On Getting a C+

Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way consists of 12 chapters designed to help the reader recover his own Inner Artist.   A premise of the book is that few families and institutions know how to nurture the artistic soul, and that they often suppress a young artist’s creative instincts.  Chapter 1, Restoring a Sense of Safety, provides exercises to discover what Cameron calls The Enemy Within, core negative beliefs about being an artist.    A child may be taught these beliefs with the best of intentions (You can’t earn a living as an artist) or through uncaring criticism (You’re a terrible writer – stick to math).  Either way, understanding the source of these beliefs is the first step in eliminating them.

When I looked back to high school, I realize it never even occurred to me that I could be a professional writer even though English (and composition, in particular) was my best subject.    No one ever told me I couldn’t write … on the contrary, my essays and term papers were usually praised.  My choice to be a scientist was a product of two factors.  First, my father chose to join the Army during his senior years, foregoing engineering school … a decision he always regretted and told me about regularly.   And secondly, as the son of parents who’d seen the depression, I was going to college so I could have a profession and MAKE A GOOD LIVING.  In the late sixties, science was IN.  In spite of my grades in English, teachers and counselors pointed me toward engineering schools and I never thought twice.  And I did love science, too.  If I have any criticism of The Artist’s Way, it’s that it tends to imply that artistic creativity is the highest form of creativity and seems to be directed toward people who deep down wish they were an artist instead of whatever career they chose.   It took me a while to realize that my work as a scientist was highly creative, too, and that I could be a scientist as a vocation and a writer as an avocation.  Still, The Artist’s Way drew me back to the joy of writing, even in my work as a scientist.

One of the Chapter One exercises was to find an incident in my childhood that damaged my belief in myself as an artist.  Here’s mine.   When I was in sixth grade, one of our assignments was to write a short story.  Already a budding scientist, I wrote a science fiction story in which a boy traveled to another planet.   I remember very little from the story except that it ended with the boy waking up, sure it had been just a dream.  But when he got ready for school, there was a rock he’d found on the planet in his pants pocket.   I didn’t know that it was a device that had probably been used in millions of stories … I thought it was brilliant.   I remember putting the story between two pieces of orange construction paper and writing the title on the cover. I waited breathlessly when the stories were returned by the teacher and can still remember how crestfallen I was when I opened to the first page and saw this …………………………………………

Maybe that’s why I have trouble writing fiction.  Nah!!

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7 Comments on “On Getting a C+”

  1. I was really happy when I came to the part in your post about science also being creative because I was thinking that as I read your words. I’ve thought for years and years about writing what would have to be the “Great American Novel” even though I do believe there are numerous writers who long ago filled that hole in the literary world so I needn’t worry about that. My biggest problems -besides of course, organization and a plot -are followed very closely by lack of ability to deal with dialogue! Given a topic of interest and a request for an essay of some sort, I actually did very well in college with almost all my papers. Wish I could say the same today about compiling thoughts into even a semi-organized discourse!

    • oldereyes Says:

      I actually didn’t think of science as creative until after I worked The Artist’s Way. Then I noticed that the way I worked scientific problems paralleled the Julia Cameron’s description of how art works. Sort of a round about path but at least I got here. Yes, we’ve all considered our GA novels.

  2. marjulo Says:

    I can speak to the issue of whether creativity is heralded in schools–not enough! I retired from teaching ten years ago, so I cannot speak to what has happened to the standards in the profession since 2002. However, during the years I taught, the push for test higher test scores made it difficult to encourage too much creativity. I did learn over the years how to incorporate creativity into lessons.

    The goal to be encouraged is CREATIVE THINKING. I used to ask my 4th and 5th graders to write an explanation of how they reached the answer to a problem in science or math. There are many ways to bring together writing, thinking and solving problems in all the disciplines. I am encouraged to see this being done in my grandchildren’s schools.

    As to your 6th grade story, I think that teacher needed to have gotten an “F” for discouraging your writing efforts.

    • oldereyes Says:

      One of the things I realized at some point is that my creativity, whether it’s science or art, sometimes comes through me not from me. That is, the idea shows up without a lot of thinking. I suspect that can be taught through things like meditation and journaling.

  3. sharon Says:

    Thanks, Bud! I just went to Amazon and bought the book. This is something I have been toying with, why did I stop making Art? Maybe I can change the tapes with this book.

  4. territerri Says:

    I had quite the opposite experience. I remember writing many short stories during fifth grade. I loved writing them and received top grades. My mom, not one to praise anyone for anything, made it clear she was pleased with my writing. I remember secretly smiling to myself when my mom pulled one of my stories out to show my aunt. I knew then she was REALLY impressed.

    About a year later, my dad began asking what became a regular question through my high school years. “What do you want to do when you grow up?”

    I was probably 12 years old the first time I told my dad I wanted to write or teach. There was no discussion following my announcement. He simply and firmly told me, “No. Writers and teachers don’t earn enough money. You better think of something else.”

    Maybe that’s why I don’t want my family to know where my blog is and don’t want them reading it.

    You’ve written about The Artist’s Way many times. Maybe it’s time I get a copy for myself.

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