Book Review: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

The Artist's Way

One of social justice’s most fundamental goals is for everyone to have an equal voice in the world, to be able to share his or her own experiences with others and for others to listen openly and without discrimination. Creative pursuits are a part of that realization. While fighting for social justice policies and programs is important, it’s also a siloed process. The Democrats agree with the Democrats and the Republicans only agree with other Republicans. You can shout out a convincing argument from the rooftops, but nobody who needs to be convinced is paying any attention.

Creativity is expression that is (on face) non-partisan. Anyone might come to look at or read through a creative work. Anyone might have an open mind to the story being told. I’ve always written, but it’s only been in the past few years that I’ve started to understand and believe in the power of literature, photography, paintings, and other artistic activities to really change the world. It’s thinking through these issues that led me to pick up The Artist’s Way in the first place.

Cameron wrote The Artist’s Way as a guide for “blocked” creatives. Her book is quite literally a 12-step program for artistic people to rediscover their creativity and sense of purpose. As a writer and filmmaker herself, she draws upon her own experiences to shape a fundamental structure, short passages, and creative exercises for her readers.

Many people are already familiar with Cameron’s “morning pages,” which are a daily exercise she insists upon for all embarking upon The Artist’s Way journey. The idea is simple: write three longhand pages each and every morning. About what? Anything. Whatever comes to mind. Write about not wanting to write if that’s what comes out.

I’m no stranger to the practice of freewriting, but something about the page restriction and the enforced everyday nature of the morning pages was very helpful to me. I found myself thinking, planning, and envisioning ways that I could more fully incorporate creativity into my life.

Cameron’s exercises at the end of each chapter are quite useful when it comes to doing this envisioning practice. Her words and exercises encourage you to move past the mental, physical, and economic limitations that might exist in your life. She pushes this visioning past limits not to pretend they aren’t there, but in order to develop a crystal clear vision of what you want in your life. Otherwise, we are often motivated only to move away from what we don’t want or we get stuck doing nothing much that’s important to us. I found Cameron’s approach quite liberating, touching on all kinds of fears that were stopping me from even thinking about what a more creative life would look like.

The other staple of Cameron’s curriculum is the “artist date,” where you go out once a week (by yourself) to do something, anything, creative. You could be going to an art gallery, do scrap booking, take a long walk, or write spoken word. Whatever feels creative and freeing.

I’ll admit I didn’t hit quite manage to do the artist date every week, but I did do it most weeks. There is something to the action, the process of just getting out and doing something that is incredibly helpful for blocked creatives. In fact, if there were any lesson I learned loud and clear from The Artist’s Way it is to get out of your own head and act; take a shot — not necessarily a foolhardy move, but a chance on something you’ve convinced yourself isn’t possible or reasonable — and just go for it.

I will say Cameron is definitely of the religious sort, and that was the main challenge I had in reading through her book. There are a lot of references to God and a higher power, and on being open to the workings of the universe to make positive change in your life. Some of these thoughts resonated with me, others did not, and some felt a bit preachy. Those who are strongly atheist might find that this is not the book for them, though the basic principles might still be something to experiment with.

There’s a lot to take away from this book for its length, and it’s one that I feel I’ll be revisiting over the years as I continue further on my creative journey.

5Stars25/5 STARS

See a full list of my book reviews here and my book review policy here.

Book Review: Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Parable of the SowerIn order to rise
From its own ashes
A phoenix
First
Must
Burn.

-Octavia Butler

I’d seen the above quote before in a number of places around the web, and I remember bookmarking it (back when people bookmarked things) to return to later. I’ve always felt the quote succinctly captures the fact that positive change cannot happen in a vacuum, and that change itself is one of the toughest things in life to accept. I’ve long been curious about the book that these wise words had come from.

Enter Parable of the Sower, the first book in the Earthseed series that Butler unfortunately wasn’t able to finish before she passed away (though she did leave behind one sequel, Parable of the Talents). In Sower, Butler creates a world where mankind is headed toward demise. Climate change has ruined much of the environment and economy, and people are left to eke out a life with relatively little support from any sort of formal government.

