Artist Date

BY Cindy Maguire

A good “date” is fun, has some unexpected moments and makes you feel alive. When it ends, you hope that you’ll be able to spend some time with that person again. An artist date is no different except that the person you go out with is yourself. You treat your creative self to some quality time doing something pleasurable just for the sake of having fun. How does that help your writing?

Your true writing voice comes from your spirit, that sensuous, emotional side of yourself. That creative spirit needs to be nourished and cared for and listened to. She wants nothing more than to be out in the world, enjoying herself and soaking up new experiences. But it’s easy for life to get out of balance. We may find ourselves spending most of our time working and meeting obligations and taking care of other people and having little energy for writing. And if we do write, we may find the emotions that come to the surface hard to bear. This is an indication that our inner artist needs some attention.

In September, the focus is on leaving summer behind and getting back to school. Even if we are no longer students, we can feel pressure to knuckle down and get to work. Our inner critic, the alter ego of our inner artist, likes to use these times to tell us that we are not being productive enough. I feel that pressure and for me it is doubly hard because of my background in the summer resort business.

September is a bittersweet month for me. Memories of the Lodge, the tourist business my family owned, well up and spill over like cascading tears, every Labour Day weekend. In the past, that weekend signalled the end of the hectic, glorious summer season. The let down was profound. The Lodge grounds, once flush with one hundred different guests each week, a dozen staff who became like family, and constant goings on, emptied and lay silent on Labour Day. I would wander, lost, trying to adjust to the quiet that settled in and around the vacant cottages, the empty recreation hall, the dining room.

It’s been years since the Lodge doors were closed forever, but the feeling of loss, still bubbles up to the surface as September begins. One of my antidotes this year is weekly artist dates. I am vowing to treat my creative spirit regularly. I know that the only way forward when emotions run close to the surface, as they do this month, is through the muck. I need to pay attention to keeping my creative reserves topped up.

What kind of things can you do on an artist date? First, it does not have to be anything that costs money. The idea is to do something that takes you out of your normal routine. Choose something that will be fun and interesting for you. You could go to a library branch you’ve never visited; get off the subway at a stop you’re unfamiliar with and wander; go to the Art Gallery on the evening when admission is free ( Wednesdays, 6pm-close); find a park you’ve never walked through.

Today, I went on my “date” on my way home from work. I varied my route. I went through High Park, choosing a trail I’d never walked before. As I walked, I did my best to let go of my worries and soak up my surroundings. I stopped often, just to listen. I looked up at the sky. I brushed my hand through the grass. I stood and watched the ducks sunning themselves on a fallen log. I noticed colours and textures around me. I didn’t write. Leave the writing until you get home. You want to “be” rather than “do.” This is also the reason you go alone; so you are not distracted. You are spending quality time with your creative self.

Julia Cameron, discusses artist dates in her book, The Artist’s Way. She recommends marking your dates on your calendar so that you feel the commitment to go. Make your artist dates a priority. You may find yourself making excuses about why you have to break your dates; be prepared for the resistance and go anyway. I know you have obligations, and you have to earn a living, but choosing to spend a little time every week doing something fun that you really want to do or have been meaning to do, will pay-off in creative dividends. Indulging your creative spirit works because you allow yourself to open up to new ways of looking at things. And you gain strength to face those tough emotions that add substance and life to your writing.

Here’s what you can do right now to support and nourish your creative spirit:

  1. Schedule an artist date for sometime in the next seven days. Mark it on your calendar. Choose the amount of time that works for you. If you can do two hours, great. If you can only fit in thirty minutes, then make them count. Pick an activity or outing that will be fun and different. Pay attention to how you feel during and after. If you were bored or distracted, then try something else next time. It’s good to figure out what things you really enjoy doing.
  2. Do a 10 minute free write about your artist date, after it is over. Don’t take notes or write while you are on the date. Focus on being in the moment as the experience unfolds.

Til next time, keep writing.