Q&A with FTB Blogger Megan Rahm, Author of Free to Roam: Poems from a Heathen Mommy

FTB From the Ashes of Faith blogger Megan Rahm’s poetry collection, Free to Roam: Poems from a Heathen Mommy, was released last week.  I spoke with Megan about her book, which is published by Freethought House.

Freethinking Ahead: The poems in your collection, Free to Roam, examine what it means to be a nonbeliever in a believing society, particularly what it means to be a woman and a parent. Why did you choose poetry as a medium for this exploration? And what do you hope your readers come away with after reading your collection, especially if they tend toward prose rather than poetry?

Megan Rahm: I have only been writing poetry for about two years. It was something I was experimenting with and enjoyed very much at the time I began writing the book. Using poetry for Free to Roam felt like creating a mosaic out of little bits and pieces of stories. I felt it worked very well to give an overview of my life as an atheist mother.

I think my poetry is different from the work of many present-day poets. I feel a lot of poems are difficult to decipher. I want to make art with my poetry, but I want it to make sense, too. This is why I think people who tend toward prose might enjoy my poetry.

I still really enjoy writing poetry and I’m currently writing erotic as well as inspirational poems.

FTA: The image of curls appears again and again in your collection. In the first section, “Curls and Cornfields,” we see curls that “burn,” “hit the earth,” and “screamed / as they were straightened.” Later in the book, curls appear again, this time in hopeful form, for example in “The Curls” in which “they are a part / of something radiant— / a little girl.” We see them again in “Weekend Aftermath,” “Alphabet Soup,” and “Dance for Strangers” in this joyful light.

I was struck by a sense of returning, as curls wind around and seem to return to a starting place but not quite. What sparked your use of the curls images, and did your view of the image change as you wrote the poems in the book?

MR: I chose to use curls because my daughter and I both had curly hair. I say “had” because since writing the book my daughter’s hair has gotten a lot longer and her curls have grown out.

When I was little my family made a big deal out of my curly blonde hair. When I was older I was always trying to straighten my hair to fit in with the other girls at school. Now I consider my curls a part of my identity and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I feel bad for trying to straighten them in the past.

In “Curls and Cornfields” I talked about being raised in a conservative rural area where I often felt trapped. I was different from everyone else and I didn’t think I would ever make it out. That’s why my curls took so much abuse in that section. It symbolizes the judgment I received from others.

Later in the book, I talk about my daughter’s curls as something joyful and innocent. I would describe my daughter as a free spirit, a state she’s in free of judgment. She doesn’t mind being silly, funny, and trying new things. I felt the opposite growing up. My daughter is growing up in a place that is way more diverse than where I grew up. I’m hoping that in a way that might make her feel comfortable in her own skin.

FTA: The poems follow a chronological path from childhood to adulthood into parenthood. Did you write them in roughly the order you have them in the book, or did you move around in time as you wrote each poem? What surprised you most in writing and ordering the book?

The poems were written mostly out of order. My poems often start out as words and phrases from whatever is on my mind. Then they tend to have a life of their own. I think it would have been impossible to write anything in order.

MR: What really surprised me about the book was how well the sections worked. I can’t believe I could come up with something structured out of an unorganized pile of poems. I had an end goal but I was surprised when everything worked out so well.

FTA: Which poets do you enjoy reading? Are there any poets who were particularly influential to you as a freethinking poet and a “Heathen Mommy”?

MR: It seems challenging to find freethinking poets, but I really enjoy the work of Mark Doty and Sharon Olds.

Creativity for Skeptics Episode 11: The Artist’s Way Week Five Recap and Week Six Preview

In this episode of Creativity for Skeptics, I’ll recap week five of The Artist’s Way and preview week six. Since task #5 involves sending postcards, I mention A Month of Letters at lettermo.com.  Transcript below.

Or download here.

Transcript:

Hello, skeptical creatives and creative skeptics. Tammy here. This is episode eleven of Creativity for Skeptics. Another quick one today, just recap of week five of The Artist’s Way, and a preview of week six.

How did your week five go?

My major light bulb moment wasn’t from the tasks or from the Morning Pages, but from the Artist Date. Or the thing I’m calling an Artist Date because of the pandemic but wouldn’t otherwise call an Artist Date.

On Friday, I had to run some errands in a part of town that I used to go to daily, but I haven’t driven through for almost a year. It was weirdly familiar, but enough of it had changed that it wasn’t quite. Anyway, why am I calling this an Artist Date? First off, it was the most “out of the house” I’ve been all week, so there’s that.

Second is the aha moment I mentioned. For me, and maybe for you too, the pandemic sheltering in place and physical distancing has changed the way I think about where I am. Before all this, if I were driving somewhere, if you ask me if I’m in place A or if I’m just driving through place A, I’d say I’m just passing through. Now, it’s different. Maybe because I haven’t been there in a while, I felt more present even just driving through. The upshot of all this is that because of the pandemic, being somewhere in my car feels more like being there than it did previously. I’m curious about how you’re affected by a sense of place after nearly a year of sheltering in place.

On to week six. The first section, “The Great Creator” section is, of course, full of god-talk. But as I’m rereading this, I kept thinking, “This isn’t an artist problem, this is an America problem.” If you’re listening from outside the US, I’m curious about whether or not this first section resonates with you.

