I have titled this blog Lisa Zahn Writes for a few reasons. One, it’s simply what I’m doing here–writing. Two, I have always written. But three, and most important for me, it’s a title that makes use of creative visualization for my present and future life. Self-fulfilling prophecy, if you will. I want to write even more than I have been, and to make a career out of it. So my blog title, Lisa Zahn Writes, is supposed to remind me that yes, this is what I do and I need to keep doing it.
A few years ago, I had a lot of fun, did a lot of writing, and gained some personal insight while working through Julia Cameron‘s famous book, The Artist’s Way. And now I’m working through her book, The Vein of Gold.
The phrase “working through” fits here because the books aren’t meant to be just read and absorbed. They are meant to be worked, as they are filled with exercises (mostly fun) designed to help you find your creative wellspring and make use of it in your daily life. I like this quote from Amazon‘s review of The Artist’s Way: the book sets forth “the basic principle that creative expression is the natural direction of life”.
Cameron’s belief is that we are all artists and an artist doesn’t have to be depressed or going through a hard time to make good art–it should be a natural and daily part of our lives. “Art” in this case can be anything you want it to be. Sewing, baking, writing, drawing, painting, making music, decorating your home, woodworking–if it draws on your creativity, it is your art.
For so many years of my life, I was caught up in my studies and my social life. I went to school and did school work at home; after a certain age I held down various part-time jobs; and I spent time with friends. Through those years I always wrote–something–and enjoyed it. In my often-lonely and bored junior high and early high school years, I wrote the most. I submitted poetry to magazines like Seventeen (did you know it still exists?!) and even attended a school writer’s group and writer’s workshops. I planned my future at those things! I was going to be an English teacher, and by 10th grade I even knew I was going to Ausburg College because several English teachers I knew had gone there. Including the Minnesota poet Phebe Hanson, whom I had met at one of those writer’s workshops.
I was so confident. I had everything mapped out. I was on top of my game, as they say.
But then came marriage. And quitting school. (I had already earned my much-anticipated B.A. in English from Augsburg, but had skipped the teacher part and went to Seminary for an M.Div. instead, but that didn’t work out.) And then we were living in the middle of nowhere, Iowa, which probably should’ve led me to write but instead I opened up a daycare business as the only way to have a decent job and make some guaranteed money to pay my student loans.
Our own children came shortly thereafter, with all the shock and glory that brings to one’s life. And somehow my confidence and sense of direction got lost in all that. Somewhere I lost my sense of “me” and for years now I’ve had the hardest time figuring out what I should do with myself in those moments when I’m not acting as mom/housewife/etc.–there are at least a few of them these days.
Now I loved having babies, and I love being a mom. I don’t regret one thing about it, and I feel having children and being a stay-at-home-mom/homemaker is probably the most creative, challenging, stimulating thing a woman can do. But even in the midst of all that and especially as the kids get older and more self-sufficient, there’s always been a certain restlessness I’ve felt. It’s probably a product of our age, or maybe Betty Friedan was right, many women want more than “just” being home. Whether or not we choose to work outside the home, we’ve got to have something that’s just for us.
So here’s where Julia Cameron’s books have been helping me “re-discover” my passions. The Artist’s Way took me back into my past a lot, and helped me to re-discover the creative outlets I’ve always instinctively “done”. The Vein of Gold is doing the same, to a deeper level. What is the vein of gold? Cameron defines it in many places in the book, and it’s a little hard to grasp in one short phrase. Basically, it’s what we (as individuals) care about most. It’s “those habitual lines of thought, those areas of speculation that we rake over again and again” (Vein of Gold, p. 102)–what we think (even obsess) about, what we read about, what we make art about, what matters to us most.
Cameron quotes late film director Martin Ritt as saying this about the vein of gold in the case of an actor: “All actors have a certain territory, a certain range, they were born to play. I call that range their ‘vein of gold’. If you cast an actor within that vein, he will always give you a brilliant performance.” Think of Meryl Streep when she plays wealthy heroines like Isak Dineson in Out of Africa, or Jodie Foster fighting for justice in Silence of the Lambs, and Kevin Kline as the funny guy in A Fish Called Wanda, or your favorite actor in his or her best role. They were probably playing a role they cared about most.
Sometimes I get embarrassed when I’ve written passionately about something I care about. And all the times rejection is hard to take. I got a lot of rejections when I submitted my poetry as a tender young teen-ager, and even though some encouragement came along with it, it was the rejection that spoke loudest and so I stopped. I stopped writing (formally, at least). I stopped submitting for sure. I really stopped doing what came most naturally to me, and I started pretending it wasn’t important.
But it is important to work our creativity along the line of our vein of gold. Three different psychics at five different readings in the last few years have all told me “You are a writer”. And the last one, a medium who has told me twice that my only deceased grandma watches over me (something I know, by the way) said that my spiritual guides wanted to know “why are you afraid to be the writer you are?”
Why am I afraid? I’m working on that, and I have been finding some answers. Even putting this little essay out there is scary for me, but I’m doing it. Maybe it will help others. For sure I’d recommend to anyone, in any walk of life, to go out and get Julia Cameron’s wonderful books.
But whatever any “psychic” tells me, it’s my own heart that speaks loudest. Do what you were born to do, Lisa! As Cameron says in The Vein of Gold, the real question we should ask ourselves isn’t whether we’re “good enough” or creative enough, it’s this: “What if I have gifts and abilities and in this lifetime I never find the courage to use them?” It doesn’t matter if I ever get my writing published–I’m having a blast right here just writing my blog. I just have to do it.