Entries tagged with “Beth Lee-Browing”.


by Beth Lee-Browning Beth Lee-Browning

I’m not a huge baseball fan, but I thoroughly enjoyed attending the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.  I haven’t been for a few years now but I still remember the thrill of finding a parking spot on one of the narrow streets of South Omaha, followed by a hot and sticky walk toward the stadium anticipating the foot long hotdog and freshly squeezed lemonade as much as the game itself.

I always felt a small lump in my throat and a shiver down my spine when we emerged from the neighborhood and saw The Road to Omaha sculpture in front of the Red and Blue awning of the stadium.  There’s something special about the way the artist immortalized the joyful feeling of winning the championship through the image of three young ball players hoisting a fourth onto their shoulders, his hand reaching to the air with the universal symbol meaning  ‘we’re number one.’ For one week out of the summer, strangers from all across the country come together in a spirit of competition and camaraderie that turns many a non-baseball lover into a fan of the series. Among many long time traditions including sunburns, beach balls on the field, and the wave, is the seventh inning stretch, it’s the point in the game where both the fans and the players need to take a breather. Headed into week ten of Walking in This World (Julia Cameron) I found myself in need of something akin to a seventh inning stretch.

My professional work life had been particularly challenging and full of commotion when I tackled the chapter Discovering a Sense of Camaraderie for the first time.  After careful consideration I knew my head wasn’t in the right place to absorb the message let alone write about it, I put the book aside knowing I would recognize when the time was right to pick it back up.  Three weeks later I read the chapter and performed the tasks for a second time.  In doing so I realized both how much I learned and how much I would have missed if I hadn’t taken a break.

For the tenth chapter in a row I wondered how Julia knew me so well.  She introduced it with the notion that “[d]espite our Lone Ranger mythology, the artist’s life is not lived in isolation.”

The first section is entitled Keep Drama on the Stage. Oh boy…I have a tendency to let commotion overwhelm and consume me and when that happens I can become quite dramatic and have been known to make mountains out of molehills when I lose perspective. I paused for a long time after reading Julia’s opening comments, “Artists are dramatic.  Art is dramatic.  When artists are not making artistic dramas, they tend to make personal ones.  Feeling off center, they demand center stage.”  I realized that as the disorder in my day job increased I was writing less, taking no pictures, exercise was non-existent, and the amount of time I spent wailing and gnashing my teeth had reached an all-time high.

I had to stop and consider the fact that although the commotion in my life was real that perhaps in some ways I had fallen prey to what the author refers to as “Artistic anorexia, the avoidance of the pleasure of the creative… ” I took heart as she described one friend who develops “health problems on the cusp of every major concert tour” and another  friend who “loses all humor and sense of personal perspective every time a writing deadline looms…People like these should furnish seat belts for those riding shotgun in their lives.”  It made me realize that I’m not alone and although my ‘drama’ isn’t always a result of a creative deadline (although there have been a fair share of those as well) and it made me thankful for the people in my life that ride along with me on the roller coaster and who don’t hesitate to let me know when it’s time to snap out of it.

Julia likens a sense of humor to a sense of scale: “a sense of scale is what gives our work proportion, perspective, and personality;” when we lose our sense of humor we also lose our sense of scale.  I thought the bumper sticker she quoted was brilliant, “Angels fly because they take themselves lightly.” I’ve always thought of myself as being a person with a great sense of humor and one who uses humor to get through tough times.

What I’ve come to realize is that when I start feeling a loss of control about the situation at hand I also start losing my sense of humor and perspective.  I turn into Eeyore and I not only feed on the drama I’ve created, I con myself into thinking that obsessing about my dramatic dilemma is far more important than anything else I could be doing.  I need to adopt the mantra suggested by the author, “Sudden problems in my life usually indicate a need to work on my art.”  Creativity is fueled by the full range of emotions not just the positive ones. What we create, what defines our ‘art,’ can take on many forms, it can be anything from a masterpiece of a painting, to a beautifully prepared meal, or as simple as arranging flowers in a vase to brighten the winter gloom. Sometimes breaking through the wall of self-induced or maybe even self-indulgent drama is as easy as Julia cleverly points out, “It is probably not an accident that the verbs exorcise and exercise are so similarly spelled.” I have to admit the comment hit home and I’m now back to regular physical activity and a much improved perspective about life.

