By Victoria John
Teaching a Zoom class is like opening a gift. You never know what to expect. My granddaughters gave me the best gift ever, a handmade glitter globe, with the surprise addition of colorful, miniature pom poms. In stillness the glitter is sediment and barely discernable, with the pom poms floating motionless at the top. Shaking gives the globe momentum, and the glitter comes to life, dazzling, as the soft-edged pom poms morph into star-like forms, spinning and swirling in rhythm with the sparkle of the glitter. Such was my experience with teaching “It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again,” a course designed by Julia Cameron, to reignite creativity in midlife or retirement.
On the first night, as the participants entered the flat-screened room, they settled quietly unknown into their impersonal square spaces. Throughout the six weeks, as they shared their experiences, a transformation began. Participants came alive, their eyes shining through a reflected memory or a shared story. Their combined energies shaped an experience and a weekly anticipation that mirrored the feeling of unwrapping a creatively-crafted gift.
By performing the four basic tools of Morning Pages, Artist’s Dates, Weekly Walks, and Guided-Memoir Writing, students rediscovered their sense of wonder, purpose, adventure, resilience, and connection. Weekly check-ins tendered the joy of a walk through the Arboretum or the Olympic Sculpture Park. Memoir writing questions unearthed youthful dreams lost in pursuit of practical careers. Artist’s dates, weekly personal appointments to rekindle interests and passions, rebooted treasured childhood trips to the Woodland Park Zoo or encouraged a long-awaited visit to the Seattle Art Museum, the Aquarium, or an art supply store.
The purpose of the daily handwritten morning pages was to capture the first scattered thoughts upon awakening that would eventually make way for the seeds of creative ideas to form. This exercise brought mixed responses from, “There is no way I am getting up earlier to write,” to “It really works. The more I stuck with it, the more creative I felt.”
As we moved through the sessions, there were more smiles. My students enjoyed getting to know each other in breakout rooms. The once silent students, feeling more comfortable, found their voices and began telling their stories. Individuals transformed into a colorful, cohesive assemblage of glittering personalities, coming together to create shared experiences, and giving one another the gifts of listening, support, and validation.
The final class served as an exhibit of recaptured creativity. One person shared her renewed love for ceramics by displaying and discussing her hand-built pinch pots. Another shared his recently-completed whirligig, a delightful piece he designed and built for an upcoming art show. A third participant shared part of her memoir that featured “Grandmother’s Apron,” a retelling of a family tradition of making Bizcochos, Mexican holiday cookies. Another, with courage, read the first poem she had written in several years.
As I reflect on teaching this class, I realize that despite the isolating effects and impact of the pandemic, along with other heartbreaking events, my students remained dedicated to rediscovering the lost glitter in their lives, their own creative spirits. An added bonus gift for me was they inspired me to start painting again.
Learn more about Victoria John and her classes, It's Never Too Late to Begin Again: A Julia Cameron Journey, Part 1 and Twentieth Century Art: The Growth of Abstraction, 1950-Present.
Image Credits: "Awakening Compassion," in Acrylics by Victoria John (top)