In The Right to Write, Julia Cameron makes the case for what she calls “The Artist’s Date,” a once-a-week “solitary expedition to something festive that interests us.” It could be anything – a museum, a walk in the woods, a festival in a park, a play, a concert, literally anything that you find interesting that will provide a good dose of “writerly upkeep.” (And you’re supposed to do this alone.)
I have three typical venues for an “Artist’s Date,” but only one of them is at least weekly.
The first is the art museum. St. Louis has a nice one, and actually one that has a larger and deeper collection than you might expect, the result of the city’s late 19th and early 20th century heyday and the various bequests of wealthy individuals and companies over the years. My favorites are the 19th century and 20th century American rooms, with the “democracy series” by George Caleb Bingham and the Winslow Homers and Thomas Hart Bentons. I love to stand and study the Bingham paintings; I actually have a framed print of “Stump Speaking” in my office. But when I go to the art museum, my wife is with me, and we explore the place together.
Once a year, when we’re making our pilgrimages to Chicago, we almost always find our way to the Art Institute. I can get lost in the gift shop, much less the collection. But whether it’s the smaller museum in St. Louis or the colossus in Chicago, the art is a definite stimulant, rich fuel and extensive “writerly upkeep” for me.
So art is one kind of “Artist Dates” for me. Another is the Shaw Nature Reserve, what we St. Louisans will always call the Arboretum, 40 or so miles west of St. Louis. It’s 800 acres of woods, trails, prairies and gardens. When my sons were little, they often accompanied me on hikes. Now, it’s usually just me, although my oldest (now 30) did come with me the last time I went. I’ll usually hike to the Meramec River, and then just sit, listening to the water current and the distant cows on the bluffs on the other side. It’s an emptying out for me, becoming a speck in the geography and just listening.
The third “Artist’s Date” for me is biking. My typical ride is either a 20-mile ride on Grant’s Trail in south and southwest St. Louis, or a 30-mile ride that involves riding east through inner suburbs and the city to the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. (I’ve done longer rides, but these are my usual ones.) You have to concentrate on automobile traffic (and drivers using their cell phones are oblivious to everything), but there are stretches of paved trails and dedicated bike lanes where it’s easier. And then the view from the bluff – you can see for miles up river, down river and across to Illinois.
Biking clears my head and, oddly, opens my heart. And I find I do some of my best “writing” on a bicycle.
Over at the High Calling Blogs, Laura Boggess is leading a discussion of Cameron’s The Right to Write. Take a look and see what others are saying, commenting and posting. Last week’s discussion was about going deeper in your writing. This week's discussion is on artists' dates.
Nancy Rosback’s “The right to write and buying work.”
Monica Sharman's "Sketching."
"Enter the Body" by Nancy Kourmoulis.
Cassandra Frear's "Walking and Writing."
Marilyn's "You Never Take Me Anywhere Anymore."
Melissa's "Slip, Slipping Away."
L.L. Barkat's "Finding Your Words."
Painting: Stump Speaking (1853-1854) by George Caleb Bingham; St. Louis Art Museum.