The hardest thing about being creative is that life intrudes. But rather than let bills, my job, and those other pressures dictate how I spend my time, this year I thought I'd try an experiment—every day, I'd make, do, or try something new.
Last year, I did Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way—a kind of 12-step program for recovering creatives. (Not that it matters, and this is by no means her only claim to fame, but Julia Cameron used to be married to Martin Scorsese.) I learnt an enormous amount doing her course. But the hardest thing about it was these 'artist dates' you were encouraged to do.
Once a week for 12 weeks, you had to pick something fun to do—it didn't matter what it was. It could be a small or as expansive as you felt comfortable with. Sit on a park bench and people-watch for an afternoon, imagine the opening for a novel you've always wanted to write, take a series of pictures of letter boxes, sign up for a watercolour class, rent your favorite movie, bake a cake while listening to Pet Sounds.
Whatever it was, it couldn't be your usual routine; it had to energise you in some way—push you ever so slightly into the unknown.
Of course, at first, I hated doing them. Every week I'd baulk at the idea or forget to do it, but when I did I was surprised at how much fun it was. Gradually, I got more comfortable and started to see it as a way of finding new ideas, and best of all it was play without risk and, well, it made me feel good.
For Cameron, "Artist Dates are assigned play." They are,
"...a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly 'artistic'—think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration. When choosing an Artist Date, it is good to ask yourself, 'what sounds fun?'—and then allow yourself to try it."
So, now that another year has ticked over, I wondered what would happen if I upped the stakes.
What if I found a slither of time every day—it doesn't matter for how long; five or ten minutes—and made something, tried something, or thought something through? What would happen after I tried it 365 times?
Here's what happened in Week one... I won't share all of my artist dates, but I will check in now and then.
1. Took photos at sunset
I went to the river and took some photos. This effect was made using a slow shutter and rotating the camera at the same time.
2. Played Lego with A.
Made an 'Angry Robot,' and learnt from a four and a half-year-old that Lego has rules. A's mum had told her,
"The more points of contact, the stronger the structure."
'Well, duh! Everyone knows that.'
(I didn't say that really.)
(I double checked this with her mum and she said, "I said the more holes you use the stronger it gets." That's probably what A said. It's better the way I tell it.)
Also, published a new essay, 'Ta Done!'
3. Played around with an idea
Brainstormed a few ideas for a children's book. I have no plans to write one, but an idea came to me that seemed cute, and I thought I'd play with it and see where it goes.
4. Started a new guitar piece
Love this piece, so I started learning it. It's probably going to take me forever (but I said that about the last one, and it didn't take too long).
5. Took a photo of a cloud
It was the hottest day in January on record in Perth in 23 years. These great behemoths of clouds kept a lot of the heat in. I took photos of them.
6. Wrote a fragment
Today was the first day back at work, and the most likely time I'd renege on my 365 commitment.
I had lunch with my workmates by the river. It was hot and there were about twenty kids going crazy in the water. They were jumping off pontoons, splashing around and yelling at each other. Others were playing on the shore—making sandcastles, playing catch, or huddling in groups devising new rules for games they'd just invented.
The four of us sat at a picnic table at a cafe nearby, looking longingly at the densely packed Where's Wally? scene of summer fun and frivolity, and one of us said, "God I wish I was out there, a kid, spending the whole day swimming."
We all sighed in agreement.
Then Elaine said, "You know, the best thing is that kids just do things for fun or because it feels good—like rolling down a hill."
There was something about what she said that captured my imagination. The rest of the group continued chatting about how our inhibitions increase as we get older.
While they talked, I got out my notebook and scribbled down a few fragments of the conversation.
The thing that captured me was the intensity of feeling I had in that moment. It was like some spark of understanding was being illustrated by twenty kids going nuts in the background, with one kid running past us yelling 'Hey, look, look!', holding a giant jellyfish in his hands.
Sitting here now, I'm struggling to understand why writing about this moment constitutes an artist date, but I think I know what it is.
When I take pictures, it's like this 'Ah ha' moment, a strike of lighting. I see something that gives me some sensual pleasure—and by this I mean 'of the senses'. I see something that strikes me in a certain way, andbefore I know what it is, I quickly pull out my phone or my camera as a reflex to catch it before it flitters away.
I feel the same impulse with writing too sometimes, but don't often give in to it.
But following these impulses is recapturing what kids do— 'doing something because it's fun or it feels good.'
So writing this moment down was artist date No. 6. My finding Wally Where's Wally? moment. My shouting and running with jellyfish.
7. Watched four shorts by Pes
Watched four short films and a five minute 'making of' doco by the stop-motion filmmaker, Pes.
A nice end to Week one.