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Discovering a Sense of Proportion

“If we are thinking about a life in the arts, we’d better have ‘something to fall back on.’ Would they tell us that if we expressed an interest in banking?”
~Julia Cameron, Walking in this World

Welcome to week two of Walking in this World. Julia prepares us: “This week inaugurates an ongoing process of self-definition. As you redraw the boundaries and limits within which you have lived, you draw yourself to a fuller size.”

In his book Creative License, Danny Gregory asks, what if we treated drawing like we treated driving? We’d put people in a car. Those who showed an instant knack for it would be encouraged, taught, guided, and eventually lauded. Those who didn’t have an instant natural ability for steering and parallel parking would be told to make other plans. Pick up a bus pass and a good pair of walking shoes.

Meanwhile we’d build centers of celebration for the drivers who picked it up quickly and heap instruction and encouragement on them. All the walkers and bus-takers would put these drivers on a pedestal, assuming theywere blessed with some innate magic that the rest of us were lacking.

But art is a learned skill.

Yes, some of us are born with stronger urgings toward one medium or another. Some of us are blessed with perfect pitch or an ear for language. Some of us can draw what we see without thinking about it. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t learn to sing and draw. Or that we can’t learn to play guitar well enough to entertain ourselves in front of the campfire.

I once believed that if I couldn’t be awesome at something, I shouldn’t bother trying. I was surrounded by ridiculously talented musicians, some who’d been practicing daily since birth and others who came out of the womb with perfect pitch. I had neither. My philosophy was, “Why bother?”

I would never hold that philosophy now. But as a young person I was tender and inexperienced. (And perhaps a little defeatist.)

Identity

“I hope you don’t think you’re a writer,” the man who hired me dolefully warned.

I responded, “Oh, I am a writer. I hope you don’t think I’m a journalist.”

When I was a child, I never dreamed of becoming a writer; I already was. I knew this like I knew how to breathe.

What I dreamed of becoming was a gypsy. I would play guitar and live in a purple cravan pulled by a giant white horse named Pearl. I could paint his hooves silver and braid feathers in my hair. I would make music all day and sleep under the stars at night.

As I grew up, my infatuation with music evolved. I started piano lessons very young and played throughout my youth. When I finally got my hands on a guitar, the casual fling became true love.

Surrounded by talented musicians, I grilled them for knowledge. They taught me chord progressions, how to read tablature. Some of them had less-than-wholesome intentions, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to learn to play. One boy gave me a Rickenbacker electric and taught me 12-bar blues. Another taught me hippy folk songs on a beat-up acoustic. And a crazy friend at Berklee taught me Janes Addiction on bass.

I even signed up for an elective – flamenco guitar. I hung batik tapestries on my walls and braided feathers in my hair. My gypsy dreams were coming true (minus the horse).

Somewhere along the line, surrounded by talented people, I felt small. I felt invisible. So I gave it up. I disappeared into a notebook, behind a camera. I still listened to Django Reinhardt obsessively and even named one of my foster cats after him. But I stopped making noise, stopped making music.

It makes me sad now, to think about it. Sad that I spent so many years silent. I picked up my guitar every once in awhile (a black Takamine acoustic with a purple and turquoise butterfly on it) and played long enough to get respectable calluses. Then I’d abandon it all over again.

Then of course in a sweep of synchronicity this weekend, my dream was reborn. The synchronicities are my favorite part of the Artist’s Way and Walking in the World. As Julia assures us, when we speak our dreams, the Universe rushes forward to make it happen.

On Saturday, the Page took me to see my favorite band, Devotchka, for my birthday. And in that dizzying swirl of accordian, theremin and xylophone sang my velvet-clad gypsy guitarist. Sweet, soulful Nick Urata, strumming song to ignite my heart.

For a few hours I disappeared into that world of bells and dancing, with sequined girls dancing on ribbons above the stage. I emerged dazed and dreamy, with a promise to return to making music.

Then yesterday, while killing time in an antique mall, I stumbled – quite literally – across a classical guitar.

I hear you, Universe. I’m listening.

14 comments

  1. one julia cameron-ism that’s resonated deeply with me over the years is the concept of “shadow artists.” i spent years following singer-songwriters around before i realized that *i* wanted to be a singer-songwriter, and before i gave myself permission to do so. and while being a children’s book writer was my childhood dream, it’s only in the last year or so that i’ve allowed myself to claim and own that dream again–after years of following other writers around.

    enjoy your new classical guitar! and don’t stop playing it!

    (i’m participating and would love to be linked in the sidebar, even tho i haven’t blogged about it yet–on my to-do list for this week!)

