Morning Pages

Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, has been a part of my life for a long time. I read it during my first sojourn in California (where else?)  Then I read it again about a year and a half ago when Savvy Authors was offering a free course using the book for premium members.  The book was helpful to me both times, but not in the ways one might expect.

One of the centerpieces of the book’s advice is to do “Morning Pages.” Cameron defines Morning Pages on page 9 of The Artist’s Way: three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness. She also calls them “brain drain.” Both times I seriously engaged with this book, I tried to do morning pages. Or, I guess, since “there is no wrong way to do morning pages,” I did them. For a while.

“Although occasionally colorful, the morning pages are often negative, frequently fragmented, often self-pitying, repetitive, stilted or babyish . . . All that angry whiny, petty stuff that you write down in the morning stands between you and your creativity.”

My problem (if it was one) with this whole concept was that I didn’t feel this way in the morning. Even before having children turned me into a “morning person,” I tended to wake up happy; sleep heals my mind, knits up the raveled sleeve of care. Rather than my getting to the other side with this exercise, the “angry whiny petty stuff” acquired new legitimacy, and new brain real estate, when it was written down, especially in the morning. I felt like I was dragging myself down, rather than lifting myself up.

So, so much for Morning Pages, I thought. I’m just not cut out for this. I gave the book 5 stars on Goodreads anyway, because, well, I still really liked the concept of Morning Pages.

Another year and a half has gone by, NaNoWriMo is coming up, and I’m trying to get writing going on a larger scale than I have in the past. I’m also, whether it’s from the move, from current events, or some combination thereof, knee-deep in “angry, whiny, petty stuff.” Over the weekend I was angry with my husband because he said he was unwilling to schedule time when we were both available to work on organizing and cleaning out the garage. He said he would only do this task when he had “nothing better to do.” He said that scheduling it was a “waste of time” and he refused to do it. He then criticized me for not having been available when he wanted to do it on the spur of the moment–for example, not doing it one evening when it was already dark and late and I was tired after a long day, and not doing it another random morning when he’d happened to be uncommitted at work, but had not told me in advance, so I had other plans.

He left the house for the day, but I was still so angry that I played the interaction over and over in my mind for the rest of the morning, trying to figure out how I should respond. Most of my responses would likely have made the situation worse. Then I coached a soccer game. Time, physical activity, work, distraction, and sleep made the rumination slow down and eventually stop. The next day was better. I decided that moving forward I would continue to work on this myself when I felt able to and had time. I would schedule it myself, even if my husband refused. I would hire a handyman for that which I don’t want to do myself and I would continue to enforce protective boundaries around my own time so that I don’t get caught in other people’s burdensome last-minute expectations. And, I would ignore any blame or criticism that resulted from any of that, because it was unjustified and not about me in the first place.

I got to the other side: I stopped feeling blocked and angry. But I didn’t write about it at all, until now. I wonder if doing morning pages would have gotten me there faster. Maybe now I’ve found out why some people like them so much.

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