A year in the life of morning pages

A year in the life of morning pages

Today marks my 365th morning-pages morning. I took Julia Cameron’s (The Artist’s Way) directive to heart: Three pages every day, first thing in the morning.

In three hundred and sixty five days, I filled seven notebooks and I’m more than halfway through my eighth. Most of the notebooks were rescued from the piles of barely used notebooks my children left in the empty nest; others are new. They’re all used now, pages full of monkey droppings from my head, conversations with myself, conversations with my characters, to do lists, to done lists, plans for the weekend, some self-flagellation but mostly ánimo, encouragement and finding the courage.

So you filled a stack of notebooks. So what?

Well, here’s what. The practices that Julia Cameron promotes in The Artist’s Way are part of a process, steps on the road to authenticity, invitations to show up for yourself. Does it make a difference? I’ll let you be the judge.

What I did with 365 days of morning pages:

  • I played…
    • digging and building the pond in my back yard.
    • making collages featuring my dream life.
    • painting canvasses with messages to my inner child.
    • making lemongrass baskets.
    • painting rocks.
    • taking a few artist dates (still not showing up as fully as I should for this but getting there).
    • buying a lot of Colorful Pens!
  • I made mornings a ritual…
  • I looked back…
    • digging through old pages of poems, stories, novel notes, and first chapters.
    • searching photos of my younger self.
    • reconnecting with my younger self.
  • I committed to writing…
    • every day.
    • really writing for myself, not just morning pages.
    • with a contract to myself I keep in my wallet.
    • joining online writing groups and pages.
  • I showed…
    • some days tired.
    • sometimes staring at the page.
    • mostly writing.
  • I showed up harder…
    • flipping my schedule to write in the morning, beginning work at noon.
    • setting daily and weekly goals.
    • eager to greet the page.

Blah blah blah. So what?

I’m not done. Here are some nouns to chew on.

What I hold on the other side of 365 days of morning pages:

  • My women’s fiction/ sci-fi novelFlower in light
  • 74K words of my second novel in the trilogy
  • A writer’s retreat
  • Four weekly creative check ins with four other creatives
  • Two Twitter story threads
  • My book proposal
  • My author marketing plan
  • A dozen plus queries
  • Pitches in #pitmads
  • Etsy shop
  • My #spreadlight postcards

Still not impressed?

Doesn’t matter to me because I didn’t show up to the page for you. I showed up for myself. My list of “accomplishments” won’t impress all of you because some creatives do this and more before they turn 30, and I’m more than double that age.

Here’s the thing: these are the things of my dreams that seemed to hover in an impossibly distant future. Taking that time for myself to sit with a notebook and fill three pages, for about an hour every single morning made the change I needed. That practice bridged the gap between the life I live and the life of my dreams.

I filled almost eight notebooks in one year. If I live another 10 years, that’ll be another 80 or so notebooks. Maybe I’ll fill some 200 over the next 25 years. Maybe 300. I don’t know how much longer I have to fill notebooks, write novels and screenplays, and play. That notion —I’m running out of time!— haunts many of us at my age. I’m making peace with time, because every morning, I show up for myself to begin that new day in the best way I know how so that I can show up for the time I have left.

Did writing three pages a day, with colorful pens in used and new notebooks change me? You can judge for yourself, but my answer is yes!

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2021

 

The Writing River: One Writer’s Journey

The Writing River

I played in the river when I was young, I dared in it, I flowed with ease.

As I aged, I was smarter. I knew more than the ancient river. Dam that river, I thought. I fought for my control.

When the dam collapsed, I swam upstream to find what I was missing. I beat against the current until I buckled on the banks, fighting my lungs for the air.

I dragged my cleverness along the banks, from time to time dipping my toes in the stream that lured me. When I couldn’t bear to be so close yet not in it, I stuffed miles between me and the river to muffle its song, to escape the never-ending babbling, trickling, rippling, burbling that mocked me.

Even across the miles and years, the river beckoned: Come flow with me, gentle, downstream. Let me carry you to your dreams.

Forty years passed. I returned to the river. I made promises about dams and downstream, about showing up, about the flow.

As is the river, so am I: older, different, changing.

I’m one with the river now. The river is in me.

We flow.

When the flow slows, spilling into eddies, I spin in the eddy. Relax. Gentle reflection. When the waters thrill around boulders, spill over crags, I gasp delight, take long graceful dives into deep pools.

Every day, I stand on the banks of the ancient, wise river that will always and only flow. I show up at the writing river, ready for its gifts. I show up to let go and let flow.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2021.

A good story

We all like a good story.

