In her books and classes on rediscovering creativity, Julia Cameron (of The Artists Way fame) asks students to envision their “inner censor.”
Our inner censor is the nasty voice in our heads that tells us, “You’re no good,” “You might start that but you’ll never finish it,” “Everybody will laugh at you,” “You’re lazy,” “You should just stick to the way things are now,” “You don’t have any talent,” “You’ll embarrass yourself,” “You should give up now because you’re going to fail, anyway.” And on and on.
Last week I started following another of Cameron’s 12-week programs, but without much enthusiasm. I was forcing myself to go through the readings and exercises, not getting anything out of them and wondering why I was bothering. Then I ran across this exercise:
Shink Your Censor
Take a few minutes to name and describe your Censor. Is it male, female, neither? How old is it? What does it look like? What are some of its favorite disparaging remarks and insulting moves? You may wish to quickly sketch your Censor, as well. My students have drawn beasts, witches, a fourth-grade teacher … Allow your Censor to take whatever form emerges. Humor is welcome here! Drawing, naming, and describing the nasty creature will automatically minimize its power in your life.
Cameron also mentioned that her own Censor is Nigel and when Nigel turns up she speaks to it, bringing it down to size: “Oh, hello, Nigel. What don’t you like this time?”
I knew instantly, without having to give it a moment’s conscious thought, that my Censor is Hortense. Despite the female name, Hortense is of indeterminate sex — somewhere between a dried up old lady and a censorious clergyman. Both definitely Victorian, though. That’s the clearest thing about Hortense. Hortense is a Victorian moralist who disapproves of anything not proper and time-tested.
Outward behavior is all that matters to Hortense; your soul could be as rotten as a three-month old egg found behind the chicken coop, but as long as your manners and mein pass muster in his/her/its eyes, Hortense will grudgingly accept you. Grudingly, though. Always grudgingly. You remain forever at risk of being damned to hell by Clergyman Hortense or snubbed from polite society by Old Lady Hortense. One wrong move on your part is all it takes.
In fact, Hortense would prefer you to be rotten inside and blandly correct outside than to be a great artist, a great saint, or a great adventurer. Because those sorts of people are so … messy, you know. So unpredictable and so very beyond the control of manners and mores.
I immediately envisioned Hortense in a certain hand-wringing pose, hunched like a waiting buzzard. With a big beak of a nose, fit for sticking into other people’s business. The female aspect of her wears a tightly hobbled skirt, the male aspect a frock coat and top hat. Both are so intent on watching and judging other people that they’re off balance.
When I went looking for examples to work from, I found this familiar figure, which wasn’t what I pictured but also seems like a natural. So I gave Hortense something like his face.
And in five minutes, I sketched out Hortense. Now to work on putting him/her/it in his/her/its place.
Do you have a Censor? If so, “who” (or what) is it? And how does he/she/it behave?