Ten Journals

Just a little over a week ago, I wrote the last word on the last page of my tenth Nanami Paper journal, a 480-page Crossfield, to be specific. Something about wrapping up my tenth volume of Morning Pages made me haul them all out, arrange them in chronological order, then date the spines. It was a satisfying activity—one that seemed worthy of fireworks. Or at least a sparkler.

Prior to June 2016, when this practice became a true morning ritual, I managed to jot down entries for a handful of days, then sputtered and fizzled out for months or years. The three composition notebooks below each contain a few pages of writing from the 80’s and 90’s, then fell dormant, relegated to the bottom drawer of my filing cabinet. One notebook contains some details of a trip to Germany in the late 80’s. (I did not write THE YEAR when I dated the pages because I was young and thought I’d always remember. Now I’m decades older and do not.)

The entries are very much of the “what we did, where we went” variety that just seemed too mundane at the time, which is why I always quit. Sometimes I wrote nothing more than the date. (????)

In those early attempts, I’m repeatedly swearing to close the gap between entries but it took another 17 years for that to actually happen. (Why rush?!)

In Germany, I dutifully logged my Traveler’s Cheques and all of the food we ate at the house of the family friends we stayed with for a few days.

(Apparently I came home with most of them.)
(That full pot of tea on 7/13 played havoc with my bladder in heavy traffic on the way to the airport. The memory of that “my back teeth are floating” episode has not dimmed.)

Reading through a few long-forgotten entries this morning made me laugh. Maybe I should’ve kept writing. What I found so stressful then is kind of funny now.

Fast-forward to June 2016, when Tim Wasem, on The Erasable Podcast, mentioned how his days always go better when he writes morning pages. His words flipped a switch that had been stuck in the off position for years. I wanted my days to go better, so this seemed worth a shot.

Since June 2016, I roll out of bed around 4:30 am on weekdays—a little later on the weekends—and write for an hour or two. No judgment. No pausing. Pure stream-of-consciousness. Meditations. Complaints. Celebrations. Challenges. Worries. Joys. Gratitude. The only time I missed a chunk of days was when I had shoulder surgery in February 2020. Even then I made some left-handed scribbly attempts.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how coffee factors into all of the this. I came into my coffee habit late in life—just before I started doing all of this journaling—always cold-brewed, always black. Back when I was writing two entries a year, I didn’t drink coffee. Coincidence? I think not. Both the iced black coffee and wet ink on the page are what pry me out of bed. Without the coffee, I’d grind to a screeching halt, I have no doubt.

Ten journals. Nearly 5000 pages. More coffee than ink, but still a lot of ink. Does my day go better because of this practice? On balance, yes, because even if my day completely derails later on, I’ve enjoyed the stillness of the dark morning while laying down fresh ink on the wide-open page.

Here’s to ten more. <Lights that sparkler.>

Stickin’ With It*

* With credit to Ted Walker and Adam Webb, hosts of the Take Note podcast.

I recently started listening to Take Note, thanks to Tim Wasem’s recommendation on a recent episode of the Erasable podcast. I especially enjoy how the hosts chat about what they write rather than focusing so much on what they write with or on. Sometimes they feature a segment called “Stickin’ With It” where they talk about the things in their lives—sometimes stationery, sometimes not—that they find themselves enjoying over and over again. As someone who, for the most part, has the stationery attention span of an eight-week-old puppy, this has been inspiring. Instead of constantly flitting through pencils, pens, and inks, maybe I should try a less frenetic approach. Rather than becoming enamored with the newest and shiniest thing, maybe I’d enjoy some consistency with what I’m using—a single pencil (à la Caroline Weaver), or just one or two fountain pens instead of the herd that I currently have inked. Oh attention span, I hardly knew ye.

Just as I was feeling guilty about all of this stationery polygamy, I hit a milestone worthy of my own “Stickin’ With It” segment. On Thursday morning, I filled up my fifth Nanami Paper Seven Seas Tomoe River Notebook. That’s 2400 pages since June 2016. I wonder how many milliliters of ink I’ve used and how many miles of words I’ve written by practicing “butt in chair” (to quote Anne Lamott) at 4:45 am.

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This is my morning practice—my writing meditation—the one place in my life where I am truly stickin’ with it.

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Oh that Sailor Grenade sheen! That’ll perk you right up!

Without fail.

 

 

Non-Negotiable: Eleven Days of Morning Pages

Documenting a dream

A couple of friends and I were talking at lunch the other day, how making something non-negotiable—whether it be getting to the gym, changing the dog’s water, or sitting down to write—takes all of the mental chatter out of the equation. A thing needs to be done and you do it. Simple. No need to burn energy mulling over the pros and cons or deciding if you have enough energy. You just do the thing. Every. Single. Day.

In just eleven days, Morning Pages have become my non-negotiable. I wake up at 5:55 am. Get up. And write.

The other day I had to leave the house by 6:30 am for an out-of-town doctor’s appointment. The old me would’ve said, “Morning Pages can wait. I’ll just write Evening Pages instead.” Or I would’ve skipped them altogether. But, nope, I got up at 5 am and wrote out those three pages—admittedly bleary eyed, but I wrote them.

