Writing is difficult for me. I have never been good at journaling. I’ve always wanted to be good at it, but it’s never worked out for me. I love to buy journals to write in. I have many beautiful, elegant, empty journal books. I also have a stack of journal books with maybe only five or six entries in them.
The most successful journaling I did was trying to work through my writing block. I read a book, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, about dealing with creative blocks. Like most self-help books, this comes with a whole array of accompanying workbooks, inspirational CDs, blah blah blah. But, the book came highly recommended, so I bought it. The writer encourages her readers to do something she calls “morning pages,” which are three pages of stream of consciousness writing done very first thing in the morning, every morning without fail. She calls the morning pages the basic tool for recovering from creative blocks. Predictably, she treats this activity therapeutically, calling the pages meditative, even; they help you deal with your perfectionism and internal censor, and they empower your creativity. They also establish habit and discipline — at a very bodily level. Maybe we could even call it, after Bourdieu, the “habitus” of writing, creativity, and productivity. So, I faithfully wrote my morning pages for a few months, filling up several notebooks.
I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere, though, so I moved on.
I spent some time with Cynthia Macdonald. She stated in our first meeting, “I don’t uppercase the d.” Having been an opera singer, she stated this resonantly and resolutely. She moved on from opera to poetry (she’s an accoladed poet), then to psychotherapy. She also founded the creative writing program at the University of Houston. Google her and you can see all the things she’s done. So, basically, she’s a writing therapist. I saw her for several months, and the work with her was profound in some ways, and disappointing in others. I wanted her to fix me. Of course, she couldn’t.
I came to realize that I hated writing. That’s something I should have realized ages ago. It took me too long to finish my dissertation, and I went through graduate school with a stack of incompletes that I always had to scramble to complete. These should have been warning signs. When I completed things, I got positive strokes, so I ignored the signs. There were times during my career that I was hyper-productive, but that would be followed by long stretches of inactivity. In retrospect, I realize that these cycles corresponded to manic-depressive mood swings.
Now, in addition to this dark, depressing struggle, I grew very bitter, jaded, and disaffected with academics, research, and scholarship for a number of reasons. I feel no need to elaborate on my reasons anymore since I’ve now left that grind behind. The short version, though, was I felt that I didn’t have anything to say. Leaving was such a huge relief. I felt mentally and emotionally lighter than I had in years. Years.
Even though it’s taken me NINE years (except the first two don’t really count, since I only wrote a handful of entries in the beginning), and even though I’ve been inconsistent, spotty, and sometimes I’ve gone months without writing any entries, it’s still writing that I’ve actually done. Writing that I continue to do. Not quite faithfully or regularly, but persistently. So on the occasion of my 401st entry, entry #401, this entry, I feel like I’ve accomplished something today.