Touchstones: 25 Things I Love

I completed an assignment in Julia Cameron’s book, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again, that suggested writing down 25 things that I love. She calls these touchstones, things that are personal to me. Touchstones are to remind me of my identity and connect me with joy.

I began the task more than a week ago, and created the second part of the assignment first…I made mud babies. (You can read that post HERE) I’ve slowly added to my list, and then divided it into categories, grouping the things I love around the five senses. Surprisingly, this task was more difficult than I thought it would be. It required much thought.

Touchstones: 25 Things I Love

As a reminder, a touchstone, long ago, was a literal stone, a dark one such as basalt or jasper, used to test the quality of gold or silver. Later the word referred to a reference point from which to evaluate the quality or excellence of something.

A touchstone can be a physical item, such as a feather or a rock, or a symbol, such as a butterfly representing a dream or a goal, or it can be something created, such as a drawing or a photograph, used to represent something significant.

I like the creative idea of listing things I love, and then creating representatives of those touchstones.

Here is my list, divided by senses:

25+ Things I Love

Taste – watermelon (connects me to gardening and my grandfather Pop), potato soup (something my mom made often and I’ve loved since childhood), blueberries (one of my dad’s favorite fruits for pie), hot herbal or Scottish tea (connects me to the grounding practice of afternoon tea), and Cara Cara oranges (one of my favorite fruits and representative of my improved health).

Touchstones: 25 Things I Love

Touch – flannel sheets (oh so cozy and snuggly in winter), garden dirt (love getting my hands into the warm earth), holding hands (connection with another), soft blanket (coziness seems to be extremely important to me), feathers (they are soft, cleverly made and represent writing), summer evenings as the heat leaves (it’s a magical, mysterious time).

Touchstones: 25 Things I Love

Smell – vanilla (my favorite personal scent), cinnamon (reminds me of the holidays), herbs (whether growing in the garden or dried, the fragrance of herbs represent Life to me), curry (one of my favorite cooking scents), just bathed babies (does anything smell sweeter? The scent of a just bathed baby, snuggled in my arms, evokes a strong maternal response).

Touchstones: 25 Things I Love

Sound – children’s laughter (one of the most joyful sounds on earth), crackling fire (cozy), gurgling water or sound of ocean waves (water sounds soothe and ground me), movie soundtracks (my favorite style of music, they reconnect me with the films), thunderstorms/rain (energizing), instrumental music (played by a variety of musical instruments, it reminds me of the bigness of life and that everyone has a part to play), summer frogs & cicadas (a favorite sound from childhood, it represents freedom).

Touchstones: 25 Things I Love

Sight – movies (one of my major touchstones, for so many reasons), gardens (represent beauty, growth and the earth), moon/stars (I’m drawn to both and the vastness of the universe), firelight/candlelight (cozy, enchanting and mesmerizing), water (I can stare into it all day and reflect), my family (connection, unconditional love, legacy), my passport (represents travel), nature (one of my favorite places to be).

Touchstones: 25 Things I Love

This exercise brought up many memories, as I mentally sorted through things that I love and examined the reasons why. Touchstones have been a crucial part of my life I’ve realized, marking what’s important to me. Turning to any of the touchstones I’ve listed immediately centers me and brings me joy.

Over the next few months, I intend to review this list and stay receptive to ways I can creatively form a symbol for the touchstone. Some items, like my soft blanket that I’m cozily wrapped up in now against the cool of the air conditioning, already exist in material form. Others, however, like garden dirt, can be represented, which is why my marvelous mud babies are now at home in my creative studio.

I’m excited to see where this journey takes me as I stay open to inspiration.

Touchstones: 25 Things I Love

Mud Babies

Working through Julia Cameron’s book It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again has been amazing for me. Although it’s geared toward retirees, and I am not retired, the memoir questions and exercises have stirred many memories from my childhood and youth. Creativity has been important in my life, and even more so after spending time working through fears that limited me in my adult life. The gift, the treasure, that lay beyond my fear was a deep reconnection with my inner child, my playful, artistic side.

