Thursday, January 28, 2021

Caleb Knight : My Writing Day


            I’ll start by noting it has just crossed midnight and I am finally finding my way to the page after fourteen hours of being awake. I consider this a Writing Day. It’s a Writing Day because the battle is won, because even though it took me all day and night to get to these words, I got here, and crossed the threshold from thinking to saying. This is a Writing Day. Every day is a Writing Day these days.

            I should also clarify that this isn’t really the first time my pen has touched paper today. The first thing I do, every day since March 31st of last year, is wake up, roll over to my pens, pencils, and increasingly tall tower of books (notebooks and journals and Gwendolyn Brooks and Daniel Simko and the 2020 edition of Best American Poetry, and Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer, and The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune, The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah, Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon, Astrophysics for Young People in a Hurry by Neil Degrasse Tyson, and the January edition of Tape Op, featuring a great interview with Michael Kiwanuka, who you should go listen to immediately), and I write. Three pages, stream of consciousness. Strictly unedited, and not to be read back after finishing. There are no rules for what can go in the pages; if I’m thinking it, it goes down. Sometimes, the weird non-sequiturs and Freudian words are the pieces that offer the most insight. This is not a system I developed on my own, and so I won’t begin to take credit for it. The Morning Pages belong to Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way and other powerful books on recovering and developing creative life.  The Artist’s Way is essentially scripture in my world. I wouldn’t be sitting here at midnight writing these words without the love and guidance of Julia Cameron, and the amazing support group of artists I meet with every Sunday, who first bonded over a love of this book. Not so long ago I didn’t even have the confidence to claim my identity as a Writer, a Musician, a Producer, or an Artist, much less to share these identities with others. The Morning Pages taught me to face myself, or as Rainer Maria Rilke says, to “Go within and scale the depths of your being from which your very life springs forth.”

            Every day is a Writing Day, but these days can take many formats.

            Writing Days are days when all I do is walk and marvel at the world. Where I live in New Jersey, that marvel is sometimes directed towards hawks and maples, and sometimes at the audacity of New Jersey drivers. It is all the same to me, because it is all different. It all goes in the pot, refills the water in the well, replenishes the ink in my pens. This is Writing. What is there to write without living a life, seeing the world, honking a horn in the Lincoln Tunnel?

            I have grown to know myself enough that I no longer leave the house without something to capture the Writing. Those strange little blurts that appear in my  head as I  move through my  life and engage with my world — I save them. I write them down. No thought is too big or too small. No thought is too perfect or not perfect enough. The Wilco edition Field Notes journal my girlfriend, Jess, got me for Christmas last year is falling apart, rubbed raw by too many tight pockets. The notes app on my iPhone is boasting somewhere around 500 notes (I thought I deleted them the other day and almost had a panic attack). These are my notes on life, my strange grocery lists from the early days of COVID, the thoughts I’ve woken up to at 3 in the morning and knew I couldn’t lose.

 Every day is a Writing Day when you begin to understand that it is all worth writing.

But let’s address the other side, the slightly nervous elephant hiding in the bathroom, taking a moment to collect himself before participating in social interaction. I, like so many others, experience profound, and sometimes debilitating, anxiety — anxiety that grabs me by the proverbial wrist, chucks my pen into oncoming traffic, and sticks my head so far down a sewer pipe that I begin to believe that everything I am and do is shit, especially my writing. Toss in the years of my life that were demolished by a substance use disorder, which infected every fiber of my being and stole my pen, my thoughts, my judgement, and my voice, and you can begin to see the other reason I’m writing this at midnight. The idea of offering my perspective on anything is utterly terrifying, and my anxiety has been having a feast.

Writing Days are also the days when I wake up anxious, fill my Morning Pages with self-loathing garbage, scroll through my phone and drink coffee that goes down like liquified horror, spend the whole day dwelling on the past, barely hang onto my sobriety,  isolate, hide, don’t leave the house, and write one word in my notes app — “reconcile” (a real note from January 11th). The most important part of that day was writing that word. I needed to. I might never have gotten the next words out if I hadn’t first wrote “reconcile,” might never have been able to help other people without first going through the hell of addiction, and so everything that happens on those days counts, too.

Every day is a Writing Day, even if you can barely find the strength to survive.

There is no right or wrong way to do this. What matters is that you do it, that you honor your truth and your voice. You are a Writer the moment you claim it. Every day is a Writing Day the moment you Write.

I do it because I have to, because every part of my being from the moment I entered recovery has been screaming that I have to write, that I have to live and see and taste and tell and share and speak. I can try to bottle it up or procrastinate. My anxiety can try to keep it held down. But eventually my soul explodes and my inner artist cannot be contained. The words will come out one way or another. I Write because I am a Writer, and Writing is what Writers do. I have learned over the past few years that I can experience the agony of stifling this urge to speak and create, or I can choose to treat myself kindly and gently and guide the process to happy fruition. This is a work in progress, and I expect I shall never do it perfectly, but here is what that looks like for me:

I give myself space, and I give myself time. I call every day a Writing Day, even the days when I do everything but Write, because sometimes my thoughts need a safe room to grow. I begin every day with two goals in mind — to stay sober, and to follow my heart’s desire, all day long, for as much as I can. There is no better feeling than trusting myself, and when I take care to nurture my inner artist, I can have faith that it will lead me to my work. Here is what I did today, a Writing Day:

I woke up. I wrote my Morning Pages. I made the bed, got ready, drank the coffee that Jess had made. I sat on the couch and read Oathbringer. I played with our foster cat. I went for a walk to a waterfall and stopped by the new botany shop down the street. I came home and ate a fruit smoothie. Body, mind, and soul feeling loved, my artist then said it was time to create. I pulled out my keyboard and headphones and dove back into a song I am mixing. I worked on this for a few hours, until I could tell I was done. I am getting better at hearing my limits. I went for a walk and met Jess. Came home, pet the cat, played Scrabble Slam. Watched an episode of Community. Made dinner. Texted my friend Lawrence about collaborating on artwork. Talked with Chase, an old friend of mine from art school. Watched three episodes of Game of Thrones, because Jess has never seen it and we’re in the last season, which we both agree would be better watched quickly. Played with the cat, scooped the litter, got ready for bed. Kissed Jess goodnight. Pulled out my notebook, and started writing all of this. I’d thought of it all day long, but I allowed the time to come to me, because I trust myself to know when it’s right. Everything I did today led me here — breathtaking views of nature and plants, exercise, nutrition, talking with friends who inspire and ground me, relaxing, playing, indulging in activities that bring me comfort because I was feeling anxious. I know what I need, and I allow myself to have it these days. Everything leads to Writing. It doesn’t matter how I get here, what time it is when I do it, how long I do it, if I write an epiphany or something truly stupid, something I love or something I hate. What matters is that I do it.

Every day is a Writing Day. All you have to do is Write.



Caleb Knight is a student of Music Therapy and Creative Writing at Montclair State University. His recent poetry has been published by Train River Publishing and in Beltway Poetry Quarterly. Caleb’s inspirations include music and birds, internal conflicts from religious upbringings, and recovering from a substance use disorder, amongst others.


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