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Introspection

On Four Years of Morning Pages

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In early 2018 while living in New Orleans I felt stuck, unable to move past the frightful beginner phase with anything creative I tried in the past: burlesque, writing, flamenco, and painting.

Having left an old life in Vancouver where I lived in a constant state of low-grade, chronic stress, my spiritual advisor suggested I tap into unblocking my creativity. I’d been struggling with consistent action, not knowing I was creatively blocked for the majority of my adult life.

My advisor recommended Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I was curious, yet felt ambivalent. People always recommended self-help books to me if I was going through something. It’s a way to refer people to ideas they couldn’t articulate as well as the book’s author.  While the act of recommendation is well-meaning, I often view it as dismissive but don’t take it personally. Besides, the books were useful most of the time.

I put it on my ‘want-to-read’ list on Goodreads and forgot about it, resolving to get to it….whenever (only later did I realize this was a classic sign of being creatively blocked–procrastination and the deferral of important decisions which seem innocuous at first).

A few days later I was browsing through a tiny bookstore in the French Quarter and found the book. It was on top of a table right staring at me. A sign, I thought. I wasn’t even looking for it. It pretty much made its way to me.

Early in the book, Julia Cameron suggests you do morning pages, which are essentially a brain dump. You write three pages of your thoughts–no edits, no censor, just streams. They are private and not meant to be shown to anyone.

With the ‘legitimization’ of morning pages from an expert on creativity, I instantly felt I had been given permission to journal again. I stopped years ago because I saw it as pointless. Also, my father ‘accidentally’ read one of my entries when I was a pre-teen about a huge crush I had on a boy. Being the strict, and likely fearful Middle Eastern father he was, he berated me, demanding I tell him who the boy was but I refused to confess who, because it was actually a world soccer star. I felt more embarrassed than afraid of letting him know. It’s funny now, but what it did to stifle my writing is heartbreaking.

Decades later, now a woman living on my own terms, I picked up a pen and started writing morning pages in a beautiful ruby red journal. 

Photo by Alina Vilchenko from Pexels

It became a mentally rhythmic ritual. I wrote my pages religiously for months, almost never missing a day. At first, everything came out. The mental mess I’d accumulated over the years all seemed to find their way into words with seemingly no end. There were times I had to stop myself after three pages, sometimes indulging myself on a fourth. I wrote about:

the pain of losing friendships

my turbulent relationships with family members 

heartbreak 

ideas for anything creative

my health 

my disordered eating 

petty grudges

countless ways to deal with the clutter in my apartment

how I love or hate a beauty product

the list goes on

I wrote morning pages to avoid doing my daily hard tasks, and when I jotted about said tasks, I felt inspired to spring into action. Action before motivation.

I wrote morning pages to try to understand what I was feeling without the fear of sounding inarticulate, and sometimes through inarticulation emerged a solution or clarity.

Six months later, the dust settled. Morning pages got harder because I’d felt I’d written everything I wanted to write. Often I kept writing the same thing repeatedly. But sometimes when I dug deeper, I realized I had nothing to write because I was avoiding something: a conversation with someone, admitting to myself I was yet again, at another wrong job, or realizing a current romantic relationship was a bust. When you’re faced with a blank page and a pen you get scared, because writing it all down makes it feel concrete, real, and dares to propel you to act, which is the scariest.

Four years on, I probably have twelve books of morning pages, and I refer to them occasionally to see how far I’ve come. The anxiety is still there from writing my first pages in the shotgun house I rented all those years ago, but my mindfulness is stronger than ever. My vulnerabilities are blatant and raw, but years of writing about them allowed me to develop the courage to expose them, sometimes with a disjointed, irrational thought process, and sometimes with flawless finesse.

When I avoid the pages, my intuition gives me a temporary hall pass, especially after I’ve been consistent for multiple days in a row. But if I continue to be absent, I feel angry, irritated, discombobulated. Only then do I realize that it had been at least three or four days since I’d done the brain dump, like cortisol as it unknowingly spreads through my blood vessels into the core of my solar plexus, creating exacerbating anxiety. I then hear my intuition again, as she says: step back, glide into the morning pages. Recentre.

Sometimes pages make things worse.  Yet if that happens, I tell myself at least the shitty part showed up on the pages, not in an external act of self-destruction, like snapping at a friend or my boyfriend for no reason.

There was never, and still no order to writing my pages. For the most part, they are repetitive and pointless, but in the middle of diction rubble, an idea worth exploring pops up, or I reach a conclusion my subconscious has been trying to let out. 

Have you ever tried doing morning pages? I’d love to hear your experience!

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