Mud Babies

In the chapter I am currently working through, there is a section called Touchstones. Long ago, a touchstone was a literal stone, a dark one such as basalt or jasper, used to test the quality of gold or silver. Later the word referred to a reference point from which to evaluate the quality or excellence of something.

A touchstone can be a physical item, such as a feather or a rock, or a symbol, such as a butterfly, representing a dream or a goal, or it can be something created, such as a drawing or a photograph, used to represent something significant.

Reading about touchstones made me realize that I have used touchstones throughout my life, to mark and symbolize my journey.

One of the exercises in the chapter I’m on is to make a list of 25 things that I love, as a way of finding touchstones. And then to select one item I can access today. The example given was that a cold winter evening becomes cozy when we access the touchstone of fire.

The first item on my list of 25 was gardening, and more specifically, getting my hands into the dirt. And suddenly, a memory rose from my childhood. I knew what touchstone I wanted to create today.

Mud Babies

Mud Babies

I have felt connected to the earth, and growing things, since I was a toddler. I feel it’s a Scottish legacy. As a young girl my parents let me have my own little garden patch, where I could grow carrots or tomatoes or flowers. I’ve continued to garden my whole life.

There is something powerful to me about getting my hands into the dirt, making me shun gardening gloves. The memory that arose was of my young self sitting in the yard, with a bucket of mud and a handful of gravel. I loved making what I called mud babies.

Mud Babies

I created these figures out of a mix of rich dirt and water, using pieces of gravel for simple features on the face. After the babies dried in the air and sun, I played with them until they eventually cracked and fell apart. Then I would make new ones. I don’t remember if this was a solitary form of play for me, or if my sisters and neighborhood kids joined me. I only remember creating mud babies over and over.

It was time to play in the mud again.

In my sunny backyard late this afternoon, I dug up rich soil and placed it in a metal loaf pan, scooped up gravel from the back alley, and turned on the water hose. The trick is to create a thick sticky mud that holds its shape. It all came back to me as I created the right texture and shaped mud babies. I made thicker figures as a child. They took days to dry completely. This evening my mud babies more resembled gingerbread people!

Mud Babies

As I played, forming bodies, arms and legs, I wondered why I created these mud figures as a child. I don’t really know. It was creative fun. It was imaginative. It allowed me to get my hands dirty. As my creations dried, I googled “mud babies”, and struck out there. Googling “mud figures” I discovered African works of art, connected to fertility. Thinking about my early figures, they did resemble fertility art. Perhaps, as a child, I was invoking a creativity blessing, on my very fertile imagination.

Julia Cameron writes, “Touchstones are personal. They remind us of our own identity. They put us in touch with what brings us joy.”

I knew I had reconnected with something that brought me joy, both as a wee girl, and as an adult…getting my hands dirty, creating something. How did I know? I was smiling and laughing as I played in the mud, forming my babies.

Mud Babies

I highly recommend It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again, for any creative soul, and especially for those in midlife and beyond. You can order your copy by clicking the link below.

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If I Had More Time…

This is not the blog post I intended to write. However, after a long and very full day, and a double blog post day at that, 10:15 pm was not the optimal time to begin that post. Although fun and somewhat lighthearted, I quickly realized I needed a dedicated amount of time to pull off that idea.

Which brought to mind an assignment I completed in It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again, about the topic of time…and my thoughts about having more or less of it. Because this is the post I am writing, it is, after all, the piece I am supposed to write. My former idea, which I will flesh out this weekend, was intended to lead me here.

If I Had More Time

Ray Cummings wrote “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen all at once.” That quote makes me smile, and yet people tend to feel anxious about time. Is there too much of it? Not enough to accomplish what we need to do? Is it dragging by or racing by?

It depends on where you are in the journey.

