letting go creates space for something new
Years ago I bought a copy of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, a book for creative recovery. I found it in the downstairs part of Shakespeare & Co. on Broadway, and can remember what it was like to sit with it at the window counter at Verb coffeeshop in Williamsburg later that same day. I didn’t get very far reading it - about three pages in, Julia Cameron wrote that she was sober. I was twenty three, still drinking, and very stubborn. I closed the book, dropped it in my tote bag, and wouldn’t look at it again until I’d been sober for six months myself.
One of the tools of the Artist’s Way is what Julia Cameron calls morning pages - three handwritten pages, stream of consciousness, written each morning to empty yourself of whatever mental bric a brac might be blocking your creativity. In the twelve-week course that the book outlines, the rule is to write morning pages every morning and not read them - turn the page, put them away, don’t go back. So this is what I did, in these dark mornings in my small apartment in Harlem, before I left to take the bus to Lenox Avenue to catch the 2/3 to the Bronx and go to the windowless classroom where I taught. I filled two and a half legal pads, back and front, with morning pages, before we got to Week 6 in the Artist’s Way, and the instructions were to go back and read what you’ve written.
I had two and a half legal pads full of writing where all I could write about was how much I wanted to quit teaching. You think you know yourself - you think you have a sense of how you feel and what you want. But when it is there in black and white— “I want to quit. I wish I could quit. I hate this job. I wish I could quit”— loopy, early morning handwriting across pages and pages of dull yellow paper, it’s much harder to deny it. I knew I wasn’t happy teaching. I didn’t know that I would write about it every day for forty days and not do anything differently.
Not long after that, I started applying to jobs. It was the middle of the school year - November fading into dark December - but I still sent my resume out. Anything but teaching. On weekends I would drag myself to the Think Coffee on Mercer Street with my chunky laptop to search for jobs and send out resumes. One afternoon I bumped into Mona, who asked what I was working on.
Job hunting, I said, then gestured to my laptop. I just applied to work as secretary at a private school. I’ll do anything.
Mona worked at a nursery school in lower Manhattan. A few days later she G-chatted me to say that the nursery school was hiring an office manager - would I want to apply?
Yes! I typed back, heavy on the exclamation points. Yes. I wanted out of the classroom. I was burned out and depressed. I wanted to quit.
I started working at the nursery school in January 2008 and would work there for the next seven and a half years. It was a relief to have a job so simple that I could leave it at the end of the day and go home to my books, my writing, myself. Quitting teaching opened the door to something I hadn’t known I wanted, or could even have, until it was mine. Letting go always creates space for something new.
I’m writing this because it’s time for me to let go of this newsletter for a while. I love this project with my whole heart, but I’ve been wondering about what comes next. For the last six years, First of the Month has been my compass, giving me a sense of what I was writing and where I was going. Every month it feels like I toss a paper airplane into the world, and every month it is a delight to find that so many of you have found that paper airplane, read it and resonated with it. That’s why I write. Recently, though, I’ve been writing longer essays, longer stories, working on projects that require less paper airplanes, more time building them. I want to know what will come into this space if I let go. What will I finish. What will I write that I can’t even imagine yet.
First of the Month has been my tether to writing for so long - it’s honestly the only writing I’ve done consistently since 2015. I’ll be forever grateful for everyone who took the time to read these missives, to email me, to subscribe and support me and my writing. I write with a list of your names tacked above my desk, to remind me that I’m not alone. I’ll be sure to keep everyone update about what comes next, and who knows - perhaps there will be a First of the Month 2.0 in the future.
With endless gratitude and love,
An oldie but a goodie: Daniel José Older on starting every writing session with forgiveness.
For folks looking for writing classes (even if you’ve never taken a writing class before!), the Writing Institute @ Sarah Lawrence College has 25 virtual classes to choose from this summer. You can check it out here and follow along on IG @writinginst_SLC and Twitter @WritingInst.