by Sabrina Hill, PSWC President and Robyn Heller, Artist, Actor, Teacher

In January 2020, I wrote a blog post about my lack of creativity and the ensuing frustrations it was causing. So many of you responded with such warm words of kindness and encouragement. And many felt similar frustration with their creativity. 

With your words of encouragement in my head, I began doing little drawings every day, and that helped, but then the PANDEMIC hit, and well, creativity was replaced by fear and down the rabbit hole we all went. But there was a light down in that rabbit hole. My daughter had taken a class called the Artist’s Way (on Zoom, of course), based on the book by Julia Cameron. She called me one night after a couple of weeks in the class and said, “SIGN UP RIGHT NOW!” So, I did.

This is an amazing experience. The class is designed for artists of any ilk—painters, actors, sculptors, writers, performers. Anyone who needs to refocus or relocate their creativity button.  For twelve weeks you focus on different aspects of your life related to your creativity–what might be hampering it, what might be helping it.. It is not a judgmental space, but one of openness and encouragement, just as I found here in January. You may share in class if you like, or you may not. (Do share, though, it’s so much more fun and I find you get more out of it). One of the main tools is a writing exercise done daily called the Morning Pages–3 pages, handwritten (if possible) that only you will see. No grammar, spelling, content, punctuation or judgment are necessary. It’s like emptying the trash everyday. It seems like a small gesture, but it keeps things tidy and keeps your mind open for whatever creativity might bring.

And it works. My creativity was not lost, just buried (do you blame it? 2020 has been rough on all of us). Now it has room to bloom. So, I asked Robyn Heller if she would be interested in teaching the Artist’s Way to PSWC starting in January. This is a wonderful opportunity to start the year with a great framework for success. Everything is on Zoom, so no traveling. A journal, a book, and an open mind are all that are needed. 

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

On that note, I would like to introduce you to Robyn Heller, actor, writer, teacher, motivator. She will be our guide for twelve weeks of locating the creative person inside us all. I will be doing an interview with Robyn on our YouTube Channel and Facebook in December. Watch for class information on Facebook and this website. Here is Robyn’s Artist Way Story:

My Journey on the Artist’s Way

By Robyn Heller – actor, writer, teacher

“How long can I expect these symptoms of trauma to last?” I saw a brief expression of surprise cross my therapist’s face. I’ve got to admit I was a little proud of myself. She had said that my ex’s behavior fell “under the umbrella of abuse,” but I think she was a little impressed at my ability to label it as trauma. What can I say; I taught myself to read when I was three. I’m a fast learner… at some things.

I was a month or two out from ending the relationship, and I was ready to be done with the anxiety, the self-reproach, the worrying about whether I was capable of keeping myself safe. The thing about being involved with a manipulator is that when you emerge, you question your own perception of reality.

Experiencing the unsettling feeling that I wasn’t sure what was true and what was not, I reached for something instinctively comforting to the fast learner: classes. I know many people hate school, but for me it’s a comfort to have a curriculum to follow, a structure to build upon, and a community to lean on. If I could become a professional student, I might be the happiest woman on earth.

Several years before, I had bought the book “The Artist’s Way,” having heard many, many good things. I didn’t make it very far on my own, but I had a feeling it was going to be right for me someday. So I still had the book on my shelf when I found out about a guided Artist’s Way group. We met in a shared artist studio space, and we took turns bringing snacks and wine each week. Among us were actors, a painter, a sculptor, a television editor, and a lawyer who didn’t know exactly why she was there except that she yearned for something more. As we got to know each other, it became clear that a lot of life was going on for everyone in the group. One was parenting an autistic child through college, and one was a stay-at-home artist and primary caregiver to two kids under five. The lawyer was being let go from her job. The leader of the group had two kids, her own business to run, and an autoimmune disorder. I wasn’t the only one dealing with some pretty heavy stuff.

No wonder we were stuck creatively! We all had a lot of trauma, stress, responsibilities, and expectations weighing us down. At its core, the Artist’s Way is an internal mining expedition. We cut away layers of inertia, fear, shame, and judgment to get to the fragile and precious gemstone of each individual’s unique creative voice. 

My workspace is the opposite of cutting away; I keep adding inspirational art and objects, but as long as it sparks joy and creativity, right?)

Every time we start an Artist’s Way group, we commit to showing up for ourselves and each other through laughter, tears, and exploration. We treat our inner artists with the care and consideration that we might not have gotten from the outside world. We start listening to our inner second grader more and our inner second grade teacher less. We open up to possibility and wonder.

I won’t say it’s an easy process – there are emotional ups and downs – but sharing the journey with other artists can lighten the load. Witnessing someone else’s courage is a great way to build up your own. And it takes courage to make big discoveries or changes. For example, during that first Artist’s Way group, I discovered that I really missed singing and playing bodhran (traditional Irish drum). A few months after class ended, I joined a Celtic band. I realized how important yoga was to my well-being, and I enrolled in a yoga teacher training program. The lawyer remembered how much she loved baking and contributed spectacular cookies to a charity fundraiser. Recently in a group I lead, an academic writer confessed that she’s terrified by the prospect of her heart’s desire: to write poetry.

Artist’s Way isn’t a substitute for therapy, but it sure has helped me through some tough times, starting with recovering from that toxic relationship and continuing through losing a loved one, losing a job, and losing a sense of normalcy during these chaotic times. Every time I go through the process, I learn more about myself, I get better at protecting my inner artist, and I get braver about sharing my art – and myself – with the world.

Nothing lights me up like singing in harmony with our band, Ban Cara. Left to right: Ashleigh Hill, me, Doreen Wiley.)

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