Standing at the Water's Edge:
Moving Past Fear, Blocks and Pitfalls to Discover the Power of Creative Immersion

by Anne Paris, Ph.D.

New World Library, 2008. ISBN 978-1-57731-589-6.
Reviewed by Joan Shaddox Isom
Posted on 06/02/2008

Nonfiction: Creative Life; Nonfiction: Life Lessons

In ten chapters, Anne Paris explores the creative impulse, what may block it, and how to avoid the pitfalls. I admit to skepticism at first, as so many books on this subject fall into the pop psychology category, but the author has navigated these shoals skillfully, offering coping skills, insight, and impetus to readers who strive to create.

Writers, artists, and businesspeople should benefit from this book. As a writer, I found it particularly intriguing, especially the chapter on family dynamics, in which the author explains that roles are often thrust upon us without our knowledge. Paris addresses what can occur when one is viewed as "the baby" (even when we are older). With intriguing insight, she points out that when such a person achieves success, she upsets the applecart because her siblings "could not tolerate her change in position in the unspoken family hierarchy; her siblings could no longer feel better than their sister (an experience they needed to boost their self-esteem)..." When experiencing this situation, some writers even give up their craft, perhaps feeling the price of success is too high to pay. Paris urges, "Take back your dreams of childhood and then reach for them!"

The author acknowledges that the creative process does not have to be a lonely, solitary endeavor, as we have heard so often. Feedback, interaction and encouragement from friends, co-workers, and colleagues are useful and beneficial. Being positively seen by others when we are young is important. But if that is not part of our history, Paris suggests we can turn to "positive fantasies of a perceived audience," thus affirming that imaginary supporters, even ancestors, can bless and enrich our creative endeavors.

As I read, thoughts of my personal experiences surfaced, and I realized that each time before I make a public appearance, I summon a memory of my first poetry reading decades ago at a Women's Voices Writing Workshop in Santa Cruz, California. My audience applauded, whistled, stomped, and sent me home with an empowered feeling that I resurrect each time I get up to read my work. I don't know where any of these women are now, or if they are still writing, but I hold them in my memory as a gathering of compassionate souls whom I summon to bless my efforts when I need them. It was and is one of the principles Paris explores in Standing at the Water's Edge.

Having read Csikszentmilhalyi's Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, I was delighted to see parallels in Paris' content. Flow explores the mental and emotional state in which an artist, if she is fortunate, finds herself in order to bring the creative process to its highest level, a condition the ancient Greeks referred to as Kairos.

At the end of each chapter, readers are offered "Guides" with helpful suggestions. So much of this book spoke directly to me. Multiple quotes sprinkled throughout the book enriched it. In short, Paris' entire theme seems to echo a quote from one of my heroes in the art world, Vincent van Gogh... "I am seeking, I am striving, I am in it with all my heart."

For people who create or who would like to create, for those who have struggled with fears and blocks, this book is more than helpful. Paris will move you toward understanding yourself as an artist.

Dr. Anne Paris works with creative clients to explore the deep psychological hopes and fears that block us from creative immersion. Visit her website.

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