We must keep moving because all droughts end. The parched earth is slaked by rain, and the parched creative spirit is slaked, too, when the long months of forced work give way suddenly to the verdant flowering of inspiration."
~Julia Cameron, from The Sound of Paper
Julia Cameron is one of my favorite writers on the subject of creativity. I have always loved the quote above about creative and spiritual droughts, and when I was in California and hiking in the desert this past spring, I truly saw the wisdom of those words. Once my husband and I had completed a hike to the much anticipated Palm Canyon, we sat for awhile and enjoyed the lovely shade and refreshing water trickling its way through the trees and rocks.
After a good long rest, we started back. We had taken the “Alternative Trail” as it was marked, as a way of trying to avoid a group of loud tourists and their children behind us. After a few minutes, we realized that to our dismay, the alternative trail was neither more scenic nor more interesting. No, it turned out to simply be longer than the original trail. We could see the trailhead in the distance and the longer we walked, the farther away it seemed to get. So we walked and walked and at one point stopped, turned to each and said “Hmm. This isn’t what we expected at all." My instinct was to go back. To turn back the way we came, retrace our steps and get back to the safe place beneath the palms. But there was no point in doing that; because the way things looked, at least to me, we were about equidistant from the Palm Canyon and the trailhead where we started. So what would be the point of doubling back only to get to the Palm Canyon again, which lovely as it was, was not any closer to where we wanted to be which was at our car driving home?
So needless to say, we were just as far lost as we were found. We kept going. I was tired, it was about 85 degrees, with no humidity. Every breath dried my mouth out to dust, and made me realize how accurate the phrase “dry as a desert” actually is. We kept walking, we went on because we had to. What were we going to do? Sit down where we were? We would be rested yes, but also run of of water, food, and just be left there, in the middle of the desert trail, with no supplies, and eventually no energy. We walked on because we had to, because that’s the only way to get out of the desert, to walk out of it. Yes, you take precautions along the way, you don’t tire yourself out too much, and you be sure to be mindful of the supplies you have with you and the time you think it will take you to make it out. But you walk on.
So much throughout my 20’s, I've had a habit of seeing my younger, artistic self as this idealized version of who I wanted to be again. And I spent a good chunk of my twenties desperately trying to get back to this place. I need to “get back”. I’d say to myself. I have to get back in shape, to return to where I was! This idea of getting back or retracing your steps in order to make it back to a place that doesn't exist anymore is crippling. I felt completely lost and it was only when I moved down to Virginia, (as much as I didn't see the move as a way of furthering my involvement in the arts), that I realized that there was no going back, only going forward. And I distinctly remember sitting in the moving truck, driving through West Virginia well after midnight. I stared at the dashboard, flipping through radio stations (what can you expect at 2 AM in West Virginia radio land?), and thinking I have to do something about this. I needed to move ahead. I was literally driving into new territory, unsure of what lay further up the road, but feeling that what was past was gone for good. I couldn't simply turn the truck around and go back to college. And even if I drive back to the physical campus, the place I had idealized in my mind, me at 21, was only a ghost, nowhere to be found in reality.
I had to go on, see where I could go. And that journey was one of the best trips I’ve taken. I met my partner with whom I founded a small theatre company, along with an amazing community of women and theatre artists, and we did something that mattered. And in a lot of ways, now having graduated from Emerson and having been a resident of the “real world”, I find myself at that crossroads once again. Backwards or forwards? The truth is I can stand here and debate forever, but I can’t stand here too long wishing. I have to move ahead, to walk on. I must.
Do you find that a creative drought for you is also a spiritual drought? Any tips for navigating the desert?