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Did You Do Week 1 Tasks?

20 Apr

The 4 Chicks Chat about Julia Cameron’s Walking in this World: The Practical Art of CreativityChapter 1: Discovering a Sense of Origin

Ahhh, my faithful Chicks. They did the tasks assigned for Week 1.  Little did they know, each time they attempted a task, I was there.  When they made lists of small creative actions they could take, I was whispering in their ear.   Here, they chat about their experience completing these tasks. And I was there when they discussed their progress, dancing in the space between them.  It was delightful eavesdropping on their conversation.  I hope you enjoy eavesdropping too.

And, how about you?  Did you do the tasks?  If you are seeking me, I highly recommend them.  If you don’t have the book yet, it’s not too late.  Borrow or buy a copy and get started today.

Something Old, Something New [Part 2]

1 Apr

Cocktail wear? JK

The idea to rip apart my wedding dress came to me while I was completing one of my tasks for Chapter 1 of Walking in this World.  Julia Cameron calls it What the Hell, You Might As Well. Not unlike Chick Peggy, my list of “20 small, creative actions you could take” started out looking a lot like my to-do list:  1.  Repaint the baseboards and doorframes.  2. Wash the cat.  6.  Upload/order new pics.

I progressed to the more titillating:  8. Ask friends for favorite easy recipes and make one a week.  11. Learn all the verses to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride song.  12. Buy new kitchen towels.

Thus warmed up, I resolved to throw caution fully to the wind, which led me to:  15.  Cut up wedding dress and make pillows.

Who will need the pillow first?

Perhaps you’re thinking I mean bed or sofa pillows. Alright, I admit I did consider that first.  But then the Muse whispered to me, “pillow…wedding dress…think, Tracey, think.”  That’s it!  I would recycle my beloved dress–Coco’s dress–into a ring-bearer’s pillow for my children to use at their own weddings.

My dear spouse fully supported this inspired idea, that is, once he understood it.  My straight-faced jape about wanting to pair the bodice with jeans for my next Girls’ Night Out prompted his asking if I had really gone mad.  It was a rhetorical question to the positive.

Okay, so I wrote this idea on my task list.  But what came over me to actually do it?  Why the sudden, uncharacteristic urgency?  Well, like other reckless and unreasonable actions which I have undertaken, including this blog, I blame it fully on Chick Eva.  She was over the night of the wedding dress massacre, dropping her girls off for a sleepover.  When I told her about my no. 15, her support and enthusiasm had an intoxicating influence on me.

I used the top layer of tulle for stuffing.

The next thing I knew, there was a ripper in my hand.  As Eva took my picture and I prepared to make my momentous first rip, we were both laughing uncontrollably.  It felt like we were conducting an illicit middle-school prank and not an important creative experiment.

As soon as the initial damage was done, however, it was as if a weight had been lifted, one even greater than those twenty-something layers of tulle.  Liberation wasn’t just at hand; it was in my hand, one carefully torn stitch after another.  This was a thrilling sensation I had not anticipated.

I envisioned my grown daughter and son, their teary eyes following the precious pillow being carried down some church aisle by a yet-to-be-born nephew or once-removed cousin.  Even more, I envisioned my bedroom closet–freed of the Great White Snowball–and like my artist soul, cleared for room to move, to walk and to create.  I think Coco would understand.


My old dress bodice is now a new ring bearer’s pillow.


Something Old, Something New [Part 1]

30 Mar

My new husband, my new dress and I in 1996.

This is the story of how I ripped apart my wedding dress last night–and why.  No, I’m not getting a divorce or even seeing a marital counselor at present.  The truth is, while my husband and I are dancing in the minefields like every other married couple, I’m probably happier than I’ve ever been throughout my almost fifteen years of marriage.

This story begins with the dress itself.  I was just 23 when my mom walked me into the storefront of Victoria’s Bridal Shop on Ft. Lauderdale’s Las Olas Boulevard.  I honestly can’t tell you anything about the five or so other dresses I tried on.  This one was the first.  When I came out of the dressing room, the store’s owner–a charismatic man named Coco–magically material-ized and told me in his low-spoken, dulcetly accented voice that he had personally designed this dress, which he authoritatively pronounced was made for me.

