Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Infinite Lives

A couple of weeks ago, I began working my way through The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron.  The Artist's Way is a creativity recovery program modeled off of twelve step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous.  Cameron's goal is to help artists of all kinds bust through their blocks and insecurities and create without fear or self-judgment.

I first ran across The Artist's Way in 2008, just before I was diagnosed with anorexia and began treatment therapy, and at the time I thought this book was a bunch of bull.  I thought that Cameron's program was weak, pagan, and an utter waste of time.  Now, after years of therapy as well as experience with Overeaters Anonymous, I feel much, much differently.  Case in point: I just started week two of The Artist's Way.  In 2008 I barely got into week one before tossing the book aside. 

To help reveal self-doubt, skepticism, and other creativity-blocking nasties, Cameron closes each chapter with a series of tasks for the user to complete some or all of.  One of the first chapter's task reads:

Imaginary Lives: If you had five other lives to lead, what would you do in each of them?  I would be a pilot, a cowhand, a physicist, a psychic, a monk. . . .  Whatever occurs to you, jot it down.  Do not overthink this exercise.

The point of these lives is to have fun in them -- more fun than you might be having in this one.  Look over your list and select one.  Then do it this week.  For instance, if you put down country singer, can you pick a guitar?  If you dream of being a cowhand, what about some horseback riding?

I must confess -- I skipped this exercise.  However, when I got to chapter two's tasks, I read that Cameron wants the user to continue building on this exercise, listing more alternate lives and trying to insert small pieces of those lives into his own. 

Thinking that Cameron might continue referring back to the original Imaginary Lives exercise, I decided to just get it done.  Upon reflection, I think I was shying away from this task because I felt very daunted by trying to "be" whatever I wrote down.  I suppose I forgot that I don't have completely change my life for a day.  Silly me.

So I got writing.  And, to my surprise, this exercise turned out to be super fun.  I jotted down five options, then five more, and the list is still growing.  Here's some of what I have so far:

circus performer
horse breeder
Renaissance Faire performer
book store owner
whale biologist
zoo keeper
Broadway musical star
    As I looked back over my list, I chuckled to myself.  "Har har," I said, " as if I could ever be any of those things.  They're all impractical, if not impossible."

    But then I got to thinking -- why can't I be one or two or ten of these things?  Why can't I live a bit of the hippie life, and live a bit of the Renaissance Faire life?  Why do I feel like I must chain myself to the practical?  And what does "the practical" even mean?  Because if I spend my life doing "practical" things that bring no joy, what does that do for anybody?

    I think that, as children, we are born with a sense of wonder, joy, and play.  But somewhere along the way, that playfulness and willingness to take risks fades, often because of situations like this:

    What will happen to our world if we collectively sacrifice all creativity and artistry for what's considered practical?  I'm not saying that we should stop working or burn big corporations to the ground, but the question of joy and fulfillment versus "being realistic" is an important one.  Because, in the end, we don't have infinite lives.  At least, not as far as anyone knows for sure.  We have to make this one count. 

    What do you think about this?  And if you had alternate lives to live, what would you be?


    1. Very cool Beth. Only one life...here...but infinite possibility? :)You can be a little of this and a little of that. You don't have to be in a box and label yourself that box. Etc, and so on...I would want to be a mom and work at the grocery store. I still might, but no expecations. The grocery store maybe. I loved that job as a young girl.

    2. Great post, Beth. And you're already doing some of the things on your list. You take pictures (photographer), you hoop (circus performer, and perhaps a little bit hippie as well? ;) ), and I suspect you bust out a tune every now and then (Broadway musical star). As for nun, you're already a Christ follower, just not with the habit and the "married to the Church" factor.I think the trick is to look at what we already do in new ways, and look at new ways to do the things we dream about. My picks: Actress, best-selling novelist, jewelry designer (with someone else to run the business end of things), archaeologist, book store owner, and owner of a gym that specializes in dance and hoop dance programs. That way I'd have a proper practice studio I could access at any time. :)

    3. I love this post! Actually I have a list of things I would be if I had several other lives! - professional knitter- librarian- drawbridge tender ( so I could knit most of the day :)- chef/have own restaurant- home stager (decorate homes that are for sale- design and make motorcycles- make jewelry- professional gift wrapper!Yep that's my list! Thank you for reminding me of these :)

    4. I enjoyed your post. It is amazing how many of us pass the same way in our journeys. I found Cameron's book years ago. Funny thing is I found it too "Godly" for that time in my life. I guess it all depends on the glasses we are wearing. That exercise sounds like one I should try now that I am in a different place. Thank you for the great post.Travel Writer (Rick Steve's)...

    5. Glad to have discovered your blog! I'm loving it. *adding to RSS feed right now*:)

    6. Wow...thank you for sharing I need to look at that book. I am currently on my third read of "women, Food and God" by Geneen Roth. In it she delve into this self-moderating VOICE we have that is really not us a product of what we were raied to believe...ah...I recommend that book.


    "I am glad you are here with me."
    ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King