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The Artist’s Way: Week 9 – Recovering a Sense of Compassion

The Artist’s Way: Week 9 – Recovering a Sense of Compassion

Forgive Your Failures and Move on the Better Things

Artists make mistakes. They hit the wrong note, mix the wrong colours and write dialogue that is flat and lifeless. But rather than use these so-called failures as an excuse to abandon the creative life, Cameron urges us to forgive ourselves, seek solace in the creative community and move on to other projects.

Fear is the undercurrent that runs through the blood of every living artist. Even the most accomplished actors and writers suffer from stage fright and imposter syndrome. This fear often starts in childhood. Parents often discourage their little ones who dream of being dancers, actors or writers. And rightly so. What kind of parent would steer their child towards the risky and often heart-breaking business of being an artist?

Those bat-shit crazy dance moms on reality TV – that’s who.

And so, as artists, we must shake off the fear of parental disappointment. Taking baby steps, we must seek our own tribe to support us in our artistic pursuits. These are the people who will cheer us on when we win and help us back on the horse when we fail. And failure is a given in any artist’s life. It’s just part of the process – not a reason to quit.

For my artist’s date, I settled down with a good book I had not read in quite a while. It’s a book of entertainment vouchers, with discounts to restaurants, spa treatments and holiday destinations. As I leaf through the book, I dream about where I would like to go, what I would like to do and who I would like to take with me.

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The Artist’s Way: Week 9 – Recovering a Sense of Compassion

Forgive Your Failures and Move on the Better Things

Artists make mistakes. They hit the wrong note, mix the wrong colours and write dialogue that is flat and lifeless. But rather than use these so-called failures as an excuse to abandon the creative life, Cameron urges us to forgive ourselves, seek solace in the creative community and move on to other projects.

Fear is the undercurrent that runs through the blood of every living artist. Even the most accomplished actors and writers suffer from stage fright and imposter syndrome. This fear often starts in childhood. Parents often discourage their little ones who dream of being dancers, actors or writers. And rightly so. What kind of parent would steer their child towards the risky and often heart-breaking business of being an artist?

Those bat-shit crazy dance moms on reality TV – that’s who.

And so, as artists, we must shake off the fear of parental disappointment. Taking baby steps, we must seek our own tribe to support us in our artistic pursuits. These are the people who will cheer us on when we win and help us back on the horse when we fail. And failure is a given in any artist’s life. It’s just part of the process – not a reason to quit.

For my artist’s date, I settled down with a good book I had not read in quite a while. It’s a book of entertainment vouchers, with discounts to restaurants, spa treatments and holiday destinations. As I leaf through the book, I dream about where I would like to go, what I would like to do and who I would like to take with me.

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The Artist’s Way: Week 8 – Discovering a Sense of Strength

This Week in The Artist’s Way, the Focus is on Turning Lemons into Lemonade.

Being an artist is tough. Whether you’re a writer, painter, dancer or actor, you put yourself on the line every time you share your work, risking humiliation, rejection and sometimes even financial loss. Losses are an inevitable part of being an artist, but rather than denying your shameful artistic failures and hiding them away to yourself, Cameron says that you must acknowledge and work through them so you can move on.

My first novel The Sensory Garden has been out on query for about a month, and apart from a handful of rejections, I have heard nothing back. While my critique partners found a lot of merit in the story, they found my protagonist too passive and the ending unsatisfyingly ambivalent. They had stayed throughout the story with the protagonist they knew and loved, cheered her on through her many battles and tribulations and were waiting for her big payoff at the end. But they didn’t get it. My protagonist settled for compromise and my critique partners were disappointed.

Well, bad luck, I said. Sometimes people are too passive and settle for less than they should. Sometimes we don’t get our happy endings, the villain doesn’t get their comeuppance and the loose ends don’t get tied up in a neat little bow. Real life is full of dead ends, disappointments and compromise and so is my novel. I insisted on telling the story I wanted to tell, and with a shrug of their shoulders, they let me have my way.

But then something happened.

My real-life husband walked out on me and it changed the way I saw my story. My original premise was that everything was all right as long as you have love. My critique partners weren’t buying it and now neither am I.

And so now to the task of editing my novel for the umpteenth time. On legal advice, I will be changing many aspects of the characters I based on real-life people, including my former husband. These artistic and personal losses have been a great wake-up call this week and have alerted me to my own self-delusion and negligence.

I have a lot of work ahead of me to correct both in my writing and in my life.

