Something’s wrong. You’re not sure what it is, but you’re uneasy — or you know exactly what’s wrong and you’re seething or brokenhearted or just upset. Start writing.
Don’t worry about what to write. Write about what’s wrong — that’s easy, it’s the main thing on your mind. Write why it’s upsetting you and what in the world you’re going to do about it — fix it, walk away, whatever — go through the options if you’re not sure. Start writing.
After a while something amazing will happen. As you see the problem unfold — literally — you’ll start to see solutions and options and all the other things a person does to deal with problems. And you’ll feel better because writing it down gave you more control over the situation, or at least more understanding.
“Writing ‘rights’ things,” Julia Cameron wrote. Want to see how that works? Start writing.
The other day I discovered my morning exercise has a name.
Seth Godin made a passing reference to “morning pages” and I remembered him mentioning them before, and so I looked it up. It turns out morning pages is a phrase coined by a writing guru named Julia Cameron who suggested writing three pages of stream of consciousness — longhand, not on a computer, because writing with pen and paper is a different experience — first thing in the morning, not concerning oneself with craft but simply writing writing writing anything that comes to mind, not worrying about sharing it with anyone, and in fact, intended “for your eyes only.”
In an oft-quoted passage (the search engine showed me repeated citations), Cameron wrote, “Morning pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand.”
At this point, after copying the passage into my journal, I drew a wide-eyed, open-mouthed emoji and wrote, “OMG. I independently invented morning pages.”
In fact, many of the fragments I’ve copied onto this blog have been nuggets from freestyle exercises I’ve journaled one morning searching for something to say, writing until I write something. Who knew they had a name? Well, I guess a lot of people knew — anyone who’d encountered Julia Cameron or Seth Godin or the dozens of references delivered by my trusty search engines.
The days where I start with this exercise DO seem to feel more clear, at least to start. I must cheerfully and earnestly recommend the concept of morning pages for anyone — not just creative types — who wants to find a little clarity first thing.
But I recognized the symptoms and attitudes from my own experience and those of my (here comes a popular new bit of jargon) cohort. Petersen has discovered a malady that has always been there and assigned its discovery to her generation. That’s not a new phenomenon, of course — some people believe no one was anti-war until my generation discovered the idea in the 1960s.
(If you need further proof: Where do you think the expression “rat race” came from?)
I believe Petersen is on to something, though. This adulting stuff can be wearying to the point where the simplest tedious task seems overwhelming. When we’re doing something that’s supposed to be fun and relaxing, we feel bad because we’re not working on the to-do list, and when we’re working on the to-do list we feel bad because it’s not fun and relaxing. That’s a classic symptom of burnout — but it’s also just life, isn’t it?
I bristled reading the book blurb because it makes a passing reference to “unchecked capitalism” being one of the causes of rampant burnout (as if there is such a thing as capitalism unchecked if not throttled by a crushing maze of everyday regulation). Whatever the economic theory, I do feel the crusade to “do more with less” does contribute to what ails us — not just younger adults, but all of us.
I am a Christian, I believe in the Christ, but in my agnostic moments (people have those, you know), I think many of the rules and regulations ostensibly sent down by God had a practical purpose — the don’t-eat-ham thing, for example, could have grown from people getting sick from eating bad pork.
Another practical practice became “honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy” — rest every seventh day, and do nothing that day except contemplate the important stuff. It’s an instruction from God, but if you choose not to believe in God, you can consider it a suggestion from a wise person who saw people burning out after working day after day and week after week without a break. Six days on, one day off, seems like a healthier way to live.
I’m writing this on Saturday morning as I try to observe a day of rest. (My day-job deadlines mean I’d better work most Sundays.) I’ve already failed to make this particular Saturday a total non-work day — I’ve visited the internet twice on work-related errands, although just for a couple of minutes each — but I can feel weight lifting off my shoulders as I give myself permission not to work on work non-stop. The to-do list, that ever-present pile of tasks, will still be waiting tomorrow morning, but none of it will suffer by being delayed 24 hours while I rest and recharge.
OK, boomer. OK, millennial. OK, whatever group you’ve been lumped into. (I am not a boomer, I am a free man!) (”OK, Number Six.”) Pare this down to the universal basics: We need to rest sometimes. Best advice to address that basic truth: Honor the sabbath day and keep it holy. Have a weekly sabbatical, a sacred promise to yourself to rest for a day every seven days.
Pick a day out of every seven, and promise yourself to do no work that day. Six days a week is plenty of work time, and more important, you need the rest. You need to clear your mind and contemplate bigger things, regularly. It’ll keep you sane — or more precisely, it’ll restore your sanity after way too long on the treadmill.
There it is again. Here it? A spark of life, and where life is, there is hope.
The ruins of yesterday can be rebuilt. The harsh edges may be smoothed over. The debris and the wreckage can be cleared away and replaced by new, glistening structures built on a foundation of love and peace.
The pessimist will say nothing good lasts forever, but neither does anything evil. All things must pass, which makes the good things more precious and the bad things more bearable.
At the start, today is a blank sheet, an open space to be filled. And let it be filled with wonder, and joy, and perhaps a bit of whimsy, and surely with a hope for an even better tomorrow.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation in my heart be on these things, the fruits of the Spirit, the best of our angels, the machinery of joy.
The books wait on the shelves. They came to the shelves, some on impulse, some on purpose, all because they called to me, looking interesting.
Some I bought after a great ebook experience, to preserve the memory to sample again someday. Some are collections of memories (the comic-book compilations and other anthologies). Like the records and the CDs and the DVDs and the iTunes app, they wait for an opportunity to be heard again … to be found again.
My little (by comparison) library has another purpose: to protect and preserve the past for our future. Each copy of each book is an opportunity for its creator and creation to be found again, to call out to another individual someday. I would say I’m an archivist, but that word suggests some organization to the collection.
Or maybe all archives and museums are a bit disorganized, except for their public displays, with back rooms of boxes and shelves full of the past stored willy-nilly and waiting to be found again.