In this Campfire Special of The Art Life, Grace and Xandra report back from their Artist Vacations, and read listeners’ stories. Artist Dates are more about HOW we show up for our inner artist than WHAT we do. The art life is taking the easy road.
Listen to the Episode:
Xandra Recorded a Letter Audiobook for Grace
For my Artist Date, I sat in my garden and recorded myself reading (and reacting for the first time) to a letter from listener Otiti Jasmine, addressed to Grace and me jointly. I sent the audio to Grace, who requested we read an excerpt from the letter on this show. We’re grateful that Otiti agreed to let us share it!
– Xandra (me!)
Otiti Wrote Love Letters to Herself
– Otiti Jasmine
Janae Made a Hand-Bound Journal
I’m very late, life is wild, and I have to admit to you that I flunked out at week 8 D: D:
BUT, I did literally make a hand-bound journal?? I took all of the paper that they put in boxes as filler (you know the long strips of brown paper?) and ironed it, cut it to size, hand bound it together, and did a case binding on it! I plan to use it to record all of the random historical and other facts I come across that I want to save as inspiration.
Xandra’s Mom Created an Author’s Map of Boston
I’ve walked by many places in my town where I would say to myself that I should return and get to know the historical significance… For my Artist Date, I am doing it.
A few weeks ago, Jim and I visited the MFA where there were so many John Singer Sargent’s paintings related to Boston. I looked up the addresses of his art studios and home, made these my Artist Date destinations.
I knew that some of the scenes from Little Women were filmed in Beacon Hill, so I wrote down all the addresses and took an Artist Date to these locations. As I was standing in front of these homes, I could picture the scene where they were coming down the staircase. I decided to re-watch the movie to see if I could recognize other scenes too. On this walk, I also visited Louisa May Alcott’s actual home where she wrote and published her first book.
I often walk by these homes because I am on my way to the post office or to the grocery store, etc., but this walk was different. It was with a purpose of visiting her in mind.
I am just starting the Artist Dates, but the list is growing. Once I learn these, I can take you for an “Author” date.
– Xandra’s Mom, Susan
Laura Browsed Adelaide Central Markets
I enjoyed really tuning in to what I wanted to do each week of my Artist date. Not fixing myself to one thing and also being ok if it was something I would sometimes consider an errand or just exercise. One week I went for a swim as that was what I was craving in some downtime and yesterday I went to Bunnings for supplies (gardening store her in Aus) and then spent a few hours preparing the garden for Winter. My most memorable Artist Date was probably spent in the Adelaide Central Markets (they are kind of famous here) and for the first time in years, just spent time wandering up and down the aisle, getting what I needed but taking time to browse new stalls and the produce. Whereas normally I would just rush to where I needed to buy from and only visit my favourite places. It was nice to wander.
After writing this I feel a bit bad as these are many things I know a lot of the world can’t do right now due to COVID. I have felt very fortunate to live where I do in Australia to have been minimally impacted. I hope others will be able to enjoy similar Artist dates very soon.
Lorrie Transcribed an Interview for Fun
My artist date a couple of weeks ago was letting myself edit and annotate a transcript of an online Zoom interview I put together last month with Rupert Graves, the actor whose work has had more influence on my life than any other actor. When he first thunderstruck me with his talent in 1987, I knew nothing about him except that he was one of the leads in Maurice, the first movie ever to show a male-male romance with a joyful ending. His performance was full of love and truth, and that made it brave.
Nobody asked me to transcribe the interview. I just wanted to do it, but I hesitated because I knew it would take days to do it the way I wanted. Could I justify taking that much time for something that wasn’t either parenting or work?
I reasoned that this is the kind of artist contact that builds up the foundation of my art life. Decades later, I remember the times I connected with artists I admire, got to tell them exactly what about their work had reached me, got to experience what their art process might have in common with mine. After a year of pandemic, I appreciated the glimpse we got into the life of this artist who is going stir-crazy at home, unable to work in live theater, barely able to act in movies or TV shows, living with his mixed-race white and Asian family with his tween and teen kids, he and his wife struggling with online schooling and cooking elaborate themed meals at home to stave off the boredom… and the art life kinship I feel with this whole picture fills me with affection.
It’s been a year of enforced home life with kids, in a family that constantly makes things, music or writing or foods or crafts. It can’t be produce, produce, produce all the time. There has to be downtime for reflection. It turns out that there’s just as much fatigue in going nowhere and helping your kids go nowhere as there is in going to work and school, work and school. It requires just as much conscious discipline, and there’s just as much doubt about doing it well enough, and also the self-approval when you know you’ve done a reasonable job that you and others will remember for decades.