For my artist’s date, I went to Officeworks and printed off some photos and bought a nice album to put them in. This is something I wanted to do for many years but could never seem to find the time.

It might seem strange for me to be collecting photos that include my former husband, and lovingly curating them into a treasured family album.

But, as I said in the beginning, failures need to be acknowledged, shared and worked through so that you can move onto better things.

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The Artist’s Way: Week 7 – Recovering a Sense of Connection

Significant Personal Issues Make for a Challenging Week in The Artist’s Way

Sunday, 21st June 2020

As Cameron often points out, art and life are inextricably woven together, with events in our daily lives manifesting in works of art. But on a personal level, the title of this chapter holds great irony for me this week.

I read this chapter last Sunday, when my husband and I were staying in an alpine cabin. We had a relaxing break, driving through the winding mountain roads, dining in the cosy pub and warming ourselves by the log fire he built. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my husband had arranged accommodation in a share house close to the city. And today, one week to the day of our alpine holiday, we sat in our car in the underground carpark of the local Supermarket and he told me our marriage was over.

There was another significant event this week, not of connection, but rather, disconnection. The ultimate disconnection.

My son’s childhood friend passed away, and the funeral was this week. Due to COVID restrictions, I was not able to attend so I watched the live stream broadcast from the funeral home. My son had the honour of being pall bearer and I watched on the screen as he helped wheel his mate into the hearse. He was twenty-four years old.

It is after midnight, but even after several pointless conversations with my husband and ripping through an entire basket of ironing, I am still not ready for sleep. As I settle into bed in the spare room (my husband leaves next week), I tuck into Chapter 8 of The Artist’s Way.

The title of Week 8 is Discovering a Sense of Strength.

I think I’m going to need it.

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The Artist’s Way: Week 6 – Recovering a Sense of Abundance

Rusti Garden B & B, Cheshunt, Victoria

Rusti Garden B & B, Cheshunt, Victoria

Week 6 Challenges us to Believe That Creativity and Financial Security Can Work Hand in Hand.

I have always seen my writing as something separate from my ability to make an income. It was something that I did after work and on weekends, something that I fitted around the necessity of earning a living.

Sometimes, this “double shift” would catch up with me and I became physically and mentally depleted, sometimes rundown to the point of illness. I worried that my creative life was impinging on my “real life” and that is was affecting my performance at work.

In other words, I saw creativity and money as being at odds with each other. I could not envision that they could actually work in tandem. There are many people who not only make a living, but often achieve great wealth pursuing their creative passion.

But I could not imagine being one of them.

To prosper from one’s creative work was only for a chosen few. These people are an anomaly, the rest of us are destined for drudgery and sacrifice because that’s the way it is.

This week, The Artist’s Way challenges us to believe in abundance, that there is enough in the universe for everyone. In fact, many studies have shown that the earth has plenty of food, water and clean air for everyone on the planet.

It’s distribution that is the problem.

Cameron directs us to “consider the lilies,” who never worry about how to make ends meet. The lilies have faith that God will provide. She tells us that rather than put our faith in money as the bedrock of security, we should put our faith in God. God does not want us to hide our light under a bushel. God wants us to shine. In pursuing our God-given talents, we are honouring Him and in return, He will provide.

Well that’s the theory, anyway.

But doing something we enjoy can sometimes seem frivolous. When I sit down on a Saturday morning to write my novel, my mind often crowds with thoughts of my unwashed floors, unpaid bills and avalanche of laundry. Sometimes, I think that my time would be better spent upgrading some employable skills, like that Business Admin course I let slide.

But Cameron argues that when we think that doing what we want is frivolous we have a toxic relationship with God. God speaks to us through our creativity, and when we ignore the call to paint, write or dance, we are ignoring God’s plan for us and his promise to provide.

Instead, we find solace in martyrdom, in giving up what we want to do for what we think we have to do. But it doesn’t have to be that way. While we must attend to the practical demands of life, we can still make time for creativity. We can dance around the kitchen while we cook dinner, we can do a quick writing sprint at lunchtime, we can dash off a quick sketch on the train into work.

Giving ourselves small treats and breaks creates a sense of abundance. It doesn’t have to be anything big, time consuming or expensive. We can buy a pot plant for our desk at work, spend 15 minutes writing morning pages or take a relaxing bubble bath on the weekend.