I do love the “Luxury” section, just pay attention to the idea of authentic luxury and luxury’s connection to play. The two exercises are helpful as well, but the first one, about counting what you spend, that will be interesting for a lot of us when we’re trying to be out as little as possible.

Again, great tasks for this week. In a nice coincidence with task #5, February happens to be A Month of Letters, and I’ll link to that in the show notes. It’s just lettermo.com. For years, I’ve said, I’m going to do that, and I never have, so maybe I’ll do five days this week.

So that’s it from me today. If you have any questions about creativity you’d like me to address, feel free to send me an email, info@tdwalker.net. Or post a comment over at my blog, freethoughtblogs.com/freethinkingahead

Thanks for listening to Creativity for Skeptics. For more information about the show or to listen to past episodes, go to creativityforskeptics.com. We’ll talk creativity again soon.

Creativity for Skeptics Episode Ten: The Artist’s Way Week Four Recap and Week Five Preview

It’s Episode Ten of Creativity for Skeptics: The Artist’s Way Week Four Recap and Week Five Preview (and a recommendation).  Transcript below.

Or download here.

Hello, skeptical creatives and creative skeptics. Tammy here. This is episode nine of Creativity for Skeptics. In this episode, I’m going to take a slightly different approach to The Artist’s Way to recap week four and preview week five. At the end of this episode, I will have a plug for a poetry book I think you should check out, but for now let’s talk morning pages, or really, lack thereof. And energy. Also lack thereof.

Morning pages didn’t happen for me this week. And when I look at the check in, I see Julia Cameron’s huge accusation there, “Tantrums often show up as skipping the morning pages.” Okay, fine. But skipping the morning pages doesn’t necessarily mean you’re having a tantrum. In my case, it’s just that I’ve been running especially low on energy the past few weeks. I think the main idea I want to get at here is that just because X can cause Y, X isn’t necessarily the cause of Y. When you, like me, have multiple chronic health problems and things hurt and you’re tired and a bit foggy oh, yeah, there’s still a pandemic going on and a lot of people aren’t behaving as if there’s a pandemic going on, you’re probably not having a tantrum if you skip the morning pages.

All that to say, be gentle on yourself. If you skip things, if you need to skip things, be gentle on yourself.

Anyway, I did have an artist date, which involved me and my younger kid watching travel videos about London. Our main takeaways are that I want window boxes filled with flowers and she wants to go to the country that has that many unicorns on its signs. Me, too, kid. Me, too.

And to the tasks. I’ve been working to change my environment to better suit my creative work. Unfortunately, I’m making a giant seemingly intractable mess in the process, but I’m getting there. I have been making piles of clothes to donate and things to trash or recycle or just give away, and it’s freeing. I’m just not there yet. Anyway, if you’re kind of in the same place as I am, know that you’re not along and I’m cheering for you.

So, how did your week four go? I’d love to hear about it. I’d love to hear what you did last week for an artist date and anything you have planned. Leave a comment at freethoughtblogs.com/freethinkingahead or send me an email, info@tdwalker.net Or if you’d like to share your thoughts on the artist date, what you did, how it went, you can record a clip and send it along. I’ll play selected clips on upcoming episodes.

On to week five. Lots of God/creator talk in this week. The section “The Virtue Trap” is difficult territory, but well worth sticking with. I wish I’d paid more attention to this earlier in my life and left a bad several years-long relationship sooner, left a bad job sooner, left a bad career sooner. But I’m at the point in my life where I know that giving myself time makes me a better writer and a better parent, a better partner, a better person. Do complete the joys and wishes 101 to 103, and you might surprise yourself.

Tasks for this week start off with one that makes no sense for a non-believer, but I love Julia Cameron’s focus on images. I got on Instagram a while ago to try to focus more on the visual details of my world, and the tasks this week fit with that for me.

I don’t like the “Ten items I’d like to own” because right now, I’m trying to purge the house of things and clutter, and this exercise feels like it works against that idea. That said, and this is something I’m going to do an episode on later, after The Artist’s Way weeks, I encountered this idea about the difference between owning beautiful things and experiencing beautiful things, and that so resonated with me. So, it’s the idea that it’s better to have a painting in a museum where thousands of people can see it, can experience its beauty or shock or thoughtfulness, whatever it invokes, than to own a painting that only you can ever see. I’ll go into more detail on that and how it relates to creativity in another episode. But for now, I’ll just say that the things I want to own are more along the lines of “airline tickets to some city with fantastic museums.” And maybe postcards from that trip.

Now, time for a recommendation. I read an ARC (an advanced readers copy) of my fellow Freethought Blogs blogger Megan Rahm’s new poetry book, Free to Roam: Poems from a Heathen Mommy, published by Freethought House and available on February 2, so a couple days from when I’m recording this. A fascinating look at the journey of a woman who struggled as a child with her surrounding religious community and how that awareness of her own beliefs shapes her relationship with her own daughter. I recommend it, and I’ll have a Q&A with Megan posted on my blog in the coming weeks. I’ll post a link to the book in the shownotes.

So that’s it from me today. If you have any questions about creativity you’d like me to address, feel free to send me an email, info@tdwalker.net. Or post a comment over at my blog, freethoughtblogs.com/freethinkingahead

Thanks for listening to Creativity for Skeptics. For more information about the show or to listen to past episodes, go to creativityforskeptics.com. We’ll talk creativity again soon.

