The time has come the Walrus said . . . to speak of many things . . .

You're showing to the rest of the world, whether you know it or not.

You’re showing to the rest of the world, whether you know it or not.

Writing, I think, is not apart from living.

Writing is a kind of double living. 

The writer experiences everything twice.

Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind.    – Catherine Drinker Bowen

The 2014 Life Journaling Class I began in early January has concluded–and damn–it felt good to participate.

I achieved my goal: To return to that deep state of unrestrained, concentrated paper-talk that I’d been missing.

All of the different prompts that session leader Susannah Conway offered to us 5 days out of every 7 fascinated me, even though I did not do them all, nor did I do them in order. The choice was always ours, as it should be.

Many were incredibly imaginative, and some downright dangerous and way too exposing, but staying parked in the SAFE ZONE is no place for serious writing.

I must admit to this one here and now: as it’s been one of the coldest, snowiest and toughest winters we’ve had in Iowa in several years, I could not get enthused about trying the one exercise of laying buck naked, spread-eagled across my bed, contemplating the various parts of my body and then writing about said personal revelations. It’s hard to think straight when your nibs are freezing and begging for a blanket.

Please don’t be offended, Susannah. I did understand the purpose of that one, but dang, woman–it was simply too cold for compliance! (Maybe next summer when the cat is busy watching birds out the window and the hubby has gone out for a solo Harley ride or something . . . we’ll see–)

She offered us one final list of prompts to carry forward as we move away from the group, and there are both gut-wrenching, difficult suggestions as well as light-hearted, fun directions to go. I am grateful for such a list.

It contains 50 solid, honest questions and prompts, and they offer vast amounts of fodder not only for personal journaling work, but for creative essays and stories–fiction and non-fiction alike as far as I’m concerned.

As I read through them a lot of thoughts began coagulating for me:

Have a conversation with your 90-year old self.

Write a letter of appreciation to someone who annoys you. (Oh, hell no! . . . but a good writing exercise if ever there was one . . .)

What turns me on? (Is this something you want your kids to read after you’re co-habitating with the earthworms? I wonder how many people would have the guts to write this down in a notebook and not destroy it.)

The secret I could never tell anyone. 

Write a letter to your first love.

The things I’ll never do again are . . . (oy.)

If I dared to say what I really think . . .

I chose the following from her list to close this post out for today:

10 memories I’d like to revisit – 

  1. Sitting on that old wood bench in Montgomery, Iowa on a July night watching the free outdoor movie with my family. There were stars overhead, crickets chirping in the grass, my folks–lighthearted and relaxed. There, of course, is ice cream before we drive home.
  2. The night I was married. I believe I forgot to tell my folks thank you for my wedding. Damn. All family and friends that we cared about were present. That doesn’t happen very often.
  3. Shopping in Wright’s Five and Dime with my kid sister. I want to walk down each aisle and remember all those fun things we used to wish we could buy. And I want to stand over that penny candy counter one more time.
  4. I want to pause inside the big doorway to my dad’s welding shop and watch him repair those colorful farm implements again, and then I want to drive home to supper with him. Our family of 6 always sat at the table and ate meals together. I remember the pecking order; it wasn’t always peaceful, but so what.
  5. Saturday nights in July and going uptown to take in all the happenings, and eating cheeseburgers at the Sunnyside Café with Mom—and one of those thick REAL chocolate malts.
  6. Christmas Eve 1960. Christmas was always good for me.
  7. The winter of 1962. Snow days—lots of them that winter. My sister and I baking and sledding and feeling warm inside our house—and sleeping late in the mornings. “No school again today!” I can hear my dad saying it.
  8. The summer of 1969 at Pike’s Point. Warm breezes blowing across Lake Okoboji and going steady. The life of a pampered teenager and loving it all.
  9. Girls’ week in August at my mother’s house. The four of us. Fresh peaches and cream for breakfast. Shopping and ordering pizza and watching rented videos. Nothing but play time. A week’s worth of harmony.
  10. Drinking Constant Comment tea with Mom in her living room until the wee hours of the morning, and catching up on everything and anything, and laughing until we dang near wet ourselves sometimes!

So . . . for those of you who think you’re  too smart, too busy, too talented, too sophisticated to spend any time with yourself, a pen and a lined notebook, I dare you to give it a try.

I don’t believe any one person couldn’t find something of merit in a little time spent examining where they’re standing now, where they’ve been—or what they think might be waiting down the road for them.

No one is that well put together. No one.

“J” is for Journal; “T” is for Thawing

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“Out of clutter, find simplicity.”

-Albert Einstein

In last week’s blog post I told you about the 6-week long journaling class I’m taking with writer Susannah Conway, and I promised I’d offer up “bits and bobs,” as Susannah puts it, of the experience.

Six years ago, a writing friend introduced me to the trendy idea of choosing a theme word for each New Year, as it related to our writing life/goals.

My log list reads thus:

2008 – persevere

2009 – believe

2010 – continue

2011 – expand

2012 – push

2013 – (no word chosen)

2014 – reassess

That blank in 2013 is probably the reason I signed on to do this life journal class. I can’t tell you why I didn’t choose a word last year, and frankly, it wasn’t until I started writing in my classy new journal for this session that it occurred to me. Life turned bizarrely hectic, messy and sad in 2013. That I didn’t have presence of mind to choose my word is proof.

