Monster Hall of Fame

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!

About TayariJones

Author of SILVER SPARROW, LEAVING ATLANTA, and THE UNTELLING.
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6 Responses to Monster Hall of Fame

  1. Ladylee says:

    Alright, where is everyone? All ye citizens of LURK CITY… The Queen of LURK CITY has posed a few questions…
    ARISE!!!!
    Okay, Tayari… Whistle on the play: I thought we were starting this on NEXT Monday. HUMPH. So I had to do a little catching up on these exercises. But I do have some answers.
    Therefore, my dear, forgive me in advance for blogging in your comment section, LOL.
    That is interesting… your having people showing up on both lists. I am sure that I do too, but I haven’t been able to think of many. Oh, I can think of tons of folk in my area of expertise (chemistry), but on the creative tip? It is difficult. I am sure, with those doggone Morning Pages, my repression will lift (that could be either a very good or very bad thing, LOL)…
    But the biggest enemy of my creative self-worth was my mother. While I was growing up, she didn’t have much to say about my creativity, and I don’t much remember being the most creative child as it was… I’ve always been a bookworm, into any and all things scientific. The issue is that my mother is a highly creative artistic individual, and she would press me to be interested in the things SHE found interesting. True enough, there were a plethora of things she was interested in, but I must say, it all disturbed me terribly, and still affects me today as an adult at times. Whenever she took up a new hobby, I, as a child, had to take it up too… and I HATED that something terrible, to the point at times that I rarely explored my creative side, or even explored things that I found interesting. If I did, I was HIGHLY secretive about it. I must admit that I was afraid that she would disapprove. I didn’t think about creative things much until my late twenties, when I completed grad school. I think that is a shame…
    Now on the other side of the coin, the champion of my creative self-worth is my mother’s sister, my Aunt Joyce. She’s an artist (various media of paints) and a photographer by trade. She does wonderful work, and I asked her (and was frightened to death about it) if she thought, at such an old age, that I could learn to paint. She is teaching me to paint and has encouraged me through my frustration, coaching me frequently on NOT listening to/ignoring the inner critic, i.e., “The Censor”, as it is referred to in the book. She says that since I am trying, then I have basically won 99% of the battle. She says that I should apply that to my writing also. (So imagine my suprise when I saw similar things in this book; I thought she was being utterly profound, LOL).
    She has always encouraged me, especially in the past couple of years. She is one of the few people who I can tell my creative dreams to without fear of being laughed out of the room. And better yet, she sits at the kitchen table these days, and examines whatever paintings I am working on, and eagerly listens to whatever stories I’ve written lately with GLEE… She may think to herself that it’s the silliest thing she has seen or heard, but she always says, “That was good, Lee! Work on it a little more, it’s real good!” That does wonders for my self-worth/self-esteem, helping me to push further…
    And you know, I think we all need that sometimes;)

  2. JMB...DC...GWU says:

    Combos are often quieted in creative recovery through morning pages, affirmations and time travel. The creative journey is quite a trip in self investing and listening to champions along the way.

  3. Tayari Jones says:

    (**This is from Michelle. She was having trouble logging in, so I posted for her.)
    Anyway, I would have to agree that the monsters and champions can and usually are the same people. I remember my mother not allowing me to try out for the band because I wanted to play drums. “Girls don’t play drums,” she said. She thought she was protecting me. As a child I was always writing stories and poems. Everyone thought they were cute but no one ever encouraged me to make a career out of it. It was alway looked at as a hobby. I thought about majoring in journalism in college but was reminded that I need to have a more reliable major so I went the business route. There was one teacher in school, Mrs. Dantlezer, who read one of my English assignments and told me I had “Poetry in my soul.” I still remember her words to this day.
    Now I am in a government job and trying to get back to my more creative side. However, my husband and my sister have been wonderful champions.
    I am looking forward to discovering my inner artist and taming the censor.

  4. Tayari Jones says:

    **This is from Nicole. She was having trouble posting. If you have trouble posting, just email your comment to me and I will try and get it up here for you.
    Tayari, this is such a great post that I’m going to have to cogitate on in for a while. I’m also going to have to buy another copy of TAW, because I gave mine to my mom years ago.
    I agree that our creative monsters can also be our creative champions (and a few people spring instantly to mind for me). Why is this? I don’t know (yet), but I’m glad you were able to articulate it so well. I know it has something to do with that “fear factor” you mentioned. I’ll be back when the lightbulb goes off… ;-)

  5. Judy says:

    I remember walking through a store and seeing a little statue for writers. I commented to my mother and my daughter that I should get it because I was a writer. My daughter was very young then, and both she and my mother laughed and said, “You’re not a writer.” Crushed, I responded, “Yes, I am.” They said, “Well, what have you written?”
    I let the conversation drop and didn’t tell them about my friend whom I wrote short stories for — main characters: my friend and the boy she liked. In my stories my friend was always the dashing beauty who won the guy (Incidentally, they’ve been married over thirty years now –story power?).
    Instead of defending myself to my mother and daughter, I took their comments to heart. Yeah, I thought, why aren’t I writing more often? And I began to get really serious about this writing thing. Recently I bought a laptop I really didn’t need, but desperately wanted, and my daughter said, “I’ll bet you can finish that novel by the end of this year, and if you do, I’ll pay you $50. And I’ll be your first reader.”
    Actually, I don’t think my mother or my daughter were ever monsters; they just called it as they saw it. I think the Universe spoke through them to give me that push I needed to take my writing seriously. Today they both take for granted that I’m a writer and they did this before I began to get published. My monster list is the journey toward completing that dissertation where the stress level was so high that any comment made about my writing somehow fed my inner critic like a Greek god being finger fed grapes. And that inner critic is still the biggest monster I fight.
    Anyone go on an artist date? Or should we save that conversation for Monday?

  6. Tayari Jones says:

    **This is from Stephanie
    My monster? Well, I would say it is a combo of my mother and myself…I have always loved to cook. Not just throw something in a pot, but really cook. I love all things culinary, the smell, touch of produce, the raw texture of meats, poultry and fish, the kitchen gadgets, spoons and forks, I MEAN EVERYTHING CULINARY. I subscribe to several(5) cooking publications. It is my passion..so, when I was about 11yrs old I thought I’d prepare this fantastic salad for my mother so she could have something healthy, delicious and satisfying when she got off from work(she is a nurse). Anyhoo, I prepare this salad, crisp iceberg, tomato, cukes, red onion, olives, cottage cheese, lunch meat and my own home made dressing. It was beautiful. She gets home and took one look at it and proclaimed “that is just too much. You know I don’t eat all that fancy stuff” Crushing blow. I ate the salad..and it was the bomb in my 11yr old mind and to my 11yr old palate. My mother still is not fond of “fancy cooking” she even hates real orange juice. She prefers the fake Tampico punch from Aldi. What can I say. But, I continued to cook, to create and to dream. Silently. Where my mother left off, I picked up the dogma…you are too old, not professionally trained, to lazy, to AFRAID to really reach for your dreams……the monster. We must kill it or continue to worship it. Church is over.