The power came back on one hour after we cranked up the new generator, just as we were falling asleep, just before midnight.

“Oh no!” Steven groaned next to me.

“What’s wrong? I thought you’d be happy the power’s back on.”

“But we just bought the generator.”

Steven and I had just “buttoned down the house” for a night without power, floating on the sounds of generators and the refreshment of the gusts of post-hurricane winds. Steven is a self-professed AC addict, but his response was “Oh no!” when our salt lamp lit up.

Sometimes it’s not about the good fortune but rather what we’ve prepared ourselves for. If we prepared ourselves for a storm, we expect a storm. We’re not upset about averting damage. And yet, the relief that the storm missed us or was a dud arrives with a vague, irrational sense of disappointment.

It’s human nature. We don’t want the devastation. “Oh no!” We just want a good story to tell. You can fight me if you think you’re above that, but I’ll win.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020

The flow: I’m here for it.

Sometimes I side-eye my neighbors with envy when I work on my yard. One neighbor’s yard is mostly concrete and structures, no trees. The other yard is mostly grass, just one tree interfering with the flow of the mower. My yard is a tangle of spaces, the pond by the patio, the tattered greenhouse and giant philodendron in the middle, the fire pit, palm trees, the picnic table, pines, gardenia bushes, vegetable and flower beds, fig trees, the hill in one back corner, and the decrepit shed in the other. There are no straight paths for to flow the mow.

Crooked paths

I’ve never taken straight paths and sometimes I side-eye those who do with a little envy. The straight path seems much easier when I’m in the thick of a bush yanking at Virginia creepers that have climbed twenty feet (Virginia, please come collect your creepers and take them home).

I don’t hate my crooked paths. Most days, I love them. They’re organic, mysterious, and, in unexpected moments, healing.

My crooked paths are complicated by my disinclination to domestic tasks. I delay the exhausting, thankless tasks like trimming the edges of the lawn or chasing the dust that collects on the surfaces of my home. Why bother when a week later the edges are ragged and the dust has collected again? Some might judge me for it, but, even as an adolescent, I am happiest sitting in my sacred space, exploring, dreaming, delighting in the words, in the markers and colors, in the creative opportunities before me.

The neighbors’ yards are disciplined, controlled. Easier to maintain. The space might seem beautiful and peaceful on days when I drag my mower around impossible edges and swear as I yank weeds from the fence, but they don’t feel sacred to me. Where’s the whimsy, the fun, the flow? I hope the neighbors have more fun than their beautifully kept yards feel.

Disciplined control versus organic flow

My life is a testimony to going with the flow. I could spin my story many different ways.

  • She didn’t have any backbone, so she just stumbled from one thing to the next.
  • She let the flow of life lead her through beautiful years of education, relationships, and careers.
  • She could never make up her mind.
  • She is good at taking care of what is before her and dealing with chaos.
  • She never planned for the future.
  • She lived in the present.
  • She’s lazy.
  • She’s creative.
  • She’s undisciplined.
  • She’s free.

It’s all true.

If “flow” conjures for you images of water, you’re not alone. Imagine all the waters. The slow, mighty river; the babbling brook; the ocean’s gentle swells; the crashing waves; the dark, quiet lake; the puddles of rain; the deafening falls. All of the water metaphors, even the ones that contradict each other, are correct. There is truth in all of them.

The two metaphors that speak most strongly to me lately are going with the flow (everything I desire is downstream) and standing in the stream as the waters of time, of life, wash over my feet (always water, yet always different). But when do I let go and just float with the flow and when should I stand? Or maybe I just allow the flow to take me, oars up, dropping my hand in the waters from time to time to test the waters, guide the flow? Yes and yes. It’s everything. All the metaphors. All the things.

In the flow of 2020

After flowing between worlds for a year and a half, moving back into our home when Steven returned from Puerto Rico in January, I stopped, stood in the stream, to take inventory. Then came the pandemic, for which we all stopped to asses our situation.

This year, as we shelter in place, I stand in the stream and know my experience is privileged and comfortable. In March, I dove into programs that nourished me. I showed up for myself every morning, to write, to explore, to dream, just like that young girl I remember. In my reduced Covid19 world, I took care of things in front of me: the pond I started three years ago, the garden beds that were unkempt for two years, the novel I started twenty-five years ago, the Tweet-story launch I conceived three years ago. I took a crooked, organic, undisciplined path to tackle my projects, but I finished them. All of them.

I’m here for the flow.

