Tag Archives: Journaling

Plain Jane to Pretty Parisienne

Notebook Facelift

Notebook Facelift

Dear Reader:

Since becoming a blogger, my journal-keeping (in an actual journal) activities have degenerated into difficult conceptions, failures to thrive, and sad rippings of pages from notebooks and crumplings of paper thrown into the waste-bin of my office.

Journaling was once a mainstay of my emotional life, an anchor, a place to throw difficulties from my mind onto paper and tuck them away where I never had to look at them again unless by choice. Mostly I want to vomit whenever I re-read my old journals. I recognize their former necessity, but I dislike the results. My journals are not pretty little recaps of my daily life. I call the writing in them emotional diarrhea. Not pretty. Sorry to offend.

I tried other kinds of journaling for different purposes. “I’m going to write for half and hour every day in a journal and use the notebooks for writing fodder,” I declared to myself ala Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Yeah, not so much. Once I started blogging (web-based journal fit for public consumption) and began this thing called Localista (once called Outside the Box) I never looked back.

Until now.

Recent upheaval in my personal life has me hauling down my old journals and searching through them for clues to help make sense of present problems. While reading them, I realize their old familiar raison d’etre might serve me again. I want to keep a personal journal. I want to start today. And I want something pretty on the cover.

may 8 2013 021

I had nothing appropriate, just a stack of plain black and white composition books I picked up for cheap a few years ago at The Store Which Shall Not Be Named while school supply shopping for the Teen. Okay, 33 cents. I caved. This morning I looked at them and shuddered. Ick. Ugly black and white. How did I ever think that would inspire me? I remember having some vision of these notebooks lined up on my shelf, filled with raw material for “real” writing.

Ughh, I thought. I cannot start out with this today. I will go to the store and buy a journal with a pretty cover.
Which will take an hour. And I’m enjoying the peaceful sunny morning with Vivaldi playing on Pandora web radio. And I want to write now. And I’m really not in the mood for delayed gratification. What can I do?

Inspiration struck. I remembered seeing some redecorated composition notebooks at a farmer’s market table last summer. Rummaging through the family art supplies, I found just what I needed. Voila! Parisian-themed craft paper and glue sticks. I love pretty paper in the same way I love pretty fabric and pretty art. I just don’t usually have much actual use for them. This morning, however, I had both the need and the means to create something unique and beautiful. A little gluing, a little folding, a little cutting and here is a pretty and pink Parisienne of a journal, ready for my journaling pleasure.

Inside Cover

Inside Cover

And the craft project was fun, too, appealing visually and physically while the classical music flowed from the computer and the sun shone through the windows and a very large bluejay landed on the window feeder. Ahhh, bliss.

If I ever find a bunch of ugly comp notebooks at a local store like Mardens, I will pick up another bunch. Even for an non-craft person like me, this was fun and a great way to use those pretty papers I’ve had tucked away for years. I’m not sure how the journaling will go. I’m not expected much on the inside. Emotional dysentery and all that. But the cover will be pretty.

Do you keep a journal? What inspires you to write in it?

Journaling on a Misty Morning

The Lake on a Misty Morning

Journal Entry July 30, 2012

I have dressed early–6 a.m., in sweatpants and hoodie–to stave off the morning chill. Yesterday was rainy, all day drizzle interspersed with sudden heavy downpours. When I wake this morning and see skies clearing, I know I have to get down to the lake to watch the white tendrils of mist rise from the glossy, rippled surface of the water. I bring a blue chair and a mug of coffee, a camera, and my journal.

The tiny community beach–one of over a dozen–is a short walk from my doorstep. For the first eight years we lived here, the beach was nothing more than a weedy opening in the scrub brush lining the lake. A pine needle- and leaf-covered path slopes down to the water’s edge from the gravel road.

