Exorcising Demons in The Artist’s Way

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.

Advertisements

Thoughts on Thinx

I bought two pairs of this special underwear called Thinx that’s meant to be worn when you have your period. The underwear has an absorbent and odor-neutralizing crotch panel that can absorb a tampon or two’s worth of menstrual blood (depending on the style of Thinx you choose). In theory, you can go without tampons or pads at all and just wash and reuse the underwear.

In short, did they work? Yes. They are probably not for everyone, however.

This is a pretty long post and has a lot of details in it. If you’re squeamish, find something else to read. I am not affiliated with this product in any way, and I did not receive any free samples or other compensation as a condition of writing this blog. This is really just my thoughts and experiences with this product.

I bought two pairs of Thinx for a few reasons:

  • I’m very interested in new textiles and how garments can be used to support medical needs, be it menstruation, illness or disability.
  • I’m interested in alternatives to standard menstrual products in general. Having consumed these products most of my life, I always think, “There’s got to be a better way!”
  • I like that female engineers, businesswomen and scientists are thinking anew about menstrual products, and that they are able to get funding to manufacture and market these products.
  • I would like to reduce my use of disposable, nonbiodegradable things in general. All the wrappers, applicators and packaging of standard tampons and pads could be reduced or eliminated.
  • I think that women should be able to talk about menstruation openly and without shame. Products such as Thinx open the dialogue.

I read over the product specs (see www.shethinx.com for more) and bought a high-waist style ($38) and a hip-hugger style ($34) to try. Based on the measurements, I ordered a large but they were too small, so I got a refund and bought an extra large in each style.

Because I like to sew, I know when I am looking at a well-made garment, and these were. The lining of the underwear is made of a cotton and elastane blend. The waistband and outer layer is a nylon-elastane blend – the waistband has a pretty, sheer stripe detail. The absorbent inner liner is made of a polyurethane laminate, or PUL fabric. It runs from waistband to waistband front and back and is encased in the lining and outer fabric. The sides are sheer.

I tried them this week. I wore the hip-huggers on Sunday, under jeans, without any back-up tampons or pads. They performed admirably with no leaks. I was aware each time I used the toilet that the underwear was absorbing blood, but it soaked in to the absorbent layer and did not feel sticky, just a bit damp. The underwear was a bit bulky, but not bad, especially under jeans. There was no smell at first, but by the end of the day, I could detect a scent – not the usual menstrual blood scent, but a scent that’s hard to describe – a bit plastic-y and sharp. The scent wasn’t objectionable, really, but it was there.

I wore them for the rest of the day and to bed. I woke up with no stains on my PJs or sheets. The odor was much stronger at this point, but that’s to be expected – I wore them for a full day! The instructions say you should rinse the underwear and then wash it, using regular laundry soap but no fabric softener. I saw a lot of blood come out in the rinse, so I let them soak a bit, then rinsed again until the water was clear. Then I let them soak with some laundry detergent, scrubbed them by hand, rinsed and let them line dry.

I had intended to wear the high-waist pair to work Monday, but when I tried them on with my dress, they rode up a bit and were noticeably bulky in the rear with the style of dress, so I switched to some high-waist trousers. This time, I backed up the underwear with a tampon because I couldn’t take chances at work, but I didn’t use a pantyliner as I normally would. Again, they performed well. There was no odor or leaking, although to be fair, tampons did most of the job. The general fit of the underwear was not great and rode up all day. I wore them to bed without any back-up and they were fine – no leaks or stains and the faint odor. Again, I rinsed them and washed them in the sink with some laundry detergent.

I reused the clean hip-huggers to work Tuesday under a skirt without any tampon backup, and they performed very well, although my flow was a lot lighter by then. There was no odor or dampness.

My takeaways:

  • Thinx are a viable alternative to tampons or pads. They do their job and perform as promised.
  • They look nice and are well made.
  • Thinx are not gross or smelly – not any grosser or smellier than the normal menstruation situation, anyway.
  • Using Thinx alone without tampons or pads, I would not want to wear one pair all day but rather would change them after 8 hours  or so. This makes sense, since I’d normally change tampons every 4 hours or so, and the underwear’s meant to absorb about two tampons’ worth.
  • Using Thinx as a tampon back-up, or on a light flow day, I will wear them all day.
  • I will wear the high-waist pair exclusively to bed, because of the bulky nature and the poor fit. I am OK with this because I usually wear big diapery pads to bed (I don’t want to get up in the night to change tampons) and occasionally have to deal with leaks.
  • I can handwash them and let them dry so that two pairs will get me through a typical cycle.
  • The cost alone doesn’t really justify the purchase. At $70 for two pairs of underwear, I could buy a couple hundred tampons, pantyliners and pads.

