Diana calls them the Dang Pages. Some folks use stronger language. But of all the things that might twist my socks about The Artist’s Way, the Morning Pages come easy.
Oh, sure. Julia Cameron tells you to get up a half hour early. I don’t; I’m already up. She says to write three full pages, longhand. But sometimes I’m done after two. I know some use smaller paper. And I’ve even heard of those who do Morning Pages in the afternoon.
I don’t know your routine. I get up at 5:30 and spend time with the Psalter. Then I sit at my desk to do the pages. When I’m done, I read, write and check in on social media. Once there’s enough activity in the house that I can make the espresso scream without waking anyone, I brew four shots and start my workday. It’s a decent routine and since I already talk to myself plenty, the Morning Pages fit right in.
A few weeks ago, in the dark of morning after an extended Artist’s Date in the Black Hills National Forest, I wrote this in my notebook (as best as I can make out):
As I started into the heart of the forest, my heart started beating faster. I could feel the anticipation in my body and I squirmed in my seat. I felt trapped in the car, wanted to be out running past the metal guardrails. But I drove further in. As I rounded a bend, the full panorama came into view and I gasped. I’ve seen it before, a handful of times, but seeing it again now. Oh. I gasped and put my hand over my mouth. What did I think I was going to do?
I cried. I cried at the sight of trees and mountains and a mix of colors no one could have put together … I stood at the overlook and alternated between such wonder that it was hard to breathe and checking the ground to make sure one of the chipmunks didn’t run up my pant leg. That was all that mattered in that moment. I don’t do excitement well. I flatline. Carefully controlled, even keel, deliberate. Peaks and valleys are obstructive. But then something comes along that makes me gasp, makes me to step out of my climate controlled personal space and gasp. Oh. Oh! Now I’m so tired. And ornery…
I immediately forgot what I’d written. (The pages get me pre-coffee, remember.) I didn’t even remember writing it when, about a week later, I had a conversation with a friend about why I find “okay” and “not unhappy” acceptable emotional ranges.
Years ago I was directed to read a book called Feelings, devoting a chapter to each of what felt to me like a hundred shifty emotions in order to give me words to replace “okay.” It didn’t take. Even with an enhanced vocabulary, I settled into the comfortable security of carefully managed levels. Maybe I don’t feel happy all the time, but then neither do I have to feel sad.
When I opened up Chapter 4 this weekend, I discovered that Cameron had been reading my Morning Pages and eavesdropping on my conversations. I read the first page, closed the book and walked away. I came back later and did the work of these chapters, but this still hangs in the air around me:
What do we mean by “I feel okay?” The morning pages force us to get specific. Does “I feel okay” mean I feel resigned, accepting, comfortable, detached, numb, tolerant, pleased, or satisfied? What does it mean?
Okay is a blanket word for most of us. It covers all sorts of squirmy feelings; and it frequently signals a loss. We officially feel okay, but do we?
At the root of a successful recovery is the commitment to puncture our denial, to stop saying, “It’s okay” when in fact it’s something else. The morning pages press us to answer what else. (p. 89)
The morning pages press us to answer what else, she says. Now, maybe you can tell me: is there something to these morning pages?
We’re exploring Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way together. Are you doing the morning pages? How are they working for you? Do you do them by the book, or adapt them to work with your style? Or are you still resisting them? Perhaps you’d share in the comments about your experience with Morning Pages, an Artist’s Date or any of the tasks you tried.
For next week, we’ll consider parts 6 and 7, Recovering a Sense of Abundance and Recovering a Sense of Connection. Give yourself the freedom to do one or both chapters.
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Buy a year of Every Day Poems, just $5.99— Read a poem a day, become a better poet. In June we’ll be exploring the theme Trees.
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