Monday, April 12, 2010

J is for Journaling

This is another entry in the A to Z Blog Challenge for the month of April.

I know a lot of writers who use journaling as a tool to jump start their new projects, work through feelings or crises, and set goals. A writer friend from Colorado, Mike Befeler, used a form of journaling to write his first three or four Paul Jacobsen geezer lit novels. The Morning Pages as proposed by Julia Cameron in the Artist's Way were his method -- handwriting three pages every morning before he went to work and typing with a small edit each day after he came home.

Journaling worked for me during certain stages of my life, but I've not been faithful to the task. It surprises me that I've maintained this blog so religiously since it's a form of journaling. Although I focus mostly on bookish topics, I throw a little of my inner self out here for all to see from time to time.

Over the years, I've used the journaling process when I'm going through some kind of sea change (a marked change or transformation). I keep all those old papers, so I decided to pull out the folders and notebook for this blog post and give you a few quotes from the past.

The folder with the yellowed sheets inside contains continuous feed computer paper. The first entry is dated September 4, 1984. I didn't have a computer then, didn't have access to one for personal use until sometime in 1985, so I must have taken handwritten entries and typed them up later.

Human beings are funny. They tend to react more than they act--and those reactions are often appropriate responses to someone else's expectations. If someone comes to me at work and say, "You're going to be very upset when I tell you what I did," I find myself exhibiting signs of being upset--before I even hear what the problem is.


November 2, 1984

Now have red Camaro smeared all over the front left side of my blue Firebird. The (unkind word deleted) turned right in front of me at Nebo Rd. and State Road 32. Remember thinking--how could he be so careless with such a gorgeous car--then thinking--I know in a second he's going to stop--I know he is--but he didn't.


I wasn't hurt at all, and neither was the teenager driving his stepfather's awesome red Camaro. I ended up feeling more sorry for the kid than I did for myself.

Later on in that folder I found journal entries from 1976 and 1977 before I went back to 1985. I must have had journal notes all over the place -- I apparently called these "Growth Notes."

Dec. 5, 1976. A dream

I was driving in a van to group [a consciousness raising group I had joined in February]--apparently at M's because I'm focused mostly on reaching M. Kept getting lost and making wrong turns. Suddenly I realized I was driving with no lights. Very dark night. I tried several times to turn lights on but they wouldn't work. Began slowing down and stopped van while still trying to get lights on. Lights came on at moment I stopped. Front of van was only inches from a brick wall. Got out of van to see where I was--narrow alley. Cat around my feet bugging me--kicked it. Somewhere the cat became a mother cat with two kittens, all of them around my feet, getting in my way and meowing.

Back in van, backed out of alley to continue to group. Sometime became aware that someone was following me. Became more scared. Finally found M's and started to pull in long drive that goes around to back of building. Still being followed. Did not want to get trapped back there in the dark so stopped in drive to confront person following me.

Kept keys in left hand--something larger in right hand--and started back toward car--convertible. As I demanded to know why--person pulled gun on me--said nothing. Total start terror! I threw whatever was in my right hand at person (man?) and yelled (not scream)--combination rage and fear. Woke me up. Yell was in my sleep--not out loud. I was soaking wet with sweat.

Brick wall: 24 bricks high and 16 bricks wide. 384 bricks to take down.

Anybody into analyzing a dream from 1976?

As I wandered through the old stuff I found extensive entries for the two years I lived in France (1985-1987), plus the letters I wrote to my mother during that period -- probably enough for a memoir. I found a notebook of morning pages from March through May 1996, apparently a period during which I was under a lot of work stress. And a small journal I'd forgotten about until I cleaned out the drawer in my bedside table contains entries from early 2001, before our world changed, plus a few entries from mid-2007.

Here's a fun entry:

Ideas: They plop into my head like fat worms thrown from a shovel-full of dirt, suddenly there, oozing and wriggling, stealing my attention from the real task at hand. Ideas so varied and so huge I could never develop them all into finished works. There aren't enough years left. Maybe smoosh them all into one great tome: The Moose That Got Lost in the Woods after the Afro-haired disco dancer in a silver-sequined dress burned down her mother's house after said mother [rest of idea unacceptable for a PG-13 blog]. Or just get busy and write what I can. . . .

So now that I've inspected all these old things and found some pretty interesting stuff, including a few entries I can't remember writing, does that make you want to look for your own old journals and notes? Or maybe start journaling right now? Wouldn't it be awesome to open these notebooks up 30 or 40 years later and remind yourself what was going on in your life back then? Or not.

I have plenty of room in that notebook I started in 1996. Maybe I'll try Morning Pages one more time.

18 comments:

Karen Walker said...

Patricia, as a memoir writer, I particularly love this post because it gives me glimpses of you. It shows how much being a writer is ingrained in your very being. It took me 2 1/2 years to go through all my journals and choose the parts of my life to include in my book. Journalling is a great tool, for writing and for life.
Karen

Terry Odell said...