As a young adult, I thought I had all the time in the world to do what I wanted. Possibilities and time seemed endless.

However, shortly after passing the 50 year marker, what once seemed infinite began to appear very finite indeed. I had not done all I wanted to do. For the first time, I felt the sting of time slipping away. And…that was ten years ago! This exercise was, pardon the pun, very timely for me.

The task was to write quickly, without overthinking, answers to the following sentences.

If I Had More Time

If I had more time, I’d try….

1. Writing a different blog post. Okay, that one doesn’t count. It is highly accurate though!

If I had more time, I’d try…

1. Traveling far and wide

2. Writing full time

3. Creating deep, meaningful relationships

4. Acting

5. Writing a screenplay

If I Had More Time

If I had less time, I’d try…

1. Living part time in Scotland

2. Creating lasting beauty as a legacy

3. Having more adventures with my kids and grandkids

4. Doing only the things that are important to me and bring me joy

5. Writing a memoir

I found this to be an enlightening exercise. The “If I Had More Time” sentences evoked big, sweeping answers. Travel. Writing. New relationships. Acting. Writing a screenplay. Those possibilities excite me, help me to cast far reaching visions.

The “If I had Less Time” sentences brought a totally different response. They narrowed down my vision, focused it in tightly. Travel came down to visiting one country. Legacies came to mind. New relationships? No, I’d enjoy the ones I have and create lasting memories. Focus would tighten what I love doing. And I would record my life.

Both sets of sentences offered me powerful glimpses into myself. And neither set is the right one or wrong one. All information is valuable. It is too soon for me to be wrapping things up. And yet, it’s also good to be mindful that there is a finish line somewhere on this path I’m journeying down. Be mindful. Do what I love to do. Think big, dream big. Focus in. What will my legacy be?

My biggest aha came from insight offered by the author of It’sNever Too Late To Begin Again, Julia Cameron.

“Often, when we say it is ‘too late’, for us to begin something, what we are really saying is that we aren’t willing to be a beginner.”

I love that. Looking at my first list, I can see that instead of thinking it’s too late to try those five things, I might actually just be hesitant to learn what I need to learn, and do what I need to do, to make them reality. It can feel hard to become a beginner. Am I willing to become a beginner?

I am in the process of answering that question. What rises immediately from my heart, overriding my more practical and logical brain, is a whoop and a resounding yes! So be it…

“There are no secrets that time does not reveal.” Jean Racine

If I Had More Time

Silencing My Inner Critic

After a fun and full seven days of watching movies last week, I returned today to Julia Cameron’s workbook, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again. I was intrigued by an assignment in Week One, Reigniting a Sense of Wonder. In the section on the Inner Censor, Julia writes about that internal voice that tells us we aren’t doing well or that we could do better. For most of us, that voice has become so much a part of us that we listen to it without questioning the words. And yet, that formidable foe talks us out of trying new things, starting projects or fleshing out an idea. Because of our inner critics, we back down from our dreams. We hear the Censor as the voice of reason. In reality, it is a bully that seeks to create doubt.

Silencing My Inner Critic

We can’t entirely eliminate the Inner Critic but we can learn to minimize it and silence its voice. Julia’s task was to Shrink the Censor by naming it and describing it. Is it male or female, old or young? What does it look like? What does it say? She then suggested sketching out the Inner Critic, allowing it to take whatever form that emerged.

Julia says, “Drawing, naming and describing the nasty creature will automatically minimize its power in your life.”

This was a task I could have fun with!

Silencing My Inner Critic

I sketched me first, and some of the favorite sayings of my Inner Critic. I am very familiar with its voice. It attempts to keep me small, keep me in my place. Have you ever accidentally driven a car with the emergency brake on? I have. And that’s what my Inner Critic can make my life feel like…I’m moving forward but with the brake on, creating shaky starts and stops and difficulty in building up momentum.

