Artist's Way

The Artist’s Way for Midlife – JOY

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 eight: Reigniting a Sense of Joy.

I continue to follow the four cornerstones of the program:

  • Daily hand-written Morning Pages (wrote 11 out of 14 days)
  • Weekly solo Artist Dates (postcard journaling project)
  • Two 20-minute solo walks per week (walking the basset…)
  • Ten weekly Memoir prompts (this week focusing on ages 36-40)

Perhaps some of you noticed my absence on the blog last week. We were on vacation and where we stayed had no WiFi and spotty cell phone coverage. While forced to unplug I must admit, it was nice to spend uninterrupted time with the family (all 10 of us).

This week’s session on JOY had us focus on what makes us happy. Through memoir questions and self-reflection, we contemplated times when we were most joyful – and perhaps reconnect with a few lost dreams.

I found it more than coincidental that our family vacation at the lake coincided with this week’s focus. My most treasured memories involve spending time at my parent’s lakefront property in Bella Vista, Arkansas. Dad purchased a pontoon boat just for the grandkids and we would spend every Memorial Day – 4th of July – and Labor Day at their place. This year’s family vacation was an attempt to recreate those memories for the next generation. And I think we succeeded.

In fact, my husband and I returned with a new retirement dream. We would like to own lakefront property where the children and grandchildren are welcome to come anytime and enjoy escaping the stress of everyday life.

While we would love to have a large enough home to accommodate everyone at once – like my parents’ house – we would also be content living in a two-bedroom condo. It isn’t so much the size of the residence as it is the location and relaxed atmosphere.

Anyway… the vacation allowed me to reconnect with joy in my life, but so did the memoir questions:

  1. Describe major relationships at this time in your life.
  2. Where did you live?
  3. What brought you happiness during this time?
  4. Describe a sound.
  5. Describe a smell.
  6. Did you have any pets?
  7. What passions or interests did you explore? Did you ignore?
  8. What was your greatest challenge? Do you relate to that challenge today?
  9. What was the prevailing mood at this time? How does it relate to today?
  10. Describe other significant memories of this time period.

Question 3: What brought you happiness?

It was at this time in life that I discovered scrapbooking.

I’ve always taken pictures of life’s special moments. Whether it be birthdays, holidays or family vacations, I wanted a record of the events. I struggled, however, with a proper organizational system. Magnetic photo albums or plastic photo sleeves seemed insufficient. I wanted to tell the story behind the picture.

In 1997 I attended my first Creative Memories event and I was immediately hooked. I became a consultant – not because I wanted to sell the product but because I wanted to teach others how to properly preserve their family’s heritage. I am convinced it was my experience as a consultant that led to my first teaching job four years later – which ultimately led to a teaching career.

While scrapbooking is a true passion, I am sad to admit that I rarely allow myself the pleasure.

I still have boxes and boxes of old photographs. I have enough scrapbooking materials on-hand to complete several more albums. And yet… I do not make the time.

Julia asked us to do one more memoir activity this week: List 10 fun things you currently are not allowing yourself to do. She then instructs us to choose one and DO IT.

I’m sharing this with the hopes that you will keep me accountable.

Scrapbooking brings me great joy. It is in alignment with one of my life’s priorities: leaving a legacy. In this midlife season, I have the time. I just need to convince myself that I am allowed to pursue an activity for the sole purpose of having fun.


  • Kristin Alicia

    Molly – how nice that you had an opportunity to get away to the lake for a week. Coincidentally, we were on vacation last week as well (California, where I grew up). What an interesting exercise from the book. Reigniting joy is something I’m working on right now. I used to have a lot of joy in my life, but after going through some prolonged trauma, that disappeared. I’m at a point now where I’m beginning to open back up and experience moments of joy again. It’s made me realize how special that is — something I took for granted for many years. I hope you are able to find more time to do scrapbooking and other things which fill your cup.

    • Molly Totoro

      I’m so glad you are finding joy again Kristin. I agree it is important for us to refill our cups. Otherwise, how can bring joy to others? It’s hard to give from an empty well.

