Writing Practice: The roles my journal plays

(I originally wrote this post, with the title, “Writing Practice: How I learned to use my words,” for the Transformative Language Arts blog’s series highlighting TLA practices.)

journal-with-lockWriting is my life. Day in, day out, I am writing—four weekly columns, magazine articles, and my journal—or I am helping others get their own words down. And I am living this life today because I began practicing at twelve years old.

At twelve I started recording my life in a turquoise diary with a lock. At 22, I became addicted to writing stream-of-consciousness style thanks to Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages. At 32, I began passing onto others through workshops the incredible benefits of writing I had experienced. At 42, I am a published writer.

And it was in my journal that I set a path for this future. I envisioned a life filled with words and using words I laid a road in that direction.

I remember sitting in my cubicle at the bank where I was a Trust Account Assistant or scribbling in my journal at the coffee shop during my lunch break imagining the day I’d be sitting at my own desk, writing in front of a big sunny window. I didn’t know what I’d be writing; I just knew my fingers and my heart ached to churn out words, not crunch numbers.

In my twenties, I tapped out the beginnings of an historical fiction novel and a mind-numbing autobiography on a dinosaur of a word-processor whose sheer size overwhelmed my small antique desk. Meanwhile, each morning I was turning out pages upon pages of handwritten drivel.

Back then, if anyone asked, I would say I was a writer. To the inevitable next question of “Oh, what?,” I’d respond sheepishly, “Mostly just a journal right now.”

What I didn’t realize then, as I penned on its pages my fears, excitements, dreams, it wasn’t just a journal, it was a journey. A journey towards my future.

Or as Natalie Goldberg would say, I was practicing. Writing practice. I was learning to write—and, more importantly, to become myself. Having no audience but myself, I was learning to write and be from a place of intuition and inner truth.

Like meditation, prayer, yoga, running, etc., it was a practice of self-care that helped calm, heal, and energize, so that with greater confidence and understanding I might face the world knowing who I am and what I wanted for myself. By practicing to see and accept my own foibles and paradoxes, I was learning to interact with others with more empathy and emotional maturity. I was learning the need for safe and sacred space in which to write one’s own truth. I was learning how to help others write theirs.

Checking in with myself on an almost daily basis—How am I feeling? What do I want to be doing? What could that dream have meant?—I was also learning to be observant. Then, by honing the skill of observing the personal, the minutiae of my life, my experiences, my feelings, and weaving them into a more universal story, I was learning to become a better public writer.

Today, whether it’s to write an article, help a client get writing, navigate the hills and valleys of everyday life, or envision my next future dream, I always feel more capable when I have practiced and processed my life and emotions through the free-flowing, free-of-judgment words of my journal.

***

Here are a few of the specific roles my journal practices:

Best Friend. It is always there to lend an ear to my concerns and hopes regardless of whether I require its services at 6AM before the kids get up looking for breakfast and a lost sock, at 10:30PM when I need to process the day before I call it a night, or at 3AM after waking from a bad dream.

Therapist. More than even a best friend could, my journal helps me through difficult situations—helping me be more self-aware and accepting. I ask myself hard questions about how I’m feeling, why I might be reacting a certain way; the paradoxes, the biases, the conflicting emotions. I try to always be truthful with myself and accept the answers that flow onto the page. I dig deep and unpeel the onion that is the emotional body: the memories, the triggers, the yearnings.

Personal Secretary. Being self-employed and working from home I am constantly juggling my schedule and brain space. When the inside of my head resembles the starting line of a marathon, my journal helps me sort through it all, to see what needs to split from the pack and take the lead, and what needs to sit it out for a while.

Creative Partner. When I was writing my memoir and thesis during graduate school, many essays and vignettes began in my journal, where, without the pressure of “perfection,” the words (and memories) would start to flow. When I couldn’t quite see the connection between some concepts I would take them to my journal, write through my confusion, ask myself questions until it clicked. Or, when faced with a particularly difficult memory, I would write it out first, let the tears, anger, hurt flow into the safe pages of my journal before I wrote the more emotionally-controlled piece for school. These days I use the journal to generate ideas for new workshops or consider themes and threads for my articles and blog posts.