The protagonist, Lauren, lives in a gated community of several families that have banded together for safety. The families in the community are poor and always struggling to get by, but outside the walls is an even more grim environment, where violent drug addicts and the very poor roam the streets and live in abandoned houses, stealing from everyone else. All in all, it’s a pretty terrifying stage, especially since Butler chose to set the novel only a few decades in the future from where we are today.

Lauren is intriguing because she suffers from something called “hyperempathy syndrome,” where supposedly she experiences other people’s pain and pleasure. The condition makes it challenging for her to be around people who are hurt — and usually someone is hurting in this post-apocalyptic world — making the syndrome a threat to her being able to survive. Butler is always playing around with these interesting scenarios and factors in her novels.

Without giving too much away, I’ll say that the fragile balance of Lauren’s world gets upset and she’s forced to completely rethink how she’ll move forward with her life. And throughout the book she begins to shape her own religion, called Earthseed. The initial quote, for instance, is one piece of her new religion’s writings.

I really enjoyed the way Butler challenged me to think about the U.S. as a third-world country and what it would be like to live in a world of rapidly dwindling resources. Children who grow up in America are taught that they live in the most powerful and influential country in the world, and this book made me reflect on what we lose through that kind of thinking — perhaps a shared sense of humanity and a deep appreciation for the natural resources that keep us alive.

I’m really interested at some point in reading Octavia’s Brood, an anthology of short stories that use this science fiction idea of renvisioning the world, but particularly for the means of social justice. Butler’s works seem to have inspired a lot of this kind of big thinking.

I do have to admit, the plot does move a little slow sometimes, and there are a lot of different characters to keep track of throughout the book. So the reading itself wasn’t as all-engrossing as I hoped it would be. But I do plan on reading the next book in the series though at some point, since Butler leaves you with a bit of a cliffhanger.

I’d also encourage anyone interested in Octavia Butler to read Kindred, which also plays around with the idea of alternate realities and draws in more explicitly themes of race.

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Book Review: It’s What I Do by Lynsey Addario

It's What I DoI’m not sure I can say that my life has ever legitimately been in danger — much less that I know what I would do if kidnapped in the everyday process of doing my work. But these are some of the things that Addario talks about in her memoir It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War.

What is perhaps most compelling about Addario’s memoir is her relentless pursuit of her passion: visually documenting some of the world’s most intense conflicts and humanitarian crises. We see what it takes to rise to the top in the cutthroat environment of aspiring photojournalists, especially in her early career.

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Book Review: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Bad FeministRoxane! Why?! I’ll be honest, Bad Feminist was hard to get through. I read it for my book club and when it came time for us to all talk about the book, we looked around the table at each other with a collective “ummm…”

Don’t get me wrong — the Scrabble story was great. Who wouldn’t want to know what it’s like to be in a competitive Scrabble league in the middle of America? Better yet, who wouldn’t want to hear about Gay’s hot pink playing board and the intensity with which competitive Scrabble aficionados adhere to the rules?

But after those fun and games (pun intended), I hit a rut with this one. Gay presents a number of book reviews, movie reviews, and pop culture analysis as a lens through which to comment on race and feminism. But there’s not enough tying the essays together to make the work feel like anything cohesive.

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Book Review: The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae

Misadventures of Awkward Black GirlIssa Rae is my best friend.

Okay, so maybe she’s more of a friend of a friend. Well, really, if I’m being completely honest she was friends with my RA in college and I never talked to her… but still I knew of her!

What I’m really trying to say is that reading The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl was even more fun given that I kinda sorta knew who she was before she got famous. For anyone who’s seen her most popular web series (same name as the book) they’ll be equally happy as I was to see the awkward Issa Rae they know and love in print.

The book is a combination of really funny anecdotes and some serious personal stuff explored in a thoughtful way. Issa Rae writes about everything from her early obsession with online chatting and a humorous guide on different types of black people, to her father’s infidelity and her own challenges with body image. At first I was really surprised by the serious stuff, but I actually love that Issa Rae opened herself up so much here — fans of her work will definitely get a chance to know her better through the book.

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