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The Artist’s Way – power

February 20, 2013

I’m struggling with week 3, sense of power. Normally I don’t get too caught up in other people’s expectations, based on their own experiences — largely because I can’t figure out what they are. But the particular questions that Julia Cameron asks in this chapter make it clear that my own experiences are . . . not normal, not ordinary.

She writes about shame, and I’m feeling it.

The very first question in the Tasks section (pp. 75-76):

Describe your childhood room. If you wish, you may sketch this room. What was your favorite thing about it? What’s your favorite thing about your room right now? Nothing? Well, get something you like in there — maybe something from that old childhood room.

My mother arbitrarily decided that because my two brothers got along really well, they should have their own rooms! My sister and I fought like cats and dogs; therefore, obviously, we should be caged together. Because, magically, proximity would teach us to love each other!

So, from her birth when I was 3 until midway through my senior year of high school, my sister and I were stuck with each other. Any decorating ideas had to be agreed on by both of us, which meant that our room was decorated to my mother’s taste: white walls, pastel bed coverings.

Not only were we never allowed to lock our bedroom door, but we weren’t even allowed to close it. My parents thought not only should they be allowed entrance whenever they liked, but they should also be able to see into the room at any time. (Whereas for their room, certainly if their door was locked, but even if it was merely closed, we weren’t allowed to enter until we knocked, and they gave permission.)

We were only allowed 1 drawer in our dressers for our own special (personal) things. My mother regularly not just snooped through that drawer, but took things. To throw them away. Because she didn’t think they were necessary.

My sister and I resorted to hiding things in the (basement) crawl space because my mother wouldn’t go in there. Which meant crawling around on gravel, with a flashlight, amongst huge cobwebs, bravings all sorts of scary creepy crawlies.

My favorite part of my room during those years? Probably the closet. To disappear from my mother’s notice, I would crawl into the closet, pull the door shut behind me, and curl into a fetal ball in the dark. That’s the only time I felt reasonably safe.

But not safe enough to sleep, in case anyone came looking for me. If anyone found out about my hiding place, it would be taken away.

The bedroom I finally gained in the (finished) basement — 6 months late — represented yet another battle between my mother and I, that I lost. I was becoming an adult. My mother liked that part of my taste that that she allowed herself to see. She said she felt she could trust me. So I was going to be allowed to pick a color scheme, and decorate the room however I liked. There was a budget for decorating! I could pick out not just the wall color (!), but a dresser, a lamp, a bedspread, and a few decorative pillows. On the one hand, it seemed too good to be true. On the other hand, those aspects of my taste that I allowed her to see did sort of line up — I wasn’t going to ask for black or eggplant walls — so maybe my mother was growing up too. Maybe she could be trusted.

I spent months poring over paint chips, experimenting with color schemes. I was going to live in this room for years (I wasn’t planning to go away to college), so I better get it right! Finally I had it. The walls would be a lovely mid-toned green. The accent colors would be (what I called ‘coral’ but more like) a deep warm pink, with a splash of peach/apricot to brighten things up. (Because ordinarily? I hate pastels, and I always have.)

It was going to be beautiful. It would have been beautiful. I would’ve loved living in that room of my imagination.

My mother hated my color scheme. She acted like I’d asked for black walls. She insisted a midtoned green was a terrible choice because it would make the room feel smaller. I countered that that the room was small, and green would make it cozier — exactly what I wanted.

That’s probably the real problem right there — it would have been exactly what I wanted.

We argued. I offered to change the shade of green: how about spring green instead? (A pastel, yes, but I’d always loved that particular shade because spring was my favorite season.) That would’ve also been beautiful. But she wouldn’t hear of it.

And deep warm pink was right out.

My mother loves pastels. Perhaps because they suit her low-contrast coloring: blonde hair (now grey), pale blue eyes.

She decided my room should be painted . . . peach. Even all these years later, just writing that, I shudder. I want to scream and cry. It’s just so wrong. (For me.)

Even worse than pastels? My mother loves things to . . . match.

You see where this is going? With peach walls, obviously we must have a peach bedspread. A solid color peach, and shiny. Not even green leaves and pink flowers. Or any flowers. And since the bedspread is a huge block of solid color, your other accent colors, Pqw, look out of place. So instead of (even) pillows in mid-tone green and deep warm pink, I got peach pillows. Oh, and ivory (another pastel), because they ‘looked good together’ (according to my mother).

Every time I went into that room, I mentally gritted my teeth. Instead of finally having a safe haven, I felt beleaguered and disrespected, even when I was by myself.

And because of the 8+ years I spent in that room, I hate the color peach. It makes my skin crawl. It’s like eating too much cotton candy — it’s sickeningly sweet, and it’s bad for you.


I can’t bear to rehash my wedding color scheme again today, but I will say that my mother creatively misinterpreted what I asked for, and decorated the venue with dusty sage and dusty peach. The garter she bought me as a gift had ribbons in those same colors.

I can almost, sort of, stand pastels (in small doses) as long as they are clear and bright. Like for Easter eggs. Or garden flowers. Dusty colors? Make me want to throw up. Give me a migraine. They’re just Wrong^3.

Recall that I have synesthesia, such that my emotions are entangled with colors in my environment. Colors that clash with my moods overpower the moods I’m having, and turn them into ones that match the colors.

Peach (and dusty sage) makes me feel hopeless, even despairing. And yet, thanks to my mother, peach and dusty sage were my wedding colors.

And for 8 years before that, I marinated in hopelessness and despair, in a room that was supposed to be my refuge from the rest of my shitty life.


