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The Wisdom of The Artist's Way
Patricia's Centre Awakens the Inner artist
by Karen Edwards
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Photos by Gus Brunsman III
If you’re a creative creature, chances are you have a copy of Julia Cameron’s seminal self-help book The Artist’s Way somewhere on your bookshelf.
Since the early 1990s, when The Artist’s Way was first published, bookstores, churches, and assorted groups have created workshops that take participants through the book’s 12-week self-enrichment course, and they’ve always proven to be extremely popular.
Unfortunately, these days, you need to be pretty creative to find a class. Of course, you could browse church bulletin boards or newspaper event calendars and hope to find a listing, and if you did so recently, you’d be in luck. Mary Lay started facilitating an Artist’s Way group at Stonewall Union in the Short North last month.
Your second option, however, is to call Patricia Ake, owner of Patricia’s Centre, 957 Neil Ave. in Victorian Village.
Patricia’s Centre offers The Artist’s Way classes five times a week – year-round. The classes, Ake admits, are a way to feed her own inner artist.
“I’m passionate about the subject,” says Ake.
Three years ago, when her youngest child was reaching college age, Ake set up Patricia’s Centre in her three-story Victorian home. The ornate Victorian is the perfect setting for The Artist’s Way classes. The third-floor ballroom even features a small stage where guest musicians occasionally perform while groups work on collages or other intuitive art projects during the course.
Although Ake’s background is in business, she says it’s the arts community she has always turned to for nurturance and support. She is a member of “Women at Play,” the theater troupe headed by Katherine Burkman which will perform for the last time this spring, and she has participated in Amy Bennett’s “Playback Theater,” which uses the process of psycho-drama to help audiences release emotions about events in their lives.
Ake’s artistic nature isn’t always released publicly, however.
“I journal,” she admits.
Handwritten journaling is at the core of Ake’s Artist’s Way classes – and it’s one of the building blocks Cameron uses to send readers on their own creative journeys.
Cameron calls them “morning pages,” a stream-of-consciousness journaling habit of three handwritten pages composed first thing in the morning. It’s one of the hardest habits for class participants to fall into, says Ake. For many people, mornings are probably the worst time to sit down and freewheel through a three-page journal entry.
“But it’s really important,” she stresses.
As she (and Cameron) explains, it’s an opportunity to purge on paper all the negativity, doubts and fears that may be racing through your head at the start of the day.
“Morning pages can be life transforming,” Ake says. “They can affect your behavior throughout the day.”
For example, suppose you are experiencing difficulty with a co-worker. By writing about the problem, you release what you’re feeling about it – anger, depression, powerlessness, whatever it might be. That clears the way for you to think about a solution.
“Maybe you need to set stronger boundaries,” says Ake. Or maybe you can think of a way to negotiate a solution. But these possibilities don’t exist if you stay mired in your thoughts.
“Without the morning pages, you carry these thoughts with you throughout the day, and they affect the way you act at work and at places outside of work,” she says.
The act of physically taking pen in hand and writing down your thoughts is one of the most powerful steps you can take toward a solution – and toward lasting change, says Ake.
And she has the books to prove it.
The Midnight Disease and With Pen in Hand are two books from a collection that focus on the science of handwriting thoughts and emotions.
“You contact with the pen, and then the pen on paper and the rhythm of writing words accesses emotions and the limbic brain system in whole new ways,” she says.
Cameron and her disciples believe that everyone is creative. They also believe – and it’s been proven scientifically – that the brain we use is only the tip of our intelligence. A huge stockpile of raw, artistic material lays waiting for us below the surface of our consciousness. Those who slip below awareness and tap into that resource are artists.
“We all have that resource, we can all tap into it,” says Ake. A journal, handwritten in a stream-of-consciousness manner, facilitates the process.
And soon, it’s quite likely your hopes and dreams for the future will emerge in the journal – as if you’re pulling together a sort of cosmic “to do” list.
“Suddenly, you tap into things you did not know you knew,” says Ake.
But your spirit knows. Handwritten journaling gives it a voice.
The second tool in Cameron’s arsenal for artists is the artist date.
Simply, this is an activity you do to feed your inner artist. You can go bowling, sit quietly in a park, complete a coloring book, or travel somewhere you’ve never been before. What you do doesn’t matter as long as it’s enjoyable to you.
But here’s the catch. The artist date is something you do by yourself – just you and your inner artist. Any attempt to bring along a friend or a significant other signals another effort to avoid the intimacy you need with yourself to develop your creative side.
Of course, taking the time to do something fun for yourself – by yourself – is not something most people are comfortable doing at first, but once they catch on, says Ake, they become excited by the possibilities.
“One of my best artist dates was taking a trip to London by myself,” says Ake.
Ake shares special places in Columbus where clients can go for their own artist date.