  • Janet Mary Cobb

    Molly – you are allowed to have fun! Would it help if we all told you that you ‘should’ scrapbook? Just teasing — but if your week away reignited the joy, why not let yourself enjoy another simple pleasure. Could be worse — you could enjoy getting dead-drunk, being a bully, or robbing banks! When I was trying to break the workaholic tendencies I’d acquired, I also knew that my all/nothing personality would allow me to spend all day and night enjoying my leisure activity — so I timed it at the beginning and turned it into a ‘to-do’. I spent 20 minutes and 20 minutes only each day on a jigsaw puzzle. Slowly I could relax and it became neither a chore nor a guilt-inducing waste of time, but a pleasure. I hope you can give yourself permission.

    • Molly Totoro

      Actually, Janet, it probably would help if you told me I should. I am accountable to others far better than I am accountable to myself. But I know this an important life lesson for me to learn – and I am determined to silence those inner voices that prevent me from pursuing fun 🙂 I also suffer from the “all or nothing” disorder. I like your idea of adhering to small periods of time in the beginning. Perhaps I can set the goal of completing a two-page spread…

    • Molly Totoro

      I’ve already made a list of baby steps to take toward this goal, Natalie 🙂 I plan to report on my progress next week when the topic is MOTION.

  • Sue from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond

    Hi Molly and welcome back after your vacation. It sounds lovely having a place by the lake for the family to escape to occasionally. Such a beautiful setting for family get-togethers as well. I’ve never been into scrapbooking but had a friend who produced some beautiful work. You have prompted me to look at a couple of projects that I enjoy but have let slip so thank you. Thank you for sharing your learnings at #MLSTL and have a beautiful week. x

    • Molly Totoro

      I think this is one of the benefits of midlife, Sue (although it is difficult to follow through) … we have the time to follow-up on projects or hobbies or dreams that have slipped through the cracks. I’m curious to hear what projects you delve into this week!

  • Patricia

    Thanks for continuing this series. Your insights continue to inspire me to do my own. I finally started and have done weeks one and two. I look forward to seeing your full series! #MLSTL

    • Molly Totoro

      CONGRATULATIONS! I hope you find this workbook as helpful as I have. I know I am just scratching the surface, but I do feel as though I am learning to embrace midlife and letting go of the creative blocks of the past.

  • Christie Hawkes

    Your vacation sounds lovely. It is serendipitous that your vacation coincided with a focus on joy. I also just returned from a family trip to a lake–Bear Lake in Idaho. We meet there each year with all of our children and grandchildren. It’s the best time of the year! #MLSTL

    • Molly Totoro

      Idaho (and Wyoming and Montana) are on my bucket list, Christie. I imagine pristine lakes, indigo skies, and fresh clean air. Hopefully, when my husband retires in a few years, we can head that way (another bucket list item is to vacation in an RV… so I think we might try to combine the two). Your annual vacation tradition sounds fabulous!

  • Donna

    Hi, Molly – I’m glad that you were able to have a break, unplug, and focus on joy. I greatly enjoy reading your posts. Your insights are stunning.

    • Molly Totoro

      Thanks so much, Donna! While it was a definite adjustment to unplug for five full days… I think it is exactly what I needed. I am now refreshed and ready to return to a fall routine.

  • Leanne |

    Lake houses seem to be featuring a lot in my life lately Molly – I’ve been watching a series on Lake House renovations and seeing a few blog posts of people lazing around the lake for their Summer vacations. We don’t really have lakes in Australia like you guys do, so a lake house will just be a little dream for me – maybe it will be my happy place in my imagination! I hope you get your place and can create some wonderful memories with the extended family xx
    #MLSTL 🙂

    • Molly Totoro

      Actually, Leanne, if we could dream big… we would much prefer a beach house on the Gulf of Mexico in Florida’s panhandle. But the price is considerably higher and the distance away from family is too great. So, I hope we can find a lake house/condo within the next few years to accommodate the waterfront dream 🙂

  • Kay

    I want to encourage you to do the ‘fun’ activities as well. The things that bring you joy. It’s not a waste of time. It’s self-care and, like eating healthy and exercising, is good for mind and probably the body too. Like Janet said above, if needs be, give yourself a time limit – even set a timer. I used to do that with my reading so that I would also accomplish tasks around the house. Glad you had a nice vacation with your family. And hope your dream in retirement will come true.

