Tag Archives: Julia Cameron


Untitled by Cy Twombly


Inside myself is a place where I live all alone and that’s where you renew your springs that never dry up.” Pearl Buck

Traveling east in a van on Rt. 188 the earth turned red and glacial boulders, large and rounded, studded the hills. Behind us was San Diego, ahead was more of this mountainous landscape as we twisted on a narrow winding road between the desert and the sea. Tecate, a city that straddles both sides of the border, is where we disembarked. And there, with Customs officers and the formidable wall behind us, we were ensconced for a week in Rancho La Puerta, a sprawling Wellness Resort and Spa in Baja California, Mexico.

It isn’t on every trip that we carry intentions, but that’s precisely what I’d brought with me. The intention to resume daily meditation practice after all these years, and to paint and draw again. In this way I arrived at a place I’d never been before in hopes of finding some things I’d lost along the way: a Transcendental Meditation(TM) mantra long forgotten, and a hand in art that, over the years, had given way to writing. 

There began the inner journey. “When we engage in a creative recovery,” writes Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way, “we enter into a withdrawal process from life as we know it. Withdrawal is another way of saying detachment or nonattachment, which is emblematic of consistent work with any meditation practice.” Much like checking passports into the safe, our cell phones were tucked away for the week. I know I’m not alone in saying I left sleepless nights over the war in Ukraine back in the states. War doesn’t go away; we were just less embedded in it. 

Brick paths wound through 32 acres of naturalized gardens in the 4000 acre chaparral landscape, and our casita was a good distance from everything, by design. Walking like that, in nature and by oneself, is meditative in itself. The rituals I treasured all week were Morning Pages, Meditation, Poetry as meditation prompts, and Sound Healing. I learned the simple truth that all meditation works, it needn’t be TM. I bypassed spa treatments, avoided arduous exercise, and walked endlessly. 

A labyrinth in the woods called to me. My creative life was nothing if not a spiral path.

Every writer will know that The Censor is something we deal with constantly in an effort to keep her out of the room. The Censor is perfectionism. So what did she do but grab her post over the years as guardian at the door of artwork. I couldn’t get in. Here at The Ranch sat a sweet little art studio, empty most of the time, full of supplies, and a sympathetic instructor who strolled through now and then. Somehow I gave myself permission, and from then on nothing could keep me out.

There is so much joy in painting like a three year old again! Drawing is harder, but I worked at it, loving that the instructor called gum erasures “Prozac for artists.” Like Morning Pages there were no good drawings or bad drawings. It doesn’t matter at all; it only matters that I’m doing it. I’ve got this! I thought. 

I had to come all that way to unblock—and now I had to figure how to bring it all home with me: the meditation practice and the practice of making art. The week was ending and as if on cue the climate was warming, time for me to migrate north. A writing hut awaits me on San Juan Island, which will now be shared with sketchbooks, charcoal, kneeded gum erasures, blending stumps, brushes and watercolors. Oh what a happy little hut it will be. 

Like the Englishman who went up a hill but came down a mountain, from here on out I’ll be painting and drawing if not writing.


Filed under art, meditation, perfectionism, wellness Resort

Saddle Up

H Pic-1

Forget twelve-step programs, it’s three-steps for me just to get out of bed and “take on the day.” Let me explain.

Step 1. Morning Pages. I’ve been faithfully practicing this since I started, say fifteen years ago. The program as taught by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way is a spiritual life-saver. Can’t recommend it enough.

Step 2. Simple Abundance, by Sarah Ban Breathnach. Daily meditations and the keeping of a gratitude journal start each day off on the right foot (i.e. attitude).

Step 3. A Year with Thomas Merton: Daily Meditations from His Journals. This is a new one for me. I’ve added these gems from his journals because, like Anne LaMott, I find Thomas Merton “an incredible source of light and comfort and humor.” And although neither Anne nor I are particularly Catholic, I’m sure that she, like me, is pleased as punch with Pope Francis. And so on January 1, 2014 I added Thomas Merton’s meditations as the third step in getting out of bed, and haven’t missed a day yet.