Thinking about my internal censor, I struggled initially to come up with a name! “What if you offend someone by choosing their dad’s name or their favorite aunt’s name?” I heard. That’s what the critic does…slows me down, creates doubt, makes me overthink. If I listen for too long, I won’t do anything.

I chose the name KLOD for my IC. It sounds heavy, reminding me of a dirt clod, because my Inner Critic weighs me down, creating a dense energy within me. KLOD isn’t a real name, so no unintentional offense, and it has a bit of a Star Trek vibe to it! KLOD is not male or female, although the voice I hear sounds like mine, but more harsh, more accusing, more whispery.

Silencing My Inner Critic

And here is my sketch of KLOD. Perhaps I’ve been influenced by the Amphibian Man in the movie, The Shape of Water! I just started drawing and this creature emerged. It has small eyes and ears, because it doesn’t see who I am, who I am becoming, and it doesn’t listen well. The mouth is large, because it wants to whisper to me all the time.

The rather squishy body can drape around me, and hold tight with those sharp claws on its hands and feet, and the little suction cups on the tips of the fingers. I can easily imagine KLOD clinging to my back, its mouth near my ear, whispering away… “It’s too hard…Not enough talent…Stay safe…What will people think?”

Silencing My Inner Critic

As I completed my drawing, KLOD had an opinion about my art. “You drew me wrong. I don’t look like that.” And that thought made me laugh, and add the words to the drawing. Oh KLOD…you are doomed!

This was a fun, and enlightening, exercise. I like having an image for my Inner Critic, and I like knowing that I can shut that gaping mouth. It is important to recognize that those negative words are seeking to halt my dreams and create doubt in my abilities. It is crucial to know that I can silence the words by shrugging them off or by countering them with the truth.

KLOD: You can’t do that.

Me: Yes, I can. Watch me.

KLOD: What will people think?

Me: Someone will think, “That’s awesome. Maybe I can follow my dreams too!”

KLOD:

Most importantly, I can take action steps and keep moving toward my dreams. I can ask for Divine guidance. I can use the Morning Pages to free write and allow my ideas to flow and grow and flourish. I can seek out those who will encourage me and champion my adventures, and I can do the same for others. And, I can bolster my belief in myself by doing the things I love and following where my curiosity leads.

Julia writes, “The trick to outwitting skepticism is to keep gently pushing ahead.”

I am doing that, one step at a time, as my dreams shift into reality and ideas continually flow into my life. And KLOD? Well, KLOD can go take a hike. I’m not listening to it.

Silencing My Inner Critic

Fun for One

After reading the introduction in my new book, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again by Julia Cameron, I completed the only task assigned in those first pages. I made a list of ideas for the weekly Artist Dates.

One of the foundational tools used during this twelve week creative course is the Artist Date. These once a week solo outings are assigned play. The purpose is to engage the inner artist, the inner child, and do something that feels fun and exciting.

I quickly began to anticipate these dates, when I worked through Julia’s first two books. I set aside Sunday afternoons as my time to do things I enjoyed, explore new places, or spend time outdoors in contemplative silence.

A strange synergy developed between me and the book, week after week. I deliberately avoided looking ahead at the next chapter as I completed one. And yet, somehow the activities I engaged in on my artist dates on Sundays connected strongly to the next chapter. I can’t explain how this foreshadowing happened. I only knew something magical was occurring.

It was with a sense of child like delight that I created a list of possibilities for upcoming dates with my inner artist. At the top of my list is a visit to the Philbrook Art Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As an elementary grade school student I got to visit the museum at least once a year, on field trips with my classmates. Philbrook is housed in a three story mansion that was the former home of Oklahoma oil pioneer Waite Phillips and his wife Genevieve. I loved wandering through that massive structure, admiring the renaissance style villa as much as the pieces of art.

And as gorgeous as the house was, the grounds were even more impressive. The developing gardener in me was drawn outdoors to the formal and informal gardens on the property’s 25 acres. I have not visited Philbrook since my childhood, and yet I think of it often. Although there will be driving time to factor in, I look forward to returning to the museum on an artist date, and seeing this place with fresh eyes.