(I thought of the elaborate themed meals that Susie Graves makes during the artist date I did last night. I signed up to be one of the contestants in a Great British Bake-off-inspired segment for the Three Patch Podcast. We’ll be doing a technical bake, where they don’t tell us the challenge until it begins. It took me about 10 seconds of wondering what the challenge will be to realize, hey, this is the Three Patch Podcast… oh… it’s going to be spotted dick, isn’t it. That’s, like, the only thing it could possibly be. Ugh, “steamed puddings.” What even is a steamed pudding. Why.
So, I did a practice run as my artist date.
Well, it turns out that spotted dick is delicious. Fragrant and comforting! And it does take some time, so it was good that I could justify it to myself as an artist date. I find out tomorrow afternoon whether I was right to guess that this is our technical challenge. I could be wrong, of course… but as guesses go, I’m pretty sure of this one!)
P.S. I also now make chickpea stew (revithia) at least once a week because of the Artist’s Way, the recipe that requires me to slip the skins off of every individual chickpea before cooking. The built-in time it takes to do that has become something I actively want.
Sara Drew a Line on her To-Do List
I loved the sense of community I felt from working through The Artist’s Way together with the podcast and because of that I really wanted to contribute with my own artist date experiences. However, I kept procrastinating on writing you this email, because I felt insecure that my artist dates will sound boring in comparison to all those wild, bold and creative dates I imagine everyone else having.
The truth is that I struggled with my artist dates, precisely because of this perfectionism: that an artist date is only worth doing if it’s a wild, bold and creative whole day endevour. If not, I might as well tick something off of my to-do list, right? It took me almost half of the book to convince myself to start small. My first dates were awkward attempts to sneakily do some work or chores in a more “playful” way. I know, I know! But slowly, it got better. Here are my three simple dates I loved the most:
A DATE THAT TURNED INTO EVERYDAY: I got my first tarot deck that I’ve been contemplating getting for half a year, and threw myself a witchy reading. Since then it’s my daily routine and I find so much joy and guidance in my cool deck.
AN EASY ONE I STILL THINK OF: I fell in love with Billie Eilish after watching her documentary on a lazy Sunday morning eating frozen pizza. I’m aware this barely sounds like an artist date, but for this recovering perfectionist it felt like an inspiring vacation.
THE MOST ELABORATE ONE: I redecorated my whole working desk into an altar to my inner artist / child, full of treasures from the past and reminders for my envisioned future. This process included a three hour long visit to a tiny and lush boutique plant shop & cafe, where the owner was just as serious (if not more) about choosing my next leafy soulmate. Meanwhile we chatted about plants and I browsed through his beautiful book full of photographs of indoor garden projects, while he was pottering around and making his takeaway orders.
Then one day, towards the end of my Artist’s Way journey, a switch went off. I turned a fresh page in my planner where I usually write my weekly to do list, took a fat coloured pencil and drew a line, dividing the space of my to do list in half. I filled the upper half with lovely and joyful activities and let go of half of my chores. Each week since, I draw the line lower and lower, until one day, an artist date turns into an artist life.
Grace’s Mom is on a Year-Long Artist Date
One disappointment in this weird year of travels was the failed plan to visit UU congregations around the country (of course with the silver lining that my own traveled with me instead, via Zoom). I thus tried to really milk my weeklong stay at the North Carolina UU retreat, “The Mountain”, beginning with Easter weekend and ending up overlapping with the Southern Association of UU Ministers’ conference weekend. On my last breakfast there I struck up a conversation with one of the ministers in attendance, and naturally the topic turned to my travels and my gratitude for being able to gift myself a personal sabbatical year.
“I’m about to go on a five month travel sabbatical myself,” said the minister. “I’m going Forest Bathing all around the country.”
Forest Bathing is attributed to the Japanese term “Shinrin-Yoku” coined in the 1990’s, but we UU’s know it to go back long before this under different names. Our spritual ancestors Thoreau and Emerson, among other Transcendentalists, preached the gospel of an immersive experience in Nature as therapeutic and holy. Every Earth-centric religion probably contains some element of Forest Bathing. It’s in essence a practice of mindfulness in nature – presence in the moment, taking notice of one’s surrounding through all senses. This is a difference experience than my typical hike in which other than staring at the trail ahead of me for a safe foothold, and an occasional glorious summit view, my mind wanders all over the place truly lost in thought. This was exemplified the other day on the AT when I stepped a yard off the trail to let two oncoming through-hikers pass. Aiden and I stood very still – the hikers’ eyes never left the ground and I am fairly certain they never saw us. I would normally have said hello but they were engrossed in conversation and by the time I realized what was happening I was afraid to startle them so I said nothing. Others go by with EarPods providing isolation and distraction from the monotony and boredom of 2000 mile walk in the woods, sort of the antithesis of Forest Bathing which could not be maintained by any sane human for that duration.
