Evening pages

Studying the looking glass

Megha Ganapathy Illustrated Mug

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A practice my high school English teacher once recommended to me was something called “Morning Pages,” a system where you write every morning, without fail, to unblock your creative senses and encourage the flow of thought. 

“Morning Pages” has strict rules. For one, there is to be no punctuation, just pure thought, stream-of-consciousness style to fill as many pages as you feel comfortable filling. Secondly, your words must be contained in a notebook — old school — that you are certain will not be seen or read by a single soul. Part of its sanctity is that creativity cannot be subject to judgment, and you are free to write with the knowledge that there will be no consequences to your penned ideas. Thirdly, it is to be done as soon as you wake up: Your journal can accompany you at your bedside and should be one of the first things you turn to in the morning. You can write about your dreams, if you remember them, or your worries for the day, or what you want to eat for breakfast. The idea is to heighten and encourage one’s comfort with an uninterrupted flow of thought in writing. 

I planned to do “Morning Pages” multiple times this summer, but it never seemed to work out. I get a splitting headache if I attempt serious thought or work before I drink my morning coffee, and I’m able to admit that my mornings are usually consumed by checking social media, texts and emails from the side of the globe that I’m away from — India and America are 12 hours different. I even planned to try out “Morning Pages” if only for the sake of this column, to test if it really does help me write better, or if it sharpens my focus, or has some other miraculous effect on my work. 

But this summer, I realized I was writing — and channeling my stream of consciousness — in different ways. After some mental health setbacks, I was advised by my therapist to journal every day. The task continually changes, from reflections to mood charts to lists to letters. It’s a huge form of catharsis, I’ve discovered, to have an outlet that no one reads, fully dedicated to myself. As selfish as that might sound, it allows me to save my humbler side for those around me, and to direct my shortcomings, my inflated pride, my deepest, darkest fears that people needn’t always be subjected to, to my journal. 

Yet, in spite of my best efforts to keep my thoughts private, I’ve also written this column once a week. Unlike my journal, it is public. It has to be coherent, somewhat interesting and deeply personal. My column is meant to be about my relationship with art, but because writing and film and dance are so intensely personal to me, this column has felt like a more refined version of my journal, rather than an abstract analysis of my taste. It forces me, even if it’s at a small level, to be openly vulnerable and honest and to tell my story in an engaging manner. 

I don’t think I’ve ever done so much consistent writing before. Writing, done well, forces you to lay forth your thoughts, examine them, edit them and, depending on the outlet, present them in a way that is both coherent and cohesive. Through my column, I seem to have found my own “Morning Pages.” I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with quickly writing down ideas, with tuning into a daily or weekly routine of putting words on a page. I’m ever-so-slowly discarding the notion that creativity or the next best idea needs to come to me in a particularly inspired moment. I just have to get better at opening our channels of thoughts, shielding them from judgment, yet always leaving them open to examination.

And I’ve developed my own new writing system: evening pages. Quiet nights, wherever they might be, are best saved for my journaling, to reflect on and sum up the day, while mornings are best for more public forms of writing. I’m full of energy, ready to present myself and take on the world. 

I’m grateful to have been able to talk about my experiences with art for these past few weeks in this column. It is so cathartic to realize that your deepest vulnerabilities and toughest moments are actually not that uncommon, that art is a binding factor beyond our wildest imaginations and that there is beauty in honestly acknowledging our experiences. I’m also happy to admit that I am glad that I can conclude this exercise — that I can take a break from talking about myself and revert to my usual state, back to absorbing the words and images of those more articulate than me. 

Megha Ganapathy writes the Monday A&E column on learning and growing from experiences with art. Contact her at [email protected].