Notes from My Journal of Morning Pages

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The corner I where I need to turn: Trees, a tall building, an airplane,

 a pigeon sitting atop a streetlight, and a bus stop sign underneath a mostly cloudy sky.

Photo by Susan Bernstein April 27, 2023

On Instagram, I follow #morningpages, a collection of writing, art, prompts, suggestions, and aphorisms inspired by Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way,  that amplify  engagement in creative activities first thing in the morning, before the day begins. I had started the semester journaling in my lesson plan book, but soon realized that I needed a smaller book, something that would fit in my crossbody bag and that I could easily reach and that would not be cumbersome or take up space from other commuters on public transit. I found a little book that was just right, and, with that problem solved, I came up with my own version of morning pages that initially was dedicated to reviewing my lesson planning and reflecting on recent classes.

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My journal of morning pages: Detail of a black unzipped cross body bag with 

a small journal and a pen emerging from the opening.

Photo  by Susan Bernstein April 28, 2023

But after spring break, a new predicament arose. Emerging from the subway and crossing the street, I noticed a new construction project blocking the bus stop. There was a notice on the back of the bus stop sign that stated the cross streets of the temporary stop. But this part of the city, a hub for public transit, is organized only partly on a grid, and some of the cross streets twist and turn. I decided to follow the grid, trying to follow other commuters who appeared to be searching for the new stop. 

But that impromptu plan did not work. I found the new bus stop only by accident. My new plan, asking other commuters for directions, and trying to remember landmarks that would guide me to the correct location, also wasn’t viable. I tried mapping the route before leaving home, but the directions included curves and merges on paths that were difficult to follow in real time. On the street I lost internet access, so GPS didn’t work either. Every single time, after extending my already long commute by several minutes, it was only by coincidence that I found a bus to campus.

My neurodivergent affordances were overloaded. Somehow, I needed to stay mindful of the landscape of the streets, and  retrain my brain to duplicate that new geography, so I turned to my journal of morning pages. I vented new and old frustrations and saved a final paragraph to briefly review my lesson plan.

Then something unexpected happened. Frustrations vented, my head cleared and I was ready to figure out another way out of my dilemma. I followed the street grid to the nearest available bus stop, and asked the driver how to get to campus. They mentioned the bus I needed, and also where the temporary bus stop was probably located–just around the corner on a street that eventually curved into a wider boulevard. 

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Fragment from my journal of morning pages handwritten in black ink on lined paper:

“[waiting] for the bus and very shortly afterward

 the bus that I’m on now showed up.

 I took photos to remember the visual landmarks. Relief! ♥️

Photo by Susan Bernstein April 28, 2023

Although my writing process often changes with each new project, I noticed some similarities between creating these morning pages and searching for the correct bus stop: Contemplation, trial and error, venting, drafting, discovery, and relief. Most significantly, however, is that writing helps me process dilemmas and–in this case, duplicate a new geography–from journal pages to everyday life. Beyond my commute and outside the classroom, the larger world presents innumerable distractions and difficulties that overload the brain. While these ever present struggles remain, I am grateful that writing a journal of morning pages holds the potential to ease working memory and to open spaces for focus and relief.

About the Author
Susan Naomi Bernstein (she/they) writes, teaches, and quilts, in Queens, NY. She blogs for Bedford Bits, and her recent publications include “The Body Cannot Sustain an Insurrection” in the Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics and “After Basic Writing” in TETYC. Her book is Teaching Developmental Writing. Other publications include “Theory in Practice: Halloween Write-In,” with Ian James, William F. Martin, and Meghan Kelsey in Basic Writing eJournal 16.1, “An Unconventional Education: Letter to Basic Writing Practicum Students in Journal of Basic Writing 37.1, “Occupy Basic Writing: Pedagogy in the Wake of Austerity,” in Nancy Welch and Tony Scott’s collection Composition in the Age of Austerity. Susan also has published on Louisa May Alcott, and has exhibited her quilts in Phoenix, Arizona and Brooklyn, NY.