“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.)
“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.