Showing Up at the Page

Years ago, at the recommendation of one of my favorite college professors, I read The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. I was standing on the edge of a big change in my life, as I prepared to finish my college career and venture into adulthood. There’s something about that time that’s terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. I already had a job arranged for after graduation, and I knew what I was going to be doing… kinda. But at the same time, I was scared out of my mind. Up to that point I had been fully engaged in this huge education machine. 

But I was going to get off of the machine. I was going to jump off of that machine. And I couldn’t see where I’d land — that chapter hadn’t been written yet.

Most of my friends were going on to graduate schools — engineering, business, Ph.D. programs, medical school. I had almost followed that path, because of the pressure of Duke and the types of students that make it through that system. I bought into it for most of my four years there, and I had survived. Then, about 2/3 of the way through my junior year of college, I had an identity crisis.

For years, I had known I wanted to go to dental school.

For years, I had known I wanted to then either go into orthodontics or to medical school to learn how to be an oral/maxillofacial surgeon. I had worked for a summer with an oral surgeon and loved it.

But then, I don’t know what happened. One day, I came back from my heavy science courseload and looked at that pile of MCAT and DAT applications that were sealed and ready to go in the mail, and just thought, “No. Not for me.”

All of the prerequisite boxes had been checked off or scheduled, except for Biochemistry, which I had decided I would take second semester senior year.

No. Not for me. No. Not for me.

The relief that I felt saying those four simple words was… incredible. My friends were horrified. Gobsmacked. They thought I had lost my mind.

If I didn’t go on to dental or medical school, I wouldn’t have to give up performing onstage, which I had had to stop doing in order to graduate on time.

If I didn’t go on to dental or medical school, I wouldn’t have to give up singing in groups, which I had had to do after my own TMJ surgery had damaged my hearing and shaken my confidence in my ability to harmonize.

If I didn’t go on to dental or medical school, I could finish my last year of college taking classes that I wanted to take, like Creative Writing, instead of classes that I had to take to check off another box, like Biochemistry.

I tore up the checks written to the testing companies, and threw away the test applications.

No. Not for me.

But it was shortly followed by terror. If not dental school, not medical school… then what, exactly?

So I went to have lunch with my former professor, and he told me about The Artist’s Way. As a summary, it’s a 12-Step Program (based somewhat on the AA’s 12 Steps) to Creative Recovery. The main ideas: “Leap, and the net will appear,” a quotation attributed to naturalist John Burroughs, and “Show up at the page.”

Leap, and the net will appear. Stephen encouraged me to just trust in the path’s ability to find me, and not so much the other way around. The exercises and suggestions in Cameron’s book took me even further. Every time I stand at the edge of something big, I remember these words. The selvedges of the Cotton+Steel Mustang fabric line by Melody Miller  have these words printed on them, so I cut a piece and taped it to my sewing machine and see the mantra every time I sit down. 

Sometimes the path has to find me, but I have to be willing to let go.

Show up at the page. This is what Cameron says again and again in the book, mostly about how to get back into the habit of creative thinking: â€œI learned to just show up at the page and write down what I heard,” she writes. The fundamental piece of the steps in the Artist’s Way are the Morning Pages — the 3 pages of long-hand writing that you are to do every morning. Just show up and write.

When I went through the Artist’s Way — once in college, and twice since — I didn’t do my pages in the morning… Morning isn’t a great time for me, so I never feel relaxed then. Trying to shoehorn 3 pages of writing into my mornings would have just made me irritable and cranky, with one more thing on my to-do list. So I wrote mine at night. But I showed up, dutifully, and they really were magic.

This month, I’m going to try to show up at the page. Sometimes, I’ll just have images to share about what I’m doing. Sometimes I’ll just write. Sometimes I might even be organized and have both. I won’t promise that it’ll be about quilting every day, but this blog didn’t start out that way anyway. But I’ll try to show up every day.

I’m not standing at the edge of a big career change this time or anything, but I will say that the past year has opened doors to me that I didn’t know were there before. If writing here can somehow help the path find me, then fantastic. And if not, I’ll have an interesting record of a time in my life. That’s cool too.