The idea of ‘filling the well’ is one of the best things that I took away from working through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (Pan, 1994).
It is years since I worked through the book. I remember making myself all sorts of commitments at the time. The one that has stayed with me is ‘filling the well’. If I’m drawing from the well then I need to make sure it isn’t going to run dry. I also need to make sure I can get to it. That’s pretty obvious. It makes sense.
Part of me would like to hunt out the notebook where I worked through Cameron’s exercises. I’ve no idea of where to begin to look for it now, though. It’s too long since I’ve seen it. There might be a chance that I jettisoned it in one of my (thankfully rare) I-must-not-hoard-this-clutter purges.
To be honest, I don’t need the notebook in my hand to remember what is in it. Especially for the ‘filling the well’ exercise. I know what, who and where I identified as keeping the well I draw from fresh.
Why am I thinking about it now?
This has all come to mind because this is the week of the medieval and early modern studies symposium that I try to get to each year. Many of the topics are often out of my direct area of expertise. Sometimes it’s hard to shift my schedule around, but it’s always worth the effort. It is one of the events that come up that I move my life around to be able to get to.
While most of my commitments from ‘the way’ have slipped into (fond) memory – morning pages and regular ‘artist dates’ used to be regular features of my creative life – making the time and space in my life to get to the symposium has stayed. It is part of my filling the well.
The symposium brings together a lot of the elements of the list I came up with for the exercise: what – medieval and early modern literature (and now history), where – there are some places which help me focus on getting down to work, the UWA campus (and the general area of the river and King’s Park) is one, and who – my original list included individuals but also acknowledged how being a part of a community of writers is important to me, the symposium reflects (and creates) a community of scholars and writers that I enjoy being a part of.
Invariably, my understandings are deepened or my awareness extended by the papers given and conversations had at the symposium. There will always be something new that I will want to look up, even if just to satisfy my curiosity or find a point of clarification. I find links to my work – academic and creative – that I would never have thought of or, if I did, would have come about much later. Sometimes I find that I walk away with a bunch of ideas and images that will end up in a poem or a story. It all makes me happy.
In the past couple of days I’ve had the good fortune to participate in a master class on chivalry and the first day of a symposium on emotions and warfare in writing in the medieval and early modern period. It’s all been fascinating. I’m looking forward to today’s programme – most of which will be completely new to me. There are some poems being discussed which I’ve looked at a bit in the past – Andrew Marvell’s ‘Upon Appleton House’ I’ve thought about but done nothing with, the Alliterative Morte Arthure I’ve dipped into – but the other papers look like new territory. I can’t wait.
A funny thing about the well
As I’ve been writing this a new idea has come to me for a spot of research (that I possibly should leave until later, because I already have a few projects on the go). I think I’d like to look at moments in medieval romances to see when knights ask for water. There are a couple I can think of where they stop in mid-fight to drink – or ask to be allowed to drink. I wonder how much work has already been done on that.
Perhaps there’s a poem/story that I want to work, too. But it will have to wait until later…