As with most things, if we enjoy doing them we strive to improve and to be the best we can, art is no different.  “As artists, we are not interested merely in expressing ourselves…We are interested in expressing ourselves more and more accurately, more and more beautifully.”  In order to do so, we must be open to being teachable and we need to strive to find excellence in our interactions and our resources.  She spoke of how “teachers and students seem to intersect by divine planning more than by set curriculum.”  Based on my own experiences, I believe this to be true. I also think a ‘teacher’ can take on many forms and isn’t limited to a classroom or mentoring relationship. It can be a chance meeting at an author’s luncheon, a conversation in an airport, or even the gift of a book.

Life is made up of teaching moments if we are open to them, I think this is true for art as well.  It’s important to remember that “[g]uidance and generosity are always closer at hand than we may think.  It always falls on  us to be open to receiving guidance and to pray for the willingness and openness to know when it arrives.” In addition to teachers we also need friends.

I enjoyed the discussion about the various roles friends play in our lives in the section Before, During and After Friends. The author refers to the need to have friends who fit well in the various phases of our creative stages and sense of self.  We need friends who see the swan but also understand that at the same time she looks beautiful and at peace, her feet are churning under the surface and she’s trying to stay afloat.

One size does not fit all when it comes to friends, we need people in our lives to “help us leap and land, help us celebrate and mourn,” and they may not always be the same person. One of the most important friends in our lives could quite possibly be the person that Julia refers to as a “catcher’s mitt…someone whose particular intelligence lights your own.”

It’s the person who acknowledges with gentle honesty if the work has a ways to go and encourages you to keep going.  They don’t build you up with false praise and they don’t destroy you with harsh criticism.  It’s “[s]omeone avidly crouched near home plate.  Somebody slapping his mitt a little eagerly and saying, “Put it here.”

Life is not meant to be lived in isolation and art is intended to be shared.  It’s critical to the creative process to be discerning about relationships and their impact on us.  Discerning doesn’t mean snobbish it means smart and self-aware and is the foundation for a sense of camaraderie, creativity, and happiness.  It’s also about maintaining a sense of humor and personal perspective even if it sometimes takes a ‘seventh inning stretch’ to get back in the game.

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Beth Lee-Browning lives outside of Philadelphia, is a transplanted Midwesterner, and a mid-life woman who is discovering the joy of living life to its fullest and under her own rules. She chronicles her adventures from the ordinary to the unusual with keen and thought provoking observations, a unique wit, sensitivity and an underlying theme that “everything is going to be all right.” Read Beth’s blog at it’s a whole new world.

Beth Lee-BrowningThis is part of an intermittent series about Julia Cameron’s Walking in This World.

by Beth Lee-Browning

Second to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, my favorite childhood movie is The Wizard of Oz.  Back in the days before On Demand, Netflix, Redbox, and hundreds of cable stations playing the same movie over and over again were the days of anticipation and excitement. I looked forward to the special night when I could watch a movie while eating dinner and I cried when they ended because I wanted them to go on forever.

As a child I thought that Dorothy’s companions were the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man. As an adult I’ve come to realize that the foursome was really worry accompanied by fear, insecurity, and doubt.  In spite of the anxieties and feelings of panic, Dorothy and her friends survive danger, conquer the enemy and emerge from their journey triumphant.

In week nine of Walking in this World (Julia Cameron) the author defines negative emotions and explains how they can play a positive role in life if they are kept in their proper perspective.  I wondered if Julia had somehow read my journal before she wrote the chapter Discovering a Sense of Resiliency. The first section is entitled Worry (which is my middle name) and she introduced me to the chapter with a gentle but firm reminder, “No artist is immune to negative emotions…As the week focuses on the inner trials faced by artists, it assures us that while the dark night of the soul comes to all of us, by accepting this we are able to move through it.”

Merriam Webster defines worry as “mental distress or agitation resulting from concern usually for something impending or anticipated: anxiety.”   Julia describes worry as obsessive and “a kind of emotional anteater” and says that “[w]orry is the imagination’s negative stepsister.  Instead of making things, we make trouble.”  Worry is often accompanied by panic and fear.  Panic is the immobilizing certainty that we know just where we want to go but no idea how we are going to get there.  Fear can take a small worry and translate it into “paralyzing inertia.”  She also pronounces fear as both “positive and useful,” and further explains that we should not give into our fears but we should pay attention to them, admit them, and be open to help.

