My sister comes to babysit my then 1-year-old.
You have anything special on?
“No” is the answer.
I’m just off to lie on the grass in the park.
I’m off to cycle around the city and lie on the grass in the Iveagh gardens and gaze up at the sky.
Just me and my inner artist.
So “Yes” is the answer.
In the Summer of 2016, while my husband dances and sings on stage every night, I am home alone in the evenings with my 1-year-old. I have emerged from the sleep deprivation of the first year of his life with a renewed appreciation of my free time. Those couple of hours after he is in bed, the kitchen counter once again visible and the toys tidied away, are precious, and I find at last that I have the energy to use them in a way that nourishes the artist in me.
The artist in me. Hiding. Trying to convince everyone she isn’t there.
I begin The Artist’s Way with a sense of curiosity. “A course in discovering and recovering your creative self”.
Who wouldn’t be curious to meet her creative self, her artist? Especially if you can’t remember the last time you saw her, that inner artist. Were you 8 years old, dancing and singing at the back of the sheds on the farm you grew up on? Were you ten years old, painting tree branches that were too thick, the teacher taking the paintbrush from your hand to finish it ‘properly’? My artist appeared only briefly in recent years. Maybe having a child of my own awakens a desire to know my own inner-artist-child.
So I allow myself to play. To experiment with my creativity.
I commit to working my way through the 12 chapters in the book over the course of 12 weeks. (In truth this is my second go at the book, but I feel that this time I’ll manage more than chapter 1).
I commit to taking my artist on a weekly date (it’s easier to schedule that than an actual date with my husband)
I commit to writing 3 pages every morning, longhand stream-of-consciousness. I buy a new notebook for the occasion. A pack of three in fact. I mean business.
Hi, my name is Mairéad and I’m a creative person.
I don’t begin there though. I begin feeling silly. “I’m not creative. Who am I kidding?”I begin by making excuses.
“I don’t have time for this right now.”
“Maybe when I run out of gloomy Scandinavian crime dramas.”
“Maybe when work isn’t so busy.”
“Maybe when my boy is older”.
I make the excuses, and then, the important part, I begin.
I write the ‘morning pages‘. Three pages of stream of consciousness writing, where fear, doubts, self-criticisms and imagined barriers spill forth onto the page. But I don’t write them in the morning; more often in the evening when all is quiet in the apartment. Occasionally I sneak off to work a little early and do them sitting in a cafe. Once, I wake up before my toddler and do them sitting at the window of the apartment overlooking the street and the neighbourhood waking up.
I work through the pages and I scrawl:
“Why would you buy a decent camera. You’re not a photographer”.
So I buy a decent camera. I take photos, a class. I devour books on street photography. I see the world differently, in more detail. I see poetry in pink flowers hiding behind broken brick walls.
I hear about a storytelling event. I scribble:
“I’d do that if I had any interesting stories”.
I sigh. Caught out. I search for an interesting story, and I find it and tell it to a room full of people, from a stage. It is interesting, and it’s fun, and my inner artist is giddy.
The course asks you to go on an ‘artist date’ every week. Some time alone to fill your cup of creativity. I make the artist date, not every week, but more often than I manage to make a date with my husband. I cycle across the city and watch the Sunday afternoon clouds move across the sky over Dublin Bay. I stand in front of photos and paintings in galleries. Sometimes I bring the toddler in his buggy on my date. There are a couple of summer evenings where I walk him to sleep in the buggy and take photos in my neighbourhood. Old churches and broken pallets. Hidden gardens and ignored statues.
I discover that I have more time that I thought I had. More time to think, to dream. Even after a days work, even after an evening with a toddler, there was still time for me.
That ‘me‘. The most important thing. I find her. My artist. I am a creative person. Now, writing these words, it’s obvious. But for a long time, I didn’t believe it. But somewhere in writing the morning pages and the exercises, I choose to believe it, and then she appears.
I decide to be nice to her. I buy her flowers. I let her be present in my office; photos displayed around my desk. The admiration from a handful of work colleagues is nice, but not the primary aim. The flowers are to remind my inner artist that she is here, and she doesn’t have to hide anymore. It’s not a grand gesture of quitting my job and enrolling in art school. but it’s enough, for now.
I write less than I thought I would. I’d always imagined my inner artist was a writer. So I write my morning pages and allow the rest to percolate. The writing comes. Much later, but I continue to use the tools to generate ideas, to challenge my blocks and my blurts.
I read today that ‘having notions’ is one of the greatest of Irish insults, calling oneself creative being an example of ‘having notions’. So, following the advice of that writer
“Get some notions about yourself, for feck’s sake”
Here I am, my creative self, having a glass of wine and some grand notions and I couldn’t be happier.