Tag Archives: Artists

The Artist’s Way Week 7: The Paradox of Creativity and Ashley’s Writing Brain

Sometimes we hold so tight to the control we think we need that we don’t realize the act of releasing control puts us more in control than when we were holding on. It’s a paradox. One that might make your head spin, but starts to answer the question of how to access more or at least a different kind of authenticity.

When my nieces play, they do a great job of sharing…most of the time. But, they are human and what’s more, they are children and so occasionally conflict does arise. This past year, they all dressed as different Frozen characters for Halloween (I know, you’re downright shocked), which was all well and good until Maggie, the youngest, got an Elsa costume for her birthday. Suddenly Sadie and Maggie could both be Elsa at the same time, while Bailey was stuck being Anna.

Anyone who has ever been around small children, can predict the next scene.

We tried reason: “But Bailey, you love Anna. You’ll be the only Anna. Don’t you want to be Anna.”

No. She wanted to be Elsa too.

We tried logic: “If you wear the Cinderella dress, you’ll look like Elsa. It’s blue too.”

No. It has a picture of Cinderella. Obviously one cannot be Elsa without a cape and with Cinderella tattooed on the front of your dress.

Clearly, she was left out. She could not be Elsa.

The Frozen phenomenon still strikes me as odd. Why do all the girls want to be Elsa? This is obviously a special case, but all over the world little girls are imitating this new Disney Princess turned Queen who doesn’t “get the guy”, who is not in the film as much as Anna, and doesn’t have as many musical numbers and yet, she steals the show almost every time. What is it about Elsa?

As I was reading though this chapter, It struck me in a new way: Elsa is the creator. Sure, she has magic, but even more she is an artists. And like all artists, she lives in a paradox—the more she tries to control something, the less control she has and when she let’s go—that’s when she becomes her true self…a conduit for creativity, change, power, and, of course, love. That kind of repression is something we can all relate to, especially as artists.

Regardless of whether or not you have or have had Frozen fever, or if you’ve even seen the movie, you can still relate to this idea of letting go and becoming your own true artist self. I dislike the idea of letting go—especially of control. It makes me uncomfortable, which is probably why it is most likely to work.

I can reflect on my life, and I know that the most fun I’ve had is when I let go of the fear, the worry, the regret…all of it and embraced the unknown and all the possibilities it could bring: surfing in the Pacific ocean, traveling around Europe, taking a train to Connecticut, singing Karaoke in front of a room full of strangers. I look back on these and wonder why I don’t do more of these things. The power in letting go brings us closer to who we really are, inside and out.

I became a better writer when I stopped trying to control the story. Maybe I’ll be a better person when I stop trying to control the world; maybe that’s really where the authenticity comes from.

My sister and I took both of Bailey’s complaints about the Cinderella dress to heart in solving the problem. Rigging a towel as a cape, my sister was able to solve one problem while I performed surgery on the dress to remove the Cinderella stamp. The blue dress was now ready, and donned in her costume, Baily sailed into the family room, singing at the top of her lungs right along with her two sisters: “Let it go…Let it go…can’t hold it back anymore!”

And you’re welcome…that’ll be stuck in your head now.

The Artist’s Way Week 5-6: It’s not a Cosmic Power Struggle, Ashley

“Most of us never consider how powerful the creator really is. Instead, we draw very limited amounts of power available to us. We decide how powerful God is for us” (Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way).

I have very high standards for myself. Maybe sometimes too high, which is why when I see a job that needs to be done I assume that I am the only one who can do the job well or even right. Maybe that makes me overly critical of others, but what I know it does is point out my major weakness: knowing when to delegate. I tend to want to have control over the situation. Someone who looks at life more negatively might call me a control freak, but I like to consider myself a task-oriented perfectionist.

Stop rolling your eyes.

However you see or interpret these character traits, I know others struggle with similar habits. Personally, I struggle to see anything beyond the practical as being useful, which in turn makes my artist-self cry.

Why do I limit myself? Why would anyone limit themselves in this way?

“Drawing on the limited power available to me” is exhausting and, quite frankly, lonely (Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way). This is why I find team work so empowering—sure, it frustrates me, but when we all put our limited powers together we can accomplish much more (that’s why group work can be powerful too—yes, there is always a weak link, but yes it is more effective sometimes. Students, stop rolling your eyes.).

Like Captain Planet (Yes, I’m stuck in the 90s—deal with it). Earth, fire, wind, water: When our powers combine…(and you’re welcome for having that theme song in your head for the rest of the day)

Alone, Earth is only able to accomplish tasks that require terra firma attention. But what about pollution in the oceans? He needs help! So they combine to form ultimate power: Captain Planet, taking pollution down to zero (not just 30% or whatever).