I will be interested to see how these hold up and perform over time. I will buy more if I really like them.

A “Friend” at Work

A woman I work closely with had a goodbye party this week. I didn’t attend. Notice I did not say “a friend from work.” I would like to think of her as my friend, but she’s not, really.

Her husband got a job in a new city, so they’re moving. She’s going to keep her job, but work remotely from now on with occasional trips to see up at the headquarters. She did not want to move, does not want to work remotely, and is actively and vocally dreading the whole thing.

If she were a “friend,” I would feel more comfortable telling her what I really thought about this. My greatest regret in my career is that I put my husband’s career ahead of my own. He was older and more established at the time, so I deferred to him. Today, I have advanced much further in my career – perhaps as far as I can go. He’s in exactly the same place, doing exactly the same thing, and counting down the days (many many days) to retirement.

If she were my friend, I’d tell her not to defer, not to consider her career second-best. It isn’t, for one thing – she’s at a higher level than he is and is more established at a premier company. She also loves living in the city and loves being in the office. She will be miserable working from home full-time and living in a provincial city. Also, her husband sounds very controlling. They got married not even a year ago. She’s forever saying her husband “lets her” do this and that. I find this disturbing. She’s all of 30 years old, and she has a long way to go. I am 47 and I have a bit of wisdom to offer. Yet, all this is none of my business.

I might have considered her a friend, but it’s clear she doesn’t feel this way about me. I actually heard her talking on the phone about me (our desks are next to each other). She started to say “a friend at work” when she stopped. “A fr….. a coworker,” is what came out instead. So she actually stopped herself from calling me a friend, while on a personal phone call, and sitting right next to me.

So,  I keep my mouth shut, skip her going-away party, and count her out.

Can you really have “friends” at work anyway? I was close to a few people at my old job, and we’ve tried to stay in touch. When we get together, though, we talk excessively about the old times, or about the current situation at work if they’re still at the same place. Is this true friendship, or just affinity born of professional convenience?

I have two true “friends” from work – both women I worked with decades ago. Perhaps distance is needed to assess whether a true friendship is in the cards. We’ll see in another 20 years who I still consider a friend.

The Competitiveness of “Making”

Why is “making” things such a big deal?

I went to a dinner party Saturday night and got all snarky with friends about the glory of “making” vs. “buying.”

I happened to be wearing my tablecloth dress because these friends had shown an interest in the past about my sewing projects. It glams up pretty well with some cream-colored rope-soled wedges, a Kenneth Cole bag in sage green and some gold and jade jewelry inherited from my grandmother.

So when a friend asked if I made the dress, I said “yes.” Actually, I said “Is it that obvious?” She assured me it was not obvious at all, but she knew I sewed and so she always wonders when she sees me if I’m wearing anything me-made.

The guys at this party – my husband and two friends (husbands of the women) – had looks on their faces as if to say, “Please don’t let this mixed-gender conversation turn into a female-only discussion about sewing.” Clearly, most men don’t get it. They understand “making” something they enjoy, like baking a cake or painting a picture, but sewing women’s apparel is beyond them.

What’s a gal to do but to get a bit snarky?

One of these guys happens to have a pretty big garden. “Why grow your own vegetables and flowers? Why don’t you just buy them?” I asked. One guy homebrews beer. “Why do that? Why not just buy beer?” Hmm?

Clearly, I hit a nerve. I didn’t get much of an answer from the guys, beyond “it’s just a hobby” and “I’ve been doing it forever” and “I invested in all this equipment already.” Shortly after this little discussion, the guys decamped to the kitchen to talk, leaving the women in the living room. We shifted our conversation elsewhere.

When dessert was brought out, I could not resist another little dig. I knew darn well that my friend had not baked the peach tart that was put before us, but I couldn’t resist asking: “Did you make that?”

She said “no” and seemed embarrassed about it. Why? It was delicious and beautiful. We ate the whole thing. What difference does it matter if you make or buy? Are some things more worthy of “making” than others? If a man makes it’ does that make it more worthy?

Hey – if you want to make, make. If you want to buy, buy. No judgment.

“Women’s Work”

I’ve had these garden gloves for years. I never noticed the label: Womanswork.

IMG_20170521_153612

I love these gloves because they fit perfectly. No wonder – Womanswork is owned by a woman and many key staff people are women and relatives of the company’s founder. (For more info, see their Website.)

Wow does the term “woman’s work” get a bad rap. I have been watching this BBC show “Victorian Slum House” (airing now in the US), one of these shows where modern people try to live in historical times, and this old guy who probably would have been dead in the 19th century is all upset because he’s stuck doing “woman’s work” – making artificial flowers to sell to milliners. He tried “man’s work” at a bell foundry and put his back out.

