Journaling = Peace of Mind

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“Breathing In Breathing Out: Keeping a Writers Notebook” by Ralph Fletcher is one of those short and sweet books filled with goodies to collect throughout. It only took me about two and half hours to read through it, but I think I’ll leave it on my “working” books shelf to thumb through when I’m feeling down about writing!

Do you keep a notebook of ideas or a journal? I’ve been keeping journals since I was in my teens and I love looking back on them. I have them in a plastic bin in my laundry/storage room and frequently dig into it while I’m waiting for the washer or dryer to finish just to see where I’ve been. I haven’t always kept daily journals. The farther back they go, the more sporadic the entries. Some journal entries are love letters, some are lists, some are just rants. Most of them are simply my day to day life. There are whole years missing from my early 20’s, probably things I don’t want to remember anyway. And sometimes I wish that I had written more details. There are things I know were going on, but I neglected to write about them. Why? I guess didn’t think I’d ever forget the big things, but the older I get, the more details I want to be reminded of. That’s why I put more in my journals now and, besides, I have more time to write. Funny how that works!

It’s a short book but swear I could write something about every page in it! It will have to suffice to quote a couple of sweet things that resonated with me most.

“A notebook can be a clearing in the forest of your life, a place where you can be alone and content as you play with outrage and wonder, details and gossip, language and dreams, plots and subplots, perceptions and small epiphanies.”

Oh my, YES! In my journal, I can say anything I want no matter how awful. No one gets hurt, no one can be offended or put off. It’s just me yelling out into emptiness but better because I can revisit those dark places and see how far I’ve come. It’s a visual reminder that I am making progress, that I am not always in the darkness. It comforts me. I should write a disclaimer on the cover of each one, “To those that may read this after I am dead and gone: Please remember this is raw material you are delving into. Be kind to my memory.”

“Anyone who writes has a real life and a textual life.”

Didn’t I just mention something like this last week? I’m sure I did. My real life is much different than my textual life, but in many ways similar. I think my textual life is only MORE of my real life. It’s reality, the day to day, along with the inner thoughts and reactions that I don’t allow everyone around me to see. Much like the book is more than the movie!

“I may reread in a brisk, random way, skimming without any precise purpose, my eyes chancing on this line or that image. This kind of rereading often gets me in the mood to write.”

That happens all the time. When I make the time to write, have a scheduled couple of hours every morning set aside whether I write anything or not, I tend to write more. When I sit down with nothing on my mind, I can thumb through my journal and find the images that spark the words.

“Writing a novel is like driving at a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” – E.L. Doctorow

I’m not writing a novel, but I feel this so deeply right now. Our whole life is like that. We take one step at a time and then take another look around for the direction we should go.

The question isn’t, “Should I keep a journal?” It’s really, “How should I keep a journal?” Handwritten or on the computer? Fancy hardcover journal or Walmart notebook? Pretty colored pens or pencil? Word, drawings, or both? Even if you’re not a writer, this book will make you want to start a journal and keep up with it!

Practice makes…better!

20190514_1022191324249862372238474.jpgIt’s week three of making space for writing every day of the week and I think it is already starting to pay off.

Years ago, I read that to learn to read better, more complicated books, you should start reading and gradually you’ll learn to read for longer sets and to tackle more difficult texts. I started with a “classics” reading list for young adults and the suggested reading from my set of The Great Books of the Western World.

I started by changing the first thing I did every morning from TV to a book. Ok, it wasn’t the FIRST thing. The first thing was to visit the bathroom and then get a big cup of coffee. THEN, I’d get my book…and my glasses…and a pencil and journal. I’d start with the more difficult reading and keep at it as long as I could understand what I was reading. As I read, I’d take notes of things I found interesting and wanted to remember or comment on later. At first, I could only read that book for about ten to fifteen minutes at a time before my mind started to drift away. That’s when I’d move on to the easier book, usually some sort of classic fiction but sometimes my old favorites, Stephen King or Douglas Adams. I’d spend another fifteen to twenty minutes reading and then move on to the rest of my day. I had young kids then and they needed me. Thirty minutes a day was my limit for months, but it quickly evolved into an hour and then two most days.

I’m so glad that I’ve kept those reading journals! If I had to rely on my memory as to what I’ve read or what my reading habits have been, it would seem that I haven’t gotten anywhere in the last ten years. I look back on the journals and I know that’s not true. The proof, the trail of learning, is right there, written down for the world to see.

