Tag Archive: Julia Cameron


Peg Entwistle’s Entropy

There’s something about pursuing a life as an artist that can sometimes lead to acts of self destruction. Whether the writer drinks to excess, the painter cuts off part of his ear, or someone like actor James Dean crashes his sports car and ends his career after only three films. More modern examples abound, including Robin Williams, Amy Whinehouse, and even River Phoenix. I think we expect our artists to be both immortal and indestructible, and the truth is, Philip Seymour Hoffman, after years sober, can suddenly listen to the demons of addiction and overdose, ending one of the most prestigious careers of the modern era.

Still, when I worked in Los Angeles on a little known show called, Mysteries & Scandals, one artist stood out: Peg Entwistle. She had had a fairly successful career on Broadway, and definitely paid her dues, but Hollywood was not so kind to her. Her only supporting role came in a Myrna Loy/Irene Dunne, David O. Selznick vehicle called “Thirteen Women” that was released after her untimely death.

Peg Entwistle went for a walk one night and wound up in the Hollywood Hills with a suicide note in her purse. She claimed the letter H in the sign that then read, Hollywoodland, now just Hollywood.

I don’t know how much depression led to her suicide, how much alcohol contributed, and how much can be attributed simply to the impulse in some artists to self destruct. Robin Williams, one of my heroes for the way he lived life on his terms, unfortunately marred his legacy because of an intractable depression that came out of a recent Parkinson’s diagnosis, but word has it he died sober. That saddens me even more. With a clear mind, he took his life, and didn’t in that moment know the amount of joy he had brought to millions.

I suppose none of us are immune to the Black Dog Days that Winston Churchill described as plaguing him at times. The best we can do is go to bed early, take care of ourselves, check in with our friends, and trust that those dark days do indeed pass.

I just wonder a bit about the artistic bent toward self destruction. I recently started reading, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work in an effort to understand how best to channel those creative energies.

That showed a more positive spin on how people organize their days to insure heightened creativity. The key, I think, is what to do to survive fallow periods when you’re not feeling creative. Self preservation is more important than any particular string of well constructed sentences.

The Seventh Sense

People have long talked about the sixth sense being intuition, what some might call extrasensory perception. There’s a great movie, titled, The Sixth Sense, where a young boy can sense the intentions, wishes and desires of the dead. In many ways, belief in the sixth sense has taken the place of belief in a traditionally understood afterlife. Then, of course, there are those who dismiss the sixth sense entirely.

Never before, however, have I heard of a seventh sense. I’m reading The Once and Future King, by T.H. White right now, about the legend of King Arthur, Lancelot, Guenever, and the Knights of the Round Table, and the book mentions a seventh sense. Specifically, it defines the seventh sense in contrast to a different definition of the sixth sense. White writes, “Balance was the sixth sense, which she won when she first learned to walk, and now she has the seventh one–knowledge of the world. The slow discovery of the seventh sense, by which both men and women contrive to ride the waves of a world in which there is war, adultery, compromise, fear, stultification and hypocrisy–this discovery is not a matter for triumph.”

This seventh sense relates to our need to understand our place in the world, to understand our relationship with a God of our understanding, to make peace with the things we will accomplish and the things we will not live to do. I guess you could call it some kind of ordering principle. The interesting thing about the book The Once and Future King is that it tells the King Arthur legend from a modernist perspective. It references contemporary thought and contemporary belief systems. The author further writes, “Middle-aged people can balance between believing in God and breaking all the commandments, without difficulty.”

One reason the King Arthur legend is so powerful and continues to resonate today is that Arthur established a code of conduct, a code of chivalry. This mythical character believed that people ought to behave decently, and his strongest proponent, his most chivalrous knight Lancelot, turned out to be the one to break the code most dramatically by having an affair with Guenever.