Creativity for Skeptics Episode 9: The Artist’s Way Week Three Recap and Week Four Preview

In episode 9 of Creativity for Skeptics, I’ll recap week three of The Artist’s Way and preview week four. Transcript is below.

Or download here.

Transcript:

Hello, skeptical creatives and creative skeptics. Tammy here. This is episode nine of Creativity for Skeptics. In this episode, I’ll share my experiences with week three of The Artist’s Way as well as preview week four. Keeping this one short again this week yet again, no intro or outro or recommendation.

And what a week it was. Here in the US, I think there was a collective moment of peace when the storm was over, we have a new President now. But, to extend that metaphor, now’s the time we have to look outside and see what damage there is that we have to fix. And we have to acknowledge that for so many Americans, the storm is far from over, the storm has never subsided for them.

I think my own creative journey has paralleled my social and political journey. That manifests itself in the political science fiction stories that I’ve written and the blog posts I write, but it’s also in the fact that I feel like I can speak out now, especially to elected officials. There’s a lot that I write that isn’t directly political, but it informs my work no matter what I write.

It’s been an exhausting week for other reasons too. Some good reasons. I attended an online Zoom for a local writers’ group, and it was wonderful and everyone was lovely and after meeting with a dozen new people, I want to sleep for a week. Like I said, I’m an introvert.

I do want to note here that I gave a talk on Creativity for Skeptics for Freethought Blogs in 2020, which was a reprise of a talk I gave in 2018 for Fellowship of Freethought Dallas. I talk about our need for community in that one, and I may devote an episode to that soon. And also, I think after the twelve Artist’s Way episodes, I’ll grab the audio from the 2020 version and post that in the feed.

Heading back toward The Artist’s Way. Another little personal note. One thing that I like about Julia Cameron’s tasks is that it’s a lot of list making. I love lists. I live my life through little daily lists and grander yearly lists. It’s how I get stuff done.

Anyway, what’s this got to do with creativity? I’m working on a series of sonnets that I’d like to craft into my next poetry chapbook, and the work I did on a few preliminary poems was in the direction I wanted to go, but there was something not grounded in the physical experience of the woman I was writing about.

So, I’m making lists for her. I make pages and pages of notes for each poem I write–like a ten line poem, I can write pages that I hone into those ten lines. But this is different. I’m starting not from the arc of any story I want to tell, any emotional and intellectual movement from one point to another, which is what I usually do. This is more me looking at the stuff around the speaker of these poems. What does she hold on to? Why? What is meaningful to her, particularly in light of the losses she contemplates in the poems? So, lists. That’s one way doing the tasks has helped me in a larger project. I’ll report back on this way of going about composing the poems, if it worked any better or not.

I’m also making a list, a spreadsheet really, of agents. Which is the more intimidating list, but it’s a list. It’s a start, right?

So, week three. No morning pages, no artist date. I’m wondering if that happened to a lot of us this week. Anyway, I did do tasks, and I wanted to note a couple things. First, task number four, one of my bad habits is scrolling through social media. I’m on Instagram as a writer, and honestly, I don’t know what I’m doing there. I wanted to use it as a chance to get more in touch with the visual, rather than just words. But thinking about social media, my platform or whatever, that’s become less about presenting my work and more about a thing I can worry about so I’m not working. Anyway, I’d be curious to know whether social media would make it into the list of bad habit examples if Julia Cameron rewrote this for the 2020s.

Also, was anyone else just grossed out by the treats in task three? Some things I would have happily eaten as a kid–like fruit-flavored candy–those are not a food item. Also, mac and cheese. Which garnered negative associations for me in my 20s, and which I now refer to as acrimony and cheese. Anyway, I’m making a peach cobbler, which was something I liked as a kid and something I still consider a food item.

So, how did your week three go? I’d love to hear about it. I’d love to hear what you did last week for an artist date and anything you have planned. Leave a comment at freethoughtblogs.com/freethinkingahead. Or if you’d like to share your thoughts on the artist date, what you did, how it went, you can record a clip and send it along. I’ll play selected clips on upcoming episodes.

Anyway, on to week four. Lots of good stuff in the first section, “Honest Changes.” I think “okay” which she talks about in this section is a word I’m going to remove from my day-to-day use. There’s a powerful paragraph on page 82, one worth focusing on: “[…] creativity is grounded in reality, in particular, the focused, the particularly observed or specifically imagined.” This goes back to my poem lists, and it’s definitely a “this is why I love this book” moment. In spite of the woo in this section.

The “Buried Dreams” section contains a useful exercise. But I’m not convinced by the “Reading Deprivation.” Two things. First, I don’t think I’m the person she’s talking to here. I read at night and it feels like a luxury. I’m not getting lost in others’ words to avoid my own, if that makes sense. I think that’s a lot to do with why I don’t watch TV, though.

Which leads me to number two. If you’re not reading, I’d think it would be easy to plop in front of the television or scroll through social media. Which isn’t about doing something active. Her list is about doing things, experiencing things, and if you use reading not to do things, then I can see the point of this exercise. But my days as a stay at home and homeschooling parent are filled with the sort of “doing” she lists. We paint, we putter in the garden, we do math and science and read. We dance and sew. And in the evenings, after all that, I write. Only after the day’s work has been done, do I read. So, I don’t know, if you’re like me, maybe this won’t do much for you. This is just something to think about.

