Artist's Way

The Artist’s Way for Midlife – Resilience

I am currently working my way through Julia Cameron’s newest Artist’s Way series, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again – a program specifically targeted to help those in midlife discover creativity and meaning.

This week I focused on chapter seven: Reigniting a Sense of Resilience.

I continue to follow the four cornerstones of the program:

  • Daily hand-written Morning Pages (wrote 5 out of 7 days)
  • Weekly solo Artist Dates (started to teach myself PhotoShop)
  • Two 20-minute solo walks per week (walking the basset…)
  • Ten weekly Memoir prompts (this week focusing on ages 31-35)

The malaise of last week lifted by the weekend which is good because this week I need to prepare for our upcoming family vacation. A close friend volunteered her lakefront home and we are excited to get away together and relax. As a family of ten (and growing), we prefer to eat meals at the house and linger around the dining room table.  I have already made the menus. This week I need to shop for the groceries.

I still plan to keep up with Julia’s program. I am in the final stretch (only five weeks left) and I don’t want to lose momentum.

This week’s memoir prompts were particularly thought-provoking:

  1. Describe your major relationships.
  2. Where did you live?
  3. What was a source of humor during this time?
  4. Describe one sound.
  5. Describe one taste.
  6. Describe one way in which you were resilient.
  7. What was your concept of God?
  8. Were there experiences/decisions made during this time period that are still a part of life today?
  9. What was your relationship to exercise? How does it compare today?
  10. Describe other significant memories of this time of life.

Interestingly, I used the word resilience to describe last week’s prompts. And the term still applies during this time of life.

While I could wax on and on about my answers to all ten questions… I will focus on just two:

What was your concept of God?

My relationship with the Divine is complicated. As a product of the parochial school system, my basic concept of God was that of a Divine Accountant… and the Book of Life his financial spreadsheet. Admittance into heaven was based on the bottom line. Did life choices land me in the black? Welcome to paradise. In the red? So sorry… but to hell with you.

Somehow in all my parochial teachings I completely missed the message of love. The God I envisioned was critical, judgmental and his love extremely conditional.

It was during this time of life, however (at a very low point) that I was introduced to the concept of a loving God. A God who is for me and not against me. A God who desires fellowship with his creation.

I’ve always heard we are made in the image of God. It never occurred to me, however, that this resemblance extends beyond physical attributes. Since He is the ultimate creator, we are also creative. He wants us to have fun – to play – to experiment. I much prefer this God to the one I learned about in elementary school. I want to spend time with Him and get to know Him better.

What was your relationship to exercise? How does it compare today?

This relationship needs major work. Please understand, exercise… it’s not you, it’s me.

As a child, I remember playing the neighborhood game of catch or four-square. I was not particularly good, but neither was I last the one picked for the team. And I was okay with that.

I was not particularly coordinated nor athletic in high school. Therefore, I never participated in team sports. I enjoyed volleyball and tennis, but only in a non-competitive way.

P.E. was a class I endured. I didn’t like the constant comparison on the field and in the locker room. I didn’t enjoy sweating or labored breathing. I assumed it meant I was out-of-shape, so every class was a reminder that I was not good enough. Once I graduated. I reasoned I didn’t have to exercise if I didn’t want to. And a rather sedentary life followed.

I’ve always watched my diet, so weight was not much of a problem… until the age of 55. Now the middle is a little thicker – a little flabbier – and clothes are a bit too snug.

In 2015 I embarked on a 10,000-step-a-day routine and truly LOVED it. I lost a few pounds but more importantly, I toned up and gained a positive mental attitude. I enjoyed walking and I voluntarily pushed myself to sweat a little.

But then the weather changed. And the daylight hours waned. And I used any excuse to stay inside. In 2016 I broke three bones within five months. The bedrest prescription led to a sedentary life.

But I no longer like the reflection I see in the mirror. I have no problem stretching and conditioning my brain – why do I resist doing the same for my physical body?

This is a constant topic in my morning pages. One day I know I will grow frustrated with all my complaining and eventually take action. I want to try yoga. I enjoy walking.  And I know from past experience …. putting on the sneakers is the most difficult step. Once I walk out the door, I am good to go.

This week’s Artist Date:

Leaving a Legacy is important to me. I want my children (and their children) to understand where they came from. I want them to know my parents – to know me – and to understand how they fit in this world.

For years now I’ve had this concept of marrying one photograph with one essay to tell the stories of my life. I am in the process of scanning older photos for long-term storage. I then plan to use the original for this memoir project. However, I couldn’t find a proper format. Scrapbooks were too big and bulky. Journals were too bland.

