Week Two of “The Artist’s Way” is titled “Recovering a Sense of Identity.” The first week was “Recovering a Sense of Safety,” so this is a nice bit of linguistic symmetry. As we continue into the rest of the 12 weeks, “Recovering a Sense of ____” starts every title sequence.

The subtitles in this chapter are telling of Cameron’s “alternative medicine” approach to artistry. We have “Going Sane,” “Poisonous Playmates,” “Crazymakers,” “Skepticism,” and “Attention.” And, based on other things I’ve talked about, you can probably guess the contents of each subheading.

I will say, in general, I do not disagree with the advice proffered in the beginning. Cameron talks about trusting your creativity and just going for it. It’s not that easy, but it’s nice to have someone tell you that it’s ok to just make the things you want. She also outlines some common self-attacks, which is important to note. Anyone, professional or hobbyist, will look at that list and nod with empathy.

However, as an artist, you do not make art to make yourself feel better. You make art for public consumption.

“Going Sane” discusses how, while we’re releasing creative energy, we feel like we’re going crazy; but, Cameron points out, we’re actually going sane in a crazy world. 

“Poisonous Playmates” gives the reader another target for transferred blame – friends. Any friend who offers criticism of your work is just jealous. Granted, a good friend will know when to ask if you want criticism, and will not just offer it; however, a good friend will also offer a constructive critique of your work. So for Cameron to suggest that offered criticism is to be ignored, for any reason, is damaging.

“Crazymakers” is a subchapter about a particularly toxic subset of “friends” or “frenemies” wh0, well, drive the reader crazy. They demand a lot of time and attention, and if you let them, they eat up your schedule and your emotional reserves. Sure, we can all think of people like that in our lives, if we try really hard. However, rather than finding a way to deal with the needs of these people while also balancing your own time (you know, finding a healthy adult relationship with the person), Cameron encourages you: “The next time you catch yourself saying or thinking, ‘He/she is driving me crazy!’ ask yourself what creative work you are trying to block by your involvement.” That’s right, don’t look to forgive or find balance, but instead, blame them for being crazy and then blame yourself for using them subconsciously as a road block. That sounds healthy.

Here, by the way, is a brief run-down of the things Cameron claims Crazymakers do:

1. Break deals and destroy schedules
2. Expect special treatment
3. Discount your reality
4. Spend your time and money
5. Triangulate those they deal with (ie play one friend off another)
6. They are expert blamers
7. They create dramas – but seldom where they belong
8. They hate schedules – except their own
9. They hate order
10. They deny that they are crazymakers

This list is pretty convenient. Anytime someone who wants to spend some time with you gets on your nerves, you can use one of the notes on this list to point a finger at them and call them a Crazymaker. Any time someone says something hurtful, you can discount or even abandon your relationship with them because of something on this list. Rather than spend some time working with them to set a healthy boundary that satisfies everyone’s needs (and granted, if that can’t happen then you can consider cutting off the relationship), just look over this list, think of people that make demands you don’t like, and use this as an excuse to walk away.

That’s snobby, unhealthy, and immature. At one time or another, we will all exhibit a smattering of these characteristics and if you truly love someone, if you truly value your relationships, then you will first try to work things out. Communication is important, and second-hand simplified advice like this can do more to destroy your support network than maintain it.

That said, definitely don’t put up with crap forever. Abusive relationships are abusive relationships, and if you try to talk through things with a person you’ve labeled as a Crazymaker and they refuse to listen, then the relationship will warrant a re-evaluation.

“Skepticism” is a subchapter that spends its time discounting skepticism – ie, encouraging the reader to “open your mind.” Cameron talks about doubts the reader might be experiencing – about the Morning Pages, Artist Dates, and positive affirmations. About this point, the reader might notice that they are starting to feel better about themselves, but are just discounting this as coincidence. No, I agree, any “creative recovery” happening at this point is not going to be solely from coincidence. However, while I think it is the product of hard work – of setting aside time for your art and starting to see the rewards of practice – Cameron chalks it up to something else.

Inner work triggering outer change? Ridiculous! (Slam the door.) God bothering to help with my own creative recovery? (Slam.) Synchronicity supporting my artist with serendipitous coincidences? (Slam, slam, slam.) 

That’s right, Cameron does not point out that there’s probably some success happening, if adequate time has been spent – Cameron says that instead, the reader/artist will see outside forces gathering like fairies around the budding artist and lending their Fairy Godmother powers to the beautiful princess. Rather than attention, Cameron credits god. Rather than time and effort, Cameron credits synchronicity.

This is insulting. She insists that the reader needs to put effort into becoming a real artist, but not to reap the rewards for training, self-care, and focus; instead, it is a way of summing spirits from beyond to lend magical powers to the art work. It is still, in Cameron’s view, not your effort, but the Universe conspiring to reward you.

Let’s take out the middle man, shall we? Just take credit for the things you do. And I do mean, take all the credit – if it fails, take responsibility and figure out why. If it succeeds, enjoy that!

The “Attention” chapter is an interesting one. I happen to like it, because of the personal stories involved. I know that’s a weird thing to say, but it’s true. However, although the personal story about Cameron’s grandmother is lovely, I think Cameron has a hard time getting to her point, which is ironic considering the chapter is about attention.

But Cameron’s ultimate point is that the reader should pay attention to the little things.

She starts with:

One of the great misconceptions about the artistic life is that it entails great swathes of aimlessness. The truth is that the creative life involves great swathes of attention. Attention is a way to connect and survive.

But then, Cameron makes a stab at tying the story of her grandmother’s gardening, letters, attention to the “little things” into the idea of attention, and seems to think that the two ideas are obvious together. She tells you a story about a fantastic old woman who focused on daily details like flowers and birds to, basically, avoid dealing with an alcoholic gambling husband (lovely, indeed – didn’t Cameron just say we should avoid Crazymakers?). Then she tells you to pay more attention. She talks a lot about personal pain, and then suggests that the best way to avoid that was to focus on the moment.

Yes, it is intensely important to focus on the moment when we are in emotional, or even physical pain. But how does this solve the problem, ultimately? The story of the grandmother actually illustrates a woman who, beautiful as her life might be in retrospect, used daily details to avoid overall problems. De-stressing is important, but it is equally important not to cross over the line into just plain denial.

This is not attention – it is fear.

There’s more self-help writing prompts and check-ins at the end of the chapter. I won’t go over those. Moving on …

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