Today, I read for about three hours a day, in one hour stretches. I’m usually reading two books at the same time, some sort of fiction and non-fiction. I read the non-fiction first and then feast on the dessert of a sweet novel. It’s a beautiful way to start the day and sometimes I even work in an hour in the afternoon.

But…what does this have to do with writing? I was reading an article that mentioned writing journals a few weeks ago and put the two together. If the reading journal and making a tiny space for reading every day gave me what I have now, why wouldn’t it work the same for writing? And here I am.

I picked up one of my empty journals to use as a writing log. In it I list the date, the time I started on each project, and how long I spent on it. It’s a lot like my reading log. It has been amazingly satisfying at the end of the year to see how many books I’ve read and how many hours I spent reading them, so I thought maybe it would be even more exciting to see how much time I’ve spent writing!

It’s working so far. I put it at the beginning of my day to sit and write for two hours, Monday through Friday while my husband is working in the next room. I read in the morning, do my workout, work in the yard, and then sit to write. It doesn’t matter what I write, as long as I’m writing something and not checking Facebook or texting a friend.

This past week I found something else that really helps me focus. Earplugs! I’m such a light sleeper that I wear them every night so that I don’t wake at every sound throughout the night and they are working wonders for focus while I’m thinking. I used to sit and hear a bird, then my son’s phone, the cat, my husband’s phone call, etc. What can I say? I’m easily distracted. But with the earplugs in, it’s like I’m all alone. People walk through the room and I stay at the screen. Kids are in and out of the livingroom, watching tv, making food, I’m focused on my words. The only thing I can’t get past is music. My sons’ both play guitar and with my earplugs in I can mute out words but, for some weird reason, music drifts through and pulls me away. I’m able to shut my office door on those occasions, so it’s not a problem anymore.

Who would have thought earplugs would be so helpful? I wish I had discovered them in college when I was trying to write all those essays with my roommates around!

So here I am, tapping away on my keyboard. I can only stand to sit here for an hour at most before I get antsy and then everything I write starts to look bizarre to me, so I take a break at forty-five minutes and walk around my property. I don’t take my phone with me, even though sometimes I want to take a picture. That walk is to stretch my legs and think in silence. It’s very relaxing and centering. Today I stood at the top of my hill and looked out at the mountains still covered with snow. I’m a lucky girl.

To do anything well takes practice and you must make time to practice, not just shove it where you can. “I’m working right now.” I tell my sons when they come looking for me. They smile and back out of the room. “It can wait.” They say. They understand. They’ve learned this lesson too.

Those Brothers K and Book Journals!

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Just look at the thickness of this book! It’s intimidating! 776 pages and it took me 31 hours to read. Now you’re thinking, “Wow. This person is probably just a tad strange! How does she even know exactly how many hours it took her to read it?” Well, let me tell you because it’s one of my favorite things.

I have a reading journal that I keep. I keep two of them because I’m usually reading two books at once, a fiction and a non-fiction book. The journal sits with the book I’m currently reading and when I start a new book, I write its details and the date I started reading it. Like this:

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Every time I sit down to read, I get that book out and write the start time down. When I’m done, I write how many minutes I read and the page I stopped on (helps when your kitty pulls the book marker out). As I read, I write some notes in the margins and underline as I go, but sometimes I have a bigger thought I’d like to remember, so I put a star there in the book and, in my journal, I write the page number and the thought.

It’s probably a little obsessive but I enjoy it so much, especially the look I get from my husband who keeps reminding me that I’ll only die and all that information that I put in my head will die with me. I wave my journal at him and remind him that someday the only physical record of life in the early 2000’s will be my handwritten journals and then he’ll understand the importance of my madness.

When I think of something, I can thumb back through the journal and find where and in what book I got that idea from. You’ll never believe this, but sometimes I read books and I can’t remember a thing about them. It’s tremendously sad. My journal helps because I can scan through what I wrote and that triggers the memory of the book I read, and it all comes flooding back. It’s a treasure to me.

At the end of each book, I go to the back of my journal (I started this log on the last page of the journal and worked forward) and log the book like this:

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At the end of the year, I go back through and calculate how many books I’ve read, how many hours, and how many pages. It’s an extremely satisfying way to spend my New Year’s Day.

“Yep. She’s not just strange. She’s obsessive.” Yes, I am! And damn proud of it!

This particular journal is just now all filled up with 50 different books. It brings me joy just seeing it on the shelf above my computer. A record of my productivity, so to speak!

But here’s the rub about these super long, classic books. I rarely take the time to go back and really think about all that I’ve read. So…I’m going to do it this time, on THIS book. And I’ll do my best not bore you but maybe inspire you to pick it up and read it.