This weekend I discovered Cathy Zielski’s Designs. I LOVE the clean minimalist look. And I like the 8.5×11 format. As an added bonus, her process uses PhotoShop … a skill I’ve wanted to learn for years.

The learning curve is steep. And this perfectionist had to give herself LOTS of grace. But in the end, I liked my first page. And I look forward to working on this long-term project a little bit each week.




  • Kristin Alicia

    I am a big walker as well. Interestingly enough, a few years back I was also sidelined by an injury — I fell and broke one ankle and sprained the other. It was a long haul until I was back to where I could take my walks again. And I, too, am stymied by the weather. I live in Kansas, where we ostensibly have two seasons: sweltering hot and freezing cold. Spring and Fall are short windows of time when the weather is perfect for walking. Nevertheless, I try to get out in the evenings when it has cooled off a bit, to get my steps in. Despite these challenges, I’d much rather walk outside than go to a gym (something that is not likely to happen on a regular basis!).

    I think midlife can be a challenging time of coming to term with the changes in our bodies. I still hope that one day I will be inspired to take my exercise up another notch.

    • Molly Totoro

      I’m from Kansas too!! The Kansas City area… and you are absolutely correct in your description of our weather. I really shouldn’t use it as an excuse, though. I just need to get over the block and put on those sneakers 🙂

      I have tried gym memberships and I simply don’t follow through with that either. I am too intimidated by others who appear to have their fitness act together. Then the guilt settles in when I realize I’ve wasted money on a contract.

      I have found a YouTube yoga channel that I like. Why don’t I make the time to stretch in the comfort of my own home? I have NO idea. But like I said in the post… at some point, I will get tired of hearing my own whining and (hopefully) take action. I think I need to release the ‘all or nothing’ mentality and just focus on doing what I can (probably the subject of a future blog post…)

  • Sue from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond

    Hi Molly, I love your idea of writing a story for each photograph as a legacy for your children. I’m going to copy that idea if I may? Regarding exercise, you know that i love to run and workout. However, I wasn’t always like that. At school I was never athletic and did ballet. I started running at 50 but running isn’t for everyone. My important message that I like to pass on is that we need to firstly remove the word EXERCISE from our vocabulary and replace it with ACTIVITY OR MOVEMENT. Exercise can bring to mind hard work and it becomes a chore. If we find something we really enjoy doing – and the list of activities is endless, we will certainly be more inclined to keep doing it regularly and the by-product is not only improved physical fitness but also mental fitness and happiness. I do enjoy your series, Molly and look forward to you linking up to share at #MLSTL. Have a great week!

    • Molly Totoro

      Of course you may “copy” my photo story idea, Sue! I’m truly honored 🙂 In fact, I’m giving thought to writing a series of posts about this process in the fall – after my Artist Way series 🙂

      Thank you for your kind encouragement and sage advice. You are right – exercise is too similar to the word “exert” which brings to mind exhaustion 🙂 Activity, on the other hand, reminds me of a fun project – something I look forward to. I know I will like yoga (if I can get over the idea that I must do it perfectly and I’m not a failure if I don’t look like the slender 20-somethings in the videos). I do enjoy walking (although I’m not sure I will ever embrace running. KUDOS to you!!). If I wanted to be really wild and crazy… I’d love to put on music and just dance. I don’t know choreography but I do feel the rhythm. Perhaps I can investigate a few YouTube videos to help me…

      I give you permission to continue to nudge me off the couch 🙂 I know I need (and want) to MOVE.

  • Karen Hume

    Hi Molly,
    I echo Sue’s suggestion of a different word for exercise. In my case, I’ve reconceived it as ‘energy’. I miss the vitality and the staying power I used to have and am willing to do what’s necessary to recapture that energy. That’s including some afternoon naps, some self-care and, indeed, some exercise.

    Great idea to write stories with photographs, and to learn PhotoShop. #MLSTL

    • Molly Totoro

      Yes, Karen… I’m convinced that exercise is a negative word for me and I need to replace it with something more positive. I think I will spend some time this afternoon brainstorming appropriate synonyms. I will report back next week 🙂

  • Patricia

    Hi Molly, I’m continuing to follow your work through Julia’s memoir questions…and continue to be inspired.

    I, too, have a difficult relationship with exercise. I never had any exercise “program” and cannot imagine going to a gym. I did try yoga after many friends told me the great benefits. I told myself I would do it for a month, bought a month long pass, and tried different classes …..and really liked it. I now do a class a week, sometimes 2.

    And have turned some meeting friends for coffee, lunch, or happy hour into a “walk & talk” instead – a park, a neighborhood, the mall. They’ve all loved it as well.

