In her inspired book, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, Julia Cameron builds the case for morning pages. For anyone, who recognizes the guttural call, the fundamental clarion call that demands one’s acquiescence to the Essence, the morning pages are the first step towards it. Cameron herself calls them one of the two pivotal tools, the second being the artist date. The morning pages are to creativity what feminism is to women (and men) – fundamental and inseparable.
For some of us, creativity is a natural predisposition. These individuals identify and respond to it neatly and precisely, often requiring very little stimuli to establish the creative process, and creating. For the rest of us, the creative element gradually receives little attention, having fallen victim to soulless criticism of parents, peers, or teachers, fear of judgment, self-doubts, and thus, eventually forgotten, or in some cases, disintegrated. I belong to the latter unfortunate ones.
The first time, I wrote my morning pages, it was an entry at 4:33 in the morning. I wrote,
“I am waking up at 4 in the morning these days. But getting out of bed is a story that differs in itself. When I found of [out] last evening that my application had been accepted as part of the Asian Writer course, I was finally at peace… So, when I woke up this morning, I was rather clueless as to what I was supposed to do – but then I remembered that I was expected to write my morning pages – 3…”
The text, when I read it today, mortifies me, but on that first morning, it was required of me, a project that I now had to undertake towards creativity. By nature, the morning pages are allowed to take any form, any character, and any format. More importantly, they can be about anything. Cameron writes,
“The first time I did morning pages, I was living in Taos, New Mexico. I had gone there to sort myself out—into what, I didn’t know. For the third time in a row, I’d had a film scuttled due to studio politics. Such disasters are routine to screenwriters, but to me they felt like miscarriages. Cumulatively, they were disastrous. I wanted to give the movies up… Living in a small adobe house that looked north to Taos Mountain, I began a practice of writing morning pages. Nobody told me to do them. I had never heard of anybody doing them. I just got the insistent, inner sense that I should do them and so I did.”
It was the same for me, I had the insistent, inner sense that I should do them and so I did, only in my case, I was told to do them as part of the Becoming a Writer course offered by the Asian Writer. Each morning, immediately after waking up, despite the hour, I would reach for the notebook that I have dedicated for writing the morning pages, and I would begin, usually with the first sentence that would come my way. I have found that I write about things of all kinds – emotive reactions to the existential events, problems of the mind, the memories of the past, affirmations needed to take the step out of the house, and wishes. As Cameron says, “There is no wrong way to do morning pages” and the key to writing morning pages is closing the notebook after writing them.
As a self-conscious adolescent, I was an easy target to criticism, mockery, and jeering. I wouldn’t cry so much but I would grab hold of me tightly to negotiate the pain, closing myself, speaking less, sharing less, and the most acute loss, creating less. I was surrounded by people who, out of sheer necessity or for fun, sabotaged my esteem, often without even realizing it. I was uprooted from my being at an early age, even though as a child I was inclined towards art. My father had saved a piece of “my art”, paint smeared on a 6×6 piece of butter-coloured paper, from my kindergarten year. He is himself an artist, having the aptitude and the training, and I pride myself in having inherited some of his genes. But, I never could progress as an artist.
In the course, there is an activity called the Safety Map. Inside a hand-drawn circle, one needs to write down the things, people, support systems, and beliefs that are personally sacrosanct and need protection. My personal safety map included peace of mind, reading, my girlfriends, individuality, spirituality, magic, mental health, and writing. These sacrosanct things needed protection from, in my case, the following:
“people who are harsh or mean, adulthood, the “social-media culture”, the fear of not being taken seriously, impulsivity, criticism, belittling, and feeling without a “purpose””
Over the years, I have tried to curtail the impact that harshness and meanness have on me. As a highly-sensitive individual, I am prone not just to the criticism of the outside, but more often the criticism from the inside. Cameron calls this inner critic, the Censor. One day, in my desperation, I had named it- Doris. According to Cameron,
“As blocked artists, we tend to criticize ourselves mercilessly… We are victims of our own internalized perfectionist, a nasty internal and eternal critic, the Censor, who resides in our (left) brain and keeps up a constant stream of subversive remarks that are often disguised as the truth.”
As an individual with more alignment towards the Right Brain, I suffered endlessly because I had, unfortunately, placed myself in situations, professions, and relationships, which required the Left Brain’s analytical and functional capacity. I am poor at analysis and interpretation of logic, but ask me to link, to connect, to see the whole, I would excel. It is this reason, why I shifted from management to social work, and eventually to teaching. I am good at having deep conversations, connecting people with each other, and left to myself, I would rather read and sleep, happily. But, the unfortunate reality of our times is that the activities undertaken by the Left Brain are celebrated, acknowledged, needed, demanded, and rewarded, in our culture. It requires us, from a young age, to perform well at mathematics, data interpretation, logical and analytical skills, and more often, moulds us only to this half of our human ability. This is beyond doubt the reason why the arts have become optional, unimportant, extra-curricular, and worse still, the first programs in public schools, which are defunded. Another reality that we deal with in the modern times is the privatization of the arts – equipments, training and the tools, expensive and beyond the reach of those who are inclined to and interested in them.
In her book Drawing On the Right Side of the Brain, Dr Betty Edwards writes, and I believe, this is especially important for teachers and parents to remember,
“Music, dance, drama, painting, design, sculpture, and ceramics are all vitally important and should be all restored to public schools. But I’ll be blunt: even if there were the will, there is no way that will happen because it would cost too much in this era of ever-diminishing resources for public education. Music requires costly instruments, dance and drama require staging and costumes, sculpture and ceramics require equipment and supplies… Over the last forty years, many educators, decision-makers, and even some parents have come to regard the arts as peripheral, and let’s face it, frivolous—especially the visual arts, with their connotation of “the starving artist” and the mistaken concept of the necessary talent.”
In this creatively-starving world, the need for artists – of all mannerisms and skills – is required, much more desperately than ever before. It is not only essential to raise a generation of individuals who could find a means to protect their inner artist and express themselves creatively, it has become the only way. The consequences of subverting this instinct, has shaped the world with its neuroses, isolation, annihilation, and its numbness. Recovering that lost liveliness, recovering creativity is not only personally cathartic; it will be a catharsis for the civilization as we know of it today.
Cameron writes, in her unique, awe-inspired manner,
“Artist brain [the Right Brain] is our creative, holistic brain. It thinks in patterns and shadings. It sees a fall forest and thinks: Wow! Leaf Bouquet! Pretty! Gold-gilt-shimmery-earthskin-king’s carpet! Artist brain is associative and freewheeling. It makes new connections, yoking together images to invoke meaning: like the Norse myths calling a boat “wave-horse”. In Star Wars, the name Skywalker is a lovely artist-brain flash.”
I will continue writing the morning pages for the third week now. The other evening, as I stood waiting for the train, exhausted but exhilarated, I saw the setting sun. Perfectly spherical-the colour of a teenager’s blush-behind the evening haze-a dreamer’s paradise. I stood mesmerized in the moment and knew, I would write about it, in the morning pages. And, I did, the next morning. When I closed the notebook, I believed it would be a good day.