Some of Julia Cameron’s other questions are problematic for entirely different reasons.

(5) Make a list of friends who nurture you — that’s nurture (give you a sense of your own competency and possibility), not enable (give you the message that you will never get it straight without their help). List three nurturing friends. Which of their traits, particularly, serve you well?

(6) Call a friend who treats you like you are a really good and bright person who can accomplish things. Part of your recovery is reaching out for support. This support will be critical as you undertake new risks.

I currently have 1 nurturing friend, Spouse. Historically, most of my friends have been INTJs. In my experience, INTJ friends hold me at a distance, and carefully never say anything that might cause icky and messy emotions to erupt. Every time I hear from an INTJ friend, I wonder if I will ever hear from them again. I have no idea what they think of me, what they’re getting out of knowing me. Do they even like me? The longest relationship I’ve had with an INTJ is my best friend from high school, so 30+ years. But, are we still actual-friends? Or are we just people who’ve known each other since 1981? I can’t think of anything ‘nurturing’ she’s ever said to me. And if I had tried to be nurturing back, I’m sure she would have dismissed it.

I have had at least 3 other friends who were nurturing. All 3 were NFs. Two are (long) dead. One is out of reach.

In other places on the ‘net, like Captain Awkward, I’ve been reading about how nurturing friends act, or what Captain Awkward calls ‘Team You’. I’ve never had a Team Me (except for Spouse, and can 1 person be considered a team?). Even my 3 other nurturing friends were not people I could call when I felt low. We rarely talked about our feelings, or anything ‘messy’. I’ve read about people who have friends who would remind them to take their medication, or visit them. Friends who would tangibly help them do things. Friends to go places with. Friends to vacation with.

I’m having trouble even imagining that. Friends who . . . help you. (That you’re not married to.) How could that even work?

Why would anyone help? Well, for me, they haven’t, so it’s all theoretical.

Generally, the people who have provided the most useful and tangible help to me have been professionals that I paid money to: doctors, psychotherapists, physical therapists. I know why they’re helping me — it’s their job. They might also like me, but they’re still obligated to help people they don’t like.

As an adult, I directly asked my parents for help exactly twice. They laughed in my face, insulted me, and traumatized me. And then they turned me down. Asking my siblings for help would be utterly crazy, like trailing blood in the water while surrounded by hungry sharks. I would never ever do that.

So I don’t know how to ask for help. But if I did know, who could I ask? And why would they help?


Last week, I heard back from the foundation whose grant I applied for in October 2012. I was not a finalist. Along with 99.5% of the other 800+ people who applied.

But I have been accepted to their writer’s retreat this summer. Last time I was in the US Southwest was 1983, when I was still in high school (and did not yet have my driver’s license). I’ve never been there with my own power to go where I wish, and without having to accommodate anyone else’s preferences.

My gazetteer arrived yesterday. I’ve already begun dreaming of the location. I’ve ordered books on the natural history that I’m still waiting on; I’ve been reading travel books for months.

Last night I told Spouse some of the particular destinations I planned to see. He fixated on one he thinks is dangerous, but I am not deterred. This trip is for me, and I’m going to do what I want.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Deb M permalink
    February 20, 2013 13:20

    I like your blog and I would like to nominate you for the Liebster award!
    Follow my link for more info…
    Keep on blogging!

  2. February 20, 2013 14:14

    I have found that by overcoming shame and recovering power, I gained some insights to the potential for friendship. It still baffles me as I begin to engage in functional relationships and am in complete awe as people show that they do want to care about me. Good luck with the journey!

  3. Siderea permalink
    February 22, 2013 00:47

    It was going to be beautiful. It would have been beautiful. I would’ve loved living in that room of my imagination.

    Hibby’s room.

    So how have you decorated your space now? Did you ever get your beautiful room?

    And I wanted to say: You’re right. That’s not normal. And that really wasn’t okay, how your mother treated you: the complete lack of privacy, the complete lack of control over your own property, the complete lack of safety, the complete disregard for your humblest wishes, and above all, her utter and blithe unconcern with your happiness. That’s serious and it’s pretty dreadful. I’m so sorry that you went through that. You deserved a whole lot better than you got.

    And why would they help?

    Well, the way this usually works, people help their friends:

    1) Because they like their friends and therefore want their friends to be happier and suffer less, and they want that enough to take positive action to that end;

    2) Because helping makes one feel good in various ways, from complimenting one’s virtue, to increasing one’s sense of efficacy, to just plain fun;

    3) Because there’s an understanding/expectation of a non-score-keeping mutuality being established, where one is there for one’s friends and they’ll be there for you;

    4) Because one’s morality requires it, with, for instance, strictures about repaying the kindness of others by being helpful to them, having a sense of duty or loyalty.

    Let us vastly oversimplify for a moment and model people as being in one of two camps: (1) people who enjoy being helpful in response to supplication and (2) people who enjoy lording it over supplicants and denying their requests. It sounds like maybe you had family in camp #2? My impression is that the vast majority of people are in camp #1, though within #1, people generally have to be asked, and some forms of helping are more likely to be granted than others.

    • February 22, 2013 01:19

      We live in an apartment, so I don’t know if we can paint the walls, but I’ve been thinking about how I would like to paint the walls in my studio. I also want to make a ‘slipcover’ for the door (so I can see something colorful when I’m in the bedroom).

      Yes, my family of origin are solidly in camp #2. I appreciate your analysis of the reasoning of people in camp #1. It’s one of those ‘everyone knows’ things that are difficult to ask about. When I’ve tried anyway, people often seem to think I’m fishing for compliments, which derails where I was trying to go.

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