meditation on the run-on sentence

While in process of Enough 2, I happen to be reading a book about recovering one’s creative process (The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron) that I ordered on a whim at the recommendation of one of my dear, smart friends, Ann. The relevant backstory here is that I’ve been teaching writing for ten years and only writing a little bit here and there alongside my students, but I haven’t established, in my adult life, any kind of consistent writing practice (unless I enroll in a summer class, which I did this summer for the first time since 2009. It’s coming up in late July.). In rehearsal last night, I talked about how our dance composition process this month has brought up some anxious feelings for me. This morning, I realized this anxiety was more connected to what’s been going on (or rather, not going on) with my writing practice and less connected to any kind of distaste for the style in which we are working. Let’s see if I can explain further.

Dancing a run-on sentence feels similar to writing “morning pages.” Morning pages is a simple technique defined by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way as

Three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness. These daily meanderings are not meant to be art, or even writing…simply, the act of moving the hand across the page and writing down whatever comes to mind. Nobody is allowed to read your morning pages except you. Although occasionally colorful, the morning pages are often negative, frequently fragmented, often self-pitying, repetitive, stilted or babyish, angry or bland—even silly sounding. Good! Get it on the page. The morning pages are the primary tool of creative recovery. (This excerpt is spliced together with pieces from many of her paragraphs in a specific chapter.)

I’m not “supposed” to share my morning pages because they’re like raw unpresentable doodles, I guess, or just ramblings of “monkey mind,” which is full of anxious, repetitive noise. But here are some excerpts from what I wrote longhand this morning, anyway:

I write to find that stream, that flow of consciousness, to find my visceral mind and let her speak. I can see her but I can’t quite hear her, not sure how to unearth her or find a tunnel that takes me to her. She doesn’t want to be used—she wants to be heard. It’s as if she sees my desire to make something and refuses to be used by me. I know how to describe her and what she can do—I can teach students to build tunnels to theirs—but I don’t know how to play with her, be with her, listen to her, let her lead, let her write, dance, sing her own songs. The run on sentence is the basic tool of stream-of-consciousness writing—to find our stream and touch consciousness—aliveness itself—we have to keep the pen moving, faster than the linear mind. Once we find that flow, guide our boat into its current, then what? Ultimately we want to harness it to create—but aren’t these sentences in themselves created? Even within them is the raw ingredient of the piece, fresh and unprocessed. Running on is living itself—you don’t have to be running to somewhere—the running itself is the state of living. Dancing a run-on sentence feels reminiscent of my morning pages, or my “wild mind” exercises with my students, reminds me of running out of ink on the page just trying to touch an idea that came from me. It’s no wonder I’m having a somewhat frustrated personal reaction—Cameron writes about this part of the experience of trying to recover your creativity. I’m opening my eyes to the actual size and extent of my creative block—the years its has barred the door. I am hungry and I’ve just found out that there’s a hundred more miles to hike to get to the summit restaurant, maybe a hundred more bad pieces to write to get to a good one. Dancing the sentences refocuses my attention on that feeling of writing-while-waiting, yearning for an imagined time when I will be unblocked and making, and unearths anxiety, sadness, fear that the time might not ever come. The run-on sentences provoke me, then ask for my patience—ask me to sit back in the acceptance that they are running to nowhere, running to feel their legs move, alive for the sake of aliveness. When I write sentences, they ask for my patience—my willingness to go nowhere with them. To live in the doing, the glide of the inkstream, my knuckles cramp and muscle the ink onto the paper, the bone of my wrist slides in jaunty bursts like a typewriter hammer. I am writing no discernible narrative, but I am writing just the same, chasing that stream as it slips through my fingers.

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