I write most mornings: those three longhand pages made famous by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. I write in spiral-bound Hilroy notebooks with my fine-point Pentel RSVP ballpoint pens, have filled probably two dozen such notebooks over the last couple of decades. When you think about it, it’s vaguely impressive: thousands of pages of my words. But then, when you think about it, it’s a bit nauseating: thousands of pages of my to-do lists and what-I-ate-for-breakfast posts, angst over relationships or my hair, musings about the fact that I should write more, exercise more, stop eating sugar, generally be a better person. Thousands of pages of remember-to-buy-milk, where I’m at with various client projects, the weather. I’ve been writing as long as Rachel and I have been together, and the books are a one-sided conversation charting our entire relationship. Two entire notebooks document my ovulation cycle, with mucus (sorry) updates and my morning body temperatures charted in the top right-hand corner and speculations about am-I-or-am-I-not-pregnant filling the pages. Many more notebooks chart my mother’s ongoing cancer experience, her triumphs and declines, and then her death. After Rowan was born, the writing becomes more sporadic and the pages are mostly desperate musings on when I might sleep again. More recently, with children who generally sleep through the night (ptu! ptu!) and are in school full-time, my output has become more regular, weekends excepted.
Yes, occasionally, there’s a nugget of truth in there, some dog-eared pages that I return to later when I’m looking for material. Pages have become raw material for essays, performances. Occasionally, they help me work out some specific creative or personal problem. But that’s rare. Mostly, they’re just an exercise in mental throat-clearing/vomiting, making way for the real business of day.
I think regularly and somewhat neurotically about what will happen to my pages, my collection of Hilroy notebooks, in the event of my death. Ideally, my heirs and executors will immediately burn them without reading a page — in fact, let the record show here that these are my explicit instructions. Don’t read them: not only or primarily because of the fact that they are an unvarnished glimpse into my soul’s weaknesses, my pettiness, my preoccupation with the mundane, my sins, but mostly because they are so incredibly boring that I can’t stomach the idea that anyone might take the time to flip through them and decide that they are my legacy. Got it? Good.
On mornings when it’s Rachel’s turn to get up with the kids, I sometimes haul myself out of bed and sneak into my office with a cup of tea to write. This is a calculated risk; often, these particular morning pages are punctuated by my notes on which kid is shrieking about what and why. Isaac in particular finds it hard to leave me alone when I’m writing, my closed door just so tempting. I try, for the most part, to take his intrusions in stride, to smile and give him a quick kiss and then get back to my words, my hair, my milk, my jobs, my I-should-exercise.
But, on a couple of mornings recently, he’s climbed into my lap and taken up his own pen. And I have handed him a half-blank notebook and he has “written” next to me, copying down letters and numbers and imitating my cursive. We sit together, writing our pages, and those are some of the best mornings ever.