Susannah provides us with many prompts and suggestions each day from which to work in our journals. Journaling longhand is not a new concept for me, as I have a number of them in process on my shelves. But the idea of working in a cyberspace classroom with 79 other women from around the world in a common vein added the touch of discipline and connectivity I realized went missing last year. That came out in my writing this past week.

It’s startling what your mind and hands lay down on the paper while you look on, and honest journaling will take over like that when you finally cut yourself loose.

Little wonder then that my gut chose the word reassess, because clearly there was a need. (I still can’t believe that I didn’t at least try for a word in January 2013. Ah, well.)

You see the colorful, but messy array in the picture? That’s my creative notebook journal in process. That is the second part of this winter adventure. Others are calling their notebooks their creative dream journals.

I have a pretty good handle on what my dreams are. It’s these blasted U-turns and detours life keeps handing me and mine that need sorting through.

My 3-ring journal will be titled, Life View, and it will contain pictures of family and friends, pets, beautiful party tables, skies (I love sky pictures), food (of course!), ticket stubs, handwritten notes and cards from friends, journal fragments, and various other bits of my writings; even some of my poems. Elizabeth Bishop I am not, but, hey—this is my journal after all.

I’m not real artsy-fartsy when it comes to the paper crafts/ scrapbooking concept, and I was not even going to try this 3-D part of the course, because after all—I am a writer. I was planning to dive back in with one ink pen in hand, and two more in my back pocket and give it everything I had. But Providence evidently thought it would be good for me.

Allow me to report to you: I think Providence was right, and I think I’m in love.

The play time with my 3-ring binder and all those doodads, stickers, fancy scissors, multicolored card stocks, and the drawing up of page layouts all while looking at pictures of my family, my friends, all those fun times we’ve had already . . . I mean, come on! It’s positively engrossing. Not to mention, cheering.

Observing where you’ve come from goes a long ways in helping you reassess where you go from here.

And then there was this revelation: the other night, as I wrote and played, it occurred to me that my head, heart and soul were thawing out.

Whether we freeze up to protect ourselves from the hard times, or to make ourselves be strong role models for the sake of those around us could be a topic for debate.

All that I can tell you today is that it feels good to have the ice breaking away, and I owe this to a new journal, a group of honest, like-minded women on the other side of the pond, and a whole lot of brightly colored clutter scattered all over my dining room table.

I know there are people who think they don’t need to do any of this self-examining journaling crappola, but people, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

You may never be the same.

Einstein nailed it. Out of my clutter, I am finding simplicity, and from there I will be able to reassess.

Talk to you next week–

Pens–not guns.

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My 2013 WordPress report card summary begins like this:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,300 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 22 trips to carry that many people.

In 2013, there were 9 new posts . . .

And this is where I owe you a bit of an apology and an explanation….only 9 new posts last year. That is awful.

2013 grew increasingly tougher as it progressed, and frankly, I’m glad it’s gone.

As a freelancer I kept up with the paying work, because if I didn’t, it would go away. It’s hard enough to get that work these days. No matter what’s going on, a writer must work to keep it.

But my writing—that personal, deep stuff I love to dive into—and this blog–were sorely sidetracked due to life opening up on my family, and my soul has missed it.

In a nutshell, I found myself scared breathless by a life-changing medical diagnosis for my husband, along with an aggressive cancer diagnosis for our favorite fur-face kitty, while monitoring with great concern the ineptness of the building contractors for our youngest daughter and her family’s unfinished house—which left them with no place to live. All of this on top of literally finding myself standing in septic-tank-contaminated, hot-soapy-sudsy water one lovely warm September morning last fall; water that destroyed the oak flooring on our first floor level.

Want to hear more? Both my husband and our lab grandpuppy were attacked and bitten by unruly neighbor dogs. Neither neighbor offered to pay for the emergency room visits.

All. In. One. Month’s time.

We all grew afraid to even stick our feet out of bed in the morning.

I’m happy to report I’ve got my chutzpah back, in spite of it all. And I. Am. Eager.

A friend and I are going to take on a 6-week personal journaling class called JOURNAL YOUR LIFE with British writer Susannah Conway .

Angels come in all shapes and sizes, and my friend Cynthia who mentioned this class to me, is one of them. The graphic with this post today is what I’ve picked out for this session. My sister had the Cross pen inscribed with my nom de plume and gave it to me a couple Christmases ago.

It’s become obvious lately just how much anger—and heartache—I’ve pushed down deep so no one else would have to see it. Including me. Several unhappy incidents lately forced me to see how astute I was at accomplishing that, and how not smart that is.

There is no more room at the Inn called Suppressed Emotion.

It feels good to write that to you today, and this upcoming journal project has me on fire.

I cannot say this enough: If you are hurting, don’t pick up a gun. Don’t pick up a bottle. Don’t pick up a syringe.

Pick up a pen.

Find yourself.

Write whatever you want to. Scream, rant, cry, swear, berate, accuse . . . cry some more. And if you see a glimmer of Accept trying to peek around the page at you . . . maybe—just maybe—let it sit down. Give it a spot all its own where it can remain with you.

I believe, eventually, we come to feel better, or in the very least, stronger.

Author note:

The new oak floors are installed and gorgeous. Lexi had to lose her front leg, but her blood work indicates she is healthy and the cancer most likely gone. The kids are moved into their new house, but their contractors remain inept baboons as far as we are concerned. Neither of the dog bites turned serious.

And most importantly, we are all learning how to make every single moment in the now count, because once a person’s memory starts fading, all we can do is face it.