Being a writer, or maybe any kind of artist, feels like I’m entertaining riotous clowns in my brain – part of me wants to focus, steady the pen, and become coherent, while the other parts mock my juvenile ideas with fart jokes and risky skits. That’s all to say that I started with the intention to write about breakfast, and ended up playing with writer’s blocks.
“What’s interesting to you about breakfast?” I asked my partner the other morning as we were sipping bulletproof coffee under a canopy of cottonwoods. I was fishing for inspiration.
“Nothing at all,” he answered, and watched a stellar’s jay swallow a juniper berry. That, I thought, is breakfast.
I secretly agreed with my partner and envied that jay, but felt badly for being bored with my chosen column topic. In my head, before I had started writing, I had imagined this to be such an easy write. People are stoked about breakfast, right?
This IS what the people want, isn’t it? I rubbed my face and somewhere in a mental back-alley brain, the clown saboteurs lit a dumpster fire.
Hey, it’s not that I don’t like breakfast. I do, especially when I don’t have to cook it, when I can sink into a pleather booth and enjoy farm-fresh feta omelets without having to do the dishes. The Gonzo astronaut Hunter Thompson called breakfast a “psychic anchor.” He, like many professional creatives, considered the breakfast table to be sacred; his just happened to involve serious news reading, a rasher of bacon, too many bloody marys, and cocaine for dessert.
I suspect that it wasn’t so much what he was eating so long as it showed up and was a consistent tether for him no matter how weird the rest of the day got.
Tethering matters with the Shaolin Monks in Japan, too. After waking at 4 a.m. and crawling up a sacred mountain on their hands and knees, they share the same soup every day. It’s called the Eight Treasures: plain water with eight different types of beans, grains and nuts – red beans, pine nuts, walnuts, peanuts, rice, hawthorns, Chinese red dates and millet.
Yet, as much as I love delicious food, sometimes I wish I could push a button and not have to eat. I yearn to be an efficient automaton with breakfast, finding the perfect fuel to keep me going on all cylinders without having to waste an ounce of energy deciding. You see boiled egg; I see giant food pill.
On a certain recent morning, I didn’t eat anything, let alone the perfect combo of protein, fiber, and freshness. No matter, I thought, while my inner voice of a stern detention teacher threatened: Sit down RIGHT NOW and write! The circus hood rats danced around the roaring dumpster, snickering and darting into a dark corner.
Instead, I scrubbed my kitchen floor with a toothbrush, planted corn, feigned dizziness in the hammock. I considered writing my editor and telling him sorry, I won’t make my deadline – my fingers just got bitten off by river sharks.
Procrastination became a productive source of power and also a thorn in my side. Hey, they say to write what you know, right? Why call a column “Gravity Brain” and ignore the soul-crushing wait?
My most solid morning ritual, other than hot water with lemon upon waking, is writing Morning Pages, a technique developed by Julia Cameron that consist of writing three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness, done first thing in the morning.
“Velocity is the enemy,” Cameron explains. “It takes longer to write by hand, and this slowness helps connect us to our emotional life.” I received her book, “The Artist’s Way,” 10 years ago, and since then, it has helped me get centered in the morning, work through complex emotional puzzles, and spark my creativity for the day. It’s a rare moment where I can clear the circus tent while the crazy clowns sleep like babies. By the way, your Morning Pages may not look like mine: you may choose to show up and process through meditation, movement, sound, instruments, or paints.
Sitting around a fire later that night, I realized something: Breakfast is like Morning Pages – you have to respect yourself enough to do it, every day. In the morning, before the freaks wake up, because, well, the morning is holy. It is the foundation of everything to come.
Like MPs, you don’t have to make it a big deal; steel cut oats with peanut butter and flax seeds will do you better than fancy griddle cakes. Don’t have to expect special food or special writing. Just: Write what you write, eat what you eat, and repeat. With enthusiasm even, maybe. Nourish your brain and your body, and maybe those clowns won’t feel so neurotic; maybe they’ll get curious and douse the dumpster.
Dr. Thompson also said that writing is like sex in one huge way: Mostly fun for amateurs. Except for that Vegas book of his, arguably his best, which he said was more like “getting paid to kick Agnew in the balls.” Now, that’s tethering.
Katie Clancy is the co-owner of Studio Soma, a therapeutic movement and bodywork sanctuary in Durango. She is also a freelance writer and dances with 20Moons Dance Theatre.