Julia Cameron

Santafe.com | SantaFe.com - May 26, 2011

An Artist's Way

It’s been almost 20 years since “The Artist’s Way” was published, and author Julia Cameron has been making a living from the simple tools ever since: morning pages (three hand-written, stream-of-consciousness pages first thing every morning); artist dates (a weekly solo expedition to some place that enchants you);  and outdoor walks (twice a week for 20 minutes each). 

Some 4 million copies of her seminal book have sold worldwide, not counting 29 other books of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and prayer, as well as plays and musicals.

But if you’re one of the handful of Santa Feans who have never tried to transform your creative process through Cameron’s methods, the process just got easier. In April, Cameron launched a new interactive subscription site, www.juliacameronlive.com, a way to bring her inspiration to your home.

Then again, maybe you’ll meet her walking her cocker spaniel Tiger Lily one afternoon, become friends, and get invited to one of her weekly dinner parties.

Cameron moved here last September after 12 years in Manhattan. (Prior to that, she lived in Taos for 10 years, where she still maintains a storage space for those decades of morning pages.) “I never got over missing nature,” said Cameron, 63. She thought Santa Fe would be a good mix of nature and the city.

Cameron is so smooth on the page that it’s a bit surprising to see her social awkwardness in front of a large group. At her May talk at the Hotel Santa Fe, she readily admitted she was terrified of public speaking and enlisted groups of friends to pray for her each time she has to. Think of your favorite, quite proper and earnest aunt, who has been asked to bare her soul in a roomful of strangers.

So it was even more surprising when she suddenly announced she would be singing for the group. There was some uncomfortable shifting in the crowd. But if you could imagine a wood nymph singing, then you would have the feel of Cameron’s voice as she began, “Time is like a river, we wash our bones like stones ….” The song went on with a number of verses while the audience grew noticeably more quiet.

Cameron herself was just as surprised when her morning pages led her to writing songs. “We think we know what size we are when we start working with the tools, but the morning pages sneak up on us,” she said. “You may find yourself brave enough to be a beginner.”

She explained that the tools work in insidious ways. “You get led a little bit at a time,” she said. “You get tricked into being a little more expansive.” The summer she worked on songwriting in London, for example, she eventually bought a Casio keyboard with 18 keys – not a full piano, but a start.

Her latest project, which she won’t specify other than to say it’s a nonfiction book, is “entirely handwritten,” she said, a kind of artisanal venture. She sits with her back to all the birdfeeders she’s hung in her new back yard and writes.

Morning pages are always handwritten (“it connects you to your emotional life,” Cameron said), but her book is also being handwritten, in the afternoon. Her days look like this: First, she writes her pages, then she “ventures into the city a bit” (that would be Santa Fe). About 2 p.m., she returns to her house and settles in to the writing of the day. When she’s finished, she walks Tiger Lily and makes dinner.

Her hunt to find a place to rent wasn’t much difference from many newcomers to Santa Fe, although she had a Realtor friend to help. “I thought I wanted an apartment within walking distance from the Plaza and coffee shops and mountain views,” she said. “And so Lynne (Murray) took me out and the first place had absolutely everything on the list and I hated it. It just felt wrong. And then she took me to see about 10 more houses that were all filled with things on my list, and I didn’t like any of them.”

     After that came a very grand house with gardens, a laundry room, a walk-in pantry and a study with built-in bookshelves. “I thought, `If I took this house, I would always feel like I was living in someone else’s trophy house,’” she said.

Then Murray took Cameron to a house in the woods off Old Taos Highway. “It had nothing on my list,” said Cameron. “There were toys strewn everywhere and couches were shoved up against doors …  clothing hanging on furniture. I stood there for a minute and said, `I’ll take it.’”

And Cameron’s life has changed along with her new digs. “I find myself doing a lot of cooking,” she said. “I have new friends that I have over on Wednesdays.” Cameron doesn’t question why people want to be her friends, that maybe she’s the new blood in town. “I think about things more like, ‘Will they like the pie?’

“People in Santa Fe like to party,” she said. “In Manhattan, people are very, very wound up in their work, and they have a hard time making time for friends.”

But Cameron’s methods might lead to even more special friends. At an early May talk at the Hotel Santa Fe, she said, “I don’t want to say, `Do the artist’s way, you’ll get laid …” and then she paused, saying that after doing morning pages for several weeks, others might ask you, “Did you get some face work done?”

It’s just that, as Cameron puts it, as you do your morning pages, you become much more comfortable with yourself. And as you become much more comfortable with yourself, you become much more attractive. “And as you become more attractive …,”  said Cameron. And there was that pause again.