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The Gardener's Way

Our society favors other endeavors over art; as children we learn to shut down our natural creativity. Julia Cameron, in The Artist's Way, teaches how to emerge from artists' blocks. We need that playful child, she says, to be whole; and to contribute our unique gifts to the world.

I undertook Cameron's training to help my writing, because I want to write fiction, and feel I don't know how. But the Artist-child loves making all kinds of things, and can't be pigeonholed in one medium. So it was not long before I learned that I have some remarkably destructive habits in what I think of as my "real work," my writing — but my gardening is one of the few ways I nurture and encourage my Artist.

Several years ago, I gave myself permission to spend as much time as I wanted in the garden, with the excuse that my chemical sensitivities and my chronic pain bothered me least there, and I needed the exercise. My mental health improved, too. At the time, I attributed this to a growing feeling of connection to the earth.

Only now do I see how I was also letting my Artist-child play, in contrast to the rest of my life, where I was responding to increasing pressure of responsibilities by trying to keep increasing my self-discipline.

So now, to encourage my writing, I did more gardening. For one regular homework assignment — the "Artist Date" — you treat yourself to a special activity. I started taking more time to pick bouquets, to fool around with combining their colors and textures and shapes in arrangements to look at in the house.

Another treat: my first visit to The Mixed Border Nursery, in Hollis, NH — wandering entranced through a great collection of perennials. I even argued the strict budget-keeper side of myself into letting me bring home two new ajuga varieties (more about them later).

Some of Cameron's many assignments are tough, like the week you do no reading, to see whether you read to avoid doing other things. Some are simple, like going for walks. Most tickle the imagination: "List five silly things you would like to try once." All this did make a difference. I even let a fanciful element creep into writing one of these columns.

But that permission I'd given myself to play in the garden, made a giant headstart.

© Copyright 2003 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 14 November 2003

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