Today’s two thoughts are related.
1. Your Inner-Artist is a Child.*
*If you are one of those people who hates children but likes puppies, please free to think of your inner-artist as a puppy instead.
2. Don’t Flake (on your child).
Okay, so number one comes from Julia Cameron’s philosophy on being an artist. She says that you need to treat your inner-artist (the writer inside) like a child. Like a child, your writing needs to be nurtured, not just yelled at sometimes. You must find ways to make corrections without hurting the child too much. You are aware that you can abuse the child and that the child can grow up all messed up because you let someone else come too close to and abuse it. You have to protect the inner artist child. You also need to have fun with the child. You are aware that your child needs time to play. You need to let the child be funny sometimes and serious at other times. You are also aware that sometimes your child is crabby but that time-outs are a little more civil than beating the child up for punishment. You must feed the child. You must give the child a nap to reboot.
Most of all, you acknowledge that your child is growing–it’s not right now where it is going to be one day.
Once we have that idea down, it’s really important that we learn how not to flake on this child.
This is thought two, by the way.
Maybe we shouldn’t make promises to our inner-artists. Maybe we shouldn’t say, “Just you and me, we’re going to work together all day Saturday” if we are going to something else all day–like play with Facebook instead. But the better case scenario is that we teach the child that we can make promises and keep them. That teaches the child to trust what we say.
Imagine if you had a child who was waiting for the two of you to interact and you were just getting drunk every time you said you were going to hang with them, or just hanging out with your friends all the time instead, saying, “I’ll get to you next week! Next week! I promise!”
I have a special sensitivity about flakes, which comes from the facts that a) I’ve dated a couple and they drove me up the wall and b) my dad taught me to hate flakiness as a profound statement of disrespect. My dad is always, always on time. He was also a fireman for thirty years. In Detroit.
Anyway, in grad school it’s really very easy to be a flake. We all, from time to time, say we’re coming to something and do not show. Maybe we just forgot, but we probably didn’t. We’re just too busy and stressed and too lazy to give the host of the party a heads-up that no, we’re actually not going to make it over. Again, thanks to my dad, this drives me up the wall. I hate feeling like anyone is wasting my time.
(I have learned, however, that bringing a book wherever you go is a really good antidote to feeling like your time is wasted while you’re waiting for someone or something to happen.)
I do my best not to flake. I really do. I try not to say I’m coming unless I know I can be there. I try to apologize to those whose readings I’ve missed. If I change my mind about whether I can go to something, I try to let the host know as soon as possible. If I have to pull out of an event, I try to set up an appointment right away. I really try to be where I said I was going to be at the time I said I was going to be there.
Unfortunately, I do have a gene from my mother’s side of the family that gives me a poor sense of time. Great sense of rhythm, poor sense of time. Several of us on that side are naturally late to everything–especially the ones who dedicate more time to their artistic side (we are all artists on that side of the family, although not everyone puts that art into practice. Ebbs and flows for most of us.)
It’s like a war against my genes inside–I feel awful for being late but then, ah! I can’t help it! I’m late!
All of this is to say that I had a pretty humbling experience this week when I came down hard on someone for being a flake and then realized that I am a flake to myself. To promise myself I’ll do something (like start jogging this summer and quit smoking, or to stop eating sugar because it destroys my mind and makes me crazy) and then not do it is the same as flaking on myself.
I promise myself I’ll write and then I don’t.
If you’re a writer, I think you understand what if feels like to neglect your writing. It’s more than guilt. It feels like this kid is inside:
He’s ready to go. He’s got his cape on and everything.
Our inner artist children are also probably quicker to forgive us than most grown-ups. If we do neglect the child, we can apologize, move on, and recognize that our pattern of behavior is deeply going to affect the child.
But we can change the pattern. We can always change the pattern.