A Path to Publication, pt 13: How self-absorbed are you?!

To bring about a paradigm shift in the culture that will change assumptions and attitudes, a critical number of us have to tell the stories of our personal revelations and transformations.

Jean Shinoda Bolen, Crossing to Avalon

I haven’t posted about my path to publication in a while because, well, last fall the path suddenly became a rut. I didn’t have the time or emotional ability to navigate that bumpy road at that time. But, as these things do, it hasn’t stopped nagging at me. Lately that voice has once again become too loud to ignore.

The question for me right now is: Do I stop everything else I’m doing, including pursuing other work, to dedicate my time to this memoir? It is so close to being finished (pre-revision finished, that is) it probably wouldn’t take too much concentrated time to complete it. But, as always, money and time are in limited quantities and I wonder if even the consideration of taking precious resources to work on a book is foolish.

Yes, the old fearful, imposter-syndrome, “who am I?” question has come into play. Why on earth do I think my story is so special that I have a right to spend anything on it?? Isn’t that kind of self-absorbed? Isn’t it just navel-gazing?

Well, here’s what my journal had to say about that last night:

If you are a good singer, you share your voice with others. If you are a talented cook, you feed others. You are a gifted teacher, you inspire others to learn. You have a story, you tell it.

I am a writer. A good writer, with a story to tell.

People respond to my writing. I have been given a gift. It is my gift back to share it.

I need my words to be read. I need to be heard.

And I have something to say. If it only resonated with one person, that’s reason enough to say it. Writing my story helped me to heal. Maybe it can help someone else too.

Humans are story-livers and givers. We relate, we learn, we empathize, we resonate, we make decisions, we change the world through story. It is my obligation to share mine.

In the Beginning was The Word

Here’s another poem written during grad school. This one is on the opening page of my thesis.
klimt mother child

In the beginning was The Word

And The Word was with Silence

And The Word was Silence.

In the beginning was Voice.

And the Voice was with Mother,

And the Voice was Mother.

It was with Mother in the beginning

Through it all things were made.

In Voice was Life -

The One-ness of all living things.

And the Voice became Flesh

Became Word

Became Face, became Image

Became Warmth, became Touch

Became Milk, became Taste

The Voice became Love

It resonated in the darkness

And Silence has not overcome it.

Yes! I Will Speak

From http://sensualblissvoyager.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/throat-vishuddha-chakra/

I stumbled across this poem today that I wrote two years ago during grad school. I don’t remember writing it and it’s far from the best poetry ever written. But it’s fierce, and I like it.

Yes, I will speak my truth although you tell me it’s not true
Yes, I will cry even though it forces you to touch your own frozen tears
Yes, I will yell when my chest hurts from holding on too tight
Yes, I will breathe into my belly and find my own creation there
Yes, I will tell you how I feel even when it doesn’t fit the shape you have molded for me
Yes, I will say what I need and I will do it even if sometimes it is not best for those I love
Yes, I will allow my body to speak to me not just to yours
Yes, I will move with rhythms of the earth not your man-made march
Yes, I will love with my presence as well as my body
Yes, I will be fierce when I, or others, are wronged
Yes, I will sing when I am sad, full of joy, and searching for inner peace
No, I will not be silent to ease your dis-ease
Yes, I will release the wisdom caught in the web of your lies, told to centuries of my mothers
Yes, I will shout the words lodged in my throat
Yes, I will speak
And, yes, and you will hear.

Prompt: “Yes, I will…”

Stop striving. Start listening.

This is a follow-up to this post: On a mission (statement)
credit: Joanna Tebbs Young

credit: Joanna Tebbs Young

I’ve written of Serendipity and Synchronicity before. There have been many examples of it in my life, such as the time two women showed up to one of my workshops out of the blue. It “just happened” that these two women were from the very organization I had been trying to connect with the previous week but from whom I had, frustratingly, received no response. Turned out they had never received my email, but had picked up one of my brochures and felt my work was perfect for their organization.

