On Dailiness: Morning Pages and the Contents Thereof
Life has to return to normal sometime. So this is me, trying to establish a normal, work-a-day writing pattern. I have historically not been good at this. But it's a new year, one that's forced some life-altering changes on us right from the get-go. As long as I'm trying to get my feet back under me, I might as well try to put them down somewhere sturdy.
(Everything's changing around here. With Uno away into the great beyond, all our cat-having habits have no place and all the legacies left by our cats--which is to say stains, hair collections, and broken bits--can now be addressed in a permanent and non-futile fashion. Also, a second burner on the stove has given up the ghost. Suddenly we're shopping for large kitchen appliances, considering new flooring, picking out new bed sheets, and replacing the leaky shower head and the wobbly up-lamps and the toaster oven that hasn't had a working toast function in years.)
So, writing habits. Daily ones. Here's one I'm returning to, one that I both love and hate--or, rather, appreciate and dread: "Morning pages," a la Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. Morning pages, very simply, are three long-hand pages of writing committed first thing in the morning. Cameron recommends doing them before anything else, especially before reading or writing anything else.
Ideally, I'd open up my eyes, roll over, grab my notebook, and do it. In practice, best case scenario finds me heading to the kitchen first for a fresh tea bag and water for the electric kettle. I also fiddle with my fountain pens a bit. That's what fountain pens are for: all the colors in J. Herbin's catalog, and also fiddling.
Less good cases involve oversleeping, racing through my morning, and eventually slowing down long enough to do my pages. If I ever get there. I'll be trying harder to get there this year.
So I appreciate and dread the practice for roughly the same reason: It forces me to confront the contents of my brain. It's a lot like appreciating and dreading hard exercise, like the off-skates workout that Give 'em Elle put us through at derby practice Sunday. I know it's good for me, but I know it's going to hurt.
Not many people really know this, but--I don't much like what's in my brain.
Still, what I don't confront, I avoid; and what I avoid, I tend to obsess over in the avoiding. Weird, right? Perverse as all get-out. (I'm telling you, my brain is out to get me.) But that's the way it works, so it's probably best to hit the nasty things head on so that they don't follow me throughout the day and get between me and the world. Or between me and the page.
That's the theory, anyway. I'm not 100% convinced it works. I mean, does journaling about nasty brain contents lay the ghosts, or does it just create new associations for them to haunt? Sometimes it goes one way, sometimes the other. I can never tell in advance which it's going to be.
Argh. Enough blog therapy. Moving on.
A significant few paragraphs of my morning pages tend to focus on my Plans for the Day. They are optimistic, my Plans. They aspire. And they impose a structure so that I don't lose my day in a wishy-washy haze of "Better write. Eek! Writing is big and scary and I can't do it!" Planning it out makes it something that I can, presumably, do. Unfortunately, my thoughts soon turn to how my Plans for Yesterday fell through (guilt! despair! shame!) and how I'd better adhere to my Plans for Today to prove myself (pressure! stress! more despair! more avoidance!).
This would be another of those love/hate aspects of the morning pages ritual. I'm kind of a mess.
Sometimes I spend a page or more working on a current story problem. This character needs motivation! What does these two characters mean to each other? Let's make up some character history.
Sometimes I spend a few lines noticing a handwriting habit I could fix. Then I write very slowly for a short while, repeating the letter combination I've been tripping over. I would like to have nice handwriting.
Sometimes I write down my dreams.
Sometimes I get distracted by the world outside the window. The deer across the street Saturday morning, just grazing their way around the senior living center's tiny dog park, were a particularly eye-catching distraction.
Sometimes I get distracted by sudden thoughts, which I mustn't forget. I try to just make a note of them rather than interrupt the writing to act on them. But I have to make a note elsewhere, because I generally don't want to reread my morning pages until quite some time has passed.
The thing about writing down the contents of my brain, it's like writing down a story's rough draft or thinking out loud. (I talk to myself a lot. It's embarrassing when someone catches me at it.) I don't really know what's in my head until my physical senses, eyes and ears and touch, can experience it. I think I know--wouldn't you think you'd know what's in your own head?--but I don't, not really, not until I am forced to experience my thoughts as words in real time.
It's a good thing, this forced specificity. It turns big vague scary obligations into manageable, discrete tasks. It turns story outline dilemmas into concrete plot goals. It captures dreams before they slip away. And even the nasty stuff that only gets louder for writing it down, even though it hurts, at least by writing it down I come to know exactly what it is that's causing the hurting, which is a necessary step on the road to doing something about it.
So that's morning pages. I'm doing them again.
Tomorrow morning, too.