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.

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The human Refresh Button: rearrange the furniture.

If there is one thing I believe, it is this:

A person should rearrange their furniture at least once a year. 

My kid sister and I moved our bedroom furniture into numerous configurations throughout our growing up years. Twin beds under the windows, or on opposite walls, or pushed completely together—whatever we felt like. Vanity table arranged at a diagonal—or in line with the dresser. Every time we did this, it made us feel sort of rich—like we had a brand new room. We both continue this creative habit today, making exceptions only for those pieces that weigh as much as an elephant, say . . . like a grand piano, or the television/sound system whose wiring setup dictates its position. 

Lately I’ve been feeling restless. I’d walk into my office in the mornings and  sense: “ . . . you again, huh? “ 

Nobody could fix that except me. So I gave my office a makeover. This meant emptying three loaded bookcases and a full filing cabinet. I cleared the art off the walls and started over. The bookcases moved to the opposite side of the room, nothing went in front of the window to block the view to the street, and a new reading corner took shape. It’s the same sized room, of course, but it feels bigger with the new arrangement. 

During the course of this fruit-basket-upset process I sorted, read, reassessed, filed, or tossed a good deal of clipped/saved material. I rediscovered two sets of writing prompts that I’d cut from Writer’s Digest Magazine years ago. 

One prompt that caught my attention pointed to changing things up for a week. I quote: 

“For one week, write for at least a half-hour in three different places. After the week is over, reread what you wrote. Look for variations in tone.” 

I’ve been sold on this one for a long time as I’ve experienced writing in airports, on planes, in quiet as well as noisy coffee shops, my sister’s backyard, and even in emergency waiting rooms. It’s like changing the channels on TV. There’s something different with each switch and I’ve come to realize that fiction writing doesn’t go so well for me in the outlying venues. The lush floral haven of my sister’s backyard takes me deep into childhood memories. Airport observation writing brings back the familiar actions of those gone from me. I observed an elderly woman scratch her head in the identical way my mother used to, but it wasn’t scary. It was strangely comforting to see that again. 

I love my “new” office. It feels like my airways have been widened and it is good to look out the window with an unobstructed view. I know the “they people” say you shouldn’t have your writing desk by a window because it might distract you. Sorry, experts, but I need air and light when I work. 

Maybe you don’t have a formal office in your home. Possibly you share space with others and work from a corner of a room. Perhaps your special work space is a stack of file folders in a box that you pull out when you’re ready to write.

If you find yourself squirming and irritable with yourself, or with your project, try changing something up. It doesn’t have to be huge. Move the lamps, hang new pictures, rearrange the old ones –or take them down all together. Buy colored file folders for your projects.

Will changing my furniture around make my writing better? It’s not my responsibility to make that call, but my environment felt cleaner, more inviting, more invigorating and working feels interesting again. 

I believe in the power of a refresh.

"A new day awaits."