by Joe Gramigna
Discipline is hard. I’ve tried many times to reinvent myself via practices that I planned to follow diligently. The first few weeks, everything’s peachy. The 5 a.m. gym sessions get my blood flowing. The kale and green concoctions don’t yet taste like bug spray and depression. The lavender incense lightly laps against my nostrils to center a newfound meditation routine.
Around the end of the month, when I’m about to rise from the ashes of my unenlightened self like a Phoenix emerging from Plato’s cave…
I give up. The distractions of daily living get to me. Then, I get even harder on myself for not living up to my goal and eventually try to replace the failed practice with a new one, fail again, and the cycle of personal crucifixion starts anew.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve taken to a new practice that has proven beneficial and seems like I might be able to implement daily for the long haul. I hope.
It’s called “Morning Pages” and comes from a manifesto on the creative process by writer Julia Cameron. It’s a simple idea with some complex outcomes: as soon as you wake up in the morning, you write three stream of consciousness pages longhand.
I’ve always been a big fan of new age, spiritual, or far-out practices, despite failing at meditation routines countless times. When I first heard Cameron talk in Jungian terms about “meeting your shadow and taking it out for a cup of coffee” or, in meditation terms, to write down “cloud thoughts,” I was intrigued. Writing has always come second-nature to me. Sitting on a floor with my legs crossed and spine erect while trying not to focus on the tortured thoughts that scroll across my mind… not as much. The idea of Morning Pages sounded like a good middle ground.
When writing these three pages each day, it’s important not to attempt to be artful or overthink the prose in anyway. They can be “whiny, petty, grumpy,” according to Cameron, used for putting negativity to the page. Or, they can be joyous. The important thing is to write whatever thoughts are flowing through the mind, taking them from the internal and thrusting them to the external.
Here’s an example from one of my negative passages: “My retainer might actually be messing up my teeth. When I open and close my mouth, my bottom teeth seem out of line, slightly to the right, as compared with my top teeth. I really don’t feel like going to the fucking orthodontist again, though.”
I awoke and felt my retainer askew in my mouth, so that was on my mind as I turned to open my notebook for the morning. It also got me thinking about my slightly crooked jaw, which plunged me headfirst into a morning soliloquy about my physical flaws, not wanting to go to the orthodontist, and other overly critical analyses of my being.
I know this sounds like a slippery slope to suicide by starting each morning like this, but I’ve found it to be mentally freeing. By writing down the swirls of activity, from worry to lust to elation, that echo through my mind each day, I can work towards the maintenance of a level-head and semi-clear mind throughout the rest of my day. Think of it as the writer’s form of meditation or kundalini yoga.
Other Morning Pages passages have been more neutral: “My 7th birthday. In the front living room. It was sunny outside. Some of my classmates were there. A magician performed. He took my grandmother’s ring, wrapped it into a napkin, set the napkin on fire, threw the flaming mass into the air, it poofed into smoke, and then he removed the ring from his inside pocket. Still don’t know how he did that.”
Whether it’s mystical memories or body-image problems, Morning Pages allow me to purge. As Cameron says, putting these thoughts on the page stops them from “eddying through your consciousness throughout the day.” It’s easy to let thoughts become our reality, but putting them down on paper works paradoxically to make them both more and less real. More, in the sense that they’re in a physical form that others can potentially come across. Less, in that they’ve been quantified and explained in intelligible (semi, hopefully) scrawls that are less daunting to confront than the mystifying babble of self-talk.
I think that’s what a lot of my best writing does: it exposes my inner darkness to the page, freeing it from the mine of my mind like the Chilean spelunkers. I can handle handwritten words—challenge their accuracy, continue writing until I uncover their source. I’m a writer. It’s my therapy.
If something as simple as three handwritten pages can ebb the tide and lessen the roar of background noise swirling in the depths of my skull, then count me and my bedside notebook in.