These occurrences always seem to happen right after I have had an emotional break-down of epic proportions. Crying. Blubbering about giving up. Despairing. Wondering how I will ever make things work.

You see, I forget. Every. Single. Time: I can’t make things work. I get caught up in trying too hard, striving, driving to do and be more. Without even realizing it I do this. It’s an unconscious thing.

Instead, I have to remember to allow things to happen organically. I have to be open to possibilities. And above all, I must be authentic and truthful with myself.

So, here is the latest series of synchronous events.

First, I have been trying to find work in a particular industry for a while. Reason being: it seemed the only possibility for any real money. However, even as I was pursuing it my gut was saying to my brain, “Hey, up there! I’m not so sure about this!” But I kept pushing anyway.

One meeting that made me feel a little ill, then another. But still I put together proposals and hoped for the best.

Then, one day, during a writing exercise (as described here), I realized I had it all wrong. This wasn’t what I wanted to do. Instead I created a new mission statement.

As soon as I did that, I felt clearer.

And things began to happen.

1. The director of an art center asked me if I’d like to teach a summer workshop for teen girls. As my graduate research was focused on the loss of voice experienced by girls at adolescence and how expressive writing can help reclaim it, this is a perfect fit for me. I put together a proposal (one that didn’t prompt my stomach to yell at my brain).

2. During a conversation around this same time, someone pondered if my work might be a good fit for enrichment classes in independent schools, for which this person had quite a few connections. I thought “That sounds exciting. Maybe so…” and filed the idea away. Until…

3. While putting together the art center’s summer class proposal I was asking for some wording input from parents of teen girls. This prompted one mother to suggest I put in a proposal for an enrichment class at her daughter’s independent school. Because I already had a proposal in the works, I was able to tweak it and send it off immediately.

4. Because I now had a proposal specific to an enrichment class I could now contact the person who had suggested enrichment classes to me the previous weekend and say, “Hey, hook me up with your connections!” That person asked if I had a flier she could give out. Well…

5. I had that very day been designing one. As soon as I created my new mission statement a couple of weeks ago, I had decided I needed to put together a new flier. With this additional, potential audience in mind I re-worked it slightly and soon it will go to print.

6. Meanwhile, I discovered a conference, for which I registered, is coming to a neighboring town focused on mentoring young women, and I was just asked, thanks to a recommendation from a wellness director at one college, to run my intro to journaling workshop for students at another college.

Trust. It is a difficult, difficult thing to do, especially when the bills are piling up and walls seem more numerous than open doors. But I believe it is these walls and road blocks that signal you’re not on quite the right path, often it’s close to the right one, but if it’s slightly off, you will get the message. The Universe likes focused aim with the target being your authentic passion.

Eve Ensler said in one video (I apologize I’m not sure which one), and I paraphrase: Happiness is action… and giving away what you want the most.

I felt silenced as a young girl (and not so young) woman/person. I want to be heard. I want a voice. This is what I want to give to other people. Once I articulated what it was I wanted and needed and really heard myself say it then things began to click into place.

I have no idea where, if anywhere, any of these recent events will lead, but it feels like a step forward through an open door, instead of trying to smash through a wall.

Prompt: I’m trying too hard to… What I really want to do is…

Updated Journaling Technique Article Index

JTTS_Instructor_LogoI don’t write much about journaling techniques here at Wisdom Within, Ink. Although this blog is indirectly about journaling, it isn’t a “how-to” kind of place. Here, and in my workshops, I’m more story-teller than “just the facts, ma’am” kind of teacher.

However, I do know lots of techniques, exercises, and prompts to help you get writing, introspecting, organizing, and healing. Over the past six years I have written many how-tos and where-fors of journaling over at Examiner.com and I just — finally — updated the index page. Check it out! There are many, many short articles to take a peek at, all organized by category. Yay!

