The weight of my own expectations has shattered my will to do public writing on a regular basis. There’s something to be said for allowing things to just be what they are. Messy. Incomplete. Personal writing on a blog does not have to be perfect. My audience for this is miniscule. Getting caught up in that kind of thinking is a recipe for stagnation.
In October, I started doing the “Morning Pages” one of the key components of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. The process is simple enough: Wake up in the morning and fill three pages of longhand writing. There’s a few ancillary rules to go along with it — like don’t log your dreams, don’t go over three pages — but it’s mostly about building a routine. (Cameron says it’s simply about “getting to the other side.” After doing this for three months, I think I get what she means.)
Today, I hit ninety consecutive days of doing morning pages. Two-hundred and seventy pages of my handwriting. Could I have waited until day one hundred and written this post as a bigger, cooler milestone? Well, who know’s what’s going to happen in the next ten days? Let's just focus on right now.
I am at a café in Brookline. The sunshine filters in through the windows and illuminates the spirally tiles. The mood is upbeat and the conversations around are lively, upbeat. It’s a Friday, after all. There’s so much promise as another weekend approaches.
Accompanying me is an iPad, a notebook, and an e-reader that’s on the fritz. I tried to highlight a sentence and it highlighted the whole book, which seemed to be too much for the poor thing to handle. It froze while I tried to correct it. I rebooted the device and all seemed well, until I realized the whole book was still highlighted. The machine froze again. A setback. I just decided to pull the book up on my iPad, even as it offers a somewhat inferior experience to an e-reader. I read a chapter of Cameron’s new book, Write for Life, which condenses and builds upon the lessons imparted in The Artist’s Way. Simply finding the link to Cameron’s website made me aware of this new work.
The book is segmented into a six-week program. On week two, I’m finding that the shorter essays hold a little more weight and get me thinking a little bit more about my process. In the chapter for the second week of the program, Cameron writes “Easy does it” or “Easy accomplishes it.” It’s a useful mantra. Achieving moderate progress and setting better expectations. A quota — two to three pages of writing — may be the way to go, as opposed to sprints and bursts.
In the café, a pleasant perfume scent joins the familiar coffee roast and cinnamon smell. Maybe there’s a way to write one's self into a bit of contentment and joy. In my headphones, which I’ve turned on noise cancellation on to ease the distractions, I’m listening to the 2018 album Mercado de Los Corotos by Augusto Bracho. The instrumentals make it a delightful soundtrack to writing down my words.
I jotted down a William Faulkner quotation from the book. It reads: “Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything good.”
That's actually also the quote I highlighted that broke my e-reader. Anyway.
If you spend one second reading about the creative process from someone who is in it — musicians, writers — there’s a chance you’ll see this refrain: Once this work is out in the world, it’s no longer ours. It’s for the audience to decide what it means. Vonnegut’s said something like that. Julien Baker’s said it. Filmmakers have said it. It’s true! It’s the reality of doing creative work in front of anyone.
During post-show Q&A for Marchita, a special performance at Prototype Festival in New York City earlier this January, Silvana Estrada shared that sentiment.
The show — which was less like a concert and more like a musical, blending vocals and movement — was gorgeous. An a cappella version of “Más o Menos Antes” kicked off the performance, which took a beautifully spare song and reduced it to the essential: a voice and lyric. To hear this album's songs in this way, with no amplification, mostly vocal arrangements, and with a story told mostly via movement, was something to behold.
In preparation, the show, rescheduled from 2021, faced numerous setbacks, even days before the show, when two singers could not perform due to illness. Still, the show found a way to proceed, and it felt special.
In the Q&A she said “just as death is the ultimate confirmation of life, an audience is confirmation of a performance.”
When the show concluded, I went out into the cold air of the city. Snowflakes gently fell. There was a lot to see.