The Margin Count


Every morning — or on rare occasions, by the afternoon — for the last one hundred and forty-two consecutive days, I’ve written morning pages.

Before a twelve day break in this action in which I attended a silent meditation retreat which also excluded writing, I had also collected another three-hundred and thirty-three pages in my first season, bringing my daily practice to a grand total of two-hundred and fifty-three mornings of writing three pages of often indecipherable, stream of consciousness word meditations. Or word therapy. Or word farts.

Doesn’t really matter what it is, at all. Just that I do the excercise. By the third page, there is almost always something surprising — either in discovery or in feeling — that I would not have thought otherwise.

The biggest trick to all of that consistency came somewhat by accident. Somewhere near the twentieth day of that first season, I began numbering each session in the margin, as a way to keep track and therefore really keep myself accountable. After the first few days of simple counting, I then added a small doodle around the number that I felt was somehow a numerological expression. Nothing fancy, generally something geometric, and then progressively more abstract. The only rule, that I tentatively gave to myself, was no repetition. Something different every day.

If I skipped a day, I’d have to start the count over again. So long as N+1 did not equal 1, I’d be continuing a streak. And that streak now had a visual companion. The number slowly grew with what felt like a compounding interest — each day, flipping back over the three pages, unencumbered by what I’d barely just written, to remember the previous count, and the previous sketch, and something just a little bit different and more interesting. Not always more interesting, but usually.

Incidentally, this also began to track my long adjacent trajectory away in space-time from whence the whole thing started (or in the case of this second season, time since last meditation retreat). I really liked that about it, until I didn’t, for fear of that passage of time from which none escape, none are pardoned, none receive anything but that same gift, daily, incrementally.

But then I found myself on Day 48 of Season 2. It was Saturday, May 12th. I’d started getting a bit more literal with the sketches, encasing the number inside of a shape that related to where I was that day, but this day I really took toward an object in the room, the downstairs cafe of a bar somewhere in Brooklyn; an old glass five-gallon water jug full of Edison bistro bulbs, suspended from the ceiling. I took my time, about five minutes, really looked at it and tried ever so tentatively to translated it into the margin.

And haven’t stopped that, either. Each day now, after all nine hundred or so of the words, I spend another five or ten minutes and sketch an object I can find in the room, and find a way to place that increasingly long count inside of the object — this weird little still life remixing game and moment of zen. I’m by no means a gifted artist, but I have found that the more patient I am, generally the better the sketch comes out. It’s increased, slightly, my visual observations of things, which is a nice surprising side effect beyond all this internal stenography. There are days I really curse myself for the objects that I’ve chosen, but other days increasingly pleased with my choices and selections in the margins.

Today I drew that orange penguin logo from Penguin Books, the one four and two in a line of the white extra long cummerbund of his tuxedo now three buttons.

And for tomorrow? No idea, except for the one, the four, and the three.

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