For my artists date, I went on a mini break to a rural location. My husband and I planned this trip a while ago, to make up for our overseas holiday that was cancelled due to the COVID crisis. Apart from giving us a break, I had planned this trip to research the location of my next novel.

As the trip grew closer, I had considered cancelling it because I haven’t worked for a while and our savings are running low. When I suggested this to my husband, he said not to worry about it, everything would be alright. He might not be religious, but he certainly puts his faith in the universe.

And so. we went away to a beautiful cabin in the Alpine region of Victoria. As we drove through the winding country roads, I took in the vastness all around me, so different from the cloistered suburb I had been confined to. Undulating, verdant hills. Drifting, pillowy clouds. The smoky, woody smell from the smokestack as we crunched up the gravel driveway. The trilling of the birds breaking the silence of the morning air. The marshy ground underfoot.

All these sights and sounds, all this sensory detail, the irreplaceable experience of simply being there. I would have had none of it had I stayed at home and saved my pennies.

Inspired by my experiences, I sat down at the wooden dining table in our cabin and fleshed out the outline of the novel I’ve been working on. That night, when we dined at a local pub, I told my husband my story idea. I don’t often discuss my story ideas with him, but being relaxed and on holiday, I let my guard down.

I rambled about the plot and subplots, the character arcs and points of view, the inciting incident, setting and the dénouement.

Feeling like a mad-woman, I was glad for social distancing and that the other diners were out of earshot. I don’t usually go on about my stories in public places.

When I finished my story, I sat back and looked at my husband, who had been listening in silence as I spoke. He’s not literary, and I worried that I had said too much, that I had burdened him with something that was of no value or interest to his technically oriented mind.

He looked at me for a moment and I braced myself for what he was about to say. He looked me in the eyes and said.

“Naomi, you’ve just worked out the whole thing.”

And he thought it was a good idea.

I often say that writing a novel makes about as much financial sense as buying a tattslotto ticket, there are no guarantees. But the small amount of time and money I invested on researching the setting of my novel paid dividends in the results it yielded.

So maybe it’s time I changed my negative outlook and opened my mind to what the universe may give me.

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Goodreads Review – The Wife and the Widow by Christian White #thewifeandthewidow #amreadingsuspense #amreadingcrime #writingcommunity #amreading, #bookstogram, #goodreads

The Wife and the Widow is intriguing from the start. With a haunting setting and fascinating but relatable characters, the story follows two very different women whose lives are intrinsically linked.

The story is set in the seaside town of Belport, a tourist destination in the summer and a ghost town in the winter. I love stories set in my hometown of Melbourne, Victoria, and I was reminded of places like Philip Island and Queenscliff.  The setting was so evocative, I was surprised when I looked it up on google and found that Belport was a fictitious place.

Down to earth Abby reminds me of the tough, friendly locals I have met on summer holidays to coastal towns. Dutiful doctor’s wife Kate is poignant as a woman who despite her wealth and status, seems to be held in contempt by most people she meets. “Passive to the point of invisible” she fights to find her truth and her voice.

The Wife and the Widow takes us to the limits of what we are prepared to do for those we love. It explores how seemingly everyday people can hold very deep reserves of both strength and darkness.

The story becomes ever more engrossing as all the disparate pieces come together in the most shocking and unexpected climax.

The Wife and the Widow is a cautionary tale about the damage that secrets can do and how we are never truly free of the past.

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The Artist’s Way – Week 5: Recovering a Sense of Possibility

This Week, The Artist’s Way Cautions to be Careful What You Wish for Because You Just Might Get It

Cameron talks a lot about God in this book, about a higher power who is on your side and wants you to achieve your goals. I have tried to ignore this until now, glossing over any mention of God or the idea of a benevolent universe that is prepared to work in my favour.

As a lapsed Catholic, the notion of God or even a higher power has negative connotations. I think more of a force that is there to keep me in line and punish me for any transgressions. I cannot envision a God that has an interest in what I want, or in making my creative dreams come true. The God I grew up with demanded conformity and service, sacrifice and submission. The God I grew up with was not there to help me on my journey to creative self-fulfilment. He was there to be worshiped and obeyed. My personal fulfillment or anyone else’s did not come into it at all, except where it coincided with service to God.

At their funerals, the elder women in my family have been praised for their self-sacrifice, of always putting others before themselves. This is regarded as the highest level of achievement for Catholic women; to become as great a martyr as Christ Himself. To want things for yourself, things that have nothing to do with the service of others, would be considered selfish in the extreme and not worthy of God’s blessing.

