After years of dedicating herself to nurturing other people’s creativity, Julia Cameron has put the spotlight on herself. Cameron, the author of 22 books, including the international bestseller "The Artist’s Way," believes that we all possess a story worthy of expression. "Floor Sample," her recently published memoir, is hers. At turns brutally honest and intellectually infuriating, the book chronicles Cameron’s tumultuous life as a journalist, screenwriter, author, composer, mother, wife, and alcoholic. Each escapade—-like falling in love with a young Martin Scorsese while interviewing him—-is framed by her experiences with substance addiction. Over a recent lunch in her chosen hometown of New York City, Cameron talked to Beliefnet about prayer as "everyday maintenance," detaching alcohol from creativity, and the cleansing power of a good long walk.
Why a memoir?
When it was suggested that I write a memoir I said, “I’m not old enough. I’m not distinguished enough.” But I went home and sat down to write, and the material for the book just came flooding into my hands. It was more like writing music than prose. It was a feeling of being immersed in the sensory world of memory. I also felt that I needed to make peace—I’ve had a very turbulent and colorful life and there were many people and many situations where I didn’t get to have closure. Writing about those brought me to a more peaceful understanding of what had happened to me. It gave me a sense of peaceful identity.
You are known for writing accessible self-help books. Are there specific lessons or ideas that you hope your readers will gain from "Floor Sample"?
I think that "Floor Sample" is a story of resiliency, a lifelong spiritual search, and a lifelong sense of spiritual companionship that is most often expressed as creativity. My desire in writing the book was to step from behind the icon of “Julia the teacher” and introduce Julia the artist. The teaching is what I’m known for, but it’s really only a part of what I do—it grows out of my other creative endeavors. I’d like to show readers how organically creativity and spirituality are intertwined. "Floor Sample" also covers many spiritual crises, to which my response is faith. To continue moving forward, to create another project, to not be discouraged—this is something I hope to be able to model for readers.
How did your knowledge of the creative process inform your journey toward sobriety?
I think that I had a lot of confusion about creativity and sobriety. We often confuse alcoholism and artistry. [Many creative] role models were often active alcoholics. In reading Fitzgerald or Hemingway you would essentially be reading a drinking story. Drinking and writing seemed to go together like scotch and sodas. It was a tremendous shock to my system to find out that I could write stone cold sober, that I could take the drama of alcoholic artistry and convert it to a user-friendly model of sobriety and creativity.
Can you tell me more about the connection between spirituality and creativity?
Creativity is always a leap of faith. You’re faced with a blank page, blank easel, or an empty stage. When I ask for help with my creativity, I get it. I believe that there is a benevolent listening something that I have named “the Great Creator.” I believe that when we ask to be led, we are led, and there’s nothing too small or esoteric for spiritual help. Spirituality can release blocks, lead you to ideas, and make your life artful. Sometimes when we pray for guidance we’re guided in unexpected directions. We may want a lofty answer and we get the intuition to clean our bedroom. It can seem so humble and picky and that you don’t necessarily think of it spiritual guidance. I got teased that I was the Martha Stewart of creativity. It may be because I think that many of the tools that guide us to spirituality are very homely—like making a pot of vegetable soup. Spirituality and creativity are often looked upon as flighty, but they’re both extremely grounded. Look at a monastery—the monks walk, pray, and chop vegetables.
You often pray or ask for guidance in your memoir. What role does prayer play in your life today?
I look at it as everyday maintenance. I think of each day as an exercise in open-mindedness. Prayer makes me flexible and open to guidance, which just renders me ready to hear my cues.
Writing is obviously a spiritual process for you. Why do you think that is?
I think of writing more as listening than speaking. When we listen we’re led a word at a time. I often come away from a good writing session relaxed, exhilarated, and calm, as though I had been in a place of worship. I think that Morning Pages—one of the daily exercises in "The Artist’s Way"—are the greased slide to unblocking any form of writing. I think they minimize the censor and train the critic to step to one side. I think many more of us are wonderful writers than we know. You don’t need to have a particular talent in order for that tool to work for you.
Do you have any other tips for accessing creativity and spirituality?
I believe in taking walks. There is a lot of guidance in walking. It puts us in our bodies, calms us down, centers us, grounds us, and opens the door to spirituality. It gives us access to an arena of higher ideas that comes to us as we walk—think of the pilgrimage and the walkabout—it’s a pretty well-kept secret, but walking is pivotal to a spiritual practice. Go to the park and walk.