I felt sorry for him, because back pain is horrific. But I turned sour at his disdain for the flower-making job. It put food on the table and kept a roof over the head of his whole family of five for a week. Why, is his mind, is making a bell more important than making an ornament for a hat? Is it because a bell is big and heavy and a flower is tiny and light? Because the bell costs more? Because a bell is “manly” in some way that a flower is not?

Both iron bells and artificial flowers are fripperies in life, one might say. Not necessary. Not important. One is not inherently better than another. But all work has value. All work matters and should be treated with respect, just as all workers should be treated with dignity.

A lot of young men find themselves out of work nowadays. That’s for a lot of reasons, but one reason is because of their disdain for “women’s work.” Health care is the largest sector of the US economy, yet it’s predominantly female. So is education; except at the collegiate level, female teachers and staff outnumber men greatly. Men need to get over this idea that only certain kinds of work are worthy of them. Or, they can stand back and watch the women continue to outshine them at every turn.

Ceaseless Toil and Spring Cleaning

Yesterday was a marathon spring cleaning adventure. Five hours I spent washing and vacuuming and dusting and decluttering. And I’m not done yet.

Is there a more thankless task than housework?

I decided to budget my time. I set the oven for a five-hour self-clean cycle and gave myself five hours to do what I could.

The oven racks needed a good wash. How the hell do these things get so greasy? And why can’t I leave them in the oven in self-clean mode?

Bah.

We rotated the carpets and vacuumed, moving all the furniture out to do it properly. Aha! That’s where all the dead bugs went! 

Gag.

I filled two vacuum cleaner bags with lovely assortments of dust, spider webs, fireplace soot, carpet fuzz, dog hair, crispy needles from the long-gone Christmas tree, and whatnot.

Gross.

Another job for the distaff side done and dusted, literally.

Plant a Tree

I bought a tree yesterday. An Eastern redbud, variety “Carolina Sweetheart,” with red variegated leaves and dark pink flowers.

IMG_20170430_104421

We went to a fancy garden center to get it. Few places scream “distaff side” more than a fancy garden center. Farming is  a man’s world. The garden is where the gals go.

We no sooner arrived than the extras from Central Casting appeared: The skinny old WASP-y woman in khakis and tennis shoes, the tummy pooch from mothering 3 or 4 children, broad-brimmed hat shading her face, deeply lined from too much sun and too many cigarettes in her youth. The Earth Mother in jangling bracelets, who let it be known to all within earshot that she drove up from New Jersey that morning because she just had to have such and whatnot. The 30-something French-manicured mom who wants to rip out every living thing from her newly purchased property that she hates and replace it with other living things that she loves, for now.

Some male employees took them around, showing off the plants and listening to these women’s garden glories. The message was plain on these men’s faces, under their hipster beards: “Whatever you want, lady.”

I fled to the ornamental tree section and browsed the redbuds. A young woman who worked at the garden center asked if I needed help. She was maybe 5’2″ with dark hair clubbed into a short ponytail under a floppy sun hat. She wore black-framed glasses and sturdy boots and dirty jeans. Under the V-neck of her T-shirt I glimpsed part of a tattoo of a magnolia blossom (I knew it was a magnolia because under the blossom, “magnolia grandiflora” skated across in script). I also glimpsed a nest of curly auburn armpit hair.

We got to talking, and guess what? She lives a couple blocks away from me. She rides her bike to work in the garden center – at least an hour’s ride up some steep hills. She was funny and knowledgeable and confident. In short, I wanted to be her.

OK, not her exactly. She’s probably half my age, for starters, and no way do I want to be in my 20s again. But her life as I glimpsed it and assumed it to be appealed to me. How nice it would be, to do what I love on my own terms? I don’t know if I’d stop shaving my pits, but I’d love to wear my handmade clothes, eat my fill from my garden, write and just be, on my own terms, more often than I do today.

What’s stopping me? Fear of poverty, I can tell you that. I’ve always been driven to earn money and achieve more and more in my career. That’s brought me to a big job at a big company in a big city, living in a big house with big bills to pay. Has it brought happiness? Not really. I enjoy this life, for sure. But part me of always wonders what it would be like without it all.

When I was in my 20s I tried the bohemian life, but bolted for convention quickly. You marry, buy a house, get your first “real” job. Maybe you have a kid or two. You may want to go back to a simpler time, but you also need to be a grown-up, so you keep going.

Someone with a better sense of humor than mine once said: “If everyone actually did what they wanted to do when they were young, the world would have way too many ballerinas and not nearly enough garbagemen.”

True enough. So I will plant my tree, inhale its floral scent in spring, sit under its shade in summer, collect its autumn leaves, gaze at its naked limbs in winter, and think about what might have been.