Like most college students, I was assigned a few Russian novels and plays to read in my Literature classes. Honestly, they sucked. I hated them. I don’t think I finished any of them and there was nothing in them that I could find interesting at all. My theatre class did Chekov’s “The Seagull” one year and I did the lights for it. I seriously thought I’d die of boredom. I didn’t have to read it, but hear it, over thirty times. It. Was. Awful.

It turns out that the reason I was so bored was that I didn’t understand what was going on. The translation was bad. I’ve found out recently, in the last couple of years, that Russian is hard to translate into English and get the same feeling or meaning. Words and language are just that complicated. A few years ago, I was reading an article about it and it recommended a newer translation of classic Russian literature by Pevear and Volokhonsky.

The first translation of theirs that I read was War & Peace. I fell in love and have been reading them ever since. They’ve brought Russia to me and I thank them for it.

Here’s a fun little thing about Russian books. The characters all have four or five different names and the characters use all of them! It leaves you thinking, “Who the heck are we talking about here?!” At the beginning of the book is a list of each character and their alternate names. But you get used to it as you read. Russians call each other different names according to status and who’s speaking to whom. My mother calls me Michelle Ann when she’s mad. My brother calls me Shorty. The banker calls me Mrs. Huelle. And my co-workers used to call me The Bitch. Same concept.

The Brothers Karamazov is a notoriously long and boring book. Luckily for me, I didn’t find out about that until I had the book in my hands and posted on Facebook that I was about to start reading it.

I’m starting to think that the people that complained the most loudly about it were the ones that were assigned it at school years ago (previous lifetime for some of us) and haven’t even heard about the new translation. Who knew that a translation could be SO different? Don’t believe me? Try using a computer translator for the same sentence in several different languages!

Like the others I’ve read, I couldn’t put it down. I was THAT intrigued by the story. Sure, there were parts that I read and thought, “Why is this even in here?” Some pieces are interesting in and of themselves, but I failed to see the connection with the bigger story. The book could have been that much shorter, and nothing would be lost from it if those chapters were never written. But who I am to judge? A story is a story and I felt for those smaller characters and their stories as much as the main ones.

What is this book about? Three brothers and their less than perfect father, a love triangle, a murder, a trial, the death of a small boy, a young lady and a gold-digging peasant. One of my favorite parts was a story that Ivan told about Jesus coming back to check on His people and the Pope telling him to leave because he had taken the deal that Satan had offered Jesus and was taking care of the people himself. The Pope told Jesus that it was cruel to give people free will and let them decide to follow God or not. He fed the people, told them what to do, and ruled the world. It was striking and pretty relatable.

Human nature: politics, love, religion, justice. It’s all in there. It continues to amaze me when I read a book written over 100 years ago, in a country so culturally different than mine, and find people discussing the same subjects, fighting the same fights. It’s soothing to know there really is nothing fundamentally new going on. There are just new ways to communicate our troubles.

When I started this, I thought I’d go through and find my favorite quotes and expound on them, but I’ve changed my mind. That’s boring! Go read it yourself! Don’t be intimidated by its size and reputation. Take that sucker on! (insert immature giggle here, “That’s what SHE said!”)

The Rabbit Hole of “Curated”

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Stick with me here. It’s worth it!

I started reading a great book this morning called, “The Revenge of Analog – Real Things and Why They Matter” by David Sax. It was recommended in an article about keeping physical journals, ones that you write…by hand…with a pen!

I’ve been keeping journals on and off since high school. I find it interesting how little my handwriting has changed over the years and how much it can drastically change in a week or even a day when I’m rushing or angry.

But sometimes I wonder, will anyone ever read them? I sincerely hope they don’t! Or at least not while I’m alive. Most of them are filled with craziness that I wouldn’t normally express. Something about writing every single piece of bullshit out with a pen often helps me let said bullshit go. If I can’t say it, I write it, and then I feel better.

I have taken long and short breaks from journaling over the last..um..thirty years. The longest break was in my early twenties. Man, I wish I had taken the time to write things down back then, but maybe that’s just stuff best forgotten.

Then there are times when I wonder what the point of all this writing is; the futility of writing down thoughts that never see the light of day, the lists, the dreams, the angry rants. There’s just so much there, even if I wanted to, I’d be hard pressed to go back and make any sense of it on a regular basis. Then an interview on The Creative Nonfiction Podcast gave a great idea to help me fix that!

