“The Artist’s Way” Criticism – Week Three: Recovering a Sense of Power

THA POWAH
THA POWAH

The summary, written in a gray box along the right side of the page, says of this week: “This week may find you dealing with unaccustomed bursts of energy and sharp peaks of anger, joy, and grief. You are coming into your power as the illusory hold of your previously accepted limits is shaken. You will be asked to consciously experiment with spiritual open-mindedness.”

This, folks, sounds like an extinction burst to me. Jeez, I wish more people understood this experience and accepted that it is part of the process of changing habits. If you know it’s going to happen ahead of time, you might just be more aware of yourself and what you’re going through, and more forgiving of yourself when an extinction burst happens.

I’m fascinated by extinction bursts, personally. I think they can explain a lot of behavior – I’ve read about them in the context of psychological studies on animals, and in the context of human behavior like dieting, but I think these bursts occur even when we change behaviors to something more rewarding. We’ve found a niche for our brains in the short-term – watching television, for example – and when we go to change our behaviors in the long-term – setting aside three hours every day to write, for example – then we can do this for awhile, feel good about ourselves, and then one day … BAM. The bad behavior is back.

I have experienced this quite a bit, and have tried various ways to combat it. At one point, when I was helping to run a small theatre company, I wanted to figure out ways to make the company more stable. So I set myself the task of getting books about marketing, board relations, auditions, season planning – everything – from the library. I wanted to read something for a few hours once or twice a week, for research. I grabbed an armload of books, and put dedicated time aside on my calendar, with reminders.

I did this for maybe a month.

At one point, in an effort to force myself to write more – something, anything – I carried a small spiral notebook and pen with me everywhere. I told myself that I would write on my lunch break, on the train, or on the bus, anytime that I had spare time.

Again, I did this for about a month.

Ingrained habits with no particular pressure are very tempting. There’s a lot going on in my life, but I have to learn to push through that and get myself to do more, but also take care of myself.

Attempting to retrain yourself into better habits takes a lot of time and patience. This process is not quick. Knowing that your subconscious will do everything in its power to pull you away from things that are not short-term rewards is important.

I find that “spiritual open-mindedness” can actually backfire, and become a way for many people to justify backsliding on good habits. If the work is being “open-minded,” then all you do is wait – you’re a vessel for when some blessing from the sky fairy comes down.

Saying that you have a goal does not mean you are working toward it. Saying that you are open-minded does not mean that you are actually practicing the concept.

Now, the real problem I have with the term “spiritual open-mindedness” in particular is it allows Cameron to ask you a lot of rhetorical, leading questions, while again, still, not actually giving the reader any real tools. The woman even has the audacity to write about synchronicity early in the chapter! She says:

Answered prayers are scary. They imply responsibility. … Answered prayers deliver us back to our own hand. This is not comfortable. We find it easier to accept them as examples of synchronicity…

So, again, Cameron’s constant problem is highlighted in these words. Praying to something gives you things. Rather than 1) doing the hard word of turning your wish into education and connections, then 2) searching for opportunities, Cameron uses “prayer.” Praying is the real work. Then, when your prayer is answered (clearly through no agency of your own, by putting yourself repeatedly into situations where you will eventually be in the right place at the right time), it is suddenly your responsibility to go for it.

If you do not accept all the work you’ve done upfront, all the interest you’ve shown in projects, then yes, opportunities will appear scary. You don’t recognize your own agency in making this opportunity happen, so how can you accept the opportunity?

You have to have agency first.

Then you can set your goals.

Then you can understand extinction bursts when they happen.

Cameron odiously continues:

First choose what you would do. The how usually falls into place itself.

Nope. I have never had that happen. I have been startled by finding some opportunities available, just when I was thinking about them, but I was also actively looking for opportunities.

I am actively working on a solo performance. I have a long version of it that I have been tweaking for months. As a director, I worked with a theatre in Seattle that produces plays written by women, and they have a series of playreadings that they started doing a couple of years ago. Because I have worked with them, and seen several of their shows, I am on their mailing list. Just as I started thinking about my solo performance again, I got an email from them that they were accepting submissions for the readings. It would be a perfect way, if accepted, to showcase my solo performance.

This seems like synchronicity, but here’s the thing: I was thinking about the solo performance, so I was looking out for opportunities for it. I had it basically written down, which took a lot of work. It took a lot of work for me to get involved with this company to begin with. Now that those two things are in place, an opportunity to showcase some of my hard work arose. This isn’t synchronicity, so much as it is the culmination of a lot of hard work that I’ve done.

There’s other opportunities out there for me to showcase the solo show, as well. There’s an entire solo performance festival out there. There’s fringe fests all over the country. Hell, I could rent a small theatre, ask a friend to direct the show, and just effing do it.

I wrote the solo show because I took a solo performance class (as I’ve mentioned several times – it was awesome). The reason I took the class is because I had, originally, wanted to go to Chicago for a few months to study with a theatre company I love called the Neo-Futurists. I want to do shows like “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind.” That has nothing to do with solo performance, but beefing up my writing skills applies to both. I did not get to go to Chicago as quickly as I had hoped for several reasons, so I ended up settling for a solo performance class, reasoning that if I forced myself to go then at least I would write a lot, even if I didn’t enjoy the acting part.

And I ended up getting a piece of work that I am really proud of and excited by. That is not synchronicity, that is active searching for opportunities wherever I can get them.

I didn’t pray for writing opportunities. I knew it was something I wanted to do based on inspiration from a theatre company I loved. I found a way to do it that didn’t involve quitting my job in a giant huff and leaving myself financially stranded, even though at the time I would have loved nothing better.

If I look at this as the universe working in my favor, then I would never have had this level of agency at all. I wouldn’t have an hour-long solo performance script. I wouldn’t have gone to see a theatre company in Chicago that I have admired from afar for a few years. Hell, I may not even have moved to Seattle after I graduated. I’ve had to work for all of the things listed above, and it has led to a lot of great, unexpected opportunities, but because I watch for opportunities all the time and take advantage of them as much as I am able – which is hard work – then I get to see more opportunities.

This is agency. This is not prayer or synchronicity.

And I have had extinction bursts. I’m actually having one with myself that involves sending my script to a professional theatre in my hometown. Still. After weeks of debating with myself. Still having a hard time with it.

I have extinction bursts with this blog all the time.

I have extinction bursts with editing the solo performance.

But eventually, I get back to them because the work is worth it.

Many artists begin a piece of work, get well along in it, and then find, as they near completion, that the work seems mysteriously drained of merit.

This is a classic extinction burst. Cameron blames it on self-esteem. Yes, that might be part of it, but it is not all about the family life you had, well-meaning friends offering “constructive” criticism, or finding a safe space. It is about continuing the work because being creative is worth it. It is about finding a way to give yourself space from the work, inspiration, and returning. It is not about coddling yourself, it is about treating your creativity with professionalism.

Unless, you know, you want it to be a hobby, in which case, why are you even reading this effing book?

Cameron talks about dealing with criticism later in the chapter, and I don’t even find that worth getting into. Criticism sucks and makes you feel like a shitty person, not just a shitty artist, but eventually you’re going to have to get over the criticism, or decide to do something else that will stifle your creativity. That’s all there is to it.

Do the work to your satisfaction, get constructive criticism as you are able to ingest it. Rinse and repeat.

One GOOD piece of advice from the chapter:

More than anything else, experiment with solitude. You will need to make a commitment to quiet time. Try to acquire the habit of checking in with yourself. Several times a day, just take a beat, and ask yourself how you are feeling. Listen to your answer. Respond kindly. If you are doing something very hard, promise yourself a break and a treat afterward.

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