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The "Virtue" of Deprivation
Elizabeth W. Bennefeld

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"The Keeper" by Elizabeth Lyle

In the chapter for Week 5 of The Artist's Way, "Recovering a Sense of Possibility," Julia Cameron says, "Many of us have made a virtue out of deprivation. We have embraced a long-suffering artistic anorexia as a martyr's cross."

As I went through Cameron's 12-week creative recovery program, I began to understand the depths of spiritual poverty I've lived in for most of my life, regarding my own creativity--the negative view I had of my own abilities during most of my life.

Debts used to give me a sense of security, and so I was in debt from age 17, when I started college, until I entered my 50s. I had to be responsible, down to earth, sensible. I couldn't follow my dreams, I couldn't be a fool, because I had to be what others told me I should be, so that I could spend my whole life making payments on my debts. I needed them to protect me from the call to change, the call to create.

I needed debts to protect me from doing the "impossible." As long as I was in debt, I had a moral duty not to be "too" creative. In addition, I was brought up on the idea that because I was female, I shouldn't expect to make money. And so, I had to be poor and in debt to be loved and acceptable.

My art was a hobby -- wasted time. But no one yet has told me that they sleep with a thesis I've edited or a job search letter that I've written. They only say it about my poems.

In the process of creative recovery, I have realized how much of a martyr I have made myself into, and how needlessly. Choosing to live in bondage in one area of one's life spreads the bondage, eventually, into all the corners.

I think that the self-discipline that is required to live debt free and to have to save for what I need is the same sort of self-discipline that, when entered into with a joyful, creative spirit, is good for my art. I certainly won't have to panic, now, if I have a couple weeks that are light on paying customers; I can concentrate on writing, instead of pacing the floor and worrying about how to juggle payments.

For some, this may mean nothing. This is an area of life that is significant to me because of my upbringing, the way I was programmed. And so, for me, this is the necessary step to take in recovering a sense of possibility in my life. This is what I needed to do to break out of the stereotypes of my community of origin. Others of you may discover areas in your lives in which you have made a virtue of deprivation -- ensuring that all the needs of your immediate and extended family, neighbors and friends have been met before doing anything for yourself would be an example.

I hope that you too will enjoy exploring the new possibilities in your lives and figuring out what the pay-offs are in saying "no" and staying stuck. Once the lies are uncovered, we can turn our backs on them and start making plans to live our dreams.

Copyright August 1998. Elizabeth Wicker Bennefeld. All rights reserved.

Elizabeth Bennefeld and her husband live in Fargo, North Dakota, along with their cocker spaniels, Rascal and Ladd. Since 1984, she has earned a living as a freelance writer, copy editor and academic style editor, doing business as The Written Word. She is also does contract work as a copy editor and first reader for Dark Star Publications, a publisher of genre fiction in e-book formats. Their hobbies include ham radio, storm chasing, astronomy, building and networking computers, music and reading.

E-mail Elizabeth at

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