We leave our canoe here, red and tipped upside down, most of the summer and fall. A neighbor borrows it, using his own paddles. He and his family–brothers? sisters? parents? There’s a whole tribe of them–moved into the house behind us two years ago, and they began to clear the opening on their own. Last summer, the community grounds-crew finished the job, cutting more brush, hauling in sand, positioning large boulders across the path to discourage illegal boat launches.


The water here is shallow, only just past my ankles many canoe-lengths out and suddenly deep toward the middle where the current runs. The lake was once a stream, dammed-up for electrical generation about a hundred years ago. It is all coves and curves and fingers reaching in to the land–swampy in places, steep sand cliffs in places. When cross-country skiing in the winter, you have to be careful for weak spotswhere the warm run-off thins the ice from below. I’ve seen guys on snowmobiles rev up and skim over circles of open water.

It is quiet on this Monday morning, the weekend whine of jet skis and power boats as distant as the line of Massachusetts plates heading south out of Kittery on I-95. As I trudge down the path, a heron splashes down, stands. I stop. We watch each other warily. I try not to breath, but he is distrustful and flaps away.

I take a few photographs of the pearlescent mist still hovering over the predawn lake. The water is all shadows here, lake rimmed with tall, close-set pines. Just now the sunlight slices a thin crescent along the eastern-facing shore.

These moments I feel fortunate to have found this place despite my misgivings about its viability in a low-carbon world.

Before the out-of-state developers and the homeowner’s association and the lots plotted on a grid of winding roads ending in numerous culs-de-sac; before the griping and bickering between towns and association; before the housing boom in the 1990’s and milfoil and aging water pipes and the eventual housing bust in the 2000’s, there were only a few scattered camps along this lake. Before those, there were farmhouses and hay fields and pasture for dairy cattle–fieldstone walls running through pine forest a testament to the area’s agricultural past.

Blue Boat

In the early 1970’s, in spite of controversy in the two towns out of which our community was carved, the developers developed. The out of state weekenders came first to the lakefront lots. They built summer camps and weekend homes. Later, in the 90’s when real estate prices soared, building contractors scooped up lots of lots. They built and sold spec houses for cheap to the young, middle-class families priced out of the Portland suburbs.

The towns gaped as the school population bloomed. Education costs skyrocketed. This wasn’t the “taxes without the costs” deal they’d been promised. Weekenders’ kids get educated out of state, but these new families bought “off-lake” and stayed year-round and their children entered kindergarten right along with the kids in the villages.

“It was supposed to be a gated community,” one angry school-teacher said to me six or seven years ago. “And there’s never once been a gate!”

Wince. One has to wonder if they wanted the gate to keep us “in” rather than to keep themselves “out.”

So here we are, living in the exurbs, an hour and many gas-powered miles from the jobs in Portland and Biddeford and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Association rules drafted in the 1970’s prevent many of us from cutting trees to create garden space, prevent us from raising a few chickens for fresh eggs. Mortgage defaults are up. Some roofs of abandoned homes have already caved in. There are no corners stores in our not-zoned-for-business community. We drive to get anywhere (or sometimes we bike, hard.)

This is not sustainable. It will not work in a low-carbon world where energy costs suck up ever-larger percentages of our disposable income. Am I crazy to worry?

There are mornings like this one when I walk, coffee in hand, down a pine-needle path to spend an hour or two writing beside the lake, and I think maybe I am worrying about nothing. Maybe I should simply I enjoy the scenery, the mist, the heron and let the future take care of itself.


And, if the world moves on, perhaps we can change fast enough to keep pace. Trees can be cut, livestock can be brought in, and we can muddle through, creating a kind of exurban agricultural village on our acre and half-acre lots.

Or else, like that heron, we’ll stop a moment, assess the danger, and flap away, leaving the lake as it was before…quiet, serene, barely inhabited but for those scattered camps, and the only thing that will remain of us will be the caved-in husks of our spec houses mouldering beneath these towering pines.

Your Soul On Paper

In her classic book about the scribbler’s craft, WRITING DOWN THE BONES, Natalie Goldberg shares her philosophy of writing and the practical applications she’s developed over the years for getting words on the page, ideas into sentences, life into print. “This book is about writing. It is also about using writing as your practice, as a way to help you penetrate your life and become sane” (3).