Growing up, I was often told that my dream to be a writer was highfalutin and ridiculous. And so, I watered down my ambition to write novels to the more practical one of being a journalist. At least I could still make a living from writing. But even this was too much to hope for. I was told that journalism was such a competitive field that it was not even worth bothering. And so I didn’t. On leaving school, I took the first job that came along, and thought myself lucky to get it.

Shamed out of my writing dreams, I put them aside. Being a writer was not for me. Being a writer was for other people. There were only a select few that were chosen for this vocation and I wasn’t one of them.

This week, The Artist’s Way offers an exercise where you write down a series of wishes. As with the free writing of the morning pages, you must write the wishes down automatically. You cannot put too much thought or censorship into this exercise, you simply write what you feel. The last wish you must write down is for the wish you most especially want to come true. I wrote down that I wanted to make a living from my writing.

Over the past few months, I have been keeping a journal of my experiences during the COVID lockdown, which I sent to a small press. I was pleasantly surprised when they emailed back and said they would like to include several of my stories in their anthology.

While I was over the moon by this validation of my work, I could barely trust myself to believe it. I thought that the publisher would change their mind and decide not to make the book. I thought that they would find better stories from other writers and decide to leave mine out. I thought that they would go broke and the bailiff would come and take all their furniture.

For my artist’s date, I went to my favourite coffee shop. For the first time since the lockdown started, I sat down at their little wooden table and the friendly staff bought me a latte with a love heart on the top.

As I scrolled through my emails, I found one from the publisher. It congratulated me on having five of my stories included in their anthology and confirmed that the book would be available in June 2020.

I smiled, sipped my coffee and thanked my higher power.

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The Artist’s Way – Week 4: Recovering a Sense of Integrity

This Week is the Catalyst for Subtle and Seismic Changes 

Week 4 is the week where a lot of people stop doing their morning pages. Cameron says that the uncomfortable feelings that can emerge at this stage of the course often have people running for cover. As our free writing brings our true feelings to the surface, we can no longer ignore what we have been hiding from both ourselves and others.

Perhaps we have been plodding along in a job that does not fulfill us or putting up with aspects of our relationships with others that compromise us too far. Perhaps we have been telling ourselves that it’s all ok, that we can put up with it to keep the peace and to keep the money coming in. But the morning pages tell us that it’s not ok to accept conditions that are detrimental to our physical and mental wellbeing and they challenge us to do something about it.

The consequence of not listening to our truth and pushing ourselves beyond our limits may result in a breakdown in our physical or mental health. Cameron describes this breakdown as a “spiritual emergency,” which stops us in our tracks and prevents us from going further.

I have had the experience of working in places that were so toxic, people were always physically ill. Long hours, lack of recognition and a culture of bullying, led to high rates of absenteeism, or worse, presenteeism. Afraid of losing their jobs, my colleagues would turn up to work coughing and sneezing and spreading their germs to everyone else. These red flags should have been a wake-up call to both management and employees alike. However, management ignored what was right in front of them, insinuating that employees were malingering and expecting the walking wounded to solider on.  This situation carried on for several months, until finally, there was a mass exodus of staff who left the company to go and work for the opposition.

In the same way, we ignore the signals from our minds and bodies at our own peril. If we do not listen to ourselves, if we continue to push ourselves beyond our spiritual and physical limits, we will suffer a major mutiny in the form of a physical or mental breakdown.

We need to honour the call to action we are sending out to ourselves, and Cameron says that the best way to do that is to direct these feelings into our creative work. We can take our feelings of unhappiness, betrayal and anger and we can turn them into something beautiful.

We can create a work of art.

Writing has always been a great release for me. When I am upset and confused, I have always confided my feelings in the page. I write down the things that are concerning me and try to make sense of them; to corral the disarray into a shape that pleases me.

Another thing I have noticed over the past couple of weeks is that I have been doing a miniature stocktake. I have been putting aside clothes I no longer wear, cleaning out my desk drawer while I listen to podcasts and throwing out pantry items that have past their use by date. Indeed, Cameron says that many aspects of our lives will “stop fitting” and that we will begin to clear them away to make room for the better changes to come.

The biggest challenge I have in Week 4 has been the reading deprivation. As a writer, I know how important reading is to develop my craft, but this week, Cameron says you need to keep yourself empty from the input of others to allow output from yourself. Rather than fill yourself up with “junk food for the soul” in the form of TV, newspapers and social media, Cameron encourages you to tune into your environment, and to get up and do things, like rearrange the furniture or dance around the room.