When so many New Year’s Resolutions go down the drain, maybe we have been calling them by the wrong name. What if we thought instead of having aspirations? Let’s look for something desired, rather than the medicinal taste “resolution” leaves in our mouths. I mean, who even uses that word anymore? And we’ve all been around enough to know that, year after year, a resolution is never really resolved. Cynicism becomes us.

What if, instead, we were to be gentle with ourselves and grow what is working? Expand on what we are doing well. Do more of it. Piggyback complementary habits to it. I’m just thinking this might make all the difference in the world.

I had the first two steps going, and all I had to do was add the third. This is what I mean by piggybacking. Habits are learned through practice, and the best way I’ve found is to strap a new one onto a trusty old saddle. And let them go riding out together…

But please don’t call it “resolution” or you’ll never get anywhere. Call it desire, yearning or longing. Call it aspiration, leaning, longing. Call it something you would want. Then maybe on this second week in January we would not only remember what it was we had vowed to do, but we  could be practicing it.

Just know that in my case, it’s taking half the morning to get out the door to, you know, take on the day.


Filed under New Year Resolutions

Just Doing It

How to be your own personal trainer. I should be able to do this. Look at how I have taken to writing. First thing in the morning, before getting dressed, before going online or going anywhere, I write my Morning Pages. And while I hope to make more of a dent in the writing world than just being a disciple of Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way,” I find a certain comfort in that. What else would explain why I have practiced it for more than a dozen years?

Sitting each day for Morning Pages is my zazen.

Now I am hoping to bring about another practice in the form of physical exercise. The longer I live, the more connections I see between things. Walking, writing, they are the same. In writing and in walking I am making the same expression in different mediums.

“We live as we move,” writes Julia Cameron, “a step at a time, and there is something in gentle walking that reminds me of how I must live if I am to savor this life I have been given.”

I have started with walking the 4.3 miles of The Loop daily, no ifs, ands, or buts. https://alittleelbowroom.com/2013/04/03/the-loop/

At one time I had a personal trainer. Well, I hired a friend to walk with me. Not that I don’t love to walk, I do. But this was different. She was younger, thinner, more fit than I, and faster. Whereas I am basically a browser and overly interested in homes and gardens.

One of the first things she insisted on was that I leave my little dog at home. I felt bad about that, but there would be no sniffing around in the bushes or wandering off in the grass for us. We had to hightail it every step of the way.

There is nothing like the power of the knock on the door. A personal trainer comes to your place and there is nowhere to hide and no way out. Throw in the friendship factor, and I didn’t want to inconvenience her by canceling. So I never did. Whereas left to my own devices I can come up with a million reasons why I haven’t the time: the house needs cleaning, the garden needs weeding, the manuscript needs editing, or I can convince myself that what I really need is a nap.

Now my friend has moved and I am on my own again, trying to make it happen every day. My technique is to pretend that I am her, not me. I know all my tricks too well: the penchant for short-cuts, the stop-in-my-tracks gazing at view. In other words, I have to be her to push me. It’s still a joint effort.

Then, with The Loop under my belt, I find I go out of my way to add as many more miles as I can in the course of the day. As in, one good turn deserves another. Here I think like a NYC woman, or think environmentally, and walk everywhere I can. It helps to live in a city or live in a town, but that market may be closer than you realize.

Hoping I will become as addicted to my mileage stats as I am to my blog stats on the WordPress website, my tech savvy daughters have given me a fitbit to track myself each day. Again: walking, writing, it’s the same thing. I’m getting it, really I am.


Filed under walking

Having Babies

Everyone remembers their first time. Where they were. The time of day. The anticipation…. I remember my first time. Where I was: at home. Who was home: no one, I had the house to myself. How I had waited! Holding it, loving it, and finally, just content to have it in my arms.

It was some time before I even considered opening the envelope.

I am talking about the first time I received a manuscript to read. Deliveries such as this usually come Fed Ex. Chances are you requested it, or the writer asked you to be an early reader. Either way, it’s flattering. To be that trusted and to know that your opinion is valued. To be afforded a look before all the world can see it.

