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.