Click here: http://www.examiner.com/article/list-of-journaling-techniques-categorized-by-function to find a list of categories. Each topic heading will take you to a list of articles based on that theme.

If you have questions about a journaling technique or a particular issue you’d like to journal on but aren’t sure what might be the best technique to use, please let me know (click the Contact tab and send me a message).

On a mission (statement)

Recently I met with a career coach. My intention was to see how my (rather unorthodox) skills and experience might translate into the “real” world and a “real” job. Well, you know that saying, “Physician, heal thyself”? My session with her was a clear example of how we can be blind to our own needs even while helping others.

Although she used different terminology and visual examples, the ways she suggested I figure out what I wanted to do when I grow up was practically the same as what I have my clients do with journaling techniques. In one word: visualization.

After our session I went home and go out my journal and wrote what was, in Journal to the Self parlance, a Perspective. That is, I wrote about my ideal day, my ideal life — I visualized myself already living the life I wanted. When you give yourself permission to imagine in this way, you allow for things not probable, but possible.

First, after you have acknowledged the things about your current life and career that are not what you want, you can dream about how those things would look different. You can ignore the realities of your present life and the supposed inevitabilities of future bills and car break downs and frozen pipes, and, if one is of an artistic bent like me, the “starving artist” syndrome must also be pushed aside.

This wasn’t a difficult exercise for me; I know exactly what my ideal life looks like. On paper I’m great at ignoring “realities” and “probabilities.” (I say “on paper” because in my real life, the one in which I am married to an idealist dreamer-type, I have to be the realist, you know the one who considers that we might actually need plates to eat off when we go camping or that moving across the country requires careful planning and lots of boxes, not just a truck in which to throw all your belongings in a big pile… )

Yup, on paper and in my head my perfect life trips along happily without toothaches or empty oil tanks or kids home from school due to snow for the fourth time in two weeks, bored and fighting and apathetic of my looming deadlines.

And it was on this paper that it became clear the “real” job I’ve been pursuing isn’t what I really want, but rather a desperate attempt to squeeze myself into a box, the only box I could see as a potential paycheck-producing one. On paper, the grim realization dawned that my most passion-driven, authentic life has no (immediate) guaranteed financial advantage. Crap.

However, one other thing rang out loud and clear as my words flowed across the paper: I had a mission.

Now, I thought I already had established this a long time ago. I knew that I wanted to help others find their authentic life through writing (see, it says that in the header of this blog). What I didn’t realize was that I was being too vague and that I hadn’t yet established a niche or focused in on what I know best.

I have presented journaling and expressive writing workshops and talks to business women, teen moms, tween girls, teachers, guidance counselors, stressed people, spiritual-seekers, and aspiring writers. I have written thousands upon thousands of words for my local paper about my city’s people, events, and businesses. But my personal life, my experiences, my graduate research, and above all, my own wounds all point to my greatest strength and deepest passion: Finding Voice through Writing.

I knew this but yet I have skirted around it, creating workshops of a more general nature, pursuing work that I thought I “should,” and landing myself a freelance job writing about things I care about but aren’t my expertise or passion, and for which I do a lot of brain-wearying head-writing instead of my beloved heart-writing.

The upshot of all this is, while I still don’t know my next exact step(s), I know I must keep writing, researching, and facilitating. And now I can focus — focus on the exact path I want to be on. When an opportunity arises I can ask myself if it fits my personal mission and as time and finances allow I will be able to let those things go which don’t.

And as coaches and inspirational speakers love to tell us, it is when, and only when, we focus on what we are called to do — which is usually, painfully where our own deepest wounds lie — that the people who need us and the money will find us.

So, here, dear readers, is my personal mission (most likely to get tweaked as time goes on):

To help the silenced heal their voice through story, creating new narratives to live by.

Now to stay open to the opportunities wherein I can be the most helpful and find the most meaning and fulfillment… and money; can’t ignore that very basic necessity of life!

For more information on writing mission statements, please read my Examiner article.

Prompts: In my ideal day I would be…

It is my mission in life to…