The first friend who sent me a manuscript—it was also her first novel—had to know what a thrill it was. As an aspiring writer myself, I studied her words and the way she put them together. I studied how the manuscript was printed and bound, the illustration she had found for the cover, and the care with which she had selected her title. I read passages over and over, and made notes on the double-spaced, single-sided pages, as she requested. I felt I was part of a book launch. And I was deeply jealous.…

She is the one who spurred me on in writing. I was between coasts and between arts at the time, and she prescribed Julia Cameron’s “The Artists Way,” a course I have been practicing now for fourteen years and counting. Writing grounded me. I found I loved it more than anything. Whatever else I may do, I know now that I will write my way through.

Then I lost her. Her life went into flux. A name change, a move…. and now I am trying to find her. She needs to know that I still believe in her novel and am always keeping an eye out for it. More than anything, I hope to hear that she is writing. And I want to thank her for changing the course of my life.

The most recent manuscript to land on my lap came electronically, of course, but I printed it up nevertheless. This baby weighed in at a healthy 9 lbs. I say “baby” because a book may be the closest thing to having a baby that a man can have. This one is a memoir. A memoir that moved me to places no one would ever want to go, places we didn’t know existed. And took me inside what it must be to be a nine, thirteen, and fourteen year old boy, a dear boy at that. I wanted to rescue him at every turn.

In the end, at 3 am, I sat there stunned, in my house so quiet, his manuscript upon my lap. Finding it incredulous that my friend had lived through it once, and then again in the writing. A writer lives twice.


Filed under memoir

The Loop

Seattle_-_Queen_Anne_Boulevard_mapI walk because a little flower can bring me to my senses, turn the world right side up, and give balance. Just that, the perfect, or imperfect, little plant. With nature one just has to be there, to be very present.

Nature is my religion and walking pulls me along like prayer. Particularly in spring when the set changes so fast. The orchestration of bulbs pushing up, magnolia tree blossoms on high opening like a stretch and a yawn, and wild roses scrambling to position themselves alongside a fence. Whether we garden or not, spring is reward time. Daffodils double on their own, birds carry seeds, and things hop around by wind.

I live on a hilltop in the city of Seattle ringed by a historic four mile loop. “The loop,” as it’s called, is well treed, well tred, and many of us walk or run it faithfully. To walk the loop is to indulge in everything from close-up (plants and wildlife), to midrange (architecture), and most distant: spectacular views of the city skyline, Mt. Rainier, The Sound and Olympic Mountains on one side, Lake Union and The Cascades on the other. A painter’s paradise, as all of the waterscapes are backed by mountains, and from the vantage point of Queen Anne, Mt. Rainier looms like a backdrop over downtown. This was the view in the television series, “Frasier.”

Walking clears the head. What you can leave at home is immense. On this day: concern about my father’s lingering cough, discouragement that our efforts for gun control seem to be backfiring, fear of N. Korea’s blustery “state of war” declaration, and a blog to write—as if that is going to help anything.

Anyway, it’s a start. For I am walking away from all that and toward…. Well, we’ll see.

“As artists, we are like beachcombers,” Julia Cameron observes, “walking the tide line, pocketing the oddments washed ashore—some small stray thing will tell us a story to tell the world.” And story, as we know, is what moves life along and gives it meaning.

My walking companion, the young friend I’ve hired as a personal trainer, shared stories of her eight year old daughter, Eleanor. I don’t need to tell you that for parents, these were some of the best years of our lives. And out of the blue, as her stories evolved, there came an explosion of wonderfully old fashioned names for girls, all friends of Eleanor’s, an old fashioned name as well. A world of classmates and girlfriends by the names of Penelope, Hazel, Clementine, Scarlett, Beatrice, Isabella and Madeline!

Don’t tell me I’m alone in finding this delightful?

You have to know, the older I get the more I feel I belong to that world, and it is of course eroding under my feet…. In many ways I am but a polar bear on an ice floe. But if there are three things I can do they are: to worship nature, to walk, and to write.

Forget the NRA. Forget Kim Jong Un. Today’s walk was suddenly worth it for this, the pleasure of these wonderfully old fashioned names. There’s a story there and I will write it.


Filed under old fashioned names