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Posts Tagged ‘journaling’


Come January–every January–I want to run away from home. Doesn’t really matter where home is, or what’s happening, if it’s January, I’m looking around for my walking shoes. It was in January that I turned in my notice at the Chicago school where I was teaching and told them I was moving to California. By February I had emptied my house. Whenever I wasn’t teaching I painted fabulous, improbable pictures of beaches and flowers and flowing sand dunes.

It was in January that I decided to leave California and move to Oregon. Four days later my house was in the U-Haul and we were chugging up the Grapevine, on our way to a new life. January is for seeking the new, strange horizons, for planning gardens, for making clean sweeps of the house, for throwing things away, for starting fresh. January demands change, and never more than this year.

I sensed January’s first stirrings yesterday. For the first time in a year, I took a blank journal, went to a restaurant, and sat and wrote. I wrote my way through a lot of crap–layers and layers of accumulated garbage that have held me sluggish and murky this year. By the time I was finished I remembered why I practice meditation–and I understood why this last year I largely gave it up. Meditation promotes awareness, engagement with the world, action. I spent most of this year hunkered down, escaping my world whenever I could. It was a tough year. I wanted anesthetic, not awareness.

Journaling felt like waking up. I came home and spent the afternoon editing the first part of a novel I started long ago–it’s a sequel to Good On Paper. And as I wrote, I realized that I was doing the January thing again–I was running away from home, this time by going back to a world I loved creating, and missed when the book was finished. I’m not sure what will happen this time, but I know that I’ll enjoy living there and finding out.

I suppose it’s not surprising that, after all that writing, I dreamed a story last night. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I pay attention. And last night, it happened. I dreamed a children’s story about three lifelong friends. Nothing to do with my journal, or the novel–just a lovely little story, a side trip, so to speak, a little detour through a scenic byway.

It’s a paradox, really–I avoided journaling because I didn’t want to have to think about the scary choices I was facing. I just wanted to escape. It took a return to journaling to remember that the escape I was seeking–and still seek–demands facing the demons, facing them down, and marching triumphantly on into all the stories to come.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about memoirs lately, and why people write them. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about why I feel driven to write them. And I do. But why?

When I first began exploring my life in words–the precursor to memoir for me–I did it in conjunction with therapy. The theory was that in writing about my past, I was acknowledging it, dealing with it, and ultimately, moving past it. Writing as catharsis.

When I was pregnant I started another journal, this time not to forget, but to remember. As I recall, I began it by saying that I was writing because I wanted to hold onto every moment of the experience. That journal wasn’t about forgetting at all; it was about remembering. Writing as memorial.

The odd thing is that both approaches worked. Writing that first journal was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I wrote and wrote and wrote, and as I wrote I laughed and cried. And then I forgot. I have an extraordinary memory. Writing that journal taught me just how extraordinary it really is. I captured incredible detail.

And then, having locked it safely on paper, I began to forget. I read that journal and I know those things are true, but I know it in a rather distant, “Oh, yeah…that did happen…” way. The sights, smells, conversations–and pain–of those days has been captured on paper. It no longer fills my present.

Likewise, my second journal worked. I wrote to capture the experience of pregnancy, and of motherhood. And I did it. I read that journal and I find myself experiencing details that would otherwise be lost–the image of my newly-born son flying over my belly and into my arms while the doctor fights to halt the blood pouring from my body; the unmistakable, unique scent of a newborn; the wonder of lying on my bed with my son beside me, watching my Siamese cat curl around him, purring. I wrote that to remember, and it works.

And so the question, as I begin the process of writing a memoir: Am I writing for catharsis, or am I writing to capture? How about you?

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