What’s next? I’m not sure. If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s deal with what is right before you. But mostly, to trust my intuition. I’ll know when it’s time to stand and time to float. That divine gift of intuition will guide my hand to the waters when it’s time.

What’s next is whatever else 2020 drops along my crooked path. And when I face it, I’ll know what to do.

Some days, this might look like bouncing from this to that. If it’s dusting or mowing, that’ll be true. But most days, I’ll be mindful as I commit my energy to a new project, to my circles, to work, to social justice, and to lifting up. I’ll find my place in the flow of this dissonant year. I’ll find my voice in the lessons of this turbulent flow. My path will be organic but, with the luxury of youth behind me, mindful, disciplined even. I stand mindfully in the rough bed of 2020, unsure when and how to show up, but ready. As I surrender to the stream, I dip my hands into the water to guide my path downstream, going with the flow but no longer drifting.

La Fête Nat (Fireworks in France for me?)

Bigger, harder things may be ahead, but what’s before me today? My birthday! And I’m here for it.

I showed up for my quiet time this morning. What’s before me now? The maddening backyard, which I mowed in my flip flops and a sundress because it’s my birthday and I can. Covered in clippings and sweat by 8 am, I asked, What’s before me now? This will be my mantra. What’s before me now? 

I’m going into this new trip around the sun mindful, flowing, and grateful for all of the waters, all of the experiences that have flowed through and enriched my life.

Thank you for all the wishes I know I’ll receive from phone calls, cards, emails, texts, and on social media. Please accept this heartfelt wish in return:

I hope on this day you feel the flow, whether you’re standing in it as it cools your heels or whether you float and flow with it, downstream. May this flow fill you with joy and delight.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020

Daily Blog Challenge: Three Things I Learned

This is the final post of my October daily blog challenge.

Writing a blog post each day for a month was harder than I expected, but easier than I imagined. I missed one day but I gave myself a deserved pass after energy well and fully spent selling jelly. On at least fifteen other days, I clicked “New Post” feeling doubtful. I can’t do this today. But I did, mostly because it was easier than I imagined.

The Daily Blog Calendar Challenge

I expected this to be the most challenging of my challenges so far, but it easily lags behind healthy daily movement. The goal was to make writing for myself like muscle memory, a good daily habit, a practiced craft. Although I write boat loads of words every day, I was not taking time to write for myself.

In general, the calendar challenges have made me more mindful of how I spend my time, what I make time for. The challenge to make time for and be mindful about writing drove home some specific, unexpected lessons. These are not new thoughts, but the process helped me embrace and trust them.

  • Small things can be profound. Woven into the minutia of our days are subtly rich threads of wisdom and emotion. When we reflect on our rainbow dances, frustrations, or walks through the field, we wrap ourselves in them.
  • It’s a crooked path. Nearly every post I wrote was retitled once if not a half-dozen times. The observations I led with unfailingly took me somewhere else. Seizures might end up being a post about embracing strength in the face of vulnerability, working through the frustration of a botched appointment might become about the culture of blame.
  • Trust myself. If not myself, at least trust my words or thought patterns. This is in part authenticity: being myself. It’s also mindfulness, which is seminal to the calendar challenge I took on. A chunk of it, maybe the most important for writing, is letting go and allowing, letting words lead me, trusting them, even through the crooked jaunts along the way.

Tomorrow I’ll start a new calendar challenge. I haven’t decided on it yet, but I may make it a little less up hill. Especially since tomorrow is also the kick-off of NaNoWritMo. But I’m ready! I have this writing habit!

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Nanowrimo: Stop Thinking and Write

Next month I’ll participate in Nanowrimo for a second time. Last year was touch-and-go, especially since I was only home for eleven of the thirty days of November. My biggest challenge, however, was not the writing days I lost to the road, but rather shutting myself up. I’m an editor by trade, so it’s not surprising that I have trouble turning that off. Maybe the best way to shut up the editor is to stop thinking.

I’ll stop thinking . . . soon.

In nine more days, I’ll stop thinking for a few roaring writing minutes a day. In the meantime, I’ll obsess! What to write? A tortured love story?

Just before Terry and Pat forked paths to their cars, they turned to each other, as they had done for 935 days on their way to work: peck on the lips, Have a great day! / You, too! I love you. / Love you too! Today, Pat’s eyes lingered on Terry a little longer, realizing, I don’t, really. I don’t love you. That was the last kiss, the last time they would see each other.

Or maybe a child in a suspense/horror story?

