A few weeks ago I attended a networking event where the speaker recommended reading The Artist's Way in order to break out of a creative rut. "It's self-helpy," he said, "and it's a little cheesy, but it just might work for you." So I'm trying it out.
He is correct; it is most certainly a self-help book. But I think it just might work, at least for a little bit, to get me in a creative mindset again.
At the beginning of the book, Julia Cameron the two main methods for replenishing th artistic juices are "Morning Pages" and "Artist Dates." I don't know about the Artist Dates yet, since I haven't participated in one, but she describes them as "a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. In its most primary form, the artist date is an excursion, a play date that you preplan and defend again all interlopers." I'll try it out this weekend, but I don't know what it will look like.
But I have started the "morning pages," which she describes as "three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning." It's been quite a challenge, even for my first week, but I think it's been beneficial. I mean, I'm writing this right now, right? Considering that I barely posted a thing over the summer, it's pretty nice to pump out a notes in the weblog for once. And chances are that my ability to write during the days starts with the fact that I've started each day with writing.
I've had journals before. I have a few unfinished ones strewn about the apartment. Sometimes I find old journals, read them, and shred or burn them. I know some people say that old journals show "how far you've come" or "how much you've grown," but I tend to only feel humilation from them, shame that I was such a fool. Perhaps if I was happy with where I'm at in life, I'd feel less shame. But my main feeling when I read my about old journals is simple: the person who wrote them is a neurotic, lonely fool whose ideas are not worth the page he wrote them on. So I destroy them.
But these are a little different. I'm writing them on looseleaf paper and I'm not trying to "be deep." I'm just trying to strew it out there. I'm not good at the stream-of-consciousness focus of this writing; I always write in full sentences and paragraphs. But these feel different than the average journals that I've destroyed before. Despite the paragraphs and sentences and semicolons, I don't think I'll have to destroy these.
Simultaneously, I've been seeing a counsellor who wanted me to "write down all the bad things you say about yourself and your life, then put them away for the day so you don't have to think about them all the time." But I couldn't seem to do it; it seemed to be kind-of out of my wheelhoue and flighty. A few years ago, a psychologist had once got me to write down all the things I was angry about, and that seemed to work at that time; this time around, however, the prospect was unappealing to me.
But now, with these "artist pages," I'm doing exactly what the counsellor ordered. And that feels good.
I'll post now and then about my progress with these, but so far it seems like this is the best journalling method I've ever used. So here's to hoping I can create some good stuff out of it.
Every once in a while, I come across a book from my childhood and I try to introduce it to my daughters. And I'm almost always disappointed at how they just don't seem impressed.
This is one such book:
From that book, I learned about Esperanto, Andorra, Alfred Nobel, and the history of candy. I read its articles over and over again and used it in school projects. This book and books like it were my bread and butter for learning and company at home.
There's a long tradition of books like this one:
And here are a few that I've bought for my classroom: my Grade 7s in particular choose them for silent reading time.
So why don't I read them very often anymore?
I blame the Internet.
Because these books were the Internet before the Internet. These books were a wealth of information that a person just might be looking for. There seemed to be so many times when I would wonder something, crack open one of these books, scour the Table of Contents and the Index, and actually find an article that addressed my curiosity. The writing was always edited carefully and written in a lively, interactive tone. They were perfect for knowledge-seekers like me,
Now I first go to the Internet and these books often lay dormant. I feel a little bit o' melancholy about it, as if something's been lost. But that's probably just me being a sucker for nostalgia.
Which isn't all bad. But I miss the careful editing. The Internet's slapdash chaos is useful for finding specifics, but nothing beats good editing and copy for getting big ideas across.
Brad Warner's Hardcore Zen.
I have heard many times over the years that I "get in my own head" and it makes it hard for me to see things clearly and empathically. My ex-wife bought me Hardcore Zen to help me get a better sense of what mindfulness can look like so that I can perceive myself a little better. I finished it in just over a month, but I bet I could have finished it in a couple days. It's a pleasant, easy read, and a sane introduction to the the ways of Buddhist meditation and philosophy. FINISHED READING OCTOBER 13 2016
Marah J. Hardt's Sex in the Sea.
For writers and for scientific laypeople, I cannot recommend this impressively easy read enough. I'd first heard of this book on an episode of Inquiring Minds; the moment I saw it at the local library, I assumed the book would be in high demand and immediately borrowed it. I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer pleasure of reading it; Hardt peppers its pages with effective alliteration, poems, and vignettes that make the content delicious to ingest. I imagine I would have finished it in a weekend if my life didn't seem so stressful. FINISHED READING DECEMBER 5 2016
Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist.
So I heard The Alchemist recommended on this podcast, and I remembered that I had a copy of it in my classroom library. So I read it. It's not really my style, but I loved Coelho's stark language and abilit to leave out just enough information that it feels timeless. The message, about listening to the Soul of the World and following one's Personal Legend, is admirable, if a bit naïve. I mean, it's a nice sentiment, but it's so sentimental. Nonetheless, I feel like this just might be the type of message-by-fiction that I should be picking up more often these days. FINISHED READING DECEMBER 14 2016
This time, I've worked my way through a couple more non-fiction relationship/self-help books, but I've determined that a novel is next.
