I’ve hit a roadblock in my efforts to follow the book “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. The roadblock is unexpected, scary and very hard to get through. I have been thinking about it since June.
In brief, the book recommends readers follow a multistep process to gain increased creativity. (For some old posts about the process so far, see Trying “The Artist’s Way”, An Artist’s Date to the Vintage Shop and An Artist’s Date on the Linear Trail.) I am doing this to try to break through my fear and inertia to do more creative writing.
One of the early steps involves exorcising demons, in a way. You’re meant to write down times in your creative life when you felt discouraged, ridiculed, scared, or otherwise blocked by someone else from living the creative life you’ve wanted. Maybe your parents discouraged you as a kid. Maybe classmates tore your work apart with criticism. Maybe your husband or kids or job gobbled up your energy and will.
This exercise brought up a memory of college. I recently ordered my transcript to see if I could do a little fact-finding into this episode. There the class is – MET EN202, Creative Writing, spring of freshman year. I got an A-.
I was a full-time student at Boston University, but I took a creative writing class at the BU night school (called Metropolitan College) to ease up my schedule a bit so I could work at my day job more hours and make more money. Adjuncts taught these classes. The professor was this older guy – a tall, skinny man, with a long face and a short gray beard. I can’t remember his name. He had published a few short stories, including one in The Atlantic of The New Yorker or something prestigious. I vaguely remember one of his stories – about some short guy who wore a fez around to attract women and to make himself look taller.
I was working on a story about this kid I knew in high school. I don’t remember anything about it. That is, whatever that story was about, it wasn’t memorable. I once had to go to the professor’s office hours, which were at night of course. His office was on one of the upper floors of a crummy building in this campus no-man’s land along Commonwealth Avenue. He didn’t sit behind his desk but rather sat in this little sitting area to the side, and I sat opposite him, where I could watch the neon Citgo sign from Kenmore Square grow and shrink and grow again over his shoulder.
The other thing that was growing was his erection. I was no virgin as a freshman in college, but I was still pretty inexperienced. I knew and yet I didn’t know what was going on. He talked about what a great talent I was. He talked about how the publishing world loved the young. If I could publish my first novel before I was 21 or 22, I would have the literary world at my feet. All I needed was someone who could help me. Of course, he could be that someone. I was 18.
I was wearing this peach-colored L.L. Bean mock-neck T-shirt that I’d had about a year. I remember it because I wore this shirt one of the first couple of times I had sex with my high-school boyfriend. My boyfriend didn’t like the shirt because it pulled on over my head. He wanted to a button-up shirt so he could watch my breasts emerge as he unbuttoned it. I never wore it with him again. He was well out of the picture by that spring. But all I could think about was how my breasts looked in that shirt and how I wish I’d kept my jacket on for the meeting with the professor.
Nothing happened. That is, he didn’t touch me or proposition me directly, or expose himself or anything like that. He just sat back in his chair, his legs crossed widely, ankle to knee, and displayed his bulging crotch through his khakis while he spun a story of my swelling genius.
I was majoring in journalism, not creative writing or English or anything impractical and doomed to unemployment. I came from a lower-middle-class family, which regarded college as the place to get skills to get a job, not as a place to sit around and write great thoughts. I was conflicted about journalism. I threw myself into it and I liked the writing, but I didn’t really click with it my freshman year. The professor discouraged journalism, saying newswriting’s flat tones and deadline pressures would “ruin my voice.”
I left that meeting and finished the class and got my A- and never went to his office hours again. I did very little creative writing after that. I took another writing course in the English department, called “Advanced Composition,” (for which I earned an A) but the pull toward an English major was over. I got instead into literary journalism, finished up my courses, got my diploma and started at a small newspaper making $300 a week. Journalism did not work out for me in the long run – I was a journalist for about 12 years and then gave it up for corporate jobs.
The next time I wrote fiction was just a couple of years ago, when I tried NaNoWriMo. I had forgotten about this tumescent professor and his promises. I really forgot. Maybe I blocked it out or maybe the significance of this event faded with time. But now I remember it well enough to ask: Is this the reason I gave up the hopes of a literary life? Did he scare me enough to kill my ability and desire to write? I really don’t think I was any child prodigy genius, but did I have something that smothered before it sparked? Or, am I blaming him for my own failings?
I’ll never know. That’s the problem with introspection – you can ask yourself questions all day and never get answers.
“The Artist’s Way” encourages you to write letters to people who held you back, then destroy them, as a way to exorcise any demons that whisper to you that you’re not good enough. I have been wanting to but unable to write this letter to this professor. I have been stuck for since June on this problem. I figured I’d write about it here to see what happens, before I plot my next move.