Tasks, lots of good stuff here. Number four reminds me so much of Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own.” If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to do so. Also, I’m trying not to laugh at number seven. A “small vacation” isn’t happening right now.

So that’s it from me today. If you have any questions about creativity you’d like me to address, post a comment over at my blog, freethoughtblogs.com/freethinkingahead

Thanks for listening to Creativity for Skeptics. For more information about the show or to listen to past episodes, go to creativityforskeptics.com. We’ll talk creativity again soon.

Creativity for Skeptics Episode Eight: The Artist’s Way Week Two Recap and Week Three Preview

In episode 8 of Creativity for Skeptics, I’ll recap week two of The Artist’s Way and preview week three.  Transcript is below.

Or download here.

Transcript:

Hello, skeptical creatives and creative skeptics. Tammy here. This is episode eight of Creativity for Skeptics. In this episode, I’ll share my experiences with week two of The Artist’s Way as well as preview week three. Keeping this one short again this week, no intro or outro or recommendation. Just the minimum, because sometimes, you have to go with that, right?

How did your week go? Mine could have been better, but it was pretty low energy all around. I did finish the third draft of the mystery I’m working on, and it’s off to beta readers after I get this to you.

Morning pages happened, but my artist date, which involved looking through the half dozen seed catalogs didn’t do much for me. First off, I just really want to go to a garden center or a nursery, and I can’t.

Second, I looked up some plants online and ended up reading reviews and there’s nothing like reading lackluster reviews of gorgeous sunflowers I want to plant to push me out of the childlike wonder that artist dates are supposed to engender.

Also, I have this vision of walls of sunflowers. Some of them would be up against the house to make up for the fact that houses don’t have window boxes here. Not sure why, but they’re wonderful, and why not? That’s enough of that tangent.

One other observation, in case any of you had the same problem, regarding the “other lives” tasks. When I’ve done The Artist’s Way before, I loved these tasks. This time, however, it just made me tired. I don’t know if it’s just that present situation is just exhausting enough that I don’t want to have to live other lives too, or if it’s that I’m pretty happy with my life as it is now. My life is definitely not following the norm of mid-40s as being the least happy time of people’s lives. I’m so much happier in my 40s than I was in my 30s, and my 30s were exponentially better than my 20s and teens. But that was kind of a low bar. Anyway. Back to the tasks. How I got myself to do the tasks was to ask myself, okay, if you don’t want to live these lives, then who would you want to write about? So, research for writing projects, that felt refreshing, not exhausting.

Another task I wanted to touch on is the life pie. I mentioned last time that I wanted to replace spirituality with something like awe or wonder, then when I was listening to NPR this past week, I heard a segment about awe versus wonder. Wonder is more cerebral, whereas awe is more visceral and tinged with fear. Which maybe could encompass spirituality? I don’t think I have a good answer yet. Wonder goes along with another category Julia Cameron has in that task, play, so maybe I need something else to fit in the spirituality slot.

How did your week two go? I’d love to hear about it. I’d love to hear what you did last week for an artist date and anything you have planned. Leave a comment below.  Or if you’d like to share your thoughts on the artist date, what you did, how it went, you can record a clip and send it along. I’ll play selected clips on upcoming episodes.

On to week three, “Recovering a Sense of Power.” This section. The “Anger” section. This is powerful stuff here, y’all. I want to read the last line of this section: “Anger is not the action itself. It is action’s invitation.” That’s probably the most important piece in this week’s readings.

I have trouble with the ideas in the next section about “Synchronicity.” It’s hard not to point to examples of synchronicity and say, well, if you’re talking about your work with other people, then you’ll have more chances to collaborate with them or show your work to them and so forth than if you weren’t talking to people. That’s my skepticism talking there.

The “Shame” section is important too, and I don’t disagree with what Julia Cameron says about the topic.

I do appreciate her advice on how to handle criticism in the next section. I’m thinking about a time when I left a group situation, and it was the criticism of other people’s work that pushed me out of it, if that makes sense, even though there were other good things happening in the group.

I’d also like to add here that there is a difference between criticism and critique, and I think that just as you grow as a creator, you grow as a critic. Criticism rarely helps anyone, that finding fault with things. Critique, on the other hand, is so very useful, even if it’s not what you want to hear. Giving feedback is a skill, so that’s something to keep in mind as well. Some people are just better at it than others.

Lots of good things to think about in the last two sections, and I’ll leave that there.

The one thing I want to touch on in the tasks for this week is in number four. I don’t watch TV, because I needed to cut out as much as I could to have time and energy to work. And for me, watching TV is draining–it took me a long time to realize that. I bring up TV here because Julia Cameron mentions it as a possible bad habit. I like this task because it ties in neatly to a problem that a lot of creatives have–when do you find time to work? Between jobs and family and friends and keeping the house clean, when do you work? If this is a problem for you, keep your answers for number four in mind.

So that’s it from me today. If you have any questions about creativity you’d like me to address, feel free to send me an email, info@tdwalker.net. Or post a comment over at my blog, freethoughtblogs.com/freethinkingahead

Thanks for listening to Creativity for Skeptics. For more information about the show or to listen to past episodes, go to creativityforskeptics.com. We’ll talk creativity again soon.

Creativity for Skeptics Episode 7: The Artist’s Way Week One Recap and Week Two Preview

On this episode of Creativity for Skeptics, I’ll recap week one and preview week two.  I’ll also recommend the podcast Radio Survivor. Transcript below.