Other ideas that made my list include movie matinees at the local theater, sketching, reading or journaling outdoors, attending plays, musicals, concerts or classes, and having a picnic lunch for one in a park. I’m not limited to the suggestions on this list. It is a springboard for other creative ideas.

Julia writes, “The point of the Artist Date is for us to capture the wonder and excitement that we had when we were young.” I am experiencing wonder and excitement already. It’s going to be an amazing twelve week course.

Finding Julia

As I listed people in my last blog post, who have had an impact on my life, I almost included Julia Cameron, bestselling author of The Artist’s Way. That book, about accessing and developing higher creativity, was influential to me in 2016. I had been aware of The Artist’s Way and the author for years, but I had not purchased the book. Elizabeth Gilbert shared, during the speaking event I attended, that she worked through this twelve week creativity course before she began each new project. I consider Liz a mentor. I bought the book immediately.

Today I happened to be in a Barnes & Noble Bookstore, with some time to kill. The book I hoped to purchase wasn’t available. Julia Cameron came to mind. I have benefitted tremendously from working through her first two books. I knew she had a third one in the series. I wandered into the self help section.

Finding Water was not on the shelf. However, high above me I spied a book that had the characteristic look of a Julia Cameron workbook. Pulling it down, I was thrilled to discover a fourth book in The Artist’s Way series, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again.

The subtitle for this book is Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond. This books arrives in my life at the perfect time. I am not a retiree, but at age 60, I am most definitely at the “midlife and beyond” point of my life. Intrigued, and feeling guided to this book today, I purchased it.

My intention was to start into this new twelve week course on creativity on March 1, or perhaps next Monday. Because don’t we tend to begin new programs on Mondays? I dropped the book onto my writing table in my studio and left it there. But it kept calling to me. I realized I had used my other two Julia Cameron books in my Creativity Vignette. Before preparing a healthy dinner, I read through the introduction of It’s Never Too Late.

Julia writes, “It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again is a twelve week course for anyone who wishes to expand his or her creativity. It is not meant only for ‘declared’ artists. It is aimed at those transitioning into the second act of life – leaving one life behind and heading into one yet to be created.” Those words so resonated with me.

Each week I will work through a chapter and complete the tasks within. In addition, there are four basic tools.

Morning Pages – three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing done first thing in the morning. These pages are for “my eyes only”.

Artist Dates – a once weekly solo expedition to explore something fun.

Walking – a twenty minute solo walk, twice weekly, without a pet, friend, family member or cell phone.

Memoir – a weekly, guided process of triggering memories and revisiting my life in five year increments.

I am so excited to begin this twelve week journey that I am beginning right away. Not March 1. Not next Monday. Tomorrow morning. I am familiar with the Morning Pages. I love the free-style flow of words onto paper. The purpose is to energetically clear the mind and heart so that there is room for new experiences in the day ahead. The Artist Dates are incredibly fun for me, as I do things that my inner artist, my inner child, enjoys.

I have felt ready to get back into a walking routine. This course presents the perfect opportunity. And I had no idea there was a Memoir writing task included weekly as part of the course. With my word for 2018 being Story, this book seems absolutely right for this time in my life. I was moved by these words in the introduction, under the Memoir section: “Everyone’s memoir will be different. You may choose simply to answer the questions and list the memories they evoke in standard prose form. Alternately, you may sometimes find your answers coming out as poems, drawings or songs.” Way before discovering this book today, I have felt drawn to sketching out portions of my life story.

I am grateful for all the seemingly random events that led me to finding Julia today. I know that truly there weren’t any coincidences. I was led. I followed a trail of bread crumbs, moving forward step by step until the trail ended and I looked up to find my prize. I am ready to let this journey unfold.

You can order It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again or The Artist’s Way by clicking on the links below.

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