first published March 5th 2019
It’s a month since I last wrote my blog; I missed the last fortnightly post. What happened? I got caught up with creating a window display for Window Wanderland in my area, Strathbungo in Glasgow, which was all consuming. Then my husband caught the flu - my daughter wasn’t on great form either - and I had to look after both of them as well as doing all cooking, cleaning and shopping, while fighting the virus myself and craving sleep much of the time. (Cleaning has been little more than a response to disgust.) I went to my teaching work, and as often as not fell asleep as soon as I got back. My meditation practice was transformed into a half hour of sleeping sitting up, as opposed to lying down for my proper sleep. The window was a success (shown in Sunday’s Observer!) and I didn’t get the flu. Fortunately my husband was well enough to go back to work on the day that I’d booked myself a trip to Switzerland to stay with a friend for a short break. I walked through exquisite snowy valleys in the Alps, guilt free. But tired. My friend cooked for me, gave me homoeopathic remedies, and drove me to places more beautiful than I could have imagined. Despite coming back to find that the washing machine, hoover and all cleaning materials had taken their own holiday while I was away, I feel restored. I haven’t painted, written or done anything around promoting my art or coaching work in the last month. But what did stay with me, from my routine, was writing morning pages, as recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. I began them a couple of years ago – handwriting three pages without pausing, first thing in the morning. Sometimes I have to make my daughter’s breakfast before writing, or have to finish writing on the bus to work. Sometimes I only get two pages written before running out of time. But that was the one thing I couldn’t bear to stop doing. Julia Cameron recommends writing these pages to practice by-passing the inner censor, as a way of supporting any creative work, getting used to allowing all thoughts and ideas to flow without judgement. I have kept a studio journal for most of my adult life, short snippets of reflection on my creative process, but this is different. When I began, I was horrified at the thought of my uncensored thoughts being recorded in writing and hid my pages away. Now I’m not worried about anyone reading them. Not only because much of what I write is so boring that it would take dedication from any snooping reader to keep looking for anything juicy. Not only because the members of my household give each other space. But because of what keeps me writing these pages. In a word, allowance. Like most people, I grew up learning to self-censor. I learned that many of my thoughts and feelings would be judged and that it was not okay to voice them. In fact, it was probably not okay to think or feel them. This is normal; I did not have an unusual upbringing. But like many artists, I always felt that ‘normal’ was a little bizarre, a construct that shifted from family to family, from town to town, from one country to another, and the strangeness of normal made me feel a little like an undercover alien. Allowance is not commonplace; but it is natural and it is possible to re-learn it. Writing morning pages supports me in this. In these pages I am allowed to be boring as hell, discussing with myself at length whether to do the dishes before my second coffee or after. I am allowed to rant about anyone who has pissed me off, and give voice to all the insults I would like to hurl at them. I am allowed to write about how much I love the blackbird outside the window and how miraculous life is. I am allowed to open up all my worries and heartbreak about the people I love, their illnesses or problems, or my sorrow about those who have passed away. And very occasionally, an idea will emerge for a piece of creative work. Within that space, all the thoughts and feelings that are pushed aside throughout the rest of the day, when I am being an undercover alien, are able to rise. And as often as not, I become aware during that time that I need a good deep breath to acknowledge what has been unacknowledged; I will bring my attention to my feet and ground myself when I recognise that something has knocked me off balance; and I will choose to straighten my back when I understand that something has weighed me down. This is my daily gift to myself.