The theme of Week One in The Artist’s Way is RECOVERING A SENSE OF SAFETY. One of the assignments is to make your “Monster Hall of Fame” in which you record the names of people that have injured your creative spirit. Another assignment is to make note of your champions. Am I the only one who is finding that there are a number of people who show up on both lists?
The reason for this, I think, is that a lot of people who discourage us from being artists do so because they fear for us and the people who care enough to fear, will cheer you on once it’s safe.
Here’s an example.
When I was in college, there was an award to be given to the graduating senior who “was more or less going to be a professional writer” so that she could “look around calmly after graduation” and find her voice. The award, funded by Alice Walker, was for ten thousand dollars.
All through my college career, I worked hard with my eye on that prize, although it wasn’t the money that moved me. I felt that this award would annoint me as a writer. I greatly admired the young women who had gotten the in the years before me. I loved their poetry and their spirits. I was sure they were each destined for something important.
I did everything I could to prove myself worthy of the prize. I edited the campus literary magazine. I took what few creative writing classes were available. I used all my resources to purchase a Smith Corona typewriter/word processor with which to prepare my portfolio.
While I was preparing my portfolio, I put in applications to go to graduate school for the PhD. in literature. (My name, Tayari, means “she is prepared” in Swahili, so you know I had to have a back up.) I wrote the personal statement for the PhD. while preparing all my creative work for submission. I included two stories, a poem (a poem!), and I even adapted one of the stories into a one-act play.
You know where this story is going. I didn’t get the prize. The professor in change of the award said that it wouldn’t be right to award it to me because I already had plans for the following year, but buzz on the street was that she was worried that I would take the $10,000 and actually try to make a go of it. Keep in mind that I was only twenty years old at the time. And, keep in mind that this was a professor that cared about me very much.
I took this rejection to mean that she thought I wasn’t good enough. That I wasn’t writer material, that I was suited only to be a teacher of literature, not a creator of it. And she knew I was upset but felt that she was acting to save me from my young impulsive self.
She and I are still very good friends, believe it or not. When my first book came out, she bought many many copies to distribute to everyone I know. She helped pay for my launch party. She has earned a place in my hall of champions. She is proud of me and encourages me mightily when I need it most.
I not sure yet what the lesson is in this sort of story. I think there is something to be learned about forgiveness. If you know me at all, you know that I endlessly, bug her about turning me down for that award. After almost 15 years of this badgering she just says, “But you didn’t let it stop you, now did you?”
Those of you who are doing the program, and those of you who are not, feel free to share your stories of monsters, champions, or combos!