In my workshops In Mexico last week I gave automatic writing assignments as warmups before painting and collage.
I always think everyone will be familiar with this concept, and there was one girl who nodded her head and looked ready to jump in, the standup comedian from NYC.
Otherwise, though, not so much. A puzzled look, shaking heads looking around as though someone else could explain better.
But what do we write about?
But what if nothing comes?
What if I run out of things to say?
Let’s try it, I said.
Just keep your hand moving, repeat the prompt if you run into a wall, repeat it again if the block persist, stop when the timer stops .
And we began.
And we wrote.
And everyone’s pen or pencil flew across the page.
One woman read her piece after, hitting a wall in the first sentence and repeating one word – “an” dozens of times. And then the idea emerged and carried the day, and she finished reading smiling, shaking her head, amazed. Later at lunch she told me she came back every day for the writing.
At dinner the last night a water massage therapist sat with us and explained his process.
How if one way is blocked, he uses the water to coax movement and opening in that area. If someone resists moving the shoulder for example he will move them through the water so that the water is the agent of force —- and they relax and allow the shoulder to open.
He went on with examples for a while and they all mirrored how I teach art.
If this door is closed, I said, I try another door.
You don’t beat the door down? he asked.
No, I said. I don’t beat the door down. I climb in a window.
The automatic writing is often the window.
Into the creative subconscious space where the energy is trapped.
It’s not that my paintings will be of the subjects of my dreams.
I am not one to paint a visit from my old long dead friend Kevin, who showed up last week and kept saying, “10 minutes. 10 minutes.”
I will not paint the people I talked to, the ocean cove full of sharks I swam in, the young child I was tasked to protect, or the other scenes I saw.
It is the access to energy, emotion, connection that makes its way into the conscious mind in this method and into the wok.
It is the best way I know.
And it’s ten minutes.
Just ten minutes.
The last day of the workshop, after my dream of my beloved friend, I thought of what he’d said – “ten minutes.”
And so I offered up this prompt: “in my dreams.”
The rules are simple.
Set a timer.
Keep your hand moving.
Stop when the timer goes off. If your hand stops just repeat what you started with. As the great teacher Natalie Goldberg says, feel free to write the worst shit in America.
Just ten minutes.