The Artist’s Way: Descent into Ashes

I’ve written about the story before.

The one I wrote and sent to the local paper–just like Jo in Little Women.

How the newspaper sent it back–rejected.

They might have sent an encouraging note, but I don’t remember.

I only knew they didn’t want it.

It wasn’t good enough.

I wasn’t good enough.

I threw it all in the barrel and burned it to ashes.

I remember bringing home an A on my report card. “Why wasn’t this an A+?” my mom responded. Maybe she thought it really should have been.

But I heard it wasn’t good enough.

I wasn’t good enough.

Not-good-enough still follows me around.

I always wanted to play the piano, so the first piece of furniture we bought after we were married was a used spinet. I took classes after work, and played for my mom when she came to visit.

“Oops,” she said. “You made a mistake.”

It wasn’t good enough.

I wasn’t good enough.

When I first started to write again, I only submitted to paying markets. Because money validated that I was good enough. Only not-good-enoughs wrote for free. And money showed my husband that this was a worthwhile pursuit, worthy of his cash investment.

I sold some, but I also collected a lot of rejections.

Still not good enough.

I didn’t know how to have fun with writing.

It had become a job. A duty.

I went back to real work.

And buried myself in the needs of others.

Many of us find that we have squandered our own creative energies by investing disproportionately in the lives, hopes, dreams, and plans of others. Their lives have obscured and detoured our own. ~p.6

It’s not their fault. It’s my issue, my inability to set boundaries, my living through them.

It’s my not-good-enoughitis.

Of course, I know better.

But even as I tried to leap into The Artist’s Way with all grandiose intentions, I ran into family roadblocks.

And then I realized I had continuing education credits to complete in order to renew my nursing license–or lose it for good. I keep it in good standing because–well, I don’t know when I might actually need a real job.

And so morning pages and artist dates took a back seat as other stuff drew my focus.

When we engage in creative recovery, we enter into a withdrawal process for life as we know it . . . In movie terms, we slowly pull focus. ~p. 6

Ordinarily, when we speak of withdrawal, we think of having a substance removed from us . . . It’s useful to view creative withdrawal a little differently. We ourselves are the substance we withdraw to, not from, as we pull our overextended and misplaced creative energy back into our own core. ~p. 6

My husband asks why I so often seem angry.

“I don’t know,” I respond. “I’m doing too much? My thyroid is whack? There’s too much clutter? You snore so I can’t sleep? I’m tired? I’m old?”

But sometimes I snap, “I hate my life.”

And it’s an epiphany. It’s not this life with the people in it. I’m mourning my abandoned self.

I burned me in the barrel.

We begin to excavate our buried dreams. This is a tricky process.. Some of our dreams are very volatile, and the mere act of brushing them off sends an enormous surge of energy bolting through our denial system. Such grief! Such loss! Such pain! It is at this point in the recovery process that we make what Robert Bly calls a “descent into ashes.” We mourn the self we abandoned. We greet this self as we might greet a lover at the end of a long and costly war. ~p. 6

I will not lose this war.

As artists, we must learn to be self-nourishing.  We must become alert enough to consciously replenish our creative resources as we draw on them . . . I call this process filling the well . . . How do we fill the well? We feed it images . . . In filling the well, think magic. Think delight. Think fun. Do not think duty. Do not do what you should do–spiritual situps like reading a dull but recommended critical text. Do what intrigues you, explore what interests you; think mystery, not mastery. ~p 21

Remember, your artist is a child. Find and protect that child. ~p 29

I will press on. I will pull focus.

I will rise from the ashes.

It’s never too late, right?

I will recover myself. I will protect that child.

And I will have fun.

With Julia’s help

And His, of course.


Creativity is like crabgrass–it springs back with the simplest bit of care.
~Julia Cameron


Joining the Tweetspeak Poetry artist children as Lyla leads us on a gallop through The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron. This week we’re playing in the introductory sections and week 1, “Recovering a Sense of Safety.”


  1. says

    Hearing those “not-good-enoughs” echo in our minds are so crushing to the spirit. But, you are so right – we can rise from those ashes and reclaim the inner child who is the one who know what we need and what we wish to accomplish.
    Getting rid of those inner demons is a must. I wrote a blog on this called “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out, Kid” at Hope you can check it out!
    Thanks for such an inspiring post!
    Martha Orlando recently posted.."He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands . . ."

    • Sandra says

      Interesting what thoughts bubbled and words flowed as I thought about this section. And the other side of the coin is remembering that God holds our days, and perhaps He has different paths for us to follow for a season.

      I’m heading over to that post now. :)

  2. says

    I don’t recall ever hearing (or feeling) the “not good enough” inferences as I grew up, but my parents always expected me to do my best and be my best. They had high hopes that I would become an architectural engineer and, although they never said it, I’m sure they were disappointed when I chose teaching instead. (But I loved teaching.)