Even if my less secure younger self wanted to disagree with such an artist as Coco, I really couldn’t.  It was that simple.  I swooshed around the store happily.  My mom cried. I was measured.  My mom paid the $1,400 (causing my dad to cry later that evening), and then we left, the whole blearily memorable experience comprising only about an hour.

One last look: me and my "middle-aged" dress.

Since my wedding day, the voluminous dress has lived in cramped quarters–first my parents’ vacuum closet and most recently my bedroom closet.  In between, it holidayed for two years in a lovely vintage clothing store on Orlando’s historic North Orange Avenue.  No buyers.  When the store moved, I had to pick-up the dress.  Subsequently, I learned of various excellent organizations that accept worn wedding dresses to benefit women with breast cancer, among others.  However, none accept “middle-aged” dresses like mine–and like me–those too old to be considered modern yet too young to be considered antique.

What’s more, as I mentioned in my Grout of Control post, we are contemplating selling our house.  Hence am I on a rampage of obsessive cleaning and purging.  The wedding dress was occupying a lot of real estate in our walk-in closet; I had to push around it daily to reach my actual wardrobe.  And although I donate frequently to the vets, I couldn’t quite bring myself to just dump it in a bag and set it outside my door to go who-knows-where with who-knows-whom.

My husband, ever the practical one, insisted we should save my dress for our daughter to wear, you know, someday.  My ten-year daughter herself was noncommittal; her only firm position was to object to the notion of discussing anything to do with kissing a boy, you know, someday.  As for my mom, I think she’s still just happy to have her vacuum closet back.

"Let her rip!"

So what possessed me to mutilate Coco’s masterpiece?  Why did my husband ask, “Have you really gone mad?” last night at midnight?  And will we–the dress and I–find our happily ever after? Of course we will.  This is a story, after all.  Forgive me for “threading” you along, but you can learn the answers to each of these questions and more on Friday, no April foolin’.


Walking in This Manuscript

24 Mar

Photo courtesy of Tony Karp.*

The only thing more terrifying than attempting to write a novel is to publicly admit so.  It’s a whole new level of commitment: a cross between the kind administered by holy men of the cloth and the kind administered by strong men in white coats.  And yes, you are at once married and clinically insane.

Julia Cameron well describes the daunting challenge faced by artists who embark upon large-scale ventures.   She does so metaphorically, likening the creative journey to a tangible, physical and geographical one.

Doing any large creative work is like driving coast to coast, New York to Los Angeles.  First you must get into the car.  You must begin the trip, or you will never get there.  Even a night in New Jersey is a night across the Hudson and on your way…Rather than focus on large jumps–which may strike us as terrifying and unjumpable–we do better to focus on the first small step, and then the next small step after that.

~ Julia Cameron, Walking in this World

Inspired and abetted by my runner friend, Chick Eva, I’ve charted my own course.  It starts where I am: here in Orlando.  It ends where my story ends: Richmond, Virginia.  Specifically, I picked the Robert E. Lee statue as my ending point, just to have a mental image.

I’ll be tracking my progress on dailymile.  When I setup my account, it asked what kind of exercise I would be tracking.  I was initially dismayed to find no category for custom or even other.  Then I saw the last option: WALKING.  I smiled and nodded appreciatively at my Mac screen.

For you left-brainers, here’s the math:  Each mile represents a page in this journey.  Hence the 780 miles of my walk correspond to the estimated 780 pages I have left to write.  While I’ve already written about 130 or so pages, (A) I have a lot of ground to cover in my story and (B) this number takes into account the many pages I shall write that will inevitably not make it into the final manuscript.

I even came up with a not-so-complex equation for calculating portions of a mile from actual words written, using a conversion factor of an average 225 words/page.  So if I write only 10 words (don’t laugh; sometimes this is significant progress for me), then I’ve “walked” 0.04 miles.  It’s not a lot, but it’s something.  It’s that much closer to Richmond.