The thought of writing "me" stuff scares me. I guess that's why I write fiction. I will keep a journal of sorts when I travel, and early in our marriage, when my husband was away for weeks at a time, I'd keep a journal to share when he got back. But I can't get into it. I think that's why I blog.

WELCOME TO MY WORLD OF POETRY: said...

I have many poems I wrote very early on in my poetry writing life. Some have been published in a book, others perhaps another book who knows??
I thoroughly enjoyed your post, I have found there are many,many writers on"Blogsphere" who are well established and feel somewhat inferior
with my contributions, but I write mostly about my life expereiences,
Have a good day.
Yvonne,

Ann said...

I follow the morning pages regime. I love it. I am writing at least those twenty minutes every morning.

Enjoyed reading these snippets of your life.

Talli Roland said...

Thanks for sharing your insights, Patricia! I have journalled on and off over the years, but now I don't feel the urge at all -- mostly, I think, because of blogging. I can see how it would be useful for non-fiction work, though.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Good morning! Ann, I have a lot of respect for those who write every day, and those who do their morning pages as journals. If you can keep that up, you'll be way ahead of the game.

Talli -- I think blogging is a form of journaling, so we're doing it...in a way.

Karen and Terry -- I'm reluctant to put too much of my personal life on the web because I feel individuals are so vulnerable these days. A writer friend's Facebook account was recently hacked, immediately followed by her e-mail account which was used for a scam e-mail requesting money. I'm basically a private person, and I try to respect the privacy of my husband and kids/step-kids. I think it's hard to maintain the balance between making connections with new friends and protecting that valuable privacy. The result is what you see with my variety of post topics.

Yvonne, a large number of the blogs I visit are written by writers who hope to publish someday, or bloggers who never plan to do books at all. I think this blogger world is a great place to be, and I wish I could spend more time than I do here.

Stephen Tremp said...

I've tried journaling but it doesn't last very long. I even bought a notebook at the beginning of the year specifically for this. There are a few pages written but that's all. I'll try it again becuase journaling really works. Its a great tool for an author to write down observations, perceptions, and miscellanous thoughts.

Stephen Tremp

Stephen Tremp

Mason Canyon said...

It's always a little fun and a little scary to go back and read something we wrote years ago. I'm not good at keeping a journal even though I've tried several times over the years. Maybe I'll give it another go this year. :)

Mason
Thoughts in Progress

Wanda said...

It's always interesting to go back reread journals. Fun to see the progress you've made.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Like you, I don't keep a running journal but do have a few notebooks from different periods. Reading your post did make me want to dig out those notebooks and read them.

Raquel Byrnes said...

I have never used journaling for writing. Sounds like an interesting exercise. I might give it a try. Great post.

Beth said...

I wish I had journals like that to look back on. It would be fun to get glimpses into who I used to be and how I became who I am. I'm glad for you that you do have them.

The Old Silly said...

Enjoyed this post very much. I used to be an avid journal keeper, but the arthritic hands have put a stop to that once favorite passtime. Dangit.

Galen Kindley--Author said...

First, I want to know the deleted "unkind word" you used. How cool. I'm so trashy.

Thank god, little of my old writing exists, and what does is buried in boxes in the garage. I do find looking over my letters home from Vietnam interesting, however. Some I recall writing, some I just don't remember at all.

Best, Galen.

Grammy said...

This is all very interesting. I have never written a book, and actually the only real writing I have done has been my blog, and one story of fiction that I wrote as a Cherokee folk tale. (I have Cherokee in my ancestry.)
Ruby

melodygreen said...

I read The Artist's Way in college and did morning pages then -- and loved it! I really need to get back into journaling as well... I think my blog is serving that purpose somewhat but there is something different for me about typing and doing morning pages in longhand going wherever my mind takes me. I just haven't been able to figure out how to do morning pages living with others (my husband is up really early for work and the 4 year old wakes me up right after that!... so maybe it is just that I'm not willing to get up at 5 am to do morning pages right now)

Kaye Barley said...

Love this post, Patricia.
I have this book, love it, and pick it up often to read a particular section or two.
I was never able to "journal." I tried and tried, but it would somehow get lost in the shuffle of things.
Blogging though seems to have been invented with me in mind.
I seem to be able to think more freely while typing than I was able to by writing, for some reason.
Thanks for sharing your experiences and now you've gotten my brain cranking with a possible blog on this subject!!

Linda L. Henk said...

I've been doing my own version of morning pages since 1996, give or take a few years. When we moved last summer, I gave up counting the numbers of boxes filled with 5-subject spiral notebooks. I use them as reference material. My daughter reminds me someday she will read them all. I'm betting she gets bored and doesn't finish!