Since I shuttered my storefront in 2015, I have tried a few different things . . . Most recently, I taught English Composition at the local community college. Like many other jobs everywhere on the planet, that gig was upended by Covid-19. I had to figure out what to do with myself again.
As for most of us, 2020 was a challenge for me. I have been lonely and isolated in ways that made me reach out in order to connect and reach into myself in order to find solid ground: where do I want to stand? What do I want to stand up for, publicly? I have always wanted to stay away from politics when it came to business. But isn’t it true to say that just about all of our decisions have socio-political, cultural consequences and a carbon footprint?
The events of the past year are still very present in my mind: my heart aches for the losses we have suffered because of Covid-19, the losses that go on and on. And I am disgusted by the losses that are the consequence of systemic racism in our country and world. We need to transform our thinking. I can only hope the detestable acts of violence we continue to see may finally be bringing about a cultural reckoning. I am hearing stories I have never heard before – maybe you are, too, truths that are hard to bear but that must be heard and borne in order to grow and do better. I have work to do. I believe that the lives of black people matter. All of them. A writer friend of mine, Reginald McKnight, always said, “Take everyone as they come.” It is the best antidote to any -ism I have found. Like most simple, true advice, it is harder than it seems . . . for all of us.
I have been in a state of grief and hope. I have not seen my most loved elders and some friends in over a year. I don’t hug anymore. I have been observing my self. All spring and summer I gardened my small, much-too-shady-for-a-proper-vegetable-garden yard. I’ve taught myself how to make sourdough bread with the help of a who knows how old it is? starter from King Arthur Flour company that I came into possession of by way of my dad who took a class there on making bread several years ago and has dutifully tended to his starter ever since. I also studied the book, Tartine. I learned the Russian Kale I like to eat likes to grow even in the a bit too shady sliver of side garden where it volunteered. I have discovered that if you love our planet and you want to reduce your carbon footprint, one of the most powerful things you can do is eat more plants – see for yourself by taking this quiz. The more you replace meat with plants, the better it is for your health (in general, but every one is different) and our world. Maybe you already know this but it was a surprise to me. So this, coupled with some health issues in our little family, spurred me to start giving myself a crash course in nutrition. Physical pain I thought I might always just endure is mostly gone. I have more flexibility than I have had for years, and more energy. My memory is returning: all that menopausal “brain fog” bullshit . . . am I going crazy? feeling . . . Gone. I’m clear. Awake. I remember.
I have started reading novels again, a delicious past time I have not enjoyed much since graduate school. I am even reading one out loud to my husband in the evenings, a chapter or two at a time. Recently, I also picked up my knitting needles again, the designer’s pen, my writing pen. As most journeys are, this one was an indirect path to this moment, this very one. It all began years ago, when my friend James mentioned that he writes Morning Pages. I didn’t know what they were, save that he wrote them in the morning. I didn’t investigate. But I did remember.
Just over a month ago, I heard the term Morning Pages again. Seth Godin mentioned them in a conversation with Marie Forleo about his latest book. Both are content creators who have helped thousands if not millions figure out how to follow a passion and turn it into a business. I could tell from Marie’s reaction that she knew exactly what they were. . . “She probably writes them, too,” I thought. I was intriqued. “Two such inspiring and successful people write Morning Pages?” I wondered to myself. “Those must be some powerful pages.” And then I thought of James, too. “I want to be in that club,” I thought to myself.
Over Thanksgiving, I started my own. I didn’t know the rules, exactly, as specified by their originator, Julia Cameron, a brilliant woman who has made inspiring works in many fields and is the creative force behind The Artist’s Way, a book – or, more accurately, a self-guided creative program, to help you find your artist self (again) – that has helped many (maybe millions?) find their way to a sense of purpose and intention.
Somehow I did know that I was supposed to write three long-hand pages on 8.5″ x 11″ paper. Analogue writing gets our thoughts and brains to places we can’t reach when we type, because long-hand forces us to slow down. If you can’t write long-hand, however, use the tools you must. While Cameron assures us that long-hand is best, she also acknowledges that writing at all is better than not writing. I am into my second month and have not missed a single day, though I did have to write Afternoon Pages once because I messed up my morning. I am closing in on the last few pages in a notebook that had lain empty for over 16 years just waiting for these pages. I tell you, Morning Pages are hard, annoying, illuminating, tedious, in-my-face, the best therapist I’ve ever had (if I had only known!), damn broken record stop it already confrontational when I’m avoiding something, persistent is an understatement, amazing, amazing AMAZING. Wow.
On the first day after writing the Morning Pages, I was seeing differently. I was inhabiting the landscape in a way that felt fundamentally changed. It had been a long time since I was seeing and thinking like a writer, dare I whisper . . . like an artist.
I look forward to them. I work things out, solve problems, ask big and small questions, try out answers. Write down ideas. Sometimes they feel horrible, difficult, laborious, like pulling teeth out of the hard-baked ground. Some days, I recount what happened yesterday, or what I remember from a day when I was four. I am look forward to where they will take me, what I will discover.
Morning Pages have led me back to Noni: I have turned my attentions to some designs that I teased you with in the past (but did not publish), I am working on some really great new stuff, too, soonish.
My next blog post is a free pattern for a little bag called A Bit of Hope. She is tiny, and lovely, and comforting. Let your knitting friends know to come and visit, subscribe, or look for my latest on my Facebook page or in my Instagram feed. Please share this post with them and other artists you might know who just might need or want Morning Pages.
For now, I invite you to start your own Morning Pages. For a very clear synopsis, try this article by the MasterClass people (they have some great free content) entitled, Journaling Techniques: 12 Tips For Writing Morning Pages
Here is my own shorter synopsis:
- Set out your necessary materials. You will need 3 pieces of 8.5 x 11 paper and a pen. At minimum. I humbly suggest you make a committment and give it a go for a while. Get a notebook to devote to your pages. I have recently pillaged my son’s old notebooks from elementary school . . . some empty or nearly empty. Those are waiting to be filled with morning pages. Or go all out on a fancy notebook. Whatever works for you. What is most important is that you write.
- Set up your coffee/tea and your space the night before. Think ahead of time about where you want to write and what you will need first thing in the morning so you don’t get sidetracked by your daily routine. Must have coffee? Set it up the night before so all you have to do is get it out of the fridge OR all you have to do is hit a button. I load up my french press and the water kettle so all I have to do is wait for the water to boil and pour. My pen, journal, and a clean, well-lit place to write (with a little side table for my coffee) are all waiting for me to curl up and get to work.
- Write without stopping until 3 pages are completed. Some people say you should keep the pen moving without censoring what you are writing. The point is to get used to writing whether you want to or not, whether you think what you are writing is bad, terrible, drivel, amazing, brilliant, publishible, or crap. Write. Write anyway. Keep writing. In order to produce a piece of writing, we must all write through sunny days and gloomy ones. The Morning Pages teach us this. And a lot more, too. I must confess that sometimes I look up when the Carolina Wren scrabbles around the window I can see from my table. When she flies off, I remember to turn again to my pages. I do not beat myself up for this.
- Do NOT share your Morning Pages with others. The last thing you need is someone saying something about the pages that makes you not want to write them, or write at all. The pages are for you. Protect them.
- Repeat steps 1 – 4 every day, first thing in the morning. But if you can’t make the morning work out one day, write as soon as you can. Sometime-of-day pages are better than no pages at all.
Share Your Thoughs about your own journey this past year. What is one way you have coped with the difficulties of 2020? If you start writing Morning Pages, or if you already write them, what is one way they have worked for you? What have you discovered about yourself and your artist self?