Or download here.

Transcript:

Hello, skeptical creatives and creative skeptics. Tammy here. This is episode seven of Creativity for Skeptics. In this episode, I’ll share my experiences with week one of The Artist’s Way as well as preview week two. And I’ll also talk about a podcast I recommend at the end of the show.

So, first off. Let’s talk about this past week. I’ll generally steer clear of politics on this podcast, but then things like January 6th happen here in the US. And how can you separate something as disturbing and terrible as an attempted fascist coup from creative recovery? I can’t. I didn’t. And if you didn’t either, if it totally derailed you, you are not alone.

I’d had a pretty good stretch of writing for an hour or two at night, then I spent Wednesday afternoon and evening glued to NPR and CBS Radio. I couldn’t work that night so shortly after getting my kids to bed, I crashed. The next day, I was glued again to the radio, NPR and BBC World Service.

This was supposed to be a week in which we were recovering a sense of safety, and I was worried about the chronic underlying anxiety about the pandemic, but then the domestic terrorist attack on the US Capitol happened. That’s all I’ll say about this for now, but I’ll leave it at this. After I made a huge step toward writing poetry again after years of being away from it, I felt that I could do things like write to my elected officials and voice my opinions on issues. Those two things were more closely linked than I would have thought. Tomorrow—Monday the 11th—for instance, I’ll be mailing off postcards to the junior senator from Texas and to our attorney general as well adding my voice to those urging them to resign. That’s politics for now.

On to the rest of week one. How’d it go? Morning pages happened more or less in the morning, but since I do my creative work at night, I wasn’t worried if I had to write them in the afternoon. No walk, per the last task, just ran out of time. It snowed here appreciably today, for the first time in six years, so that would have made for an interesting walk. But it melted pretty soon after. Anyhow, no solo time meant no solo walk.

The artist date did go better than I’d planned. I listed placed I’d go if I could, and second on the list to a bookstore was a fabric store. So, I took out my small trove of fabrics and threads and reorganized them. Colors, textures, it was quite lovely to be surrounded by all that. I’m going to be sewing more this year. Basically, if it can be covered in fabric, it will be covered in fabric. I just had five seed catalogs arrive last week, so I’ll probably brew up a cup of tea and sit down with those for a while next week sometime in lieu of going out. Not as good as going to a garden center, but it’s what I can do right now.

I’d love to hear what you did last week for an artist date and anything you have planned. Leave a comment at freethoughtblogs.com/freethinkingahead or send me an email, info@tdwalker.net Or if you’d like to share your thoughts on the artist date, what you did, how it went, you can record a clip and send it along. I’ll play selected clips on upcoming episodes.

I didn’t quite get through all the tasks. I did make a list of creative champions, one of whom I will be emailing sometime soon. But, in a nice coincidence, January 10th-16th is Universal Letter Writing Week, which I like because, hey, it’s the whole universe. Which reminds me, I might spend some time with stationery one of these weeks for an artist date.

A few observations I made. I don’t know if it’s because I’m in my mid-40s now, I’ve been at this for a while, and for the most part, I don’t really give a right royal rat’s backside what people think about the fact that I write space poems and now cozy mysteries. I do care about what editors think and I do care about making sure I don’t write something that would not pass a sensitivity read, but overall, the recent past creative monsters aren’t people. Or not directly, anyway. Sure, there was a recent horror story involving some comments about a project I was working on, but I quickly backed away from that situation. The three recent old enemies were more along the lines of my own lack of energy and so on. Maybe the creative enemies were people or things draining me, not necessarily people attacking my work, then? Something worth thinking about, I suppose.

How did week one go for you? Let me know.

On to week two. Julia Cameron opens the chapter using a term that some might find offensive, one that has been historically associated with mental illness. In fact, I find something problematic with her idea of “going sane,” as if creativity is associated with mental health. In some ways it is–as someone who has struggles with depression and anxiety, I’ve found that my most productive times have been the times when I’ve had both under control. But I don’t think these need to be related. There’s a common stereotype that great artists and writers are, as a whole, not the most mentally healthy group. Which is dangerous–you don’t have to suffer from a mental illness to be a great artist or writer, and, conversely, being well doesn’t preclude you from being creative. So there’s that, something to keep in mind.

The next two sections, language aside, are very important–they’re about making sure you protect your inner artist and your creative recovery from people who are not supportive of you and your creativity. This is vital stuff, and I’ve lived some of it myself. Protect your time and space to work on your creativity–it’s absolutely necessary.

The “Skepticism” section contains a fair bit of “the conscious universe” concept, which I’ve never found helpful, but maybe it won’t bother all of you listening. That said, I do want to point out that Julia Cameron argues that we set aside our skepticism to open up to possibility, and I’m reminded that there are many, many versions of skepticism out there. My use of skepticism is about the supernatural, but I’m totally on board with opening yourself up to the possible. I’m all for a sense of wonder about the world, so I’m going to use that in place of a higher being. And that sense of wonder ties into the last section, Attention, quite nicely. Another good one to focus on there.

The “Rules of the Road” have good stuff too, though you can filter out the ones that might not apply if you don’t believe in the supernatural. I love the first three especially. Number seven needs a bright gold star by it. So many people “talk away” their creative project, they tell people about it but never do the work. If you need a creative companion to gently remind you to do the work, then here’s my gentle reminder to do your creative work when and how you can.