In many ways, White establishes the seventh sense as the “grown up” sense. I have long remembered the New American biblical quote, “When I was a child I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child, but when I became a man I did away with childish things.” I did my undergraduate at a Catholic university, and my belief system then was simpler, more well ordered. I look around at the seeming chaos in the world, and realize that now, the trick is to hang on to faith in spite of doubt. There’s a good reason why doubting Thomas has become one of my heroes. That’s why, I suppose, they call it a leap of faith. To put it another way, an author named Julia Cameron wrote a book called, The Artist’s Way, and she said, “Leap and the net will appear.” She is talking more specifically about creative leaps, but isn’t the same thing required in religious terms? When bad things happen to good people, we are called to use our seventh sense, not to abandon faith, but to embrace it all the more.

The Idea Machine

Andy Rooney said it best: “I sit down at my typewriter, or my computer now, and I damn well decide to have an idea. That’s how you get an idea. They do not strike you very often in the middle of the night or when you’re doing something else. . .Ideas are amorphous, but you have to work on having one. The don’t just come out of the blue.”

Today I celebrate six years sober, six years since I last fell down drunk. It’s hard for me to take in that six years ago I traded Budweiser and gin and tonics for a life lived deliberately.

The reason this is relevant to Andy Rooney is that a little over six years ago I had this dream of becoming a writer, this vision of putting one word after another on paper until I had produced a novel, but nothing was getting done. I worried that if I quit drinking, I would no longer be creative, but the hard facts bore out a different truth. Many people out there can have one or two drinks, then sit down at their computer and write. That wasn’t my reality. I had big dreams, but nothing was being done to achieve them.

I’m not saying that everything has been easy since I quit drinking. I still haven’t finished that novel yet, but I have made significant progress. I have also started a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing program at Northwestern University a little over a year ago. It’s been baby steps, but to me baby steps are better than no steps at all.

None of this would have been possible had I been drinking, of that I am sure. For that reason, if for no other, today is an important day for me. There’s that old saying: Do the footwork and leave the results up to God. And Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, says it a different way: “Leap, and the net will appear.” So now, even though it isn’t New Year’s Eve, I renew my commitment to my creativity, and renew my commitment to finishing my novel this coming year.

Wish me luck, if you’re so inclined.

Lately, protest movements have come under fire as superfluous and ineffective in stirring up the masses.  It’s more popular these days to become a radical whether your position makes sense or not.  The general public these days seems less and less interested in radicalism.  Two movements in particular strike me as creating a backlash as to what the causes purport to support:  the protest movement known as Occupy Wall Street as well as the archly conservative Republican Tea Party movement.

If you really want to be Radical, stand up for what you truly believe, even if it doesn’t support the status quo, to a position without feeling the need to take to the streets or shout the loudest in order to register your opinions.  Below are a couple ways to stand firm in your opinions without becoming didactic.

  1. If you happen to be gay, go to church anyway, and if you really want to challenge yourself, attend mass at a Catholic church.
  2. Sign up for a marathon or half marathon, and raise money to support the cause of your choice.  The point is to continue to challenge yourself physically, if you are able.  If not, find other ways to challenge yourself.
  3. Leave a bad, completely broken marriage.   Take a leap of faith, and trust that the net will appear.
  4. Pursue your passions, no matter that the odds may indeed be against you.
  5. Keep in contact or attempt to reconnect with those teachers, mentors, and friends who have most affected you.
  6. Leave behind and let go of hurts that have limited you.  Remember the adage:  I have no interest in returning to the past because I’ve already been there.
  7. Love your parents unconditionally; on the flip side, love and support your children unconditionally as well.
  8. Set limits without preaching, all the while showing love through patience.
  9. Read books and limit the amount of mindless television you watch.
  10. Find idols to influence the way you walk with integrity, dignity, and grace through your life.  Make your time on earth matter.
  11. Quit drinking, even if virtually all your friends disagree with your decision.
  12. Turn your liabilities into assets.
  13. Wait for the right person to come along rather than settling for what’s convenient.
  14. Challenge yourself to go somewhere new instead of following familiar paths.  Take a different route on your daily walk.  Go to see a show or an exhibit.

Please let me know the innumerable radical thoughts and ideas I have missed.  As Robert Frost writes, “Two roads diverged in a woods, and I–I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”