Beyond that, God is not Captain Planet. We don’t summon our own powers together to create Him. So if together we create a unique kind of power, how much more powerful is our creator when we stop “limiting our flow by anthropomorphizing God” (Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way)?

God is not a “capricious parent figure” (Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way). He has more power than we can imagine and when we open ourselves up to that possibility, God becomes less man-made. He’s no longer the Jesus with the nicely trimmed beard and white robes, blue sash and striking Bradley Cooper blue eyes. He’s rugged, raw and untamed. Most importantly He’s powerful—able to reach beyond the limited self-image you’ve boxed in for yourself and help you reach for the stars—or better yet, the Milky Way, because we might as well aim for a big cosmic goal with a God like that on our side.

Our society tells us that we have to have more—but what if more doesn’t mean “STUFF”—crap—made in Taiwan electronics that fill you with radiation, damage your retinas and rot your brain?

What if more means more of…you? More of a sense of self…of possibility of experience?

What if we stopped putting our faith in the dollar and started believing in something authentic?

If we really believed in this kind of authenticity, would our beliefs about God change? Would our beliefs about ourselves, our jobs, our futures—any of it change?

Which begs the question, how do we shift our perspective and our lives to start believing more in what is real and less in the constructed realities?

The Artist’s Way: Hall of Champions


After completing and slaying (well, at least beginning the process of slaying) the hall of monsters, I’m next asked to identify my hall of champions. This was, in fact, much easier! And as I realized just how much easier it is to identify my champions than it was my monsters I begin to realize just how very blessed I am. I fear to make a comprehensive list, knowing I would inevitably leave someone out and then feel horrible about it (going back to the idea that I am my worst monster), but I did want to list—in tandem with the 5 monsters—a few of my great champions knowing that I could go on for days writing about what these champions and others have done for me I’ll keep it brief and to the point.

  • My parents and by consequence my grandparents, aunts and uncles

I have a very loving family. From the time that I was small until now I have never known anything but love and encouragement from my parents. They filled our house with fun, laughter, and literary heroes I’ll never forget and who will always influence me. In our front hall there stood a bookshelf—it was the first thing you saw really when you walked into the house because it was in your direct line of view and you had to pass by it to get to the rest of the house. But this wasn’t an ordinary bookshelf. It was filled with books of such grandeur and prestige that I actually felt honored the first time my mother told me that yes I could read a book off that shelf (The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens—it broke my heart, but I’ll never forget it). Now don’t get me wrong, our house was filled with books, but there was something magical about this particular bookshelf with its place of honor and, though I’m not sure I ever even told them myself, this kind of honor strikes a chord with me and with what I am trying to be. It’s an image of home—my home that encouraged reading, writing and pursing whatever dream might be in your heart. Despite all their faults (because they are human after all), this is what I love and honor my parents for.

  • My siblings and by consequence my nieces

I have two siblings by blood and one that I claim though we’re not actually related by blood. These three individuals have had more influence on who I am and how I champion to continue on despite the monsters that plague me.

My sister keeps me grounded.

My brother challenges me. *I would say this now includes my brother in law.

My would be sister keeps me sane.

My nieces (ALL of them) are my inspirations. I can’t get enough of them and when I start to feel down and like the world is too much, all I have to do is talk to anyone of them (even before they were speaking “words”) and suddenly all is right with the world again.

  • My second grade teacher Ms. M and my fourth grade teacher Ms. C

My second grade teacher nurtured my reading obsessions. In fact, she had an old clawfoot bathtub that she had filled with pillows and put in her classroom and it became a very special reading spot. I’ll never forget how she made reading seem both special and magical as though there was nothing better in the world to do.

My fourth grade teacher really taught me how to write, and write well. I’ll never forget her lessons on audience and purpose in writing (one of my favorite memories is how she gently told me that using the word “farted” in a formal reflective essay was not necessarily the best word choice—and the fact that I used farted…well, I was in fourth grade!). She encouraged me and taught me never to give up. I was not a great writer when I entered her class, but I left making the highest scores in the school on the writing portions of tests.

  • My work friends and family

There are too many to go into great detail, but Rhonda and Chris are my two greatest champions at work (although Bill ranks right up there too. He’s still convinced someday my books will be movies. Keep that dream alive, Bill!). Whenever I start getting too blah (which with my temperament is more often than not) they are always around to turn me back toward the right direction.

  • My students

I keep a desk drawer full of thank cards and notes, letters, and drawings that my students have given me over the years. This desk drawer isn’t just an ego boost, but a reminder that I am here for a reason. And it’s not just for something selfish. Sometimes, when I feel depressed or discouraged by the NC Voter or the school system, I’ll just read the notes. They are my champions.

Who are your champions? Who encourage you in your creative endeavors? When you make your list do you have more monsters or more champions?