Sane? Is she serious? Some days I think true sanity would be giving up writing altogether. I know from past experience, however, that no sooner do I officially “quit” writing than I am hit with the irresistible urge to begin again.

A word to the wise. If you ever think, “I could write a book. I have this great story idea . . .” then squash that thought immediately or you, too, may find yourself hopelessly addicted to this drug we call writing. Obviously, it is too late for me. I’m already hooked. While I can’t cure myself of my addiction, I can attempt to manage it. Enter, Natalie Goldberg and timed writing exercises.

Since this is January, the month we’ve designated as National Unreachable Goal-Setting Month, I went ahead and resolved to commit to daily timed writing practice, i.e. setting the timer on the stove and writing crap, er, thoughts in a journal for ten minutes every day.

Excuse me for being initially skeptical about the efficacy of this exercise. I’ve been a diarist since sixth grade, the year I filled a red, hard-bound book with adolescent gushings about one Patrick Tardy (not his real name). That particular journal went up in flames, literally, on New Year’s Day 1981 when I symbolically annihilated my love for dear Patrick by throwing the book into Dad’s Ashley wood stove down in the cellar and waiting for the pages to turn to ash. Unfortunately, I hadn’t learned my lesson and was already showing classic signs of writing-addiction (not to mention romance-addiction). That same day, I began writing in another diary, this one blue with a gold clasp and a key. This artifact from days-gone-by now sits on the top shelf here in my office along with its myriad companions–assorted spiral-bound notebooks, black and white marbled essay books, pretty padded cloth-covered journals, and even one hunk of white, lined loose pages stuck into a manila envelope from the year I decided I couldn’t be hemmed in by bindings of any sort.

As if that made any difference.

Thirty years of daily writing practice, and all I have to show for it is a collection of truly horrible entries. No, really. Some writers may sit down with their beautiful Cross pens and their leather-bound journals and compose the most wondrous prose. Not me. My journaling is the equivalent of psychological diarrhea. All my angst. All my anger. All my frustrations and illogical worry and obsessions. Endless probing of emotional baggage. Repetitive questioning of motives. Tiresome analysis of relationships past and present, punctuated occasionally with some recording of actual events like what I ate that morning, how much I weighed the night before, and what I plan on cooking for dinner later on. My journals make BRIDGET JONES’ DIARY look like a deep and insightful literary masterpiece rather than the delightful, campy chick-lit novel that it is.

(Need I mention my increasing paranoia that I will unexpectedly die and someone–my husband, a parent, my daughter–might actually decide to read my journals? Shudder. I may have to look into buying a safe and instructing my lawyer that the contents are to be destroyed immediately in the event of my departure from this earthly plane.)

I have to ask myself: If journaling hasn’t helped me become a better writer yet, why do I think it will help me become a better writer in the future?

Journaling can be used as a warm-up exercise, a way to get those words and sentences flowing. Daily journaling means showing up with your writer’s mind on a regular basis, not just when you feeling “inspired.” Journaling is a mining exercise, spelunking both near the surface and down in the depths of the writer’s psyche. It provides raw material for future projects. It is also a record of the writer’s journey, regardless of where the writer ends up. It is a place to try on various voices without someone overhearing. It is a place to explore ideas, paste observations, create a mood, or paint a scene to use in a later piece of writing. In most cases, a journal of this type isn’t for public viewing. A journal is private. A journal is your mind, your heart, your soul . . . on paper.

The journal is what we make of it. At least, that’s what I’m gonna tell my students when I start up a teen writing workshop next month. First assignment? Find a journal and a pen you like. Set the timer for ten minutes. Write until the buzzer goes off.

If writing is an addiction, does this mean I’m a drug pusher?

Stay tuned for next time when Yours Truly goes spelunking in her new journal for writing material . . . Outside the Box.