Sunday, December 19, 2010

Five Dead Mentors

In Julia Cameron’s book: Finding Water: The Art of Persistence, she suggests you take a sheet of paper, number from one to five, and list five dead people you want to consult as mentors. These are people who excelled in the particular art you’re pursuing.

Without thinking, I chose whoever came to mind:

1.  Jane Austen

2.  Charles Dickens

3.  Dante

4.  Oscar Wilde

5.  Edna St. Vincent Millay

6. Dorothy Parker

I realize that’s six but I haven’t really read that much Dante or Wilde and I went with what appeared.

Next step: Ask one of them for advice for you at this present time.

Well, I asked all of them. Here’s what I got:

Dorothy Parker: “Don’t drink or date foolish men who waste your writing time.”

Dickens: “Just write. Critics will hate it now and love it later. But they’ll have nothing to fuss about if you don’t write it, and who will take dictation if you don’t?”

Jane Austen: “Wit is necessary for survival. I wrote to find a way to say things that made me laugh. I loved writing and hated it at the same time. I was different and there was no place for me in my own time. It looks like there was but there wasn’t. It looks better now than it felt at the time.”

Oscar Wilde: “Risk everything. What have you got to lose? Ris everything and then risk everything again. Otherwise, life is stale and predictable and you’re one more person who didn’t light up a darkened room.”

Millay: “Fall in love with words. Fall in love with ideas and let them play with you. Bargain with them, battle with them if you must. Each word has its own consciousness it wants to thrust into the piece. It doesn’t always know what’s best for the whole process but it has a point of view, and by all means, it means to share it.”

Dante: “Writing is a way out of darkness. I didn’t always know that until years later when I looked back and saw the lantern lighting my footsteps. Without the dark wood, I would have never found my place. You will find yours. Just keep up the process.”

Next step? “Don’t give up.”

How? “Ask for the light.”

After hearing this, I decide to break my process into small bites. I will write one page. That actually turned into many more pages, but the only goal was one. And those additional pages may ultimately reduce down to one completed page; time will tell.

I asked my inner perfectionist to take to heart a message Cameron's friend shares with her: “It’s a first draft. You’re not supposed to have any order. It doesn’t fit together yet. That’s for later.”

Now I ask you...what is your art?  Is there an action you feel stifled in taking?  Like me, it may be writing projects, but it may also be doing the laundry.  Until the laundry is done, it's hard to see what's under it, literally and figuratively.

Taoists say, “The journey of a 1000 miles starts with a single step.”  Writing to dead people is a step I like.  It doesn't even require getting dressed. 

I'm a little less productive at getting the laundry up and down stairs or the bathroom floor scrubbed, or completing one writing project at a time.  Some say it takes courage to take that first step; maybe it's innocence, self esteem, selflisness or who knows what?

Now it's your turn.  What calls to you?  Take a blank sheet of paper and select 5 deceased experts/mentors. I jotted down whoever came to mind and went with that.

Pick one mentor, or do as I did, ask everyone: What is your advice for me today?

Afterall, aren’t we all experts on other people’s lives? Ask and ye shall receive! Note: If you criticize what you get, lower your standards to those of the innocent and open.  It's just a first draft, first try, first attempt and nothing has to fully come together yet.  I think that's called living "life on life's terms," even when it includes the dead.

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