Julia Cameron, bestselling author of ‘The Artist’s Way’ and ‘Vein of Gold,’ reveals her authentic writer self in her newest work: The Creative Life – True Tales of Inspiration.
The cover slogan, ‘Finding Your True North,’ seems misleading at first glance. As a writer, and as one who cares deeply about one’s creative life – and, as one who loves to write about the creative spirit in others – that’s what drew me into the story. Finding your true north; what writer, or any person, doesn’t wish to discover that? Finding your yellow brick road and following it, staying true to it, following your North Star.
While I was looking for new perspectives on Creative Spirit, what I found was affirmation of what I’ve known, intuitively, all along. Writing, or any other act of creativity, is all about relationships. As I read, I kept thinking how the book is set up as a running diary of a year or so in the life of a famous writer – a writer who inhabits New York’s Upper West Side, and who enjoys the company of many collaborative friends.
Being a famous writer is something I’d aspired to about as far back as Julia Cameron. I was so convinced about it that after college, and after three years of teaching (and discovering that wasn’t where my soul wanted to be), I signed up for that illustrious correspondence school by the same name.
I’m not sure the school exists anymore. I still have the books; I’m tempted to dust them off, to see how far I’ve come and maybe to project myself into polishing my skills. You see, a local journalism job crept into my life. The hours of study, hoping to become that famous writer of books and magazine articles, were set aside for the local freelance/part-time/steady newspaper writing. I never completed the course. I accepted my lot as a comfortably well-known writer in my immediate geographic realm.
Why would Cameron’s book remind me of all this? Party, I guess, it’s because I see myself in this book. Whereas, with Cameron, ‘The Creative Life’ tells of a segment of her life where she struggles to find her voice again – another book, I’m thinking, “Where are my books? Why aren’t they written?”
After 30 years of writing, and more than 30 books and other creative works published, Cameron walks us through this time period, wondering – it seems to me – how it will all turn out. Will she have a book, another book? I’m wondering, will I ever have a book?
Through this process of writing down the days, she coaxes us into her world and onto her personal stage. We feel the days tumble off the calendar – the long, stormy, rainy days and the supernova sunny days. We become privy to the friends passing through, and – as if we were on the stage with her – to the conversations shared with other creative spirits.
At times you wonder, “What’s the point?” What’s the point of throwing open the door to your life and all the daily nuances of weather, who’s visiting, what works are being discussed, what concerts and theatre shows are being enjoyed…to the finer points of restaurant menus and dinner table talk?
And, the script goes on, as life spins by pell-mell. Even unto the U-turns Cameron exhorts her students to confess among themselves as an exercise in her writing classes. U-turns: “When did you quit an art form, and why?” She helps them learn to be vulnerable, to be mutually supportive. It helps to surround ourselves, she says, with a cadre of kindred spirits and friends.
Creativity thrives within such a framework of relationships. She engages her students in the “popcorn” game of giving positive feedback. “I have explained to my students the value of Believing Mirrors – people who see our power and potential and reflect it back to us – but now they are experiencing it firsthand.”
Julia Cameron loves the synchronicity of things, of life. Besides not needing anyone’s permission to be a writer, she loves to tell her students to trust. “I want to tell them to ignore the odds stacked against them and to believe they can have a vocation despite the odds.” “I will talk to them,” she says, “about the need to simply write, quoting from the film ‘Field of Dreams,’ ‘Build it and they will come.’”
As for synchronicity, and movies, I chuckled reading a scene near the end. It’s a rainy day like at book’s beginning. Cameron is enjoying the DVD of the film ‘Julie and Julia’ with friends. I chuckle at the synchronicity for me, because the DVD of ‘Julie and Julia’ is sitting on our living room table, having arrived the other day in the mail. I’d bugged my husband several movies ago to move it up on the list.
As I’m reading about the friends’ discussion of Child’s cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Cameron is writing, “I tell Martha about giving Child’s cookbook to my little sister, Lorrie, when she was still a teenager. As I recall, every dish she made from it was delicious.” I’m smiling by then, because my Aunt Elaine, who worked far away in Washington, D.C., gave me that book as a Christmas gift the year I graduated from college. I’m not sure every dish I made was delicious, but the influence of the gift of that book was amazing. Looking back, I see that — even then — my relationships were shaping my future creativity.
My conclusion is the same as Cameron’s. My true north is ultimately found in my relationships, with family, friends and kindred spirits. Not to worry, my books are waiting in the wings. Whereas, Cameron began her writing career at age 18 and has spun along for 43 years, mine has been much more circuitous. I’ve been told that I’m a late bloomer. Come to think of it, by my calculations, Julia Child was 49 in 1961, the year that book was published and I was venturing off to college.
Child died in 2004 at age 91; she published Kitchen Wisdom in 2000 at age 88. I’m good to go, I figure. And, so I say, is Julia Cameron. Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking is a colossal best seller because of the movie, Julie and Julia, the screenplay by Cameron’s friend Norah Ephron. No stranger to films, Cameron could well find her Creative Life script living out the days on stage or on screen.
The greatest nugget to pick up in The Creative Life, for me, is being grateful for the relationships that have nurtured my creative spirit. Cameron speaks eloquently to gratitude for those relationships. Her diary is testament to new colleagues encountered, as well as “for the graceful dance of old friends who offer both support and guidance.”
“May I do the same,” she promises.
And, so, may I.