Three pages, longhand, every morning, half asleep. Morning pages. Did I mention in my previous post that this is one of two core practices of the Artist’s Way?
Despite being an avid collector of journals, I’ve never been very good at the actual journaling part. I can’t resist their decorated covers, their scent of new paper and possibilities… but a quick flip through the accusatory drawer full of them reveals little beyond that. Maybe a poem here or a page of an experience there, disjointed and quickly set aside.
I do have a few journals that are filled with dance notes, choreographies, yoga sequences and ritual and magickal notations, but my personal thoughts and feelings are conspicuously absent.
And now I have another journal, literally The Morning Pages Journal
I originally purchased with the book, and in it are two-hundred and sixty-four 8.5 x 11 pages, thirty-six of which are filled margin to margin with mental and emotional download in my chicken scratch penmanship. Twelve consecutive days of longhand journaling is a first for me. Why is this apparently working now, when it never has before?
1. Because they’re Morning Pages, not afternoon pages, evening pages, or whenever-something-happens pages.
2. Because I stopped trying to journal a best-selling autobiography.
I saw the first reason quickly, though admitted to it reluctantly. I am not a morning person. I get up in a haze, take the dog out in a haze, mechanically stumble to the coffee, which I make in a haze. Three hours later, it may be safe to talk to me.
Even so, however incongruous it seems, I make my most intuitive, insightful, creative leaps when I’m still trying to clear the haze from my mind. And worse, when I am forced to make a habit out of getting up very early – such as at yoga teacher training when I was up every day before dawn – I notice my intuitive potential climb to even greater heights.
As you might imagine, being a night owl I have assiduously repressed this knowledge. After all, it made no sense.
Synchronistically, within days of starting to write the morning pages I discovered this article, which essentially states that we are at our most creative during our least optimal time of the day. I’m finding it impossible to maintain my denial with so much sense-making in my face.
Should morning people then write their morning pages late at night? As morning people are essentially aliens to me, I can’t speak for them. I do, however, think that another reason morning pages work is theoretically you are doing them at a time of day when there are minimal distractions, before the world has swept you up and wrung you out. There is a difference between being in a liminal, hazy state and being exhausted from your day.
The second reason – because I stopped trying to journal a best-selling autobiography – arrives in correlation to one of the main themes of chapter one: protecting the child artist within.
No one would expect to pick up a violin for the first time and immediately play beautifully. And yet it is that inability to be perfect right from the beginning that keeps so many of us from even trying, or causes us to quit after the first few lessons, when faced with the screeching sounds of our initial attempts.
And if we survive those initial attempts, we may then be sunk by the realization of how much time and work it will likely take to get to the point where we feel we have “arrived”.
There is no quick solution to this, as Julia Cameron points out in chapter one:
“In recovering from our creative blocks, it is necessary to go gently and slowly. . . . Progress, not perfection, is what we should be asking of ourselves. Too far, too fast and we can undo ourselves. Creative recovery is like marathon training. We want to log ten slow miles for every one fast mile.”
Instead of trying to journal a best-selling autobiography, I am simply focusing on filling the pages. It’s not unlike meditation, where stray thoughts appear and are observed from a place of detachment, only in this case the thoughts are netted as they flow by and channeled onto the pages. Trite, whiny, angry, childish, bad grammar, disconnected themes – doesn’t matter! And occasionally, within the download, something insightful and inspired appears.
I think the morning pages are the warm-up for the ten slow and one fast mile, a way to learn how to be kind and patient with ourselves. These are skills we will certainly need as we face the next hurdle Cameron describes in our recovery: time.
“It is impossible to get better and look good at the same time. . . . By being willing to be a bad artist, you have a chance to be an artist, and perhaps, over time, a very good one. When I make this point in teaching, I am met by instant, defensive hostility:
‘But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano/act/paint/write a decent play?’
Yes . . . the same age you will be if you don’t.”
I find this a deceptively obvious yet profound statement to contemplate. The Truth I feel in it helped me to take a breath, slow down and stop worrying about the “arrival”.
We have no time machine. If we did, we might go back and make sure our five year-old self gets to every piano lesson, or our ten year-old self sticks with ballet, or our fifteen year-old self continues writing short stories despite parental discouragement in the form of “sensible” advice.
Because we cannot go back and relive our lives with no diversions from our creative calling, we have to ask ourselves if we can be content never having tried at all. We have to ask ourselves, will this yearning to create be any less in another ten years, twenty years, fifty years?
Time rolls inexorably onward, uncaring how we make use of it. Personally, a life spent training for the marathon feels a great deal more fulfilling than one spent standing on the sidelines, looking back.