Ophera sat quietly in the back, the mumble of her parents’ conversation indistinguishably mingled with the roar of the engine. Ophera wasn’t sure how she knew, but she knew. She didn’t feel sad. It was the textbook knowing. The first element on the periodic table is hydrogen. Hydrogen and oxygen are the two elements that make water. Her mother’s heart beat 113,889 times a day, but her dad’s 100,352 (on average). The car would veer as it entered the bridge. Moments after plunging into the icy water of the roaring river, her parents’ hearts would stop. Ophera knew hers wouldn’t.

Maybe I should go with SciFi?

Darian shut down thoughts as she pushed her ship to warp speed. No one ever said it, but they all understood. She wouldn’t be back. Even if she managed to find her way back, she wouldn’t find anything or anyone she knew at this station. She closed her eyes through the hum of the changing pressure. Darian knew it was an impossible mission. No one believed she could find the crew that shot through this hole twenty years ago. Darian’s proposal and plea were strong and compelling, finally convincing the commissioners to grant her this last-ditch mission.

Nine more days until Nanowrimo and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Maybe I’ll write about that!

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Prep Work

—I have to do what first?
—The prep work.
—Ugh.

Why is prep work important?

When I finally decide to do something, I just want to jump in and get down to . . .

painting the bedroom.
tiling the floor.
planting the garden.

Yet, almost always, just jumping in is not prudent. Sometimes it’s not possible.

prep work

Before painting, clear and wash down the walls, fill the holes, tape the edges and windows, and, unless you’re also replacing the it, protect the floor.
Before tiling, remove the old flooring (even if the last owners didn’t!), then clean, clean, and clean. Over there, clean a little more.
Before planting the garden, pull the weeds, turn the soil, make the rows, and feed the soil.

In school, prep work is attending class, studying for the test, reading before writing a research paper. At work, similar.

But what’s the prep work for creative work?

Sometimes it’s just staring into the space before you. Sometimes it’s getting a good night’s sleep.

Just do it. It nourishes the work you’re about to take on.

Good night! I have prep work to do.

prep work

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Hobbies and Derelicts

Today, I realized hobbies and derelicts are connected.

The Venue

Every six months, I load my beach wagon with boxes of pepper jellies, drag the wagon of jellies through the arboretum, and set up a booth to sell my wares. I think of vendor venues like the Plant Fest! as enabling events. When you make things, if you can’t hang them on the wall, display them on a shelf, wear them more than once a year, or eat them before they expire, you’d best have friends who clamber for them or a place to sell them. Hobbies and Jelly addicts

Peppers and pepper products are one of my many hobbies. Even when I sell several hundred dollars worth, I don’t really make money. I make just enough to enable my addiction hobby. That’s what I meant. Hobby. It’s also a chance to pop my work bubble, spend a few hours outdoors, and mingle with friends, vendors, and clients.

The Neighbor

One of the neighboring vendors asked about my jellies and peppers. My muscle memorized explanation:

I grow my own peppers and forage the fruits I can’t grow.
“Oh really! Where do you grow them?”
Right here. In my backyard. I live behind the arboretum. 
“I live in this neighborhood too!”
I’m on Corby.

I could tell by the tone of his “Oh no, I don’t live there” that he wasn’t fond of my street. After he explained where he lived, he went on:

“What has happened to Corby? It’s become derelict.”
Derelict? How so?
“Oh, the houses are so run down.”
Hmmm. You’re probably talking about my house! 

My house needs gutter repair (not easy on a two-story home), a pressure wash, and paint on the front door. I guess the guy thought I was joking, because he kept going.

“You know the house with the DeLorean?”
That’s my house!

Domestic To-Dos vs. Hobbies

I tried to keep my tone true. Amused, because I found this amusing, not insulting.

I mostly live within my financial means. No yard guy, no maid, and I don’t hire that guy who knocks on my door and offers to pressure wash my house. I have a mower, a mop, and a pressure washer. I’ll do all that myself.

But I do NOT live within my temporal means. My time is fully spent: frenzied freelancing hours and more hobbies than I can count on both hands.

When hobbies and domestic trifles land on the same to-do list, pressure-washing the house is more likely to fall off than tilling the garden. I’m more likely to can peppers than dust. Vacuuming versus writing? I’ll choose writing every time.

I don’t judge those who spic the span and have picture-perfect homes. I’m just not there.

The Derelict

My vendor neighbor seemed uncomfortable, so I didn’t insist on explaining My street is fine, and several houses have been recently painted, windowed, or flipped. Mine is not one of them. So me. That’s me in the derelict house. I let him shift the topic to the car (what’s up with the DeLorean?) and cars, and all the cars that he has parked in his garage.

I don’t know why he thought my street was derelict, so I can only guess and assume.

