A few weeks ago, I began reading The Artist’s Way with a few friends. I spent the first four chapters trying very hard to overcome annoyance. The book centers on the author’s experience, which includes lots of drama, which I can’t really relate to, and it keeps talking about being in recovery as a creator, like recovery from addiction, and I kept thinking, “What am I recovering from?!” The recovery metaphor wasn’t working for me. There’s also a lot of God talk, which, like in the twelve step program, the author states that when she says God, she means higher power, so don’t get hung up on the word God, but I can’t help but get hung up on the word God. God conjures a specific image and meaning for me — it’s a monotheistic male authority deity who smites and judges and in whose name countless people have been slaughtered and wars have been waged for centuries — and I just can’t get on board with that. Every time I see the word God, I have to substitute the image and the word with “universe” or whatever feels right for me in the moment, and I find the need to make that substitution jarring and annoying.
I was skeptical that I was going to get anything out of this book. But the author, in every chapter, pleads with the reader to keep an open mind, and so I did, despite what my first paragraph would suggest. She says, if you do nothing else from this book, write three pages every morning. Pages you’ll never show anyone, and you’ll never read again. These pages are a brain dump. They are an emptying.
They are an emptying so that something new can enter. The author is a firm believer that
God the universe wants us to create, and I agree with her there. Isn’t that what life is, a constant creative process? Life persists because it continues to create new life. And the universe itself? Its existence, and the existence of everything in it, is the result of creation. And if God the universe wants us to create, then the author posits that God the universe is continually sending us messages to do just that. It is up to us to listen, to pay attention to synchronicity, and pick up what the universe is putting down.
Throughout my adult life, whenever the question of regrets comes up, as it does in some of the exercises in this book, the thing I always regret is that I never learned a musical instrument. I regret that I don’t understand music, I don’t know the vocabulary, I don’t know the difference between key and note, harmony and melody. In not knowing how to play an instrument, I feel like I’m missing out on a whole world that I admire and appreciate but am outside of. I can’t relate to the experience of millions of people on earth who make music and who experience fulfillment and beauty and joy as a result. And I regret that. I’ve never thought any deeper about which instrument I might have wanted to play, I only feel sorry that I missed my chance.
Three weeks ago, we picked our son up after his first year of college. He had a fantastic first year, and I’m so grateful. It’s wonderful to have him home again, I love that he is here, and I also love how happy and healthy he is after a year away.
Within a few days of coming home, now that he’s no longer in his tiny dorm room, he told us he wants to learn to play bass. I thought, heck yeah, the bass is super cool. I support this. He ordered one online, and as he waited for it to arrive, it occurred to me: I’m not dead yet. If I regret not learning how to make music, why don’t I learn how to make music? It is not too late.
When his bass arrived, and he plugged it into the amp, and I heard its deep, resonant sound, I knew: if I were to learn an instrument, this is the instrument I’d want to learn. And then I thought, is this the universe opening a door? There is now a bass that I have access to in the privacy of my own home. The Internet exists and is full of instructions for people who are so new they’re embarrassed to admit, after 49 years of living, how little they know about music and how it works, and who would rather learn, at least in the beginning, without anyone else watching, even an instructor.
I asked my son if he’d be okay with me borrowing his bass to see if I want to get my own at the end of the summer, and he said yes.
Music is complex, and I’ll have to use both hands, doing different things, at the same time, and I’ll also need to listen, and feel, and do what seems to be intricate mathematics and lots of mental memory and muscle memory, all simultaneously, and frankly I’m super intimidated.
But I’m also excited. I found a self-guided curriculum online called Studybass, and I love the instructor’s philosophy and teaching methods and chill. He offers his instruction for free because he loves music, and he loves the bass, and he wants everyone to have access if they want to learn. He teaches in an all-are-welcome way that feels very comforting and accessible to me. When I asked my son how he’s learning, it turns out he found the same instructor, independently.
Before I even touched my son’s bass, but with the intention to eventually pick it up, I learned fundamentals of music that have mystified me for years — simple stuff like what rhythm, harmony, and melody are. I think these basics stuck this time because they have context and application if I’m to learn how to play music on a specific instrument that has a specific role in the music. I am thrilled by this development in my understanding. My musical world is already expanding.
I used to think that learning how something works would take some of the magic away. I find more and more, though, that learning has the opposite effect: when I begin to understand what goes into something, I appreciate it more deeply. I recognize the complexity, the mastery, the creativity, and the genius, and I am in awe. Humans are extraordinary. The universe blows my mind.
I don’t expect to become a master bass player. I’d like to be able to make sounds that are pleasant rather than painful. I’m learning because, why not? Who knows what it might open in me. And despite my initial resistance to The Artist’s Way, I must admit that I am getting unstuck creatively, if not in the way I expected. In the beginning I thought I wanted to write more or differently. Now I don’t know that I care so much about that. Instead, I’m looking at creativity holistically. I took myself on an artist’s date to buy a sketch book and pencils. I sketched a leaf in the garden, which led me on a photo walk looking for leaves, which made me see how beautiful they are in a more understated way than the showiness of flowers. I’m opening up my food world, incorporating more colors and fermented foods, which means I’m trying new recipes and branching out. I’m learning about music, and I feel a lightness in no longer carrying that regret.
4 thoughts on “Out of my comfort zone, out of my rut”
Andrea, it sounds like in reading The Artist’s Way, you have found your own unique way to more and new creative fulfillment. That’s wonderful! Congratulations — and play on.
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This is beautiful and inspiring.
Funnily enough, I picked up what sounds like a similar book (with less of the stuff you indicated that didn’t resonate – the drama, the God-specific references, or the recovery talk) in the airport on the way to my recent team meetup. It is called The Creative Act by Rick Rubin and similarly revolves around creativity being messages from the universe interpreted through us.
I remember really liking the first third and wanting to share it with folks. The last 2/3s seemed more specific to people who were more specifically creatively involved than I am.
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You’ve got a guitarist for our girl band at the next GM 🤘
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I remember reading the Artist’s Way years ago, and was intrigued by your post. And you beautifully created an argument not only for God’s existence, but for His complexity, creativity and genius, and the ways He reveals Himself to us