Tiffany is the Founder of Highly Sensitive Parent. She is an educator, researcher, and writer who currently lives in Evanston, IL, with her husband, two sons, and gigantic cat.
Learn more about Tiffany on our About page!
The eight women taking this class represented a diversity of age and life stage that felt refreshing to my 20-something self. There were three friends who had signed up for the class together, working artists and stay-at-home mothers of young children struggling for balance. There was a scientist and crafter, so self-conscious about her weight that she couldn't see her radiant gentleness and beauty. There was a loving Jewish mother, retired from teaching with one grown son, ready to take care of us and envelop us in warmth. There was a religious academic, serious and thoughtful, who was considering a trip to Africa in the coming year. There was a woman who never quite seemed to be open to what we were all there to experience - I struggled to like her, to find the generosity of spirit I knew I could and should muster in that safe space. And there was me, the eager puppy of the group.
I had entered my PhD program at twenty-one because I’m really good at doing school and I didn’t know what else to do with my life. I still felt like I was floating through the world, searching for my anchor. While others spent their early twenties traveling or working through entry-level jobs to find focus and purpose, I floundered under the security blanket of pursuing a doctorate. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a professor, but I knew how to be a student. I signed up for The Artist’s Way class in my seventh year to give me a kick start with my dissertation. The greater gift of this class would be the creative cleansing that Sherry and my Artist’s Way soul sisters would provide.
Julia Cameron asserts that we are all artists. Born to create, we each have the inherent capacity to experience the joy of art on a daily basis, whether we call ourselves artists or not. In this safe space I learned to nurture my inner Artist Child - unapologetically, without irony. I did my Morning Pages studiously, three pages of brain dump journaling every morning. I never missed an Artist Date, a weekly two hour date with myself devoted to play and discovery and simple pleasures. I kept up with the reading and completed my assignments with the zeal of the overachieving student, committing in a way that others in the group only wished they could. I was a full time grad student, no kids, no structured job, and my time was an unappreciated luxury. Back then I still squandered whole afternoons on long unnecessary naps and network reruns of mediocre movies.
When tasked with the homework of creating a collage to share in class I threw myself into the project with a sense of joy I hadn’t felt in years. I spent three hours filling an entire poster board with hundreds of images from magazines and garden catalogues - a cardinal like the cheerful fellow who lived on our back patio, a graceful outdoor turtle pond I hoped to build when I actually had a yard, the purple and white flower that had inspired my tattoo, a chunky baby who looked like the boy I dreamed of having with my new husband. The scene flowed clockwise from Spring to Summer to Fall to Winter and captured the essence of me and what I love. When it came time to share each member of our group shared her heartfelt collage. I went last, sheepish and a little giddy as I displayed my elaborate masterpiece. I was re-discovering the healing properties of play and creation.
On one of my Artist’s Dates I walked down the street to browse at the Brown Elephant thrift store. I wandered through the aisles of junk and let my hand drift over carved wood and glass vases and porcelain figurines, bags of clothes pins and mis-matched balls of yarn, imagining the ways in which I might give new life to old things. I discovered a Beanie Baby stuffed animal, a fuzzy white goose with tiny black bead eyes, orange beak, yellow legs and feet. The label named her “Gussy” and I brought her home for a dollar.
I imagined Gussy as my muse, my writing inspiration. Gussy loves to write, but since her wings are useless at the keyboard she just pecks at the keys with her beak. If Gussy can commit to writing when she doesn’t even have hands, I thought, what’s my excuse?
I have always loved to read and in high school I learned that I also love to write. Yet this love of writing never translated into an actual commitment to writing. I co-edited the creative writing magazine at my high school without contributing any of my own content. I received a writing award in my graduating class but never considered enrolling in a creative writing class in college. I took pride in the praise I earned from TA’s for papers written hastily the night before. I mentally filed away every compliment I ever received for my writing (something I still do). I talked about how I would love to write. I read fiction and essays voraciously, kept up an informal blog for awhile to share my stories, attended open mic nights and dreamt of getting up to read on stage. I basked in the glow of my potential, smug about how great my writing could be if I ever worked at it. The working at it just never came. I was a stilted creative, outwardly critical of most things I read and secretly jealous of most writers.
The Artist’s Way class pulled me into confronting all the fears that kept me from speaking and writing with my true voice. What if I started writing and had nothing to say? What if what I wrote embarrassed me and upset my family? What if I disappointed people who expected greatness? Gussy gently urged me to stop taking myself so seriously. I have hands, after all, and if I want to write I should just write.
Gussy cheered me on through my year of writing and my successful dissertation defense. She rejoiced with me when I found a job and she watched proudly as I found my anchor as a mother, even as the exhausted disequilibrium of new motherhood led me to abandon my Morning Pages for years. She encouraged me when baby #2 arrived and I fought to reclaim my Morning Pages and my creative self. Even when I wasn’t writing Gussy kept my desire to write alive.
I recently pulled Gussy from a moving box as we settled into a new home. My two-year-old immediately adopted her as a best friend for Pancake the polar bear, one of the only well-loved toys in our house that doesn’t have wheels. He calls out, “Where’s my Gussy?” at bedtime and totes her about the house with his dimpled fist clenched around her long neck. Her fluffy fur feathers are dingy now and her head flops to one side. The perfectionist in me wants to put her back on the shelf where she will stay beautiful and pristine. Yet my kids remind me that we should love our friends fiercely, not admire them from a distance. I'm ready to let Gussy move on to a new role in our family.
Anyway, it turns out that it’s not a muse that I need. It’s a community. I need my friends and family and the writers I admire and my readers to keep pushing me back to the keyboard, back to my notebook. I write because life feels better when I’m writing. I’m more patient, more loving, more playful, and more present in all areas of my life when I’ve given time every day to creating. Yet along with exercise - the only other thing that always makes me feel better and that I never find time to do - writing is the hardest thing for me to prioritize. It's the gentle nudges and the occasional loving kick in the butt that keep me honest about my need to write.
A few days ago I got one of those nudges from my sister when she tagged me in this Facebook post about the podcast "Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert," saying, “Tiffany, this is so true and so you!”
Thank you, Elizabeth Gilbert and Julia Cameron and all you writers out there who are honest about the struggles and joys of the creative life, for inspiring me to keep going.
And thank you, dear reader, for giving me a reason to show up here.
Now please excuse me while I go binge on that podcast.
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