    My latest attempt at motivation was a FitBit. I’m not sure it’s helping that much, but I do feel a sense of accomplishment when I hit 9000 steps in a day (the recommended target for a women of my age). Good luck with your attempts…and let me know what works for you. I’m always looking for ways that will get me to move more.

    • Molly Totoro

      All of these are FABULOUS suggestions! Exercise can actually be fun, can’t it? What a novel concept 🙂

      I tried a yoga class last year and while I like the gentle stretches and competitive-free environment, I still felt out-of-place. Perhaps I didn’t give it a good chance. I do have several YouTube yoga videos saved to try “sometime” I think the time is now. I’m not sure what I’m waiting for – or why I am reluctant to try something new in my own home… but I just need to ignore that feeling and just do it! I have a feeling once I get over this block – yoga will not only help my physical body but my mental health as well. As I understand it, there is no perfect in yoga… and I most definitely need to get over this perfectionism mindset.

  • Natalie

    Hi Molly – I had a similar project idea in mind about organizing my photos and documenting a story with them. I haven’t started yet because I’m still thinking about the format so thank you for sharing CZ Designs. Regarding my relationship with exercise – I have always been active but was not an athlete at school. I decided to dedicate time to take care of my health starting in my 40s. I walk every day, mix my fitness activity types, and formats (some alone, some with a friend, or a class) and have enjoyed my ‘health’ time plus feeling fit. You did the 10,000 step-a-day so you can do it again. We’ll be cheering you on! #MLSTL

    • Molly Totoro

      Thank you, Natalie, for cheering me on 🙂 I know I can do it… I just need to do it. I’m hoping this public confession will motivate me to take action.

      I’d love to hear how you decide to format your “memoir” I know Cathy Zielski’s design is not everyone’s cup of tea. but it resonated with me. A couple of other possibilities for you to look into would be Ali Edwards and Becky Higgins. Let’me know what you decide! I’d love to see images too 🙂

  • Leanne |

    Molly this was all so interesting to me – so much of what you said about exercise could be exactly what I’d have written. I quite enjoy walking (especially in nice weather) but I hated PE at school and athletics carnivals were my worst day of the year. If there was a way to lose weight while I sat in a chair, I’d probably never get up! I’ve also noticed the thickening of my waistline after never worrying about it previously and it’s all so frustrating.
    I also totally get what you are saying about a loving God – I’ve never liked the authoritarian teaching of some churches where God is just waiting to pounce on our misdeeds (“be careful little hands what you do” from Sunday School is a reflection of this mentality). I don’t think we can live fancy free and not up to God’s standards, but we don’t need to live in fear either.
    I really enjoyed your musings today and I’m off to look at the site you linked at the end for your photo montages.

    Thanks for linking up with us at #MLSTL and I’ve shared this on my SM 🙂

    • Molly Totoro

      Leanne … I chuckled when I read “if there was a way to lose weight while I sat in a chair, I’d probably never get up” OH… how I can relate. I think a part of my issue is my mind is VERY active while “just sitting” Consequently, I feel as though I’ve moved or exercised because I have done more than just sat and watched television. But my waistline tells a different story.

      Your example of “Be careful little hands what you do” is EXACTLY the small critical voice inside my head that tells me God is a Divine cop rather than a loving Father. You know… just as I typed this I had a thought. Perhaps this block with exercise and difficulty understanding God’s love is interconnected somehow? I wonder if I got out and walked in the outdoors … surrounded myself with nature and His beauty … if I might develop a truer sense of His character? I think I’m going to test this hypothesis 🙂 Thank you for giving me food for thought!

  • Denyse

    I like seeing how well this work of Julia’s is going with others. I started it in 2016 but my head and heart were not in it and some of her suggestions were what I was already doing. I applaud the work as she definitely knows people. I ended up donating my copy to a friend. Thank you for sharing here. Denyse #MLSTL

    • Molly Totoro

      I completely understand that this book (and program) is not for everyone. And honestly, I’ve read several of her other works without doing a single exercise. For some reason… this book seemed to fit a need at this point in my life. I just followed the nudge to do it 🙂

  • Kay

    First of all, I hope you and your family have a wonderful and memorable vacation together. I always love these posts. So much food for thought. I’ll just say a little in response. It’s a great thing when a perfectionist’s view of God can shift to a God of grace from a God of fury. As to exercise (or movement, which is how I term it now), I was never, ever a person that moved any more than I absolutely had to. My whole life. As I started my weight loss and better health journey, I began walking, building up little by little. I knew about the endorphins and more peaceful mind (or had read about it) – wasn’t sure it would work for me. Guess what? It works – the endorphins are real! I walk every single day. It’s a habit now. I do at least a 5K usually, sometimes more. I listen to books or music or podcasts. I gave myself a treat in that regard by acquiring books that I wanted to read or reread. I kept walking. I have done yoga in the past and need to begin again with that. I’ve discovered as I’ve lost weight, there are actual bones under there (ha!) and I want to work on my flexibility and stamina. Good luck with your journey! I love hearing about your memoir writing. It will be lovely and I’m sure your family will treasure it.

