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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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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