My inspiration had vanished. After decades of lifestyle writing, I’d lost my confidence that the right words would come. My imagination was as unyielding as black earth after a frost.
As tonic for my writer’s block, I sought out Julia Cameron’s beautiful guidebook The Artist’s Way: Creativity as a Spiritual Practice. Day one’s prescription looked simple enough: handwritten spontaneous thoughts, to be tackled at first light. What instead appeared in my bedside journal was dreadful: a “dear diary” unholy mess.
Recently, an old friend urgently requested that we reconnect. I had agreed on condition that going forward we practise gratitude. Too frequently in the past, our conversations descended into negativity. With fresh intent we began anew, but soon the dark pattern reasserted itself. Duly I recorded every misstep in the journal, my stung feelings and anger toward my friend. “How can this be happening?” I furiously wrote. As I read back my scrawl, the answer jumped out: my friend was deeply, clinically troubled and hubris had drawn me back to play helper. Seeing it on the page showed plainly that the best I could offer my friend was prayer.
Rather than edit this drama, I instead turned to the back of my journal and wrote out a grocery list. Tossing the book into my bag, I headed out to shop. Later, unloading the car, I discovered my journal was gone. “What’s wrong?” my husband asked. I could barely respond. Where did I lose the notebook? How could I have been so careless? I felt exposed, scalded by shame.
Down with the flu, I did not return to the grocer’s for a week. With faint hope, I made my way to the woman behind the customer service counter. Please, God, let it be here. Barely able to look up, I told the woman I’d lost a pink journal. She walked away and soon returned, looking concerned. “Is everything there?” she asked, handing me my book. Yes! The bookmark, the pen: it was all there, but what did I care? My terrible story was no longer lost in space.
“I want you to know,” she said, “I didn’t let anyone read your journal. I told everyone on staff, ‘We have to respect this person’s privacy.’ I didn’t let anyone open your book.” Delirious with relief, I tearfully took the woman’s hand. “It was just an exercise,” I stammered. “It wasn’t even writing; it was just a purge. You have no idea.”
And then I said, “I love you!” It came out, just like that. It seemed like the thing to do. She patted my hand. “I love you too,” she said. Just like that.
Spirit’s shy and graceful blessing had arrived. With the alchemy of The Artist’s Way, I was reminded of the value of our heartfelt stories, however imperfect. More importantly, Spirit showed me how vital it is to have sanctuary for those stories. Whether that safe place momentarily resides with another human being or with God, honouring our stories is, in some way, critical to our healing.
And Cameron’s next chapter? “Recovering a Sense of Safety.”
Monica Renée Duncan is a writer in Loretto, Ont.
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