It’s the Manhattan winter of 1992, less than three months since I’ve left my mate of fourteen years, losing, in one fell swoop, all the solid props of my life.
To stay financially afloat, I take on freelance administrative gigs in arguably the planet’s most frenzied and high-stakes city.
Weeks are busy, but weekends are poisoned with a high-octane cocktail of anxiety, guilt and confusion; I cannot seem to extricate myself from the tangled nest of viperous thoughts that paralyze me into a state of chronic despair. Have I done right in placing personal integrity above the comfort of family and economic security?
Sunday morning dawns and my neighbour Leanna calls to invite me over for brunch. She hands me a copy of Julia Cameron’s The Artists’ Way. “No thanks,” I say ungraciously. “I’ve enough to read.” She presses it on me, betraying a pity that turns my proud stomach. “This will free your head up, honey,” she says gently. “A bunch of us got together and did the exercises. They do work, you know.”
Leanna is decades my senior, a sculptor who owns the four-storey brownstone bang opposite me. Her scientist husband is doing something top secret in the Negev Desert, their only son has moved to Brazil to be with his stunning girlfriend. With no one else around to cosset, Leanna has taken me firmly under her wing. Something about my face reminds her of the fragile sister she’d lost to suicide seventeen years ago.
She has read my unfinished collection of short stories about Indian women on the verge of a nervous breakdown. She admires them and thinks I have it in me to write a novel. She feeds me home-made broccoli-cheddar quiche, brews fragrant coffee in the ancient Italian coffee-maker, and drops a light kiss on my cheek. This abundance of caring evokes stirrings of discomfort, but I am not so far gone that I cannot acknowledge it as a rare gift in a world known for its conditional love.
Before I leave—armed with the rest of the quiche and a pound of organic pears—Leanna rushes into her study and returns with a big red journal. “Here, take this too,” she says. “You’ll need it to do the exercises in the book.”
I scan The Artist’s Way that night in bed. No way I will do the exercises, I decide, but one concept does strike me as intriguing—what Cameron calls the Morning Pages: Dump all your waking thoughts onto paper, she advises, without sequence, repetitiously if need be, and make it a minimum of three pages. And what will this do for the half-awake scribe? Unplug the drain of the mind and allow all the crap blocking it to sink into oblivion—whereupon creative juices begin to flow again. Well, I sneer as I lie back on my soft pillows, let’s bloody well see, shall we?
Monday morning my brain feels wrapped in cotton wool. I’ve an hour to go before I catch the subway to the World Trade Center where I work for a stockbroker on the forty-ninth floor—an absent-minded fellow who leaves me alone so long as I pick up his calls and type his memos. Grunt work that pays well.
I sit at my dining table and jot down every scrap of thought that floats into my mind. Amorphous fears connected to the great crime I have committed as an Indian woman from a traditional background—of cutting loose from a husband who did not consider me his equal, and so felt free to deceive me in crucial ways—emerge in bloody bits and coalesce into bizarre patterns. By walking away, I’ve alienated my blood family and callous in-laws. And what is the brilliant result of my escape? A solitary and frugal existence on the third floor of a brownstone with sagging wooden floors in a cold and glittering city where no one seems to care a rat’s ass about the fate of one more immigrant who’s lost her way.
Every day I pour my heart and soul out before rushing off to work. On weekends I write upwards of ten pages in one manic go. I’ve used up Leanna’s journal and write on my computer instead. All the junk collecting dust in the attic and basement of my mind finds its way into the middle to be sorted out. Yucky stuff bubbles out of subconscious reservoirs. My job is to drag it yelping and whining into the fire of a new consciousness to be burnt to ashes.
Soon I become aware that a miracle has occurred: I am now certain that I did the right thing in abandoning a situation that had threatened to drown me in the quicksand of the mundane and the mediocre. My mind grows clean and sharp and shining. It tells me I am not alone or helpless as I pursue this sacred mission to be free. The word is God, I mutter to myself in growing excitement, even as I jettison all that is holding me back from knowing how powerful I truly am.
Twenty-three years later, I have a novel making wavelets out in the world, two more simmering on the back burner, and a blog—produced in alliance with exceptional friends—highlighting the metaphysical and mundane aspects of this amazing life I’ve been allowed to live. And while those distant days of emotional paralysis in New York have long since given way to days of increasing certainty, whenever the demons of chaos drive holes into my ability to function in top gear, I never hesitate to return to that old way of writing myself sane.
Mira Prabhu is the author of Whip of the Wild God. She now lives in the deep south of India where she focuses on spiritual and creative work. Learn more about Mira from her blog—the metaphysical and mundane musings of a maverick female scribe and her Amazon author page.