Will this work?  Will it inspire me to make daily progress in my book, step by step?  Or will my well-intended motivator prove to be another unconsciously self-sabotaging expectation?  Only time will tell.  I did walk in my manuscript last night.  Not very far, mind you, but enough to get to me Orange Avenue.  Someone tell General Lee I’m on my way–one small marching step at a time.

* On a side note to this post, in searching for the perfect transcendent photo of a person on a walking road, I was instantly drawn to the one shown at top.  When I clicked over to see to whom I could ask for permission to use, it took me to a site and page called ArtMuse2.0 – Musings of a Muse.  As it turns out, the photographer artist who took the picture calls his wife, Marilyn (the one walking in the photo), his Muse.  This is what Julia Cameron calls synchronicity, the unseen hand of GOD–Good Orderly Direction and/or whatever else God means to you–guiding us to seeming coincidences.  You can see other examples of Tony Karp’s fine work at The Techno-Impressionist Museum.


16 Mar

“When we affirm rather than deny the characteristics often singled out, we begin to have a much more accurate idea of by whom, and where, our traits will be appreciated”

– Julia Cameron

Week 1 Task: Express Yourself

I found this task extremely hard.  I needed to write down 10 positive adjectives to describe myself.  Negative, I can do in my sleep but positive, I found myself questioning how I view myself.    But I realize, that if I want my girls to view themselves positively then it needs to start with me.

So here goes:  

1. Kind
2. Talkative
3. Determined
4. Passionate
5. Understanding
6. Cheerful
7. Loving
8. Cute
9. Active
10. Dedicated

What about you?  How do you view yourself?

Every Journey Begins With a Step

14 Mar

Walking in This World, Chapter 1: Discovering a Sense of Origin

It is fitting that the book we are working through together is called Walking in This World, because this is a journey.   And we Chicks are walking it together.  We have taken both the first step and now the second step on our new path.  The first is: we began the book.  We read the first chapter and we met to discuss it.   The second is: we captured our chat on video.  

Now, our challenge is to complete the tasks in each chapter, and blog about them.  So, here goes:

I completed the first task, which Julia Cameron entitled “What the Hell, You Might As Well”.  The assignment was to write a list of 20 small, creative actions I could take.  The idea is that we get stuck sometimes and begin feeling powerless. To remind ourselves that we always have options and can do many things, it may help to write a list such as this. 

It’s just a list.  No commitment!  But when did my discomfort set in?  When did I have to begin reminding myself It’s okay!  You’re not committing to do this.  You’re just writing about possibilities…?  As soon as I set pen to paper.  I started anyway. 

Then the fear set in.  What if someone reads this?  They’ll think some of these are stupid!

I kept writing anyway.

After #10 I really started struggling.  What?!  I’m only halfway there?  I can’t think of anymore!

I did anyway.

After #15 I was finally starting to get the hang of it.  I slid into home. #20. Piece of cake.

Looking at the list now, I see a lot of things I will do – practice piano, make something new for dinner, play around editing old photos.  But my favorite action is #12: color outside the lines.  For me, this would be the hardest one of all because it goes against my nature.  My need for order and control and aesthetics.  Maybe I should do it.  Just because I can.

Doing Nothing is Hard Work

13 Mar

This week in Walking in This World, the task is to “do nothing.” That’s it. Nothing. Ah, this is right up my alley. I mean, who wouldn’t love just doing absolutely nothing as a task for a whole 15 minutes!

Last night, after I announced to my husband that I was under duress to do absolutely nothing, I went to bed, set up the pretty music, closed my eyes, and tried to empty my mind.

Are the kids in bed yet?

STOP! Do nothing.

Is the alarm set? What is that noise?

Oops! Do nothing.

After two whole minutes, I look over to see the laundry piling up. Naturally, the laundry can’t wait 15 more minutes, so I go throw a load in and then get back to doing nothing.

Fidget…fidget…fidget…move the pillows around.

Close eyes. Open them and change the music on the iPod.

Close eyes. Meditate. Imagine myself in flight with the birds in the sky.

Okay, I swear I’m going to scream if those kids don’t go to bed now!

Open eyes and shout at kids to quiet down. Notice that the fan needs dusting.

