“Filling the well involves the active pursuit of images to refresh our artistic reservoirs. Art is born in attention. Its midwife is detail.” — Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
Yesterday I slept in because I had woken up in the middle of the night, scared by a dream. (When I came to consciousness, I was lying flat on my back shouting “death angel!” My boyfriend tells me he thinks Death Angel was an ’80s metal band — can anyone confirm this? — but that is not what my dream was about.)
I was so afraid I’d see a death angel in my bedroom mirror that I got up and went into the living room and watched TV until my bedroom didn’t seem so scary anymore.
Anyway, because I let myself sleep late to compensate for being up in the middle of the night, I walked out of the house at 10:30 to get my morning coffee with my mind full of all I had to do, feeling irritated and stressed. I hate starting the day late. It screws up my to-do list, makes me feel I’m already behind just by virtue of not beginning when I thought I would.
I got my coffee and then walked over to the hardware store to buy some lightbulbs. The person working at the front desk was tied up with a return, so I walked to the back of the store to the other register.
And I noticed the store had an old-fashioned red-and-gold popcorn cart set up back there, complete with little bags of popcorn and a hand-written sign that said “Take one!” I didn’t take one — I was working on my coffee — but I loved this. It brought back another memory of free popcorn, when I was a kid, maybe in a similar setting, and my mom grabbing two little bags of popcorn just like this, and handing one to me.
And then I began to think about how I really like my hardware store. The employees are always friendly, and customers are allowed to bring their dogs in, and when I go in there I feel like I’ve stepped back into the 1980s, in a very good way.
The popcorn cart made me feel happy and I left the store with my lightbulbs feeling a little less stressed. And I thought, you know, it’s Saturday. There was a time when Saturday was my day of relaxation. Now I too often make it my day to “get a lot done that I didn’t get done earlier in the week.”
So I decided I would reclaim some of that old Saturday relaxed energy and take a little walk.
When I returned from it, I scribbled down bits of what I remembered from the walk in my journal:
A snowman dressed like he was on a tropical vacation — Hawaiian shirt, grass skirt, sunglasses perched above his carrot nose — with a tube of SPF 50 lying in the snow next to him.
A sleek black dog in a red collar, digging in the snow and retrieving a tennis ball. The dog pranced around its fenced-in yard with the ball in its mouth, peppy and proud. It was an adult dog, but it bounded and flopped like a puppy. It saw me, dropped the ball to its feet, and froze, staring at me brightly with its ears perked and a dusting of snow on its chin that looked like cake frosting.
The dog and I exchanged a long, contemplative look, and then I rounded the corner and saw the sheets of snow coating yard after yard. The snow appeared perfectly smooth, but when I looked closely, I saw that hundreds of tiny rabbit tracks peppered each blanket. Now, I haven’t actually seen a rabbit in months — unlike squirrels, who are the chatty, ever-visible extroverts of the neighborhood animal kingdom, rabbits keep their distance and when you do see them, they freeze until you move on. But I love that rabbits leave traces of themselves, so we know they’re around.
The popcorn cart in the hardware store drew me into the present moment, and I moved on through my day more alert to the sights around me. Filling up on these images and then writing them down felt so nourishing. It connected me with the wonder that is the world around me, and I forgot about the to-do list that had been hanging over me when I’d left the house. When I returned to it, I felt more grounded and saw that not everything on the to-do list needed to be done. The peace I thought I would have when I had completed everything on the list was already within me.
My walk turned into what Julia Cameron calls an Artist’s Date. The purpose of an Artist’s Date is to fill your “creative well” with nourishment, in whatever form that takes for you. For me it is often the beauty of the everyday. How could so much amazingness be just outside my door? Well, it’s always there, but most of the time I don’t see it. I had to consciously open myself to it — which I did by choosing to slow down and have a leisurely walk — in order for it to find me.
This kind of nourishment is always available, and it’s totally free.
Try this: Make a practice of writing down images that inspire you, in as much detail as you can. See how you feel while you do it, and afterward.