I haven’t read or practiced Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way but I’ve heard about it from a ton of folks, the most of recent of whom looked into my tired face back in August, a face not yet recovered from a grueling month+ of putting up a brand new, live and in-person show for the first time since before a global pandemic knocked us all sideways, and she told me about one of the ideas that Cameron puts forth in the book: For every lap you sprint, you need ten slow laps to regain your equilibrium.
This was depressing news. If June was a fast lap, I wouldn’t be ready for another until April the following year. This December, I’m six months out from that June fast lap and my Cameron-based return to full energy is still four months away. I am impatient to be refueled, but not so blind as to see that anxious-to-be-creative energy is not the same as creative energy.
I had intended for late September/October to be a very slow lap. In fact, I had been planning/prepping/saving up for this slow lap for *years*. I left Philly on September 18th with a suitcase packed full of warm base layers and a brand new winter jacket, set for six weeks in Norway and The Arctic Circle. I had been accepted to an artist residency that began in Svalbard and took me all around The Arctic ocean working on climate change games, but, alas, it was postponed. For the second year in a row. Which I learned at the ticket counter at JFK where I was attempting to check in for my flight. Long story short, I did not go to The Arctic this year. Thanks, COVID.
I was sad for about five minutes, drank a small bottle of airport sake while I waited for my wonderful mom to come rescue from the interminable terminal and I felt better- determined to make the most of this time, even if it meant being in America. The optimism faded the next day and I wavered between resolve to do *something* restorative and resolutely saying I wasn’t sad, prompting everyone I know to raise an eyebrow in my general direction.
So yeah, it was a big disappointment. I’d been seriously planning for this trip for years, and very actively planning for nearly three months. The only reason I had a clear schedule for the month of October+ was because of the residency (one with zero internet access), so when that fell through I immediately felt the urge to fill that time with a return to normal work, aka, busyness. As I was staring at my calendar, so blissfully empty for the month, I thought back on June and wondered if I couldn’t take this opportunity, one I had fought so hard to create for myself, and just *try* to go slow. After a few false starts, I managed to make three big changes to my daily routine this Fall:
- I’ve been working on one new project. That’s right… ONE. Not twenty, not ten, o n e. I’ll caveat that (pun intended) with the fact that a) I still had to teach a full courseload, though 5 weeks of the semester were asynchronous and I’d already pre-recorded lectures in early September, and b) I am still joyfully running Know Thyself (at Caveat, NYC) once a month, in fact, this coming Sunday, December 5th, is the last show of the year! But as for new, high-problem solving, time-intensive engagements… One. Project.
- I didn’t do NaNoWriMo this year. I’ve written a full 50k+ words every month of November for the last ten years. This year I just skipped it. Could I have crammed it in? Sure. Would I have regretted it? Probably not. And that’s the problem- I wouldn’t have even known what I was missing by just committing to One Project + Travel for a month.
- I’ve been traveling. I rented a car in Bozeman, Montana, and drove south through 14 National Parks. It was hard to commit to this amid so much uncertainty. I talked to a friend a few days after the residency was canceled, panicked over the idea that I would squander this time. “Have you let yourself just be sad?” He asked. “No,” I said. “What if I never stop being sad?” “Then you never stop being sad,” he said. I laughed and thanked him for pointing out the absurdity of my fear. No feeling is forever. So I (eventually) quieted the voice in my head that wanted to find the p e r f e c t way to spend my time away from regularly scheduled programming and did *something* instead. I bought an airplane ticket to Montana to check out Yellowstone National Park, the granddaddy of the NPS. If I couldn’t have narwhals, I could at least have grizzlies.
Has it been killing me to take it slow? No. And yes. But no. As it turns out, even my little hummingbird heart can rest on a pretty flower if one is available, and National Parks are *very* pretty flowers. Was it easy? No. And no. And no. In fact, it took EVERY OUNCE OF RESOLVE I POSSESS to not pack my schedule this Fall. Still, once I got out west I couldn’t believe I ever doubted its rightness. I spent half of every day working on the One Project and the other half of the day in nature. I spent my birthday hiking in The Grand Tetons, surrounded by 11+ moose, 7 grizzlies, and a double rainbow. I heard the bull elk’s trumpeting call in Rocky Mountain National Park during the rut and saw thousands of bats come out of Carlsbad Cavern at twilight just days before they migrated south. I hiked to the bottom of The Grand Canyon and up again in a gorgeously exhausting day, and one night I woke up to the sound of RAIN in the Mojave desert while sleeping at a trailhead in my car. I’ve never smelled anything like wet desert before. Then, suddenly, it was November 26th and I’d only been back in Philly a total of 3 days in the last 2 1/2 months. Being away was intoxicating. Tbh, it really sold me on slow laps. I have the One Job (which ends in a few weeks) to thank for my ability to do this. And you, dear reader, for keeping me going and reminding me that I am supported while I take time to refill my creative well- that that is an essential part of the process and I am not a failure for needing it or seeking it.
For the last few months, I have been letting my desire to create again build, stoking the small pile of embers that have characterized my creative energy since that fast lap in June (an EXTREMELY fast lap that was preceded by five months of VERY fast laps). And it’s tricky, you know, finding that balance between recuperation and creation. I always want to just GO on everything I do, but channeling that GO-ness into recuperation has been more valuable than I think I realize, even now.
I was solo for most of the trip, which might have gotten lonely, only it didn’t. It’s easy to make friends while traveling- almost impossible not to, in fact- and while I can never escape my own thoughts (and believe me, it’s been dark in there, even while surrounded by light and beauty) I was determined to experiment with my days, with my rest, with the way/where/why I create. I don’t know if Cameron’s formula is right, or right for me, but I do know that slow laps come in many forms, and mine have come, this Fall, through hiking and meditating, reading a ton of books, and relishing the One Project while I practice the art of doing one-ish thing at a time.
I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this time in the coming weeks, but for now, I wish you all a slow and deep-breathe-y end of November and that whatever your word count was this month (and whatever form it came in) you pat your beautiful self on the back for all you’ve done and all you are. Thank you, again, for being a part of my community and, moreover, a part I can count on to encourage me to take care of myself as an artist and a human. That encouragement goes both ways, friends.