Great stuff in the tasks. The one small tweak I’m going to make in number seven is to relabel “spirituality” with “attention” or “wonder.” Julia Cameron suggests going out to correct some of the neglected areas in our lives, which we can’t do. So more opportunity to be creative with this one as needed.

So that’s the week two preview. I’ll be back with episode eight on January 17th to recap the second week and preview the third week.

And now, for a recommendation. I listen to so many podcasts, and one of the ones I look forward to most is Radio Survivor. From their website: “The Radio Survivor podcast is a weekly show that explores the future of community media, with a focus on community radio, college radio, low-power FM and public access TV, along with podcasting and internet radio. ” So many good episodes to recommend. They dive into politics–there’s a recent episode, number 277 – “How Does the FCC Solve Anything?“–but my favorite episodes involve the arts. One of these is episode 190, an interview with artist and filmmaker Amanda Dawn Christie. I got to see her film Spectres of Shortwave online, which is about the closing of Radio Canada International’s shortwave service and the destruction of the antennas at their relay site in New Brunswick. Fascinating film, great interview. Go check out Radio Survivor if you’re interested at all in radio. A link will be in the show notes.

So that’s it from me today. If you have any questions about creativity you’d like me to address, feel free to send me an email, info@tdwalker.net. Or post a comment over at my blog, freethoughtblogs.com/freethinkingahead

Thanks for listening to Creativity for Skeptics. For more information about the show or to listen to past episodes, go to creativityforskeptics.com. We’ll talk creativity again soon.

Texas Freedom Network Calls for Resignation of Senator Ted Cruz

I will post more regarding yesterday’s events in DC and their Texas connections, but for now, here’s a news release from the Texas Freedom Network, The Road to Sedition: Ted Cruz, Ken Paxton Must Resign Now:

Texas Freedom Network President Val Benavidez today called on U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to resign their offices immediately for helping fuel the unhinged conspiracies that have led to today’s pro-Trump chaos and violence in the nation’s capital.

I’ll have postcards up soon asking for Sen. Cruz’s resignation, both addressed to him and to his fellow Republicans who should pressure him to resign in the disgrace he knowingly and viciously cultivated.

Creativity for Skeptics Episode 6: The Artist’s Way Week One Preview

We’re starting week one of The Artist’s Way on Monday, January 4th.  In this episode, I’ll preview week one, plus I’ll recommend A.J. Odasso’s The Sting of It (Tolson Books 2019).

Or download here.

Transcript:

Hello skeptical creatives and creative skeptics. Tammy here. This is episode six of Creativity for Skeptics. It’s Sunday, January 3rd 2021 as I’m recording this, and we’re going to preview week one of Julia Cameron’s the artists way. So in just a moment, I’ll talk about how I’m approaching this first week as someone who decidedly does not believe in the supernatural.

One note. At the end of the show, I’ll be sharing a book I just adore, A.J. Odasso’s The Sting of It.

But first, let’s preview week one.

So, you’ve got your morning pages journal or like me, a very cheap college-rule notebook. I find I’m more open to getting down the messier stuff on notebooks that I don’t have to be precious about. But find what works best for you–that’s what this is about. I’ve been doing the morning pages thing off and on since at least 2000 when I was in my early 20s, and it didn’t take me long to figure out I’m happier writing morning pages on notebook paper or a cheap notebook than a beautiful journal. On a later episode, I’ll talk more about how my morning pages have evolved over time and why I still find them useful.

Notebook or journal, and a sturdy pen in hand. Now what?

I don’t know about y’all, but reading the title of this section, “Recovering a Sense of Safety,” I get that sort of visceral knotting, because we’re thinking about making this safe space to create in but also we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Safety is kind of a fraught thing right now. It’s never not been a complicated issue–I know that. So as you’re going through this chapter, it might be worth taking a moment to think about the layers of safety–or lack thereof–in your particular situation.

On page 30, Julia Cameron talks about core negative beliefs, and she lists a few. I’d like to add an example of my own, because of the way art is distributed and consumed now is very different from how it was in 2002 (the date of the edition I have) and 1992 (the original copyright date). For example, artists have to spend all their time on social media (which I’m terrible at, by the way). So just something to think about right now.

Another one, and I’m sharing this with embarrassment: In high school I wrote and I wanted to be a published writer. But I read somewhere that if you can’t be truly happy, you can’t be a poet. Now, I have no idea who said this or what I read it in, and I haven’t had any luck looking it up–I haven’t really tried much to be fair. As depressed as I was as a teenager, this dashed a lot of hope I had. So, if any of you have read anything as untrue as this, let me tell you this: you can be a poet (or any kind of creator) even if happiness is hard for you. So that was one particular pile of bovine excrement I’ve moved past. And you can too.

Anyway, on to the tasks. Here’s where you do the work to get where you want to be. First one is morning pages. I’m going to second her instructions: these are for you only. Don’t share them. Don’t even think you might possibly one day share them. Maybe. Just a little.

The second task is the artist’s date. I don’t know what I’m going to do yet. I don’t watch TV, if you don’t count PBS Kids, so I’d thought about watching a travel video or something like that. I told myself that when I finish the draft of the mystery, I could watch The Crown or something like that. So I might do that. We’ll see. If the pandemic weren’t the pandemic, I’d be off to the closest store with stationery and journals and notecards that I don’t really have a use for but love. Anyway, let me know what you do this week.

