to return to the UK, to find a job, fit back in to society's machine and return to the routine of everyday life.

And that's precisely what I did.  I conformed to social norms, I attempted to 'settle down'.  That in itself is perhaps not a bad thing; where I went wrong was in closing the door behind me and trying to deny who I was and what I was capable of becoming.  I spent a few months haplessly working away at a mediocre desk job, started out on a relationship of convenience with someone I met at work, and was constantly convincing myself I'd get back to acting training or gain work experience in theatre or film at some point.  I joined a few amateur companies to 'keep a hand in' and was soon filling up my days and nights with things to do.  Debbie moved from Australia to London round about that time and tried to get me to have another go at The Artist's Way, encouraging me to think again about training as an actor or pursuing my writing goals.  But I got swept up in how busy my life had become, and after just a week or two had no time to commit.

Before I knew it, years were flying by before my eyes; a cliché, I know.  It was like someone had pressed fast-forward and I had no way of slowing things down.  Life started to slip out of control.  The job became my full time occupation, part of life's never-ending battle to stay solvent.  The relationship became an engagement and led to us moving in to our own place together.  Then the house started falling down around our ears, putting pressure on our finances and our relationship, which ultimately didn't last.  After a year of depression, trying to fathom out where precisely things had gone wrong and what had led my partner to leave me for another guy, I started to acknowledge that perhaps we'd tried to settle down too early, that we'd put too much expectation on ourselves, and that underneath I had tried to be someone I simply wasn't.  I had failed to allow myself to be who I was meant to be.  This may sound unfair, but I had in fact been spared a life-sentence, and was glad to free of it.  I had unfinished business.

My unfinished business is perhaps what saved me.  After several years of overcommitting myself to other people's projects and almost burning myself out in the process, I took ill.  Quite seriously ill, in fact, resulting in hospitalisation and two rounds of major surgery.  I had finally hit the pause button I hadn't previously been able to find; life was on hold.  During this quiet time, I came to realise that what I'd been doing was burying myself up to the neck in other people's 'stuff' to detract from thinking about my own issues that I didn't want to deal with.  And here, I'm not talking about relationships or work or money or property.  I'm talking about what I'd really been procrastinating over for the decade leading up to that point:  the fact I hadn't pursued my dreams, my ambitions, my passion — my true vocation of being a writer and performer.  There is no rewind button in life.  The opportunities I'd had in my youth were gone, in the past.  But on the plus side, I was recovering and had the opportunity to press play again, to take a second chance and make up for the things I had missed out on.

Those are my demons, the ghosts that define my recent past.  I'd love to say I headed straight out into the world and landed the lead role in a West End play, or that I wrote a novel in 6 weeks and had it published as a best seller, or that I wrote a Fringe First winning show that stormed the Edinburgh Festival.  I didn't.  I started to procrastinate again, but this time in a much more positive way.  As part of my continuing professional development in my day job, I had the opportunity to retrain as a life coach.  Off the back of my own coaching work, I started to truly appreciate the things that had been holding me back, the issues that I still fall back on when times are tough, the events or incidents or people from my past that block me when I start to get 'too far ahead of myself'.  I started to visualise and move on from them, one at a time.

This past year, and in particular the past six months, has been a fantastic period for me.  I made a promise to myself that I would write again.  I would act.  I would sing, design, recite, draw, paint, dance, cook, bake, study — do any of the creative things I had ever been told I couldn't do, or wasn't allowed to do, or stupidly believed I wasn't meant to do.  I just started doing them — not just for fun, or for a hobby, or for other people, but for me.  For Kris, the artist who remained hidden for a decade and only had fleeting opportunities to burst out before being squirrelled away again like some dirty, sordid secret.  I've enjoyed some success too:  I won an award for my writing, one of my plays has been commissioned, I've worked with and toured with professional companies, my work has been exhibited.  Positive things are happening in every area of my life because I started to believe in myself again.  Yes, I still feel restrained by the chains of a day job and have the same financial burdens I had a year ago, but each small 'victory of art' relieves some of the pressure and reassures me that I'm on the right path.

Which brings me here, to my current voyage, back on the path of The Artist's Way.  I'm about to start for the third time — third time lucky?  It certainly feels right this time.  I'm ready to explore, to create.  I just hope that within the confines of our creative cluster Debbie knows what she has let herself in for!

I poured out three full sheets of morning pages this morning then took my artist for a walk.  I started the time-travelling exercises and will continue them this afternoon; I've hinted at some of my past blocks here in this post and it's time to tackle them in private now in a bit more detail.

If you've made it to this point, then thank you.  I appreciate it was a long first post, but the first week is about recovering a sense of safety, and as you've seen I have ten years worth of barriers and avoidance to put to bed.  Now that the toughest part — getting started — is over, I feel motivated and ready to fully commit myself to the journey.

And it's worth mentioning that this isn't a journey that you take alone.  If you want to join our creative cluster for the next twelve weeks, then feel free to come along for the ride.  If you haven't heard of or experienced The Artist's Way, I've included a link to the book below as well as link to Julia Cameron's website which gives you a flavour of the course.  We're not participating in the online version; we're simply following the book and checking in once a week.