Julia Cameron and her book,The Artist’s Way came out of left field. I was sixty years old, and they change my life.
Perhaps I’ve told this story before. If you’ve heard it, stop reading now.
It shouldn’t have happened. That is, unless you believe in synchronicity. I’m a great believer that the Universe looks after me. Events occur for no apparent reason. They’re significantly related, but have no discernible causal connection. That’s how it was with Julia Cameron and me.
My life was running smoothly when I found her. Or perhaps she was thrust into my path. I was towards the end of a long and successful career in the helping professions. I lived in a pleasant house in a suburb I loved. I had a garden that grew more beautiful every year.
My social life was filled with my large, lovely family and a number of friends. My children continued to present me with grandchildren. Being a grandmother was a role I thrived on. I was content
But, there I was, in the coffee break at an Intergenerational Conference in Perth. A gathering of young and old people, talking about how the world would be a better place if we talked together more, got on better. The conference didn’t really fit with my work as CEO of an advocacy agency for the aged. But the topics appealed to me. I hadn’t been to a conference for a couple of years. I manufactured an excuse to go.
I facilitated a workshop on advocating for the elderly. Sometimes people are too old or frail, or lack confidence, to stand up for themselves. I was inspired by a talk by an author, now my friend, Trisha Kotai-Ewers. Trisha spoke about listening to people suffering from Alztheimers Disease. Actually hearing what they say. The information would inform the work of my advocacy agency into the future.
The second day, a bookstall appeared. It spread along one side of the hall where we had morning tea. I can never resist a bookstall. There were books in all shapes and sizes.
They’re mostly about ageing, I thought, disappointed. I’ll just see if there is anything that might be useful for work.
‘How to age gracefully.’ I’m too young for that. ‘How to care for the elderly.’ I don’t think we need that.
Everything changed. In an instant.
The Artist’s Way stood out. The book has a distinctive cover. Red and tan. An illustration of mountain to be climbed. The subtitle, ‘A Course in Discovering and Recovering your Creative Self’ attracted me. But didn’t buy it. I wasn’t quite ready.
A couple of hours later, I was back at the bookstall. With the book in my hand. Still hesitating. $30. Whatever would I need with a book about living like an artist? I could buy a novel for that price. But Julia Cameron is more powerful than I.
I bought it. Twelve chapters, twelve weeks. Essays, exercises. By turns stimulating and soothing. Provocative. Prompting. Prodding. Probing Over the next twelve weeks, I faithfully spent an hour or so a week with Julia Cameron.
The life I thought was ideal changed. It expanded. Exploded. Everyday tasks became richer, more rewarding. I thought and acted more spontaneously and creatively. Vague ideas for retirement from the workforce crystallised. I had thought about travel, volunteering. Playing with grandchildren. Perhaps joining a craft group.
After my encounter with Julia Cameron, I knew I would enrol in a Masters of Writing program. When I left work I would enrol in a PhD course. I would write a book.
Recently I visited a friend’s new house. He is a screenwriter. On the desk in his study was a battered copy of The Artist’s Way. Obviously well-loved, well used.
My creative life has gone a bit blah lately. Sometimes life’s like that. Prompted by seeing my friend’s book, I dug out my own copy. I’m up to Week Four and working diligently. So far, much of what I’ve read seems new again. I can feel myself changing. In subtle ways.
The Artist’s Way is over twenty years old now. Julia Cameron has written other books. I bought them all. I love her writing. But The Artist’s Way remains my favourite.
Do you have a book that changed your life? Please share in the comments.