And I recommend doing the rest of the tasks, because you might surprise yourself what you dig up. I have been in the past, and that’s always been useful. I will be doing them again, and my answers now will be quite different from those I wrote 20 years ago.

I should also say here that I’ve posted the past few episodes over at Freethinking Ahead, which is my blog over at Freethought Blogs. I’ll put a link in the show notes. I’m thinking that’s going to be the best place for comments and questions, since I have transcripts up there as well.

So that’s it for our week one preview. Feel free to comment [below] over at my Freethinking Ahead. I’ll include that in the show notes as well.

And now, for a recommendation. For me, as a poetry reader, I’m looking for books that leave me with the sense of awe that you’re left with when you read a book that is both so well crafted and also speaks deeply on difficult and necessary subjects. Which is the case with A.J. Odasso’s The Sting of It, which was published in 2019 by Tolsun Books.

I’ll read the blurb: “THE STING OF IT is cradled in classical form and bubbles with luscious language from a bygone era. Fans of Spenser and Donne will find comfort here. But this formal order only just restrains the chaos from Odasso’s own body and past. Their explosive and candid revelations make us aware of our beautiful, mortal grit. Odasso’s ferocious imagery within measured verse reminds us that life is mysterious, painful, and fantastic.”

I highly recommend this book, and a link will be in the show notes [above].

So that’s it from me today. If you have any questions about creativity you’d like me to address, feel free to send me an email, info@tdwalker.net. Or post a comment over at my blog, freethoughtblogs.com/freethinkingahead

Thanks for listening to Creativity for Skeptics. For more information about the show or to listen to past episodes, go to creativityforskeptics.com. We’ll talk creativity again soon.

Creativity for Skeptics Episode 5: Intro to The Artist’s Way

In preparation for doing The Artist’s Way (without the woo) on Monday January 4th, I posted an episode of Creativity for Skeptics with an overview of the introduction to the book. Transcript is below.

Or download here.

Transcript:

Hello, skeptical creatives and creative skeptics. Tammy here. This is episode five of Creativity for Skeptics. No intro or outro or plug today, because I wanted to get this up tonight—it’s the first day of 2021 as I’m recording this (happy new year)—and I am at the tail end (I hope) of a now three day migraine.

My migraines come with all the standard symptoms plus a lot of bonus features I guess you could call them. One of which is that sometimes I physically can’t talk while having a migraine, which means I can’t record a podcast. And that was my new year’s eve. So that’s why this is late.

A couple other things. I should probably introduce myself at the start of the episodes, since this is a new podcast. As T.D. Walker, I have a couple poetry books out, Small Waiting Objects which was published in 2019 by CW Books and Maps of a Hollowed World which was published by Another New Calligraphy in 2020. All that on top of my other writing.

Also maybe I should use a different word besides plug when I was to share stuff I love with y’all, because plug is a word people use for their own stuff? I don’t know. If you have an opinion, let me know.
Anyway, all this to say that I wanted to get this out now, a few days before we get going with The Artist’s Way without the woo.

Just as a reminder, I’ll have the episode to introduce week one up late on Sunday the 3rd of January. If you want to go ahead and start the morning pages on the 4th without listening to the podcast first, that’s great too. As a reminder, morning pages are the daily three handwritten pages.

The book is available just about anywhere you buy books. If you want to grab a copy on the cheap and help out a small business, as I’ve said before, there are tons of copies of this book out there, so I’d have to imagine you can find a used copy without too much trouble.

So let’s talk about the introduction to Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.

First off, Julia Cameron calls this method the spiritual path to creativity. So we have to ask ourselves what is spirituality in the first place? For some people, that might look a lot like their connection to the creator idea she uses. For me, though, it’s something quite different. Part of the reason that I love science fiction is the idea of the sense of wonder–something amazing about the idea of the possible. Spirituality for me is that sense of wonder applied to what’s here and now. My definition doesn’t need a deity or a conscious universe or even a spirit, really. So if you want to call it awe-filled (as opposed to awful) path to creativity, there you go. You can define it for yourself.

Let’s dive into the Introduction. there are intros to the later ones, but this is about the original intro. And you can safely skip this and come back to it later. Main idea is that she’s not tied to you being tied to any particular idea of god. See page xxii.

On to Spiritual Electricity: Basic Principles.

So I have a scream and throw the book moment at Cameron’s use of the term “spiritual chiropractic.” on page one. To prevent you from doing so too, I’ll note a few things you might want to pay attention to and things to skip.
On page 2, she talks about synchronicity, if you show up and do the work, the universe opens up more opportunities for you. Here’s another take on that idea. If you’re doing creative work and attending events and, you know, talking to other people about what you’re doing, then you’re probably going to make more connections around your work than you were when you were just daydreaming. That happened for me. Start working? Voila, more opportunities. No universe magic needed.

The “how to use this book” section is a good one to read, but be aware she does use metaphors of substance withdrawal and suicide of your former self in this section, particularly on pages 6-7, so skip that as you need to.

And on to the Basic Tools section. This is worth reading, since it tells you about morning pages and the artist date as well as her ideas about refilling the creative well. All super helpful. This is actually the real core of what has worked most for me, so I’d recommend not skipping out on these tools as we go along.

