A few mornings ago, when he glimpsed me reading my own book on the back patio, my husband yelled out to me from the living room, “That is the height of narcissism!” He was joking, of course (and he was wrong…the height of narcissism is actually taking a selfie of yourself reading your own book). I laughed – albeit a little sheepishly – but the truth is, I need to re-read my own book.
When I wrote True You, I assumed I was writing it from the perspective of a person who had done the hard work of pruning and come out the other side. And while that’s true – I had done some of the hard work of pruning, the fukinaoshi of the soul – what I didn’t know at the time was that I wasn’t anywhere near the other side. What I know now, from the middle, was that back then, I had only just begun.
As I told a friend recently in an email, pruning begets pruning. We make the first large cuts, and when we’ve pulled the dead, unnecessary limbs and branches away and discarded them, we discover we are not finished. Stripping away what’s not needed makes space for us to see what’s underneath. We realize there is, in fact, more pruning to be done.
Breaking my book contract and stepping out of the publishing arena was a very big prune. It took me a long time to weigh the pros and cons of that decision. As gardener Judy Maier advises, I looked at “the tree” from all angles. I asked a lot of questions. I consulted with people I trusted. I walked through all the steps toward change that therapist Lori Gottlieb outlines in her fabulous book: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation and action. Over a period of about three months, I went from, “I can’t possibly break my contract” to “maybe I should break my contract?” to “I’m going to break my contract.”
And then I did it. I broke my contract, paid back the advance and withdrew from the publishing arena. I dragged the pruned branches off to the proverbial compost bin, dusted off my hands, and settled in on the back patio with a cold glass of iced tea to rest in my newly pruned life.
Except just as I was getting comfortable I spotted another branch. A smaller branch, but a branch nonetheless. And then I spotted another. And another. And I knew my pruning work was not done.
I’ve been practicing a creative ritual these last few weeks called morning pages. The idea, which comes from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, is a simple one: every morning you write three longhand, stream of consciousness journal pages. You can write whatever you want, whatever comes to mind, just as long as you keep your pen moving.
I’ve tried to do morning pages in the past, but I’ve always quit a few days in. This time, though, I’ve stuck with it (though I admit, not every single day), and while there are times the practice feels fruitless and boring and stupid, I am beginning to see the value in it.
What I am learning through the practice of near-daily morning pages, along with working through some of the questions and exercises in The Artist’s Way, is that I don’t know myself. At all. I don’t know what brings me joy or delight. I don’t know what my dreams and desires are. I don’t know what I like to do for fun (except read.) I can’t really remember what I loved to do as a kid (besides read). Most days I don’t know how or what I am feeling under the surface.
I am newly pruned, and I do not recognize myself.
Three years ago I heard a question resonate in the depths of my soul as I sat on a park bench on a November afternoon. Why do you have trouble with intimacy? I tried to answer this question in the pages of True You, but the truth is, I’m not sure I have lived into the answer. I might have answered the question with my head, but I didn’t answer it with my heart.
As I continue to be pruned open, this question about intimacy has resurfaced, and I know it’s not only a question about opening to others and opening to God, but also about opening to my own self.
Right now as I peer under my surface, what I see is blurry. This is progress. Six months ago I was fragmented, disintegrated. Cameron reassures me this blurriness, these questions, this vagueness are a normal part of self-discovery. “Remember that the more you feel yourself to be terra incognita, the more certain you can be that the recovery process is working,” she writes in The Artist’s Way. “You are your own promised land, your own new frontier.”
I Googled terra incognita just to be sure I understood its meaning. It’s Latin for “land unknown” and at one time was a term used by cartographers for regions that had not been mapped or documented.
This feels right to me. I am but a speck on the horizon – a land unknown, uncharted territory, ever so slowly coming into focus.