Too often we pretend we are not scared, we feign bravery and we begin to feel isolated, helpless and not good enough.  When we ignore the message fear is sending us, when we hold ourselves to blame, “we blind ourselves to the possibility that there might, in fact, be someone or something wrong in our environment” and we may miss the opportunity to change something wrong into something right.

I took heart when she said, “If we are to expand our lives, we must be open to positive possibilities and outcomes as well as negative ones.  By learning to embrace our worried energy, we are able to translate it from fear into fuel…This is a learned process.”  I think I have a lot of learning yet to do.

Lately I’ve been feeling restless and out of sorts.  According to Julia “restlessness is a good omen” and it means destiny is getting ready to knock, prayers will soon be answered, and that “[i]nner malcontent actually triggers outer change – if we are willing to listen to our malcontent with an open mind and listen to what will feel like a wave of irrational promptings.”  I had never thought about feeling agitated or discontented in this way, but as I jotted down a list of major breakthroughs in my life creatively, personally, and professionally I had to admit there may be something to what she was saying.  Maybe fate is asking me if I want to dance.

Maybe things do happen for a reason, and maybe that reason is because we finally acknowledge our fears as well as our dreams and in doing so we quit clinging to Plan A and we become open to Plan B or C or even Z.

I think most people are insecure and as human beings and especially as artists we tend to focus on how we compare to others rather than being content with who we are.  We lack patience and hold ourselves to a standard of perfection that has little to do with actual criteria, instead we feel bad because we’re not as good as we think we should be. We negate our own value by wishing we were as good as what’s his name rather than being proud of our accomplishments. That’s not to say we shouldn’t try and improve ourselves, but it is saying that we need to accept ourselves for who we are and we need to guard against allowing our insecurities to keep us from following our dreams.  In the task Exactly the Way I Am Julia asked me to list fifty specific things that I like about myself. After completing the list I realized that there is a lot to like.  “By counting our blessings we can come to see that we are blessed and that we need not compare ourselves to anyone.”

Julia has a way of turning things on their head for me and her take on doubt is certainly one of them.  “Doubt is a signal of the creative process.  It is a signal that you are doing something right – not that you are doing something wrong or crazy or stupid.” I thought my doubts about my writing meant that I was self-aware and realistic and that the essay I had just written really did deserve to be deleted because it wasn’t any good.  It turns out that doubt and self-appraisal are not one in the same.  Doubt plagues us at night when we’re alone and vulnerable and tells you that you can’t while self-appraisal arrives in broad daylight and helps you adjust your course.  Doubt is something to be waited out without giving into behaviors that are self-destructive.

There is an underlying theme woven throughout the lessons. Although we will encounter negative emotions and unsavory characters along our own version of the yellow brick road, we can combat them, wait them out, and use them to our creative advantage, but most importantly self-acceptance and self-respect will lead us safely home.

 

This is a reprint from Beth Lee-Browning’s personal blog, it’s a whole new world,  originally posted  December 11, 2010. Other reprints from this series are available here at FFC: Going the Distance Without “Rests,”  Music Would just be NoiseStar Light, Star Bright…I Wish I May, I Wish I Might…A Spoonful of SugarFaith, Trust, and Pixie Dust, Mirror, Mirror on the WallIn Living Color: Summoning the MuseThrough the Looking Glassand I Could Have Had A V-8!

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Beth Lee-Browning lives outside of Philadelphia, is a transplanted Midwesterner, and a mid-life woman who is discovering the joy of living life to its fullest and under her own rules. She chronicles her adventures from the ordinary to the unusual with keen and thought provoking observations, a unique wit, sensitivity and an underlying theme that “everything is going to be all right.”  Read Beth’s blog at it’s a whole new world.

 

 

This is an intermittent series by the author about her journey through Julia Cameron’s Walking in This World.

by Beth Lee -Browning

Yesterday I started out with a plan and it turned into an adventure.  The original idea was to “kill two birds with one stone” by going to the Garden of Reflection, a local memorial for the victims of 9/11 for both my “Weekly Walk” and my “Artists Date.”