There’s also a creative contract you can fill out. If that’s something that helps you stick to the whole twelve weeks, go for it. If, like me, you don’t get anything out of symbolic rituals and ceremonies and the like, skip it and don’t feel bad for doing so. Remember, this is about making this work for you.

That’s it from me for now. Next episode of Creativity for Skeptics will be up Sunday the 3rd to get us ready to jump in to week one on the 4th. Happy 2021, and we’ll talk creativity again soon.

Creativity for Skeptics Episode 4: My Word for 2021 and Getting Ready for The Artist’s Way (without the woo)

It’s episode 4 of Creativity for Skeptics: Flaneur 2021 (or I need to get outside!!!).  Transcript is below the podcast links.

Or download here.

Hello, creative skeptics and skeptical creatives. This is episode four of Creativity for Skeptics. Tammy here. In episode two, I talked about agency, my word for 2020, and how that worked out and didn’t, ultimately, it sort of did. Anyway, it’s the last weekend of 2020 as I’m recording this, so it’s time for me to choose my word for 2021.

Given how rough 2020 was and how much I didn’t do, I’d thought about choosing a very serious word to guide 2021. Something outwardly focused, since I’ve essentially been at home since mid-March. Plus, it needs to have concrete actions and goals associated with it, something I can actually do.

So at first, I thought about focus or concentration, something that gave me a firm direction. Yeah, these are abstract, but my brain loves shiny new projects, and my concrete steps could be something like “if you’re distracted by a new project, write it down, save it for later, and go back to what you need to finish.”

Which is good, but there’s something missing too.

After spending so much of this year inside my house and, let’s face it, inside my own head, I need something to draw me out. I need to, well, just play in 2021. Which so many of us need right now. A long extended session of “refilling the creative well.” Focus as a concept is good, but I don’t think it’s going to be what I need.

Which brings me to what I did land on: flaneur. Okay, first off, I apologize for my bad pronunciation of French. What does flaneur mean? It’s the idea of being a detached observer of society, someone who walks through a city watching the workings of the world around them. I’ll admit, this is not a great choice, because it’s a loaded word, it’s fraught. There has been much written about that, including whether or not a woman can be a flaneur (or flaneus, again, apologies for the pronunciation) in the first place.

But that aside, here’s what appealed to me:

First, it’s external. A flaneur is supposed to observe. A flaneur is supposed to get out of the house and look at the world around them. Which is what I need to do after being inside so long.

Second, there’s a sense of play, of adventure about it. I don’t have an end goal in mind, just getting outside. Which, again, is useful after a year of extreme vigilance and hard-core goal setting. (Not creativity-related, but I’ll talk about that in another episode.)

And finally, there are concrete actions to associate with it. It’s simple, but go take a walk. That’s good advice for anyone, really, but it’s especially useful for creatives. And it features in a lot of advice guides for writers, for other creatives. And it ties in to The Artist’s Way and some of Julia Cameron’s other books, which I’ll be talking a bit more about shortly.

So, this is late December 2020, and while there are vaccines available, they’re not widely available, and they’re going to the exact people who need them most, the front-line medical professionals. Wider access won’t be available for a while, so this means we’ll all need to wait until we’re able to get out into the world safely. I’m not going to risk mingling with the general public—no one should just yet—so how am I going to get out into society and just observe?

That’s a question I’ll go into more detail about later, but for now, I think it might involve a bit of virtual strolling through places. We’ll see.

Do you have your word for 2021 yet? If so, I’d love to hear about it. You can drop it into the comments for the episode over at creativityforskeptics.com [or below].

In just a moment, I’ll plug a new podcast about creativity that I’m really enjoying, but first, here’s what’s coming up on Creativity for Skeptics.

Later this week, sometime around the new year, I’ll post an episode in which I talk about my plans for doing The Artist’s Way from a skeptical perspective and without the woo. I’ll go through the introduction and tools in that episode, and we’ll plan to start week 1 on Monday, January 4th. I know, I’m in the US, but weeks start on Monday in my brain, so there it is. I’ll have the episodes corresponding to the weeks up on Sunday, so you can take a listen to the first one on January 3rd, and we’ll check in about week 1 tasks and look ahead to week 2 on January 10th. And if you’re hearing this sometime in the future, then, you can listen to the weeks as you come to them.

There have been over 4 million copies of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way sold, so I’m imagining that they’re probably easy to find at used book stores, if you want to go that route.

And now, I’m going to point you to another podcast about creativity that I’m really enjoying. I’ve been a fan of Rachael Herron’s for a while now. Her podcasts How do You Write which is ongoing and the writer’s well (which is on hiatus) are ones I recommend too. Her book about writing, Fast Draft Your Memoir, gave me a lot to think about even though I don’t write memoir. So I had to take a listen when she announced her new podcast, You’re Already Ready. The short episodes are a mix of personal narrative, thoughts on creativity, and gentle reminders that you’re already ready to do the thing you most want to do. And it’s aimed at a wider audience than her writing podcasts, so it’s broadly applicable to creatives in general. Take a listen, there’s a link in the shownotes.

So that’s it from me today. let me know your word for 2021, if you choose one. If you have any questions about creativity you’d like me to address, feel free to [post in the comments or send me an email].

Thanks for listening to Creativity for Skeptics. For more information about the show or to listen to past episodes, go to creativityforskeptics.com. We’ll talk creativity again soon.