Jenny Lawson's Furiously Happy
A good humour book with some serious undertones, as all good humour works. The serious chapters, however, were the best. FINISHED READING JUNE 30
George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (audiobook)
I may be an English teacher, but that doesn't mean I've read all of the canon. Some parts of the English Literature canon have been tough to stomach; 1984 has always been a rather daunting book. So I listened to it and I'm better for it. However, as I said in the video, I think Huxley's Brave New World dystopia is more accurate and complete. FINISHED READING/LISTENING JULY 4 2016.
David Sedaris' Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls (audiobook)
I have loved practically everything I've ever read from David Sedaris. This was, as always, packed with caustic, observant commentary. My favorite section was a brief article entitled "I Brake for Traditional Marriage." Wow. Just wow. FINISHED LISTENING JULY 7 2016.
Nina W. Brown's Coping with Infuriating, Mean, Critical People: The Destructive Narcissistic Pattern
Brown's book was interesting for multiple reasons, most importantly its focus on the self and what it calls "healthy narcissism." The book is very careful to make sure that the reader cannot just blame others for what might very well be their own problem. If you're hoping to read about others' narcissism, the book pushes you to first and continually confront your own narcissistic characteristics. FINISHED READING JULY 11 2016.
Joseph Heller's Catch-22 (audiobook)
I didn't know anything about Catch-22 when I first saw it on the audiobook list at the library. I just knew that it was a classic and it was very long. The audiobook was an excellent way to soak up the text and hear its many social and out-of-order layers. An excellent listen, and I look forward to feeling like I have the time to read it properly one day. FINISHED LISTENING JULY 21 2016
John Gottman's Why Marriages Succeed or Fail
My Family Justice Counsellor recommended this to me, so I picked up a copy. An excellent read I kind-of wish I'd read years and years ago. I'm going to keep a copy on hand for reference. I talked a little about reading it here. FINISHED READING AUGUST 8 2016
Mark Goulston and Philip Goldberg's Get Out Of Your Own Way
Another self-help reference text. The chapters are short and well organized, and each follows a predictable pattern that makes it easy to take on. I started reading it a few months ago, but only finished it in August. Again, a book I'll most certainly keep on my shelf. FINISHED READING AUGUST 13 2016
Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior
I read my novels slowly. This wasn't my favorite Kingsolver text, but it was pretty good. Sometimes I felt it tried a little too hard, but I might be too jaded right now. If anything, it gave me a little more appreciation for understanding how it feels to be a woman who has made decisions based on others' expectations, or based on fear. Dellarobia's journey to independence was the part of the story that I most connected with. FINISHED READING AUGUST 18 2016
A few months ago, while I was reading Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence, I came across his summary of John Gottman's marriage studies. In response, I posted the following to Twitter:
I believe I was referring to this general section of Emotional Intelligence:
This was a rather frustrating section of the book to read. I saw my own experience written so clearly that it really hit home how predictable the pattern was in my own marital breakdown. Although I had originally thought I was experiencing something unique, in reality I was experiencing what millions of couples have experienced over the years. I didn't have the energy to do much more with it at the time, but I felt a little less alone.
Two days ago, I had a meeting with a Family Justice Counsellor. It was a good meeting that helped give me a little more direction in this separation process. The counsellor recommended John Gottman's work, saying that it might be useful to read it even though my marriage itself is over. She said, "You're still a family, even if you're living in different places. The ideas in Gottman's work might be useful for communication even when you're separated."
So I meandered down to Nugget's Used Books and bought a copy of Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: and how you can make yours last.
It's got 231 pages. I'm currently at 119.
And blammity-blammity, wowee-zowee, this is some convicting shit.
I have often been accused of being defensive and been very frustrated with feeling like I can't defend myself without digging myself into a hole. Although I'd recently seen a clear explanation of defensiveness's destruction a few weeks ago, this section from Gottman hit hard about just how my I-think-I'm-doing-the-right-thing behaviour was actually something that dug me deeper and deeper into a hole. Gottman writes,
And then, a few pages later, there was this description of "stonewalling." And my heart sank.
Because I did it. I flooded, I stonewalled. I chose to stonewall and decided that I was doing the right thing, trying to be "neutral," trying to put off the discussion until things had calmed down, until I could think clearly. Instead, it was the final nail in my marriage, the act that shut it down more than anything else, the act that solidified the negative thoughts that bounced back and forth for the months that followed.
I'm still amazed that I can pick up a published book and read my own experiences in it. It seems so... petty. I feel, I should be better than that, or I should have known better. It's humbling to see just how normal it is because it means that if I'd made different decisions, different choices, and maintained things better, there's a good chance that I could have cut a lot of this off a long time ago and maybe continued to have a positive relationship with my ex-wife. But I didn't. And we're done.
I'm a really average, normal guy.
Normalcy is the stepping-off point for my new life.
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