  2. How wonderful for you!! Oh Kristin, I am so glad you are rediscovering your music!! I rediscovered the music I used to sing all the time a wee bit ago, after starting The Artist’s Way. How my life has been enriched!

  3. Thanks for the comments, ladies. The “shadow artists” concept resonates with me as well. I’ve long been an observer of music, taking photos, writing reviews. I’m sure to some degree that was as closely involved as I was comfortable getting. I’m looking forward to digging in a more hands-on fashion! Carey, I’ll add you to the sidebar.

  4. P.S. Carey – maybe you could give me some lessons! 😉

  5. Sometimes the universe gets tired of our farting around, smacks us one upside the head, and says “This! Do this!! NOW!”

  6. Lanzman – no kidding! Some things I have heard over and over, but insist on doing it my way. Yeah. How’s that working out for you? When I finally figure out that the round peg is not going to fit in that square hole & quit resisting life, it’s so easy. It’s not always too good to be true. True is true.

  7. This is a wonderful post. I strongly identify with what you have written. I studied piano for twenty years and got a college degree in music composition before I learned to identify myself as a musician. I wasn’t “naturally gifted,” so I didn’t think I qualified. I never identified myself as a writer because I compared myself to friends who write, but I write for most everything I do and I’m a faithful journal keeper. My best friend (a writer) keeps pointing out that makes me a writer. I think she’s right, but I’m still adjusting to it.
    Keep writing, keep playing, keep painting, keep drawing! It’s all about learning and expressing ourselves.

  8. This chapter resonated so with me, that I read much of it aloud to my 18-year-old daughter. I also shared the driving metaphor that you presented. It is such a great example of how the artist’s life (and/or work) is viewed differently from, you know, “safe work”, like being a doctor or an accountant.

    Your post is very validating, as was this chapter.

  9. Some of what I struggled with in this chapter was the feeling of not being sure what my childhood dream was…or is. I think things were just too clouded back then for me to be in touch with my inner voices. I had to think very hard about this and found myself feeling a little inadequate. After sleeping on it..a few times, I realize that I didn’t have any particular ideas of what kind of artist I wanted to be…I just knew that I wanted to have a different life from what I witnessed around me and I wanted it to be creative, whatever it was.

    Happily, I can say that I have found that after much searching and trying to “fit it.” And I can finally let myself enjoy the dance between paint, ink, music, and poetry. I just need to keep creating room in my life to be able to enjoy it all.

  10. I hear you, Joni, I also didn’t have a childhood dream. My free spontaneous child’s voices was smothered in critical tones and I started working when I was ten on a paper route that took me away from play and dreams. I was traumatized by immigrating at age seven. So this chapter led me to assume that I don’t belong in this artist’s class except I have a dream now of wanting to write and getting my Children’s book, “Annie’s Special Day” published. Etreasure’s publishing is actually interested in it so maybe that dream will come true.
    Meanwhile I love doing morning pages and writing in my journal. I also haven’t posted anything on my blog about this course yet, but will soon.
    Good for you, Kristen, to pick up your guitar again. Go for it!

  11. The closest I have come to my childhood dream of ‘being a horse’ is the arthritis salve I slather on my knees. It was originally formulated as a horse liniment.

  12. I didn’t have a childhood artistic dream either. I had a happy childhood and my parents encouraged me in drawing and painting. I grew up in a small town and never had the opportunity for dance lessons. Looking back from an adult perspective I wished I had learned to dance as a child, but in my childhood I didn’t miss it. So today, I close the drapes, turn on the radio and dance my way through the housework. I have fun, I have no expectations of being a professional, and nobody judges me. The only one who sees me dance is my tabby cat and she joins in, but doesn’t laugh and doesn’t tell. I enjoyed this chapter of the book, especially the part about becoming as big as your dreams. If you can dream it, you can do it. I liked the quote by Nelson Mandela that you don’t do anyone a favor by hiding your light under a barrel and diminishing yourself to others. That’ a great lesson.

  13. I have given up on many artistic pursuits because I felt I wasn’t good at them. I wrote about that in a little in my blog for this week. Its easy to forget that we need to practice and that talent needs to be cultivated.

  14. YES!!! I can so relate to this and also it brings back so many memories. I spent the last few years “playing bass” in a band that completely squelched my desire (or let me off the hook from facing my fear of feeling small making my own music) to make my own music. I became free of it very recently. And I decided that music is the pearl that I need to cultivate and protected. Seriously. I kinda gasped when I read about your fantasy horse, Pearl — because it was like — SYNCHRONICITY! So maybe you DO have your horse, Pearl. Pearl IS the music! Ok, I’m a freaking hippie I know… Thanks again, Kristin.