Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way has had a profound influence on the subsequent course of my life. It’s a magical book and it worked – and still works – its magic on me. Subtitled ‘A Spiritual Path to Creativity’, it’s a practical, playful and creative guide to unlocking and unleashing your creativity, and the tools which Cameron provides are tools for life. They’re a gift. All you need to do is open them and go.
Back in 2001, I was living in Glasgow and working in Edinburgh, a commute made additionally difficult because I was a single mother and my daughter was still young. I was teaching theatre in a university in Edinburgh and the job was deeply unsatisfying. Having performed and directed before, I felt I had become that frustrated creative who resents teaching people because she just wants to make work herself. I felt trapped and I felt blocked. I felt frustrated and resentful.
In Christmas 2001, my friend and neighbour, a film editor called Kristina Hetherington, gave me what turned out to be the best present of my life: Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I should mention that since then, Kristina has worked on award-winning films, such as Yasmin and Summer, and has herself received a BAFTA as an editor on the film, Mo.
When I first started reading The Artist’s Way, I was a little sceptical about her reference to God but picked up on one of the provided definitions: Good Orderly Direction. I dilligently wrote 3 pages every morning – Morning Pages as Cameron calls them – 3 pages of free writing without self-censorship. You can write about your dreams, your feelings, your complaints, your discomfort, your…anything that comes into your head as you write. I bought colourful stickers and used crayons, and I collaged and sketched images of where I was now and where I so desperately wanted to be. The pictures I drew were of the me I was then: a single mother; an alcoholic surrounded by writing and books and theatre; a functioning alcoholic but an alcoholic nonetheless.
The pictures I drew of the me who I wanted to be were much happier. I was singing and acting and drawing and surrounded by beautiful, life-affirming objects and visions. I was in the full flow of my desired creativity. And what did I want to be? I wanted to be a freelance artist but could see no way of fulfilling my dreams in a country where despite my extremely good wage, the money gets spent on the bills, on the train fare, the council tax, school trips, etc etc etc. The idea of working freelance in Scotland seemed an impossibility.
One day, I went on an Artist’s Date. You do this on your own and the aim is to play and have fun. I went to Arran, taking a train and then a ferry to reach the island. While I was there, it began to rain – that kind of vertical rain which doesn’t stop and from which, that day, I had absolutely no excape. I got completely and indisputably soaking wet. And I also felt alive – more alive than alive. I was soaking wet and I was happy.
In June 2002, I directed a multimedia version of Genet’s The Maids. Shortly after, I organised a collaborative theatre project with practitioners from Bulgaria and Macedonia. In 2004, I revisited a novel, Vandalism, which I’d written in pen and ink several years before. In July that same year, I went to New York to visit a man who had been a central influence on the writing of that book. When I returned, it was to the news that my daughter had decided to live with her father in West Wales and she wasn’t coming back.
I felt sick, shocked and bereft. Utterly bereft.
After the grieving period and time off work, I decided to do all the things I’d felt unable to do while my daughter was there beside me in my world. I set up a theatre company. I received an e-mail from a man who was very interested but couldn’t make it to the initial meeting so we met up later in my university office. His name was Toni Attard and he came from Malta.
In the summer of 2005, Toni got funding which enabld me to go to Malta for the very first time. I worked as a performer on a devised theatre collaboration with Maltese and Scottish performers.
Immediately, Malta struck me as a creative and vibrant island, with theatricality oozing out of its pores. I kept going back and I kept going back and – with some major life changes in between – I moved there in January 2008.
I’m still here, nearly 10 years on. I work as a freelance artist whose main financial source of stability comes through teaching English as a foreign language, a job tailor-made for me. No day is ever the same and I meet a fascinating range of people from all over the world on a daily basis. It relies on my creative and intellectual skills, and brings in my capacities as a performer.
I also work as a performer and have performed in plays such as Attempts on Her Life by Martin Crimp, The Sex Comedies by Iain Heggie, The Last Seduction of Almighty God by Howard Barker. I’ve worked on an Edward Bond production and had the unforgettable opportunity to meet the playwright in person. I’ve done some bits of directing work, including David Greig’s version of The Bacchae and Tender Napalm by Philip Ridley.
I’ve also, and perhaps most importantly, published 2 novels since I moved to Malta. The first is a book called Duende which I self-published as a second edition in 2014. It’s set in Spain in the years leading up to the Spanish Civil War and incorporates all the things that have fascinated me throughout my life: art, literature, philosophy, politics and Federico García Lorca, a writer whose work I fell in love with many years ago.
The second book is called Vandalism, which I referred to earlier. A novel which travelled me for so much of my life was picked up by a Maltese publisher and hit the Maltese bookshops in 2015. The following year, it went on sale at Waterstones Byres Rd Glasgow, a bookshop whose location is the setting for Vandalism– the West End of Glasgow where I grew up.
In 2016, Vandalism was shortlisted for Best Novel by the National Book Council Malta and in June this year, I was invited to do an Author’s Evening at Waterstones. This event was a homecoming of an incredible kind. Amongst the audience were people from different parts of my life, both past and present, and the fact that the book was published in Malta and yet now also being sold in Glasgow created a bridge between my two homes, one connected by my writing. I couldn’t ask for more. I really couldn’t ask for more.
Synchronicity has played a major part in my creative journey to date, something which deserves a blog post all of its own. And synchronicity is a word which Julia Cameron uses a lot, referring to the act of writing as a spiritual practice in which connections spring forth from the wider universe and are interwoven with our work. As we create and surrender to this process, we tap into forces far beyond and above us.
I gave a copy of The Artist’s Way to a very good friend of mine just before I left Glasgow for Malta. She’d got sober in 2004 and in 2009, 2 years after I’d given her the book, she told me that The Artist’s Way was The Twelve Steps of AA. It took me another 5 years to understand what she was talking about. In 2014, I stopped drinking, too, and discovered in working the AA 12 step programme that the spiritual path of creativity and recovery are two and the same. Ultimately, a spiritual path is a spiritual path whatever the motivation for embarking on this journey.
While I’ve always been fiercely creative, my creativity liked to dance on the dark side, turning to drugs and alcohol in the hope of perceiving deeper truths. Utter despair and defeat took me to the doors of AA. Terrified that a life without alcohol would somehow diminish my creativity, I discovered that the ideas which had resonated with me so strongly in The Artist’s Way were being given the fresh air I had craved for when I first engaged with the book. And, although I’m not a religious person, the words ‘knock and the door shall be opened on to thee’ carry a real significance for me now. I used to feel I was banging on the door of life, always fighting my corner and defending my cause. The notion of surrender isn’t something that comes easily to me but what I have found, and on a daily basis, is that when I let go and stop resisting, the doors somehow open in the most unexpected of ways. As Julia Cameron says, ‘Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That, and surprise.’