The author being interviewed said he looked back on his journals and notes every month and put together a newsletter for his audience of all the most interesting things he found, ideas, and quotes. I don’t have a big audience to share that kind of thing with and even if I did, I’m not sure they’d want to see that far into my reality. But it would be a healthy exercise for me to take an hour or two a month to read what I wrote the last thirty days and write myself a nice summary. I tend to forget the ups and downs in month, or a week for that matter, and this practice might shed some warm light on my attitude changes. There may even be a blog post in there.

You see, I’m one of those people that has a short attention span and a weak memory. When I’m feeling good, I think I’ve always felt good. When I’m feeling down, I get depressed and think I’ve always been down. It’s weird but the best way for me to combat that is to write things down.

Want to know something weirder? I do the same thing about making dinner. If I haven’t had time to make dinner for my family for a couple days in a row, I get it in my head that we are ALWAYS going out to eat or scrounging for frozen pizza. If I write what I made for dinner on the calendar, I can look back on that last few weeks and reassure myself that Taco Bell employees do not know us by our first names.

I guess I should circle this back to that book I started reading this morning. You do know this post is about a thought I had while reading that book, don’t you? Welcome to my brain. It’s fun. Trust me.

Reading that book made me think about the word “curated.”

“Curated” is an adjective that means “(of online content, merchandise, information, etc.) selected, organized, and presented using professional or expert knowledge.” It has come up in my thinking a couple times this week.

When you hear the word curated, you probably think of museums but in this case, I’m thinking about printed magazines and books.

Here’s the deal. (That’s for my husband. He hears that sentence several times a day from me.) The internet is an amazing place because everyone can put their “art” out in the world for free. You can have a free social media page, keep a blog or vlog, self-publish a book, record your music and have people all over the world download it, or put your visual art up for the world to see and love. It’s a world of infinite and free information! But there is a down side. It’s not all worth spending time on and we each only have so much time and attention!

So here we are scrolling through our social media pages, hopping from one blog post to another, randomly finding and playing music, and reading “news” article after article. It feels like a waste of time.

How can we fix this?! How can we spend our currency of time and attention more wisely? Enter “curated” content, otherwise known as a book, magazine, music album, or “TV” station. Yep, it turns out that those that can pay a little extra are moving back towards things like book stores, paper magazines, and news stations for their information. It seems we’d all gladly pay someone we trust to sift through all that content that’s being created and present us with curated information that has already been vetted, organized, and is relevant to our needs. The hard part is finding an author or an organization you can trust!

It’s amazing to me how we create new technologies that will open up the room and air things out like a big spring cleaning. People rush in to see it all and find new ways to use it, but when the dust settles, the tried and true comes back. The old ways with a fresh new look!

Random Thoughts

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So…not getting much done on the writing front, but at least I’m keeping my journal!

I’m reading “Essentialism” by Greg McKeown and hearing him talk about conscious journaling is pretty awesome. You’d think I’d be the master of journals by now, but I learned one interesting thing, go back and read them every 3 months or so and look for the lead, the headlines. I’ll be making a date for that! I’ve gone back and read journals before but with no real purpose/focus and I go back too far and get overwhelmed, or depressed about how little has changed. If I make a date with myself to do it every three months, like a tune up, it’ll be short and focused.

I need to start scheduling time to just think as well. Quiet time daily, maybe longer time weekly or monthly. I’m always keeping myself too busy. I’m afraid of sitting still, being bored.

Eating habits have gone out the window since my mom is here. She’s a bad influence! LOL! But why not have fun like a vacation and get back to work on Monday?!

It’s nice having her here. We always have lots to talk about. And I love that the boys are here, home from work and school while she is visiting. She gets to see them in their natural habitat instead of under the stress of visiting or vacationing.

Back to a journaling thing. A blogger I follow posted a long journal entry about her husband’s heart attack. That woman is amazing. She’s always kept that blog and even now she keeps going. She isn’t looking for sympathy or likes. She just knows that a lot of people care about her and her family and wanted to keep us all updated publicly so we don’t bug her with questions. She keeps notes all the time and puts them all in the blog post, expanding on them when needed. It’s just another example of how much we can learn from other people’s every day experiences. I wonder…should I do something similar with my blog? Write the book, yes. But I tend to not post for a week because I can’t think of anything I think is spectacularly insightful. Can I decide that for others? Or should I just write what I’m thinking and doing and let others find it, read it, and decide for themselves if it is helpful for them?

I keep a lot of little notes on my phone, ideas I think of, quotes, websites I want to revisit. Most times I never get back to them. But what if I built it into the end of my day to sit down and write those here. Every morning, I freewrite this journal already. It usually consists of my plans for the day, what happened yesterday, or some thought I’ve been pondering after my morning read. But that’s where it ends, in a computer file.

