Five Years and 33 Morning Pages Later
Five years ago, I sat down at my computer every morning for a month trying to complete Morning Pages. Loads of creative folks swear by Julia Cameron’s daily creative process to get ideas flowing, first thing. The idea is to handwrite three pages of free-flowing thought — or, whatever you want. I started and stopped several times before concluding perhaps it wasn’t right for me.
But five years ago, I typed them as emails and saved them as Drafts — which means I now have a view into who I was five years ago, a few months away from 30 when it mattered to be on the cusp of something. “Culturally,” writes Jeanna Kadlec in her essay, I Didn’t Manage to Publish a Book by 30, and That’s Okay, “30 marks the end of adulthood as discovery, as a kind of prolonged exploratory youth: hence, young adults. Thirty isn’t young. Thirty is the mystical age by which things have to have happened for you — personally, professionally — or they won’t.”
Here are a few things I wrote during that time:
April 15, 2014
I’m uncomfortably Type-A at times and though I have a great affinity for organization and office supplies, I would never say that I have a passion for these things. Passion is one of those overused words like love and literally. It’s been applied haphazardly to so many inappropriate feelings and phrases that none of it makes sense anymore.
April 18, 2014
As I near my 30th year, I’ve begun to tire from excuses. The simplicity of a no is refreshing though it may hurt at the time. A half-hearted yes that turns into a bitter yes; or a yes with strings, or with resentment is not a yes at all.
April 20, 2014
Every day, I think I get closer to quitting my job. I am overwhelmed with conflicting emotions, on the verge of tears and incredibly tired.
How we shape our past is an interesting thing. It’s easier to look back and find you were going through a time of transition than to acknowledge that shaky ground as anything other than shaky at the moment. In these drafts, I found a person who was not only turning thirty but someone conflicted about what that meant. Not because I hadn’t been productive or generated income, or lifelong friendships, or a passion for a way of telling stories I hadn’t considered — but because I had done all of that, I had grown around it and after several years, felt trapped.
I wanted to quit my job, but I was enjoying working on projects that required a lot from me; I was very anxious about the health of my Father and came home frequently, thus isolating myself from the ongoing world so I could instead encapsulate myself in growing anxiety. I cut my hair, booked a solo overseas trip, started house-sitting, spent a lot of time at church, trained for a half-marathon and this self-professed “writer” wrote nothing but these morning pages.
April 20, 2014
All that strife and no writing. The weekend is over and I’ve done nothing I’ve set out to do.
I wouldn’t quit that job for another four years — and even then, it was less quitting and more slowly sliding out of focus. Because I wrote the pages over the course of that one month, they missed the rest of the story — that some work situations became less difficult, that my writing would go on a roll, hit a speed bump, then repeat. Two years later, the build-up in anxiety would prompt me to see a therapist and get that shit under control. I would meet someone, get a dog, and surrender my apartment for his. I would write freelance, pay self-employment taxes and take up watercolor.
The point of Morning Pages isn’t necessarily personal growth. It’s not meant to tell the full story, and it’s not meant for other people. Its sole purpose is to “provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand”. Its sole purpose is you.
March 24, 2014
I’m most fearful that it’s not as bad as I think it is. That I’ll live with regret thinking about the fancy Mac desktop, my proximity to renovated, automatic bathrooms, the coffee corners, the ability to be assigned to writing and producing projects. And, another part of me, absolutely does not care about that kind of thing. The other part of me relishes my work and opportunities here but has been ready to leave for years.
Maybe you’re thinking I should have tried journaling. Dear reader, I married him.
I kept a journal consistently from middle through high school and periodically in college. I still have the little beasts with their ratty covers, thin pages, and sloppy handwriting. I have all the accompanying inserts as well -the hodgepodge of postcards, receipts, photos and drawings too terrible to describe — these notebooks were less a collection of deep thoughts and more a log of days, of arguments I had with my parents, movies, and what I would do to be one day referred to as Soigné. I was collecting the allusive, impersonal and obscure writing Mary Karr refers to as “decoration”. She and I are both against the type though I continue to generate it at a frantic pace. Also, I must have dumped them in patchouli and Victoria’s Secret Heavenly perfume because of the still unbearable fragrance of being very young.
“You can’t rush the production of life experience,” Kadlec continues, “Or the time it takes to process and sift.” Morning Pages was a step up from the journaling. I didn’t write only when I had something to say (or thought I did), I wrote every day.
That was the last time I attempted a daily routine of unfocused writing, unless you count the times I started an essay, went at it for several days before turning away in disgust or abandoning it for another project I thought would work better. Five years later, I’m better able to see the stress I was living with and making for myself both personally and professionally.
April 3, 2014
Maybe if I’m reading this at another time, another older, wiser time, I’m wondering: what was the holdup? The end result was awesome, I’m so much better off. And I wouldn’t mean it in a sarcastic way. At the very least, my topic of complaint would be different.
Cameron refers to Morning Pages as the “bedrock tool of creative recovery” and maybe because I never read her seminal book The Artist’s Way, I never saw the concept referred to that way until today. In the times I’ve tried the daily exercises, I felt bereft not only of creativity but also community. I needed the daily focus for sanity and thought it ultimately left me empty-handed.
Five years later, the result is awesome though my topics of complaint have varied little. Instead of empty-handed, what I ended that daily exercise spree with was a version of myself that was vulnerable, burned out and seeking a resolve I didn’t know if I would capture.
Writers and fellow creatives, we have to be in it for the long-haul.
We’re a motley breed imagining the ends to events that haven’t happened; we think about how something could be better or different; we think in terms of structure, continuity, and complementary parts of speech; punctuation, cliches, honesty, and truth. For everything we struggle with personally, there are several people trying to write about it professionally, attempting to put words to emotions that feel beyond the realm of language. If you’re struggling with the next word, the next step or your next breath, try looking back at where you’ve been.