    I think one of the great downfalls in our society and educational system is expecting everyone to fit into a standardized definition of success. We can fall into that trap in our own lives, too. I love Julia Cameron’s books (I’ve read four of them now, and particularly enjoyed “The Sound of Paper”), but I’ve discovered if I study someone else’s position on ephemeral things like art or writing, I also end up attempting to emulate them, or at least adopt their suggestions. Since I’m not that person, I generally fail, and that feeds my sense of inadequacy.

    I honestly believe we need to develop a confidence in our God-given abilities… to define the boundaries of our responsibilities to others and then allow ourselves to schedule in time for nurturing our inner selves… to believe in our right to tackle our passions, but also to believe in our right to fail without self-recrimination. We’re all unique. You’ll find that abandoned self, Sandy, but it might not be by studying what others have to say about the creative life, or what they suggest is the right path to effective self-expression.

    Boy, oh, boy… did I ever climb on a high soapbox! Sheepishly climbing down now. You obviously touched a nerve with today’s post. :)
    Carol J. Garvin recently posted..What’s in a name (or a title)?

    • Sandra says

      Get back up on the soapbox, Carol. You are a wise one. I need you.

      We *are* all unique and need to lean into that. That Julia gives permission for us–and encourages us–to nurture our inner selves gives me such a sense of freedom. Because it’s always been difficult for me to do that, to find the balance between caring for others and caring for myself.

      I bet you were a great teacher. You still are.

  3. says

    Duane wrote about burning his writing too…

    And you have Julia climbing the rock wall. (She should have had that workout before she traveled with me last week. Perhaps she wouldn’t have fallen so far off the cliff…)

    Sandy, I love your heart. That’s all I’m going to say. (Except, also, listen to Carol. :)
    Lyla Lindquist recently posted..Safety

  4. says

    “I burned me in the barrel.” That just took my breath away, because it’s just about what I said to four of my five kids last night: “For 19 years, I’ve poured my entire life into yours….” My 17 year old interrupted, “And we’re all the poorer for it. Mom gave up being herself for us. It’s time she had time to find herself.” God bless him! He sees it. They all do. Even me. It isn’t too late, not till our last breath. So here’s to traveling this road with you, Sandy! Because YOU ARE ENOUGH…MORE THAN ENOUGH! YOU are a MASTERPIECE of almighty God, holy, exquisite, redeemed, forgiven, SET FREE! Love you, my friend!
    Cindee Snider Re recently posted..The Mystery of Art

  5. Sharon O says

    It is hard to get those tapes out of our heads, but if we are going pursue new ‘hopes and dreams’ and trust in our own hearts desires, we must get the bad talk far away from us. You are gifted in many things, trust in yourself and the God who gave you those gifts.

  6. says

    Holy crap, woman. You write my life better than I ever could. Thanks for these words, for sharing some of your own story so beautifully. We’re not an exact match (I never had a parent ask for an A+ – geez louize) but I did pour myself into others for many, many years and continue to do too much of that in retirement now, too. It’s so hard to put down hard edges sometimes, the edge that says, “this is me, taking care of me, doing what God has called me to do.” I have resisted some of these Cameron exercises and as a result, find myself with nothing to say…again. So I thank you for writing down a lot of my own emotional response to this book. And I second Carol up above, too – she is a very wise one.
    diana recently posted..Beauty in the Backyard

  7. Merrill Ann Gonzales says

    Hi Sandra, I do a lot of gardening. And one time a poet friend of mine was concerned because a very large project got rejected after a lot of work. I told him not to worry because it was all compost! Everything I do just leads to greater awareness for the next project. As it turned out I was glad I had those pieces available because I was contacted for some pieces that were published with a great deal of attention to them too!
    I’ve also learned that the more I create for publication the less fine my work becomes. My finest work always seems to come from the sheer joy of creating.
    I’m glad you have discovered so many wise things along the way too. It’s the journey that counts, not the destination.
    Merrill Ann Gonzales recently the old parking lot – Haiga with Tom Clausen tanka

  8. says

    Wow…. I do wonder about the big push for ‘paying art.’ It takes all the fun out of it if we join in the throngs of others promoting and selling their work.

    Why not just do it for the love of the work and leave it at that?

    Thank you for pouring yourself into others, for encouraging us. Love the ashes that you wear :)
    David Rupert recently posted..Can we ever trust again?

  9. says

    I just keep being reminded of this verse:
    “To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.”—Isaiah 61:3

    Your words are such blessing … always.
    S. Etole recently posted..Obscurity ~

  10. jennifer says

    Life is full of unexpected things that we haven’t wish for, but we need to face these things in order to become a worth effective person who are able to handle such things continuously…
    jennifer recently posted..How I ranked in 4 weeks