Sunday, February 26, 2012

Further Ruminations on Writing, or Pardon My Cud

[Whereas, today, I have almost six hours, to compose and publish the daily Lenten-tide posting.  You'd think that would make things easier...] [You'd think]

Years ago, while John and I were still living in Rochester NY, I came upon Julia Cameron's
'The Artist's Way', and snapped that book up so fast...  And then, as often happens to me with self-help books, I kind of bogged down about three chapters in -- maybe something else came up, or I really had to polish my shoes.  Whatever.  The thing I did latch onto, though, and continued to practice for quite some time, was the discipline of daily writing.  The 'Morning Pages'. 

And Ms. Cameron was quite specific about what was required, for this exercise to produce maximum benefits: first, do this writing as soon as possible, after waking up; the pages had to be written long-hand; there must be three sides completely filled before I was done.  And, the pages had to be at least letter-sized.  No little post-it notes need apply here.  So, being the sensualist that I am, I stocked up on yellow, spiral bound legal pads (with the spiral across the top -- as a left-hander, I hate writing across what feels like a springy egg slicer), and boxes of medium-point black ball point pens, and set to work. 

Other than these few specifics about the 'Morning Pages", the only requirement was... to do them.  Whether I wanted to or not.  Even if, on occasion, one might end up filling three yellow pieces of 8 1/2 x 11 paper with 'I hate doing this', over and over again.  Sometimes, some of my pages began in that vein, but they rarely ended there. 

It was the most curious thing, to wake up (shudder) and have to start... making sense?  But what I noticed happening was that, in spite of my tendency to cynicism, these exercises actually... worked?  In that, for the most part, by the time I'd gotten to the end of my required pages, I was (a) actually awake, and (b) actually aware of... something.  Something that was bothering me, something I needed to do, something I wanted to do, but was hesitant to attempt...  The list goes on.

In this way, the writing actually served as an oracle, not so dissimilar from more arcane practices like looking into crystal balls, or pouring a pool of ink into a saucer, and 'scrying' an important message.  I start with something blank, and words pour out.  If I'm attentive, I might notice some nagging resistance, some bothersome question or (more often) complaint that rises to the surface, because I'm putting words together.  As with so many beneficial disciplines, though, I steadfastly forget the benefits that almost infallibly accrue, as a result of this simple activity, and have to drag myself, kicking and screaming, to do the thing that is so good for me.  Every single time.

I've forgotten where the lovely Cameron volume has gotten to (under something, no doubt), but I did manage to coerce myself into doing this daily exercise for years (there must be a box of those notebooks somewhere in the attic...); interestingly enough, when I began my brief career as a college professor, I abruptly stopped this helpful discipline, at a time when it might have been especially helpful.  At the time, I blamed it on a temporary lack of privacy, and a different schedule than I usually kept -- the usual self-serving excuses.  From time to time, I might make a few written entries in one of my myriad sketch books, but it just wasn't the same.

Where I do continue to use this reliable writing tool, though, is in my creative process.  When my newest work grinds to a halt, because fickle inspiration had decided to go on a two-week cruise in the Caribbean, I've discovered that, by sitting and writing, I usually get myself back on something like the correct track.  What I find interesting, in these instances, is how much more helpful it is, if I focus on what I don't want to see in this particular piece of work.  It seemed odd to me, when I discovered this 'quirk', but it has proved to be a very reliable tool.  When I remember that it's in there with the heat gun and glue sticks, that is.
And now we have... le blogue.  There is a difference, as Julia Cameron wisely noted, between writing with a pen, and using a keyboard.  Sometimes, by making the wrong keystroke, I allow what I might have meant to say to take a slightly different tack -- just because I'm too lazy to backspace and say what I (think I) really wanted to express.  But... writing is writing, isn't it?  And it's so much faster this way.

The major difference, though, between my old way of writing, and this newer version, is the implicit contact with someone else -- with you, who are reading this now.  In those notebooks squirreled away in a box upstairs, I frequently directed my comments to the unknown reader, who had no way to respond directly to those thoughts and questions of mine, jotted down on yellow paper.  Here, in the newer world we've made, some of you will, from time to time, respond.  And I think that's something of a miracle -- to have a kind of public/private conversation, unrolling things I'm reluctant to remember, or exclaiming over some new discovery (rogue planets!  Details at 11!) or noteworthy event (fabulous concert at Christ Church New Brunswick last night, by the way -- kudos to Marvin Mills, organist nonpareil, and Marlissa Hudson, transcendent soprano!), or just, as seems to be the case today, ruminating.  About ruminating.

But... thank you.  For being wherever you are, and bearing witness to all of this.  That, I think, is most important of all for me.  Thank you very much.   

1 comment:

  1. You're most welcome.

    (and not just in the conventional phrase)