I know that’s not exactly what Julia Cameron  intended when she asked me to commit to regular use of the three basic tools of The Artists Way during the twelve week journey through Walking in This World , but I rationalized it by telling myself that it would be better to combine them than to skip one. As it turned out I didn’t combine them at all and the outcome was delightful and it was just the right way to conclude week four, Discovering a Sense of Adventure.

The previous chapters were introduced with words like “initiate,” “inaugurate,” and “aim,” words that convey action but feel easy. This week’s introduction felt anything but easy: “This week you are asked to jettison some of your personal baggage.”

She went on to explain that the exercises are intended to help gain a greater insight into the things that get in the way of feeling a sense of personal freedom and creativity, things we may not even be aware of.  She said, “You will focus on self-acceptance as a route to self-expression.”

Julia stated, “Humans are by nature adventurous.” She spoke of toddlers exploring, teenagers testing limits, and grandmothers touring Russia. And how we often “ignore our very nature. .  .calling it ‘adulthood’ or ‘discipline,’ ” which can take on the “form of a stubborn, self-involved crankiness” as a result of turning our back on the child that lives within us.

I’ve come to realize that somewhere along the way I lost my wonder and curiosity, I lost my sense of adventure and “lightness.” Life became about the schedule, the goals, and the perceived expectations.  I had a career to build, a family to support, kids to raise, and an image to uphold. I thought I had to be “perfect,” I didn’t allow myself to be “me.”  I lived in the future and not in the moment.

I read and re-read the section entitled, The Verb “To Be.”  I remembered in the previous chapter the author pointed out that “ ‘Art’ is a form of the verb ‘to be.’ ”   I absorbed her words: “ ‘Art’ is less about what we could be and more about what we are than we normally acknowledge.  When we are fixated on getting better, we miss what it is we already are.”  A week and several drafts of this paragraph later, it dawned on me that she’s not just talking about writing, painting, or composing; she’s talking about living and about appreciating who we are, not wishing we were better.

Nothing in my life has been done “according to plan,” but I realize now that it also hasn’t happened by accident.  In the times that I acknowledged my true desires, committed myself to an idea, followed my intuition, believed in myself, and had faith, somehow against all odds, I succeeded.

The final section made me wonder how Julia knew about my daily internal debate: how do I pursue getting published (and paid for it)? Do I follow the practical methods prescribed by the books I’ve read and the classes I’ve taken or do I follow my intuition, write what I love and hope that if I continue to “build it,” it will come?

I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Over the past year, I’ve waffled between being excited and discouraged about the thought of writing query letters and articles as a means to an end (the end being to be published and paid for it), to have a second career, to become a writer. When I began taking classes the idea excited me and the constraints of topics assigned through lessons and within the narrow needs of a publication felt comfortable and I “knew” what I should write.  But now, the more I write what I want without direction or constraints, the happier I am and the more I “know” what I should write.

I take hope in the author’s belief that, “Since each of us is one-of-a-kind, the market, for all its supposed predictability, is actually vulnerable to falling in love with any of us at any time.”

There seems to be something in each chapter that is specifically for me. Creating the collage last week sparked a latent desire within me to draw.  My favorite task this week was “Draw Yourself to Scale,” the assignment was to buy a sketch book, a new artist’s tool. One intended to help me freeze time and to capture life’s adventures as I live them. It now contains six pencil drawings.

In my other blog, I’m known as Tinkerbeth and I often refer to my world as Never Never Land, which ironically is the home of Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up and is always having an adventure.  Being a “child at heart” doesn’t equal being irresponsible or un-adult like, it means it’s ok to do something just because it delights us.

Discovering a Sense of Adventure, is not about bungee jumping, mountain climbing, or parasailing. It’s stepping over a chain link fence and venturing onto property marked private to take pictures of an abandoned radio station and drinking in the beauty that surrounds you instead of panicking when you get lost trying to find the Garden of Reflection.  It’s about taking risks, following your intuition, having faith, and accepting yourself.

It may turn out that accepting myself will be the most exciting adventure of all.

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Beth Lee-Browning is originally from the Midwest and currently lives in Pennsylvania. She is a proud mother of three, a full time professional, and an aspiring writer.  Beth maintains a very observant blog, It’s a Whole New World, here.