Last week, I started doing The Artist's Way for maybe the second or third time (I say "doing" rather than "reading" because although it's a book, it's also a 12-week course for getting creatively unstuck...the magic is in the "doing"). Although I'm not stuck (more than usual anyway), I've been looking at it as inspiration for the book I'm writing. It's got such a great balance of philosophy and practicality, which I'm hoping to strike in my book.
One of the basic practices in The Artist's Way is the artist date. Despite how important Julia Cameron says this is, I've never done the artist date. Morning pages, yes. All that requires is me picking up my pen and a notebook and writing down whatever comes into my head for three pages. The artist date actually requires me to go somewhere. Alone, without my kids or my husband or my best friend.
Today, I did the artist date for the first time. Since we're living on the outskirts of our city right now, I thought it would be a great idea to take advantage of our sticksville location by going to an eatery that's even further away. They have really great food, and you can hang out with animals after you eat. I parked my car, got a cup of coffee and one of their famous cinnamon rolls, and sat down to write my morning pages (I'm not sure if it's technically allowed to do your morning pages ON your artist's date, but I'm allowing it).
If you don't have three kids who you homeschool (from home, naturally) and a company that you run (from home) and a house that is so far away from civilization that people barely visit you, you'll just have to imagine how light-footed I felt, sitting there among new, interesting people who I wasn't responsible for. I sipped my coffee and wrote my words and ate my cinnamon roll with a big smile on my face the whole time.
After about half an hour of this, a sweet middle-aged lady came in (I presumed she was the owner). She bantered with her employees and checked to make sure her customers were comfortable, and then came over to my table.
"How are you? Is everything good?"
"Yes. It's great." (Then in an attempt to connect with this new person somehow.) "Actually, I'm on an artist date."
"An artist date. Have you ever done The Artist's Way?"
"Well, it's a book...for finding your creativity."
"Oh, that's nice. That's so nice. Are you having fun?"
Then she went back to work. I felt a little stupid for being so forthcoming, especially when I was checking out with a big chicken pot pie under my arm, and she turned to a man about her age who had a similar look about him (her spouse? co-owner?) and said, "Look, she's on a date with herself!" And he said "Oh!" and then silence. I made a weird combination giggle/smile, gathered up my purchases, and left.
I don't know what I was expecting, really. Maybe a glint of recognition or some kind of interaction that would make me feel closer to my fellow humans. After all, I don't usually strike up conversations with strangers.
As I was driving home, I was oddly reminded of that verse, "Don't cast your pearls before swine." I've always felt weird about that verse...it seems a small comfort when you're misunderstood or flat-out rejected. It's like you're saying, "Anyone who doesn't get me is a big fat pig and can shove it". Sometimes that's completely justified (I have a neighbor who this interpretation most definitely applies to), but it doesn't account for the people who "don't get it" who are kind and lovely, and not at all pigs.
But today I realized that it's not about people being self-absorbed and smelly like pigs. At least, not most of them. It's about people receiving something precious and not realizing what it is. Like an adorable little pig, they are simply unable to distinguish between a pearl and just another piece of rock.
I wonder if that's not why many of us who put our work out into the world naturally want other people to see the value in it. It's not that we need the constant validation. It's that we have created a pearl, and we hope we are offering it to people who don't mistake it for the gravel they use to fill up their driveways.
One thing I love about the internet is that it's easier to find the kindred spirits. There isn't a wall of flesh and self-awareness between me and the other person. That flash of recognition happens so regularly and often when I make something or write something for people who I discover are astonishingly like me.
Of course, I like the pigs, too. I'm sure I am one at times. But I don't create for them. I create for Sarah and for the people who are made up of something similar. I create for that spark of recognition between me and you, the one where we see ourselves in each other and are comforted that we aren't the only ones. That may happen rarely or often, but when it happens, it's special...maybe even more valuable than the pearl itself.