While I didn’t follow the reading deprivation challenge to the letter, I certainly cut back on consumption of other people’s input and concentrated on my own work. I had to rearrange my schedule and reassess my deadlines and responded only to emails that required my immediate attention.

As I cleared my reading slate for the week, I was forced to confront a task I had been putting off for some time: querying my novel. Sending my novel to a traditional publisher has always been the endgame for me.  But having arrived at my self-appointed milestone, I sit at my computer with a sickening feeling of dread. I know that rejection is part of the game and that publishing is a business, not an art and that I can’t be everybody’s cup of tea but all the same, I feel like I’m leaving my baby with a sitter for the first time.

And so, with as much courage as I could summon, I polished up my query letter and prepared my list of prospective agents and publishers. I concentrated on this task to the exclusion of all others, and by the end of the week, I had sent out my first batch of queries.

For my artist’s date, I cashed in the gift voucher I had been saving since Christmas and bought a new quilt cover. It’s midnight blue and velvety and adorned with bright tropical flowers.

I bought it home, washed it gently in fragrant eucalyptus soap and hung it in the sunshine to dry. Then I went to my bedroom and removed the yellowing, faded doona cover that has been on my bed for the past twenty years.

It simply would not do anymore.

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The Artist’s Way – Week 3: Recovering a Sense of Power

The Unlikely Combination of Anger and Synchronicity Made This a Week of Empowerment.

Anger and synchronicity have been at the forefront of my journey this week in The Artist’s Way. They may seem like an odd combination, but you would be surprised how well they compliment one another.

Anger is often regarded as a negative emotion, one which arises as a lack of self-control. At its worst, anger is destructive and violent but at its best, anger is a force for self-preservation. Anger tells us when we have been wronged, when the boundaries that protect us have been crossed. Arousing physical symptoms that are impossible to ignore, anger challenges us to right the wrong that has been done to us.

Anger, Cameron tells us, is an invitation.

I have had an idea for some time about a project I would like to pursue involving a difficult incident in my life. I have put this project on the backburner because of the unpleasant feelings it aroused. Rather than face up to these feelings, I chose to tamp them down and as a result, they turned into guilt and ennui.

To avoid the discomfort that anger would bring, I told myself that my feelings didn’t matter, that I would upset too many people and that there would be possible legal ramifications if I proceeded with my project. This cop-out seemed an easier option than facing up to my feelings and speaking out.

Earlier in the book, Cameron says that it’s the artist’s job to shine a light on the dark corners that people would rather not see. Artists produce work that holds a mirror up to society, and it’s not always a pretty sight.

This week, I re-examined the project I wanted to undertake. I thought about what happened and allowed myself to see the incident for what it was, and to feel all the uncomfortable feelings of shame, betrayal and anger. Acknowledging my feelings rather than minimising them spurred me into action and I sought legal advice. It turns out that with a few small changes, there are no real concerns about my project from a legal standpoint.

That knowledge was empowering and has given me the courage to prepare for any negative reactions that may come my way. I realise that my project may be upsetting for some people, but us artists are not responsible for making everybody happy.

Cameron says that once we begin taking action to achieve our goals, the universe steps in and presents us with opportunities to help us on our way. These opportunities may seem like co-incidence but are a result of the domino like effect our action sets in motion.

This week, I had a couple of serendipitous occurrences, happy accidents I stumbled on as I progressed towards my goal of finding a home for my novel. I am new to querying, and not knowing where to find a small publisher that would be suitable for my novel, I decided to reach out to one of my Facebook writer’s groups for recommendations.

As soon as I went to the page, I found a post at the very top from a small press looking for submissions! Was it just co-incidence I found what I was looking for straight away, or did the universe put that post there on my behalf?

Similarly, I discovered an agent I want to query represents a writer I know. I asked her for advice on how best to approach the agent and she gave me some helpful tips and even offered to read my query letter.

I’m not convinced that the universe could care less whether or not I publish my novel, but this week I felt as though things were going my way. The anger that I started with earlier in the week galvanised me into action and from that action, I received help, advice and support.

Identifying what I wanted to achieve was the first important step I took this week followed by asking for help and acting on the good advice I was given given. At the end of Week 3, l feel confident is saying that I have recovered a sense of power.

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