    • Molly Totoro

      “Shift to a God of grace from a God of fury” … I LOVE this, Kay! Thank you for sharing. I will recall this the next time I get sucked into the God of Fury mindset.

      I love your encouraging story of building up a “movement” habit. I would really like to get back to walking a 3k a day (although 5k is better). I felt great – and the weight loss and trimmer waistline were only fringe benefits. It was the positive mental attitude and renewed energy that I enjoyed most.

      I’m hoping this public declaration will give some sense of accountability. I tend to follow through when I know others are relying on me 🙂

  • Victoria

    Exercise is a four letter word in my book. lol There was a time in my life when I ran 6 miles a day plus did an hour of work out in the gym but those days are long gone. It is very interesting when we go back and remember different times in our lives.

    • Molly Totoro

      I wish I could recall a time in my life when I ran 6 miles! 🙂 I did enjoy playing tennis in high school and could play for hours in sweltering heat, but as you say, those days are long gone.

  • Christie Hawkes

    What a wonderful project–for you and for your loved ones. My brother died suddenly three years ago, and we have taken so much comfort from the words he left behind in his journals and the photos that we have of him. Putting the photos and words together in a lasting book is such a gift.

    I always hated gym class. I’m not particularly coordinated or athletic. However, as an adult, I have come to love fitness–hiking, running, a high intensity interval training, and yoga. I’m not sure how it happened. I know I was originally driven by the desire to control my weight, but somewhere along the line, I came to truly enjoy it. I wish that for you too. Remember–you can’t hate yourself healthy. (I borrowed that from

    • Molly Totoro

      I read one of your brother’s journal entries on your blog, Christie. It was so touching and I can tell such a comfort for you to have his words with you.

      I thank you for sharing your fitness journey. You give me hope, truly! I know once I start – and stick with it long enough – it will become a part of a daily routine and hopefully, a part I look forward to 🙂

  • Mary Lou

    This week’s post reminded me of what I wrote for the Seventies in my story. So much self-reflection during that time. My relationship with God has changed and evolved through the years. The Seventies was when I experienced my personal spiritual experience ~ “It was during this time of life, however (at a very low point) that I was introduced to the concept of a loving God. A God who is for me and not against me. A God who desires fellowship with his creation”. So powerful. It’s been the driving force behind my life since. Thanks, Molly! I’ll be sharing on #MLSTL.

    • Molly Totoro

      Mary Lou… I’m so glad these words resonate with you! And I’m thrilled to be a part of a community that allows me to share what is on my heart and mind 🙂

  • Leslie Clingan

    I enjoy reading your progress as I am following along behind you by a few weeks. Have really enjoyed the Morning Pages. Didn’t give myself enough time this morning to do them and really missed that start to my day.

    Will check out Cathy Zielski’s website. I am a scrapbooker and scrapbook via Skype with my sister one a month or so. We tease that no one will ever look at our albums but we sure have fun making them. Sadly, I don’t do much journaling on my pages, usually only put the location and the date. I love your idea of writing an essay or little story about a single photo on a page.

    Grew up with no formal religious training at all. We very rarely went to church. My parents both grew up going to church but as adults became very disillusioned with the hypocrisy they witnessed among parishioners. Pretty sure my early ideas of God were similar to yours but as I grew older, I decided I wanted to believe in a loving God who wants to hold us up, light our way, just love us. And that is what I continue to believe today.

    So glad to have discovered your blog.

    • Molly Totoro

      Leslie – how marvelous that you and your sister can connect in this way! I never thought of scrapbooking via Skype, but I LOVE the idea 🙂
      I can relate to your parents’ disillusionment. It took me a long time to realize that organized religion is not what God is about.
      I’m thrilled to have found this #MLSTL community. I’ve met some wonderful online friends!

    • Molly Totoro

      Thanks so much for the kind words, Jen 🙂 Life-long learning is my mantra. In the 21st Century, we really do have the tools necessary to learn anything we desire, coupled with a bit of persistence and a positive attitude.

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