My street has become more diverse over the years. This is something that thrills me. If he associates run-down and derelict with color (and I don’t know that he does), I am even more amused since the only three houses (all in a row) that need more TLC on my street belong to a middle-aged white woman, a white family who rent to their son and two other white twenty-somethings, and another white family whose parents are of the brilliant computer-geek types.

If long-in-the-blade yards are bothersome, I’m with the computer-geeks two houses down: I do my own and get to it when I can. The twenty-somethings next door? Since when do college-age guys keep a tidy lawn?

The Hobby

I’m going to own “derelict.” Since I’m sort of my own boss, maybe this can become part of a title: Derelict Product Developer? Freelance Derelict? Derelict Novelist? Jelly Dereliction? Derelictious Gardener?

I’ll also own that I have taken on more than time allows. I could take a loan and just get some of the domestic things done, but I prefer the pay-as-I-go plan. And honestly, I’d much rather finish a novel and a screenplay (writing is my loftiest hobby) than fret over a well-kept yard or an appointed house. I take comfort in one of J.K. Rowling’s replies when she was asked how she raised a baby and wrote a book.

I didn’t do housework for four years! I’m not Superwoman, and living in squalor that was the answer.

Here’s to more years ahead of hobbies and dereliction! And owning the creative squalor.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

On finding my público

In spring of 1985, I was wrapping up my masters’ thesis on Federico García Lorca’s not-quite-finished play El público. Two moments between me and my thesis director struck me and have stuck with me to this day.

You’re the expert.

The first moment was when I asked him a question about my topic. I don’t remember the question. But I remember the answer: I don’t know, Pennie. You’re the expert on this now.

What?!

How did that happen? How did I suddenly go from student struggling to know enough —anything!— to support a thesis, to expert?

He was —alarmingly— correct. I had joined the ranks of a very few who had obsessed over this tiny little unfinished play. Hence: expert. I experienced a similar alarm after having my first child. Weeks after giving birth, questions and comments suggested that I had taken a mysterious leap from floundering finder-outer to expert. But I was nowhere near having faith in myself.

You can’t write.

The second thesis moment between me and my director stuck in my craw for years. It’s still jammed in there a bit, but I’m slowly pulling it out. I shared with him my dream of writing my own plays, even my own novels and poems. I imagined beautiful, engaging words. What he told me felt like one of those Oh, honey (bless your little heart) moments. Paraphrasing roughly from his Spanish: There are those who do, and those who teach. In other words, Pennie, you won’t write. You’ll teach about writers.

This was heartbreaking and maddening to hear.

Every writer lives with that doubter that nags: You can’t write. You’re not that. My director’s comment gave my writer-doubter a juicy dose of vitamin B and adrenaline, and I have spent half of my life (literally), smothering that you-can’t-do-that voice and building up enough faith in myself to complete my own sentences.

My público

This weekend I took time to touch up a screenplay I wrote last January and re-read the first thirty pages of a novel I started last November. I had enough distance from both to read them like they weren’t mine, and damn! I want to read more. I don’t care if I’m my one and only público. I’m glad I wrote these things.

As often happens with students and teachers, my director and I became friends. We’ve managed to stay in touch, so I plan to send him a copy of my screenplay. And maybe that snippet of the novel-in-the making. There’s a bit of a snarky hrrmph! in the gesture, but I suspect he’ll be happy to read it, and happy to be part of my writer journey.

So here’s to my fellow writers who contend with resident doubters: trust yourself. You can eat your cake and have it too (that’s the correct way to say that, by the way). You can be a teacher (or editor!) and writer too. Keep writing. Keep reaching for your público.

© Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2017.

It’s time for a word.

I needed a word.

I wanted to write more, so I explored WordPress. I must have accidentally created an account, because before I knew I had one, I had a follower. It was time to write.

We all struggle with something or many things. Some things are a steeper climb than others. My steep climb, my Everest, is writing, really writing, for myself. I write. I write a lot. I write every day. But what I write is the equivalent of paying rent for a pad instead of paying mortgage for a home.

The year I accidentally WordPressed, I made a resolution to “write for real” vs. “write for rent.” Since then, I’ve been “writing” my ship and steering it towards my intention of 30 plus years.

Write for real.

I hope you find a truth here and there, a reason to come back, a little inspiration to follow your own dream. This blog is my acknowledgment of taking control.  I’m harnessing the power of my word for me.

This is my lexical gymnasium. My wordsmith shop. My lingual studio.

It’s time for a word.

Won’t you join me?

© Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2015
Updated 2016
@ Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2016