I spent a few recent weeks in the Asheville, NC region, about 90 miles up from the southern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway. I was planning to drive all the rest of the way north up the iconic road, towing the Airstream, but I felt that in the name of some kind of Great American Road Trip box-checking completeness I should drive that first segment. Because my entire year has been a long scenic drive getting from one place to the next, somehow I struggled to give myself permission to take a half day to just go on a scenic drive, not towing my home, and not en route to somewhere, but just for the sake of the drive. I suppose it was even a microcosm of my struggle to give myself permission to do the yearlong big drive itself, which will end me up in the same place I started, at least physically but definitely not metaphysically.
I’m still stuck on the Week 1 assignments for The Artist’s Way. I had told Grace that I’m already on a year long Artist Date, but that was really kind of an excuse for not doing the assignment. So now I figured I would justify this self-indulgent use of diesel fuel as an actual Artist Date, and that I would stop at least once on one of the many trail crossings on the Parkway to do some Forest Bathing, versus a hard hike for exercise. So off we drove down through the Cherokee reservation and into Great Smoky Mountains National Park which contains the first several miles of the Parkway, then doubled back north-ish towards Asheville. The first few dozen miles of the Parkway did not disappoint, but I was already getting kind of tired long before my planned (challenging) trail stop so when I saw a hiking trail sign and a parking area I decided to stop and do the 1+ miler which was highly rated for, among other things, the scent of the Balsam firs along the trail. “Smells like Christmas when the sun shines on the trees!” said one enthusiastic reviewer.
Indeed, this had to be Exhibit A for the ideal Forest Bathing experience. My eyes delighted in the colors of the evergreen trees against the bright blue sky, the wide blue ridge vistas that would suddenly appear around a corner, and the dappling of the sunlight in the most wooded areas. I had to close my eyes to be able to fully appreciate other senses – the sound of the mountain ridge wind whispering in the treetops and the feel of it on my face, the muffled sound and feel of my feet on the very soft pine needle forest floor trail. That Balsam aroma, indeed more noticeable where the sun warmed the branches. Aiden stuck his entire snout down a hole in a stump like a wine connoisseur inhaling some delicious scent known only to him – maybe woody rot, more likely some critter traces. Five feet further down the trail he promptly and unperturbedly vomited up half his breakfast before continuing on his merry way, waking me out of my Thoreau-esque nirvana.
We returned to the truck and continued for another 50 or so miles of steep, winding hills punctuated by stunning vista after stunning (but sort of identical) vista. I wondered if Aiden had been car sick. I started daydreaming about other things, including tasks awaiting me back at the trailer. I had the utterly shameful thought that driving the Blue Ridge Parkway was, after a while, getting kind of monotonous and that maybe I needed to reconsider the plan to do the entire 468 miles, the rest of it towing a 25’ trailer.
Nevertheless, ten days later I picked up where I had left off, this time with the trailer in tow for another eighty or so miles before stopping for the night. However, the next morning the weather turned ugly with dense fog and up to an inch of rain forecast during the day. That was a different kind of mindfulness exercise in being willing to let go of rigid self imposed check-a-box thinking (“I must drive the entire 468 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway in order to say that I did”) which would be pointless, stressful, and even unsafe in those conditions. So I gave myself wholehearted permission to take the Easy Road, which got me to my destination ahead of time, even including an impulsive U-turn for a BBQ stop.
In a future installment here, my husband and Aiden and I will return to the Blue Ridge Parkway (and Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park). But we will not be driving to get the “completion” badge – merely enjoying the ride even if that includes some cruising on the Easy Road instead, and of course some more Forest Bathing.
– Grace’s Mom, Katherine
Our Artist’s Way Series
In January 2021, The Art Life created a comprehensive series covering Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. We dedicated a weekly episode to each of the book’s twelve chapters. This series is available to revisit anytime, for anyone wishing to unblock their creativity with this legendary book. Our weekly recaps provide accountability, and community, concluding with this Campfire Episode, where listeners were invited to send in their reflections from their Artist’s Way journeys.
As Julia Cameron said, “Success is born in clusters and out of generosity.” By listening, you are cordially invited to join our cluster and share your reflections as you go through each chapter.
Grace has completed The Artist’s Way three times, led an online book group for it through Inside Acting, and attended Julia Cameron’s in-person workshop. She credit The Artist’s Way for motivating her to write and produce her first short film, and take the leap to move to Los Angeles. Xandra just completed the programme for the first time.
An antidote to the product-obsessed digital age, The Art Life celebrates the pleasure and process of daily life as an artist. Now in its second year, the show explores and expands the definition of ‘art’ in each episode. The Artist’s Way series is free and available now.
Our Campfire Cluster
Kaytra, Susan, Shaun, Lorrie, Sara, Katherine, Cody, Isa, Janae, Emily, Annemarie, Laura, & more anonymous artists.