Morning Pages pens

Just like I make my lunch and iron my clothes the night before, I pick out a pen and set it on top of my journal right before bed so that I can get up and immediately put nib to paper. I know me. If I didn’t do this, I’d be futzing around with all of the options, burning precious morning time. With that decision made, I find myself looking forward to using that day’s pen and ink combo which makes it just a little easier to sit down at my desk while the rest of the house is asleep.

Morning Pages

I worried about having something to write about, but that hasn’t been an issue. I tend to dream movie-length, technicolor dreams, with involved plots and a large cast of characters. In the past, these dreams would be hard to shake, causing me to walk around exhausted all day, suffering from a kind of dream hangover. But last week, after a dream that had me stranded in a foreign city with someone else’s cellphone (no stress there!), I sat down and wrote out the entire dream. Doing so, caused it to retreat in my head, so that, yeah, I remembered it, but I wasn’t living it all day long.

In addition to dreams, I write about petty chores, big and small worries, the high highs* and the shitty stuff a day can throw at you; the feelings that are rooted deep inside my heart and all the teeny tiny stuff floating on the surface. This is what has surprised me the most. That I’m never at a loss for words. And how good it feels to put those words—those inconsequential thoughts and heartfelt emotions—into a journal, all in a jumble as they flow from my pen. Line after line. Day after day.

Morning Pages

Another bonus—my pens are getting used in a big way, and I am plowing through ink. The pens you see above are the four that I’ve been rotating through lately—a Kaweco Liliput Fireblue [Kaweco blue cartridge], a Franklin-Christoph Model 45 XLV in Coco Pearl [Kaweco sepia cartridge], a Jonathon Brooks Charleston in Combustion acrylic [SBRE Brown ink], and a TWSBI ECO [J. Herbin Emerald of Chivor]. As I empty these, I’ll ink others, slowly making my way through my collection. I’ll identify true favorites, and maybe set aside some that need new homes. I’m writing. I’m really writing. Man, this feels good.

Namami Paper Writer journal

This Nanami Paper Seven Seas “Writer” A5 journal is a dream. Its Tomoe River paper is well-suited for any nib and ink combination I might use. There’s no feathering, no bleed-through, and very little show-through. There are plenty of pages—enough to keep me going for 160 days at 3 pages per day. Admittedly, I have a long way to go (149 more days!) before I need another “Writer,” but that didn’t stop me from ordering a backup today. You know, so it’s waiting in the wings.

I’m hooked. Eleven days in and I’m hooked. What’s ridiculous is that it took me 57 years to give Morning Pages a try.

Now there’s no going back.


*I had an appointment with my neurologist last Friday to go over the first set of MRIs I’ve had done since my MS diagnosis last year. While there are two small lesions present (one brain and one thoracic), and I still have strange electrical sensations in my feet, there aren’t any new lesions. And one that was “iffy” last year is now GONE. He feels that we caught this very early and kept saying that I will do “really well,” as long as I keep doing what I’m doing—eating well, exercising, stretching, and taking my medication. Talk about a high high.

Thank you to the folks who contacted me after I wrote this post, to join my fledgling Morning Pages group. Knowing that you’re writing right along with me gives me the shove I need when I have the urge to linger in bed a little too long.

 

 

 

 

Accountability: Morning Pages

A friend and I meet at the gym twice a week. Week in and week out. I’m there for her. She’s there for me. Sometimes our schedules don’t quite mesh, but we do the best we can to keep each other on track. It’s been a game-changer for this “always picked last in gym” person, who used to avoid the fitness center like the proverbial plague.

Our current workout program ends with either extended lunges or  prolonged squats. Twenty seconds doesn’t sound like much, but when your thigh muscles are screaming, it feels like an eternity. Twenty seconds times four rounds. We push each other through this part. Honestly, she’s better at that than I am. She’ll remind me to breathe, while I’m thinking “How can you talk??!!” Point is, left to my own devices, the odds are significantly higher that I’d make an excuse to give up.

It’s all about accountability. I show up because she does. She shows up because I do.

Over the weekend, I dug out some books from the “to be read” pile, and settled down on the patio during a steamy Sunday afternoon with Julia Cameron’s Finding Water- The Art of Perseverance. In it, she lays out what she calls her “basic tools”—Morning Pages, Artist Dates, and Walking. I skimmed one of her other books, The Artist’s Way, years ago, where the same tools were described. The idea of Morning Pages has intrigued me ever since, but do I ever get up and write? Nope. Never.

Morning Pages

I have this terrific Seven Seas “Writer” journal with 480 pages of exquisite Tomoe River paper, well-loved and inked fountain pens at the ready, and yet, when I wake up, I screw around on my phone. Then it’s time to shower, cook breakfast, make my tea, and zip off to work. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

So I’m putting this out there. I need an accountability partner (or partners) for my morning pages, just as much as I need one at the gym. Anybody game?