I was flipping through last month’s morning pages the other day, looking for mentions of dreams to add to my February Currently workbook spread. Certain lines jumped out at me, but they weren’t about dreams.
“I feel terrible,” I wrote more than once. “The house is a disaster.” And, “I can’t get my life together.”
In week 4 of The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron writes:
The snowflake pattern of your soul is emerging. Each of us is a unique, creative individual. But we often blur that uniqueness with sugar, alcohol, drugs, overwork, underplay, bad relations, toxic sex, underexercise, over-TV, undersleep— many and varied forms of junk food for the soul. The pages help us to see these smears on our consciousness.
Lately, as my morning pages can attest, I’ve been smearing consciousness with lack of sleep and exercise, and far too much sugar and caffeine. I feel terrible because I’m treating myself terribly. All of the artist dates in the world aren’t going to make a difference if I’m not, like, drinking water. The morning pages always reveal the truth, especially when taken as a whole. Honestly, it’s easy to hate them because of that.
In the midst of a gigantic reading slump last week (I started reading at least five books, ultimately abandoning all of them), I pulled out my copy of Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke.
I first read it the summer between my first and second year of undergrad. Holding the book, the pages yellowed because man, it’s been a long time since I was in undergrad, I am 20 again. I’d just moved to San Marcos for college, leaving behind a school I hated in San Antonio, but also a boy I loved. That summer was the quiet, lazy quad, cool green leaves and the summer heat, mostly empty lecture halls, taking notes with Crayola skinny markers, too many trips up and down Interstate 35 in C.’s silver Honda.
I rarely reread books, and I think I’ve gotten rid of every book I had during college, except this one, which is probably no accident. Rilke’s words are a sucker punch to the gut. The words I read 15 years ago still resonate, because the advice Rilke gave to an aspiring poet over a hundred years ago (!) continues to be relevant.
There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your whole life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.
Which makes me think of the oft-quoted Gustave Flaubert: “Be regularly and orderly in your life, so you may be violent and original in your work.”
Austin Kleon recently shared some advice from Neil Postman along the same lines; Postman encouraged establishing as many regular routines as possible:
“In order to position yourself well to cope with constant change, you should establish as many predictable structures and routines as possible. The point is to reduce the number of decisions you have to make about trivial matters. Save your energy for major questions that arise in our technological society. Regularize the trivial to cope with the significant.”
So basically, the universe is telling me I need more routines, structure. Actual self-care (like exercise and drinking water), not just the fluffy stuff like going to acupuncture and reading a romance novel before bed. I get it, but it’s hard.
Lately I’ve felt pretty good about my creative output, but that ultimately doesn’t matter if I’m not paying attention to the other parts of my life, too. The point is to be a well-rounded individual. Like I’ve said before, life expands to fit the time available; if you’re looking for them, the words will find you no matter what you’re doing.
There’s a balance to all of this, and because I am really resistant to routines (I am a completist, and slipping up once—which will always happen, because I am not a robot— makes me want to abandon ship), I will probably spend the rest of my life trying to figure it out.
Here’s to tipping the scales (just slightly!) in the other direction.
Listening and Reading
My reading slump ended when I got sucked into Emily Foster’s Belhaven duet. I’m currently about halfway through the second book.
“I make these words and I have a relationship with them and this is my own universe, which I have conjured out of so many mornings and afternoons alone. It’s so hard to see during the actual work how it’s all coming together, if it’s coming together at all, but then all of a sudden I found myself in the middle of this meaning I’d made. How strange and wonderful, how intimate. Like a spider stilling in the heart of her web for one moment, just her and her silk.” I always enjoy Sarah Menkedick’s newsletters; looking forward to her new book out soon, Ordinary Insanity: Fear and the Silent Crisis of Motherhood in America.
Listening to Ella Vos’ cover of Bon Iver’s 0000 Million over and over again.
It’s the Season of Truth over at Get Messy and things are just spilling out for me.
I’m working in a Global Hand Book sketchbook and I’m loving the size, but wishing the paper took watercolor better.
(I’m not a monster, so I strategically covered up some faces!)
In between making collages with my ex-boyfriends’ faces, I found time to write in my Currently 2020 workbook for February:
February playlist, in case you need something to listen to.
And this week’s page for collage club:
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