Forget it. My concentration totally shot, I sit up and feel disappointed with myself that I failed such a simple task. I go back to the chapter and look to see what I missed.  Then I realize that though I tried to simply “do nothing,” I did not fully remove myself from everyday distractions, and my house is full of them. Inside, that is.

I take my iPod outside to embrace the cool evening and close my eyes again.

Ahhh…the sound of silence. I think I actually went above and beyond, as I spent a good half hour in quiet meditation on the porch. But I realized that I wasn’t “doing nothing.” I just stopped focusing on what needs to be done and started thinking about what I have done, what I have accomplished, and feeling good about it.

It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.

Now that I think I have the hang of it, I plan on doing this task more often. Try it and see if you can “do nothing,” too!

Creative Visualization

10 Mar

I just found my vision board that we Chicks each created when we were going through the The Artist’s Way book last year.  I decided to put it out so I can see it everyday and focus on what I want to create for myself.

I don’t know if you realize that I’m not a writer like my other Chicks. My creative endeavor is to do a documentary of my mother’s family.  I know what I need to do; I can see it in my mind and how I want it to go.  But it’s been so hard to put it down on paper and to really get a clear picture of what I want the viewer to know. I can go in so many directions, that I just get frustrated and don’t do anything.

So looking at my vision board made me think that the vision board has helped me in many ways.  By seeing it I’ve had a clear picture of what I want to accomplish and what I need to do to accomplish it.   Then I realized, that I need to treat my documentary the same way.   Put it all down on paper, even if I jump around and go in different directions.  But by visually seeing it, it will become clearer what I want the viewers to see.

“I like to think of myself as an artist, and my life is my greatest work of art.  Every moment is a moment of creation, and each moment of creation contains infinite possibilities.  I can look at all the different alternatives, and try something new and different and potentially more rewarding. Every moment presents a new opportunity and a new decision.

What a wonderful game we are all playing, and what a magnificent art form…”

– Creative Visualization by:Shakti Gawain

Begin Where You Are

9 Mar

The 4 Chicks Chat about Chapter 1: Discovering a Sense of Origin (PART 2)

This [chapter] initiates your creative pilgrimage. You are the point of origin.  You begin where you are, with who you are, at this time, at this place…When we avoid our creativity, we avoid ourselves.  When we meet our creativity we meet ourselves, and that encounter happens in the moment.  The willingness to be ourselves gives us the origin in originality.

– Julia Cameron, Walking in this World: The Practical Art of Creativity

Want to keep following along?  Here’s how it works:

  1. The 4 Chicks read a chapter.
  2. The Chicks meet and discuss the chapter.
  3. Over the next month or so, the Chicks do the tasks in the chapter and blog about it along the way.
  4. You’re invited to do the same and/or comment on the blog, sharing your own experiences and Chick Stories.

So join in the Chick Chat.

Back to Basics

7 Mar

This past weekend, I took my family to see Ethan Bortnick, a young musical prodigy who, at the tender age of 9, is in the middle of an 18-city concert tour. Young Ethan was very entertaining, a delight to watch. Even my boys, who thought they would be bored, loved the concert.

Prior to the concert, I read chapter one in Julia Cameron’s Walking in this World

: “Discovering a Sense of Origin.” While listening to Master Bortnick play a familiar waltz by one of my favorite composers, Chopin, something I read in Julia’s book resonated loud and clear with me. I love to play piano and used to play all the time. Now I feel like there’s no time, and when I do sit down to play, I usually give up because I don’t play as well as I used to.  However, as Julia writes, “…making art is a little like dieting. One day you just have to start and what you do that day is the beginning of success or failure. I cannot write an entire book today, but I can write one page. I cannot become an accomplished pianist, but I can put in fifteen minutes of piano time.”

I have found myself procrastinating, perhaps afraid of failure, not only with piano but with writing and, yes, dieting as well. So I went home, sat down, and plunked out Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 72 without worrying about hitting the wrong notes. And I had the best time, mistakes and all. I no longer will wait until “the right time” to play.

Something from the concert must have inspired my youngest son, who suddenly wanted me to teach him piano. So tonight, I sat down with him for an hour at the keys and will continue each week to give him lessons.

And will take the time afterward to play a few notes myself.

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