Morning pages…

Quite a few years ago now, I was put on notice about this book you may have heard of: The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron.  It’s a self-help book designed to enable people with creative impulses to get in touch with their inner artistic selves and become more artistically productive.  Ms. Cameron comes at the process from a standpoint of holding that creative inspiration and divine inspiration are essentially the same thing, or at least flow out of the same source, and she provides some exercises that the would-be productive artist can work through so as to gain in self-assurance, as well as begin growing their output.

"The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path To Higher Creativity."
“The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path To Higher Creativity.”

It’s been a long time now since I tried my hand at the program, and what I remember most from those long ago efforts are two exercises in particular.  One was something Ms. Cameron called the “artist’s date.”  Basically, the budding creative person was to take herself or himself out on a “date” — kind of like the ego-self romancing the artist-self — and the idea was to go take in something that would inspire the inner artist.  It could be anything at all, too: actual artwork by someone else (as in, say, a showing of paintings or photographs in a gallery, a trip to a museum, a concert, a play, a film…), or it could be something as deceptively “simple” as natural wonder (go watch the sunset from some great vantage point, visit the ocean, hike through the woods or up a mountain trail…).  The point was to take in beauty, wonder, and spectacle, thereby adding it to that internal reservoir of creative potential that we can all draw upon when we’re in creator-mode.  Unless I misremember, the artist’s date was to happen once a week (more often than that, and the person in question would risk simply becoming a consumer of artistic fare without actually producing anything of their own, while less frequency than that might lead to a drought in creative fuel).

And then there was the other exercise: the morning pages.  This concept is just as easy and straightforward (to convey, if not to do): you sleep with a pad of paper and a writing implement by your bed — not a laptop, but something with which you’ll write by hand — and then when you wake up, you immediately take up that pad and pen/pencil, and you write out three pages of free association, longhand-style.  That’s it.  The goal isn’t to write “good stuff,” or to write it well.  You needn’t worry here about mechanics — you have full license to not get hung up on things like spelling, grammar, punctuation…the intention is just that you write, and better if you can do so without slowing down enough or waking up enough to think about it, and censor it, and let your conscious mind take over the show.  Just basically vomit forth three pages of text while you’re still semi-groggy, and then you’re done.  If you can’t think of anything to write about, then write about how you can’t think of anything to write about.  But no matter what…you write.

It may feel like torture at times, but you *work* that thing!  (public domain image by Javad Alizadeh)...
It may feel like torture at times, but you *work* that thing! (public domain image by Javad Alizadeh)…

So I ended up doing the morning pages for something like two months.  I can’t say that my creativity enjoyed a boom in production during that time, but I did notice something very interesting about the morning pages I generated during that period: they were angry.

Now, mind you, this all took place at least 15 years ago (and that’s a very conservative approximation — it may be pushing almost 20 at this point…), and I was in a very, very different headspace and emotional place in my life back then.  I was stuck in a job I despised, and I wasn’t ready to accept a few basic truths about myself and about the world around me.  And wow, did all the accumulated, pent-up frustration resulting from all that come pouring forth onto those morning pages!  Rarely, if ever, did a session consist of me expressing things like gratitude or appreciation or admiration — for anything!  It was just all angry, all the time.  Looking back, I’m kind of surprised that all that venom and vitriol didn’t curl up the pages in my journal, and blacken the wood of my nightstand!  I griped in those pages, I complained, I accused…I moped, I whined, I raged…I forsook, I bemoaned, I bewailed.  It was not pretty.  But the effects were twofold: for one thing, I was stunned at just how much anger I was carrying around with me as a constant companion without my ever consciously realizing it…and for another, as I spewed forth that bile every morning, after a few weeks, I did start to get the sense that I might not just have been pointlessly and fruitlessly wallowing in misery and self-pity and resentment during those writing sessions — I started to feel like I may have been actually letting go of some of it.  As gross as this analogy may be, it was a bit like lancing some monumental psychic boil or something, and letting the horrible build-up inside finally begin to leak away…

And I suppose that may be part of Julia Cameron’s aim with the morning pages: by working before your ego-self can rise up and stop you, you can let loose some of that which doesn’t serve you.  Again, I got sidetracked from this project after the first couple of months, and never returned to the practice, so I never actually saw that rise in my productive output that the program was designed to help its practitioners achieve…but I did start to mellow out a bit in general.  And happily, I was later able to make great strides in healing myself in other ways, so that the vast, roiling sea of anger is no longer there, bubbling poisonously away just below the surface.  But the point of all this is that the morning pages can be useful in that way for you, too, if you similarly carry around a lot of rage…or they can be used for other purposes.  Some people are fortunate enough that they don’t actually have a lot of natural anger…but maybe they have sorrow…or longing…or dissatisfaction…or maybe they could just use some kind of more tangible barometer to see what they do have inside themselves, because without such a mechanism, they’re just too close to the source to see things for what they are.  And that’s the gist here: if you could use a change in your life, or you just want to be able to better and more honestly check in with yourself, consider giving morning pages a go for a couple of weeks.  You’ll at the very least build up your hand and forearm muscles (because three pages of furious longhand is no joke!), and you may even gain some real wisdom from the exercise…

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