I’m thinking about coming here after dinner or just before and pulling out my phone notes from the day, recapping our adventures, etc. Like a wind down. Then editing it all the next morning and posting it.

My blog is always so scattered. You never really know what will go up here. I try to keep a schedule, post certain topics on certain days, but that’s just not my style. It feels forced. Stick with me as I try to sort out my thinking.

This may take a while.

Journal Entry

My brain is a whirl of activity this morning. I have so many ideas that I THINK I want to write about thanks to a book my friend Sherry recommended, “Writing the Memoir.” It’s like a floodgate of ideas has been opened. I guess I just didn’t realize that “memoir” was such a big market and that people read these stories all the time. I always figured it was only famous people that wrote them, but then I think of all the times we’ve said, “Wouldn’t it be cool to hear the journals and thoughts of a regular person of that time? Why don’t TV shows ever focus on that?” Apparently, there are millions of books about it! Mine could be one of them.

Not only am I getting encouragement about publishing my arrest story, I’m getting ideas for other books as well. What if I wrote about my childhood, the people I knew, the places I went and lived, our vacations. And then my young adult life, Disney, college, Knott’s, etc. And my children, homeschooling. Hmm…there’s just so much there.

What I need to work on right now is focus. I need to make time to write and stop allowing myself to be distracted. Turn the phone off, don’t look at Facebook (it switches my focus), plan time to be at my computer every single day at a certain time. It can be done and I will do it.

Yesterday…was beautiful. Dan and I went on a date together. We took a picnic lunch out to Old Dale and spent a couple hours walking and sitting on top of our hill staring at the desert. It was raining when we left the house but not windy or overly cold. When we got to Dale it was cloudy, clouds so low they tripped over the hills to the south of us and spread out across the basin, dropping a fine mist of water as they went.

Dale was amazingly green for the desert in January. I imagined all the tiny green plants at my feet exploding into colorful flowers at the first sign of warm sunny days. I’m making plans to go back out as soon as that happens to catch them with my camera.

I took pictures of the water drops collecting on the leaves. The smell of the wet desert was delicious. I’m not sure what it is, the smell of small, wet leaves that usually see no rain for months at a time, sighing in the quenching drizzle.

This was the first time we have ever been to our family camping spot without the kids. We parked in the spot we usually camp, got our water and made our way up the hill where we placed a “monument” years ago. From that high place you can see the whole basin spread below. From the hills of Old Dale in the south to the ragged peaks above Wonder Valley to the North. Amboy road works its way up and over the pass in a straight line, at night you can watch the headlights of car after car coming down it. Where are those people coming from? We can see all the way west into Twentynine Palms and the road east into Arizona. It’s big and peaceful.

Up on the hill, we checked our box to see if we’d had any visitors since we visited last spring. Years ago, when the boys were little, we placed that box there as a monument for us to leave messages each time we came up. When I discovered “Letterboxing” we wrote detailed directions on how to find it and put them up on their website. It evolved into a Geocache a few years later. The notebook that is up there now is nearly ten years old and half full of notes left by people who have found it through the app or stumbled across it while exploring the area.

I love looking through that notebook and adding my own message. There are some weird ones, some poetry, some sad messages about how lonely they are, thanks for sharing the view, etc. This time someone wrote, “Made the trek up to Mt. Huelle again.” And now that is what I will call it.

We sat on the rocks at the top, side by side, holding hands and listening to the gentle rain. Amazing. I love this man so much. Amazing what we’ve been through, how much we’ve changed and how much we still enjoy each other’s company, each other’s touch.

This date was intentional. Earlier this week I was reminded of what we were missing, intention. We’d stopped going places and doing things unless it were necessary or something we intended on experiencing. We’d stopped going places just to spend time together. Our time as parents is quickly closing, soon it will just be us every day. What will we do on weekends when there are no races to go to, no events to attend? We’ve decided to start dating again. This was a perfect start.

We walked back to the truck the long way, stopping to look at interesting rocks and plants, to wonder what might be just beneath the surface. What if we brought the metal detector out here? The rain makes everything look so different. Rocks are darker, red, black, gray, and deep green.

We talked about future plans, things we’d like to do together. At the truck we spread the picnic blanket on the tailgate and had lunch while we talked more and watched the clouds move across the desert, the sun peaking through at one end.

It got cold when we weren’t walking. Shivering in our light, now damp, jackets, we packed up and headed back home. It was an afternoon I’ll never forget.