The Creative Processby Paul Fedorowicz, M.A., C.M.H.C.
and The Artist's Way
From earliest childhood, I was drawn toward creativity. A very early memory from my life is of attending my older sister's tap dance recital. Apparently, I moved and swayed rhythmically to the music throughout the performance. During the intermission, Roseanne's teacher, Al Trombetti, approached my mother and announced, "He is a natural dancer!" That memory stands out in my mind because it was the first time someone recognized and encouraged a creative impulse within me. Imagine! A little fat boy was naturally talented at something!
My mother didn't set me up with dance lessons, however. This was the early 60s, after all, and it wasn't seemly for little boys to dance. Dancing was for girls, don't you know! Nonetheless, a spark had been struck within my soul and a little flame of hope burned quietly: "I might be a creative person."
My sister, Roseanne, seems to have served as a conduit for my creative muse during my early years. Her various activities brought me to situations and people who inspired me. During summers, she took me to her college campus to help my mother out with babysitting (I was five, Roseanne was nineteen). As she did her research in the library, she left me to be watched by friends: a beatnik bongo player named Rocco and a more clean-cut actor named Gordon.
Though Rocco was certainly exotic, dressed in black and sporting a jaunty beret and sunglasses, it was Gordon who became my primary role model. He had a great sense of humor and an enthusiastic personality. He treated me kindly and made me feel special. I resolved to be just like him. I recall feeling so safe and content in the company of these two young men. I read Doctor Seuss books while Gordon studied his lines and Rocco composed beat poetry. In my mind, we were three artist-intellectuals, each giving himself fully to his chosen medium.
To my great dismay, I lost contact with Gordon (it's rather difficult for a six-year-old to pursue friendships on his own without transportation). However, through the ensuing years I was blessed with other mentors who encouraged my creativity. Music, English, and theatre teachers helped me to keep my hand in something all the time: writing little plays for my friends to act in, forming little bands in which no one really knew how to play an instrument. As I grew up, I always managed to do something creative and, for a while, during junior high school, it even seemed that I might pursue the arts as a career.
However, I was blessed/cursed with excellent grades in senior high school. Others considered a career in the arts to be beneath my abilities. I didn't yet have enough sense of self to argue against this. So, to a great extent, the creative child who was once complimented by Al Trombetti was pushed aside. Even while this was taking place, I had an awareness that something terrible was happening, that a kind of death was occurring, yet in the name of "growing up" and "setting aside childish things," I bit the bullet and tried to forget the child's dreams.
I was more fortunate than some. The artistic impulse within me was never completely buried. During college I was a "shadow artist." My roommate was a theatre major, so I vicariously lived out my unmet dreams of acting by soaking up his experiences and consoling myself with the thought, "I could do that, but I'm choosing not to."
After college, I taught high school and helped with the school's theatre department. During graduate school, I allowed myself to actually act again, and I continued to do so for a number of years after graduation. However, I always kept a certain distance by not allowing myself to fully identify as an artist. I would explain to people, "Theatre (or music, or whatever it was at the time) is my passion, but I've got a day job. This is just a sideline for me." I consoled my ungrieved losses by convincing myself that I was better off than the poor schmucks who were trying to survive on their art: didn't they know that only the exceptional were able to make it as full-time artists?
I lived this vampire-like existence for many years, drawing out a little creative blood once in awhile, just enough to quell my hunger but not enough to make me feel fully alive. Then, about seven and a half years ago, something significant started to change.
I had always wanted to play the drums as a child, but my parents forced me to play the accordion, instead, when I was nine years old. I came to love the accordion over time, but I never gave up the secret wish to play the drums. Then, as I turned 31, at the start of a mid-life crisis, I suddenly realized that I was an adult. I could stop blaming my parents for not allowing me to play the drums and I could buy a drum set and take lessons, without their permission.
This realization was profound. It was liberating. I rushed out, bought a set of drums in August, and then let them sit in their cases until January, when I finally mustered up the additional nerve to seek lessons. Lessons quickly led to forming a jazz quartet. When the jazz group eventually disbanded, I resurrected my old accordion and formed a folk ensemble. I've since joined a second band that plays European bistro music and, at age 38, I feel that my musical career is just beginning.
The irrepressible creative urge within me managed to resurface despite my efforts, and the efforts of others, to push it down. I consider myself to be one of the fortunate few who have managed to wander back onto the artist's way after years of detours and sidetracks. Yet, in addition to giving thanks to my own creative muse, I also feel thankful toward author Julia Cameron and her excellent book, The Artist's Way.
Adopting a "beginner's mind" is essential. Let yourself make mistakes
and not be "good" at what you are doing.
I had heard about the book and had a vague awareness of it for some time, but it wasn't until June 1996 that I gave myself the gift of formally commencing the 12-week course that Cameron outlines in the book. By following the course material, while meeting with a supportive group of other recovering artists, I was able to consciously and dedicate myself to nourishing my artist-soul. The vampire within was given a blood transfusion and brought more fully back to the land of the living. No longer just a shadow artist, I was gradually able to reclaim an identity, for myself, as an artist not a great artist, or even necessarily a highly productive artist just an artist.
Here are a few of the things I've learned during my lifelong, and ongoing, recovery process:
(a) Each of us, as a child, is an artist. How we are treated and responded to by others will determine, in part, whether we remain connected to the creative impulse and continue being artistic throughout our lives.
(b) As a rule, our society places very little value on creative expression. To keep people's inner artist-children alive and vital, society will have to change by valuing creativity more. For society to change, each of us must begin taking a stand by supporting children in being fully expressive of their creative inclinations. By advocating for others, we create a safer world in which our own artist-child may reappear.
(c) It is never too late to recover. The artist-child within is not dead. S/he is merely dormant, hiding from an unfriendly world. As you take steps to make friends with the inner artist-child, s/he will take steps toward you and the outer world.
(d) One must learn to spend time with oneself. It is essential to take time from hectic schedules to nurture the inner artist-child. Set aside an hour or more each week for what Julia Cameron calls an "artist's date," a sacred time during which you do something that feeds your creative life.
(e) Creativity is a daily process, like eating, drinking, sleeping, and eliminating. If one skips a day, by not attending to one's creative life, then there will be negative consequences, just as if one didn't engage in these other life-preserving functions.
(f) Forgiveness is necessary for creative recovery to occur. Resentment and blame, whether directed toward self or others, keeps one blocked. These negative activities keep one's resources occupied and misdirected from one's creative potential.
(g) One doesn't have to be "good" at something to do something. There is joy in the doing. Adopting a "beginner's mind" is essential. Let yourself make mistakes and not be "good" at what you are doing. Paradoxically, if you simply do it, you are likely to improve.
(h) To be creative doesn't mean one has to practice an actual, recognized art form. Each of us has hobbies and passions that deserve our time and attention. Indulge!
(i) Avoid "poisonous playmates" and "crazymakers." During your creative recovery, there will be blocked creatives who will unconsciously undermine your efforts to heal, just as some people unconsciously failed to support you during your childhood. Choose your associates well. Treat yourself like a precious object.
Paul Fedorowicz, M.A. is a Jungian-oriented psychotherapist and a certified yoga therapist with special interests in creative process, dreams, spiritual growth, and rites of passage. He conducts The Artist's Way Support Group for women and men, as well as a men's growth and support group ("Men Living with Soul and Passion"). For information on groups or individual therapy, call his Fremont office, (206) 633-1323.