    • Molly Totoro

      I’ve come to realize, Kay, that I have completely dismissed the idea of self-care as frivolous and narcissistic. How warped is that?! No wonder I have a difficult time having fun. I really love your idea of putting “fun” in the same category as healthy eating and exercising. This is quite a mind-shift for me, but one I think I NEED to make. Thank you for your constant encouragement!

  • Amy

    Beautiful post! I love to scrapbook too, but I’ve moved away from the paper and glue scrapbooks to the digital scrapbooks and I like the results so much better!

    • Molly Totoro

      Amy, thank you so much for stopping by!
      I totally understand the attraction to digital scrapbooking – and I am starting to dabble a bit in that direction. Do you use an online service? If so… do you mind sharing which one? I’ve investigated Shutterfly and Blurb, but have yet to do anything with it.

      I recently discovered Cathy Zielski’s designs, where she combines digital and traditional scrapbooking into clean, minimalist designs. I like her style, but the PhotoShop learning curve is pretty steep 🙂

  • Mary Lou

    Yes, I did look for your post last week and thought I might have just overlooked it. Your series is a favorite on my social media. I chose Question #8. It was a time of upheaval for me and I decided I needed a positive challenge to move me forward. I registered in a trimester at the local community college taking 2 courses each trimester. I loved it and felt I had a real appreciation for learning at that age. I didn’t get my associates degree until I was 44 years old and then went on to get my bachelor’s degree at the age of 56! It didn’t matter! I really found joy in that challenge. Sharing this on social media for #MLSTL.

  • Johanna Castro

    Your holiday sounded lovely Molly and I’m inspired also to buy this book as I’m loving the prompts. So glad that you are allowing yourself joy and scrapbooking sounds great – I love making photobooks. I can be compulsive, so have to set time limits. #MLSTL

    • Molly Totoro

      Yes… I think compulsive is my middle name 🙂 I’ve decided to look at this challenge as a learning opportunity. My all-or-nothing personality prevents me from enjoying life. Scrapbooking is going to be my teaching tool to overcome this disorder. A few minutes time to work on a single page can be as much fun as dedicating several hours to a project.

  • suzanne vosbikian

    Hi Molly, I am Suzanne over at Picture-Retirement. I just found your Blog through Leanne and Sue’s link-up party. Aren’t they wonderful to do this? Your post struck several cords with me today – 1st The Panhandle of Florida is where I was grew up and I share your yearning to have a place there (but it will not happen) 2nd, I am a former scrap booker, turned Shutterfly guru and have created over twenty-five books since 2008. I highly recommend that on-line service. You can have all the creative control you want or let them create a basic book for you. Easy to learn. 3rd, I kept a paper journal for more than thirty years, developed a course and taught others some of my methods (daily prompts, timelines, joy zappers, who am I, etc.) so the book you recommend feels like home. I will have to get a copy. And, finally, #4 I have been retired since 2006, so my time has been my own for quite a while now. I had almost forgotten the struggle that you refer to between what we should be doing vs doing things that create joy in our lives. I guess that means I have made progress, and you will too. Leanne wrote a powerful piece about “permission” that you must read if you haven’t already. I am excited to explore your site and read more from this series.

    • Molly Totoro

      Suzanne… we have a LOT in common! I so admire your dedication to photography as a hobby. I love the idea of photography (using the camera to connect with the world around me – to see the beauty in the ordinary) … but I still allow perfectionism to block my enjoyment of the process. I have a feeling your blog posts will inspire me to let go of expectations. I look forward to that 🙂

  • Leslie Clingan

    I can completely relate to needing to give ourselves permission to have fun or do something enjoyable just for the pleasure of the activity. I always tell myself that I can scrapbook after I do A), B), C). But then comes D) and E) and next thing I know, the day has ended and I didn’t scrapbook a thing.

    We both need to do those things that bring us pleasure and a sense of accomplishment and happiness. Because life is short!

    • Molly Totoro

      YES… I always have conditions I need to meet before I allow myself to have fun (and often once I meet them, I tag on a few more). But I am starting to come to grips with the fact that life is short (and getting shorter every day). It is time we both start having a bit more fun!!

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