“For example, the new architecture building at Ohio State has a wonderful little garden which you’re welcome to visit,” says Ake. She also recommends the Short North’s Urban Gardener. “It’s a wonderful place to fill your senses.”
And participants share places to go and things to do with her.
“One of my clients went to an Oriental rug shop – not to buy anything, but just to touch the carpets and enjoy all of the patterns,” she says.
Another client watercolors journal pages and lets them dry. When she writes her morning pages, she relishes the color and the crackle of the paper as she writes.
Artist dates are a way to “fill the well” – that is, inspire creativity. Unless you expose yourself to creativity, how can you expect to create?
There’s an advantage to working through The Artist’s Way with a group. The circle becomes a safe and sacred place to share your fragile hopes. You’re supported in your efforts, even if they fail, and you’re encouraged to go beyond what you dreamed possible.
“Real bonds are created in that 12-week period,” says Ake. It’s not unusual for groups that have taken Ake’s classes to repeat the process. One group has even returned four times.
Third-floor ballroom of Patricial Ake's Victorian Village home.
For repeat artists, Ake layers on extra tools like a gratitude journal. But whether the class is for repeat participants or new ones, it’s structured the same way – around the book, and around six basic lessons: Strong nurturing, limit setting, healthy body image, healthy eating, optimum health, and masterful living. All are principles of creative living, says Ake.
She begins each class with a feelings check. “We have to learn how to recognize our feelings and acknowledge them,” she says. No lengthy explanation about how you arrived at your feeling is necessary – but it is important to start developing a sense of where you are emotionally.
Then, artist dates are discussed and affirmations repeated.
“Affirmations feel awkward at first, but posting them around your house and repeating them throughout the day help you become accustomed to grandiose ideas,” says Ake.
Creativity demands big ideas – and the creative souls to manifest them.
“Working through The Artist’s Way is a large commitment,” says Ake. Class participants must be willing to commit the time and creative resources to the task.
They’re also asked to keep the class a sacred place. Nothing talked about within the group is shared outside of the group. And class members are urged to listen only. “No rescuing,” says Ake. Translate that as “no advice allowed.”
“No one is in your place so no one can really tell you what to do. It’s hard not to say something when someone raises a problem, but we honor the fact that the individual has the answers, and will discover them,” she says.
A natural extension
Ake took a few months off from her Artist’s Way classes recently to work on a new radio program that will debut this summer on a new Columbus network.
“It’s based on the West Coast’s Pacifica radio network,” says Ake, who sits on the board that is bringing the network to town.
Ake’s program will be a natural extension of her Artist’s Way classes – “the core of it will be on handwritten journaling,” she says.
The program will take calls from people who want to ask questions or share their own experiences with journaling.
And even though Ake says the program won’t be about The Artist’s Way, she says some of the book’s wisdom is bound to sneak into the program every now and then.
After all, the creative spirit doesn’t care what outlet releases it – a class, a journal, a radio program or an artist date. It only cares that you give it voice – and let it fly out into the world.
Patricia’s Centre offers 12-week Artist’s Way classes for $300. Classes form continuously. Contact Patricia Ake, 614-299-1623, for more information.
The No-Fee Artist’s Way Class
Mary Lay had made it through an Artist’s Way class given at a bookstore during the 1990s. She was a florist in the Akron area at the time, and she found the book made her better at setting boundaries and accomplishing what she set out to do each day. The morning pages, the stream-of-conscious journaling habit Artist’s Way author Julia Cameron recommends as one of creativity’s tools, are important, says Lay, because they help you look toward the future and possibilities. “Some of my pages almost look like a to-do list,” she says.
As her life moved forward, Lay found herself wanting to take the course again, but she could find no classes to attend, so she went through the book by herself. Twice.
“The first time, I knew I needed it to focus. My life was changing, and I wanted to figure out what direction I should go,” she says. The second time was when she thought about starting her own business.
Now, Lay has started a class for others like her – creative individuals who are looking to work through the book with other creative types. She began by offering a class at a local bookstore, but on February 13, Lay started a no-charge Artist’s Way class at Stonewall Columbus, 1160 N. High St. in the Short North.
“The Artist’s Way made a difference in my life,” says Lay. “I wanted to discuss it with others who have read it. I want to share the experience because studying the book in a group situation is so much more mind expanding than if you study the book by yourself.”
Although Lay’s Artist’s Way class is already underway, she says she anticipates offering a class again through Stonewall. And again, it will focus on a work by Julia Cameron. But this time, she’d like to offer the author’s Walking in the World – a sort of Artist’s Way for walkers.
“It will be spring by the time we finish The Artist’s Way, and I think that would be a perfect time to go through the other book,” says Lay. She adds she’ll probably offer The Artist’s Way class again, later in the year if there is enough interest.
Contact Stonewall Columbus, 614-299-7764 or visit www.stonewallcolumbus.org for information on Lay’s future classes.
©2006 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. all rights reserved.