Tag Archives: Diary

Journal Friday (or rather, Thursday): Samhain

treepumpkinHappy Halloween everybody!

This week, and today in particular, journalling seems to be a particularly apposite subject, which is why you are getting a Thursday post instead of a Friday one!

In ancient tradition, the festival of Samhain, or Halloween as we now call it, was not simply a Feast of the Dead.  There is so much more to it than that.

Our ancestors celebrated the last harvest festival at this time, the final moment before the real onset of winter in Northern Europe.  The main crop  harvests had been gathered in.  Now was the time to choose which of the beasts on the farm was likely to survive the winter, and which were too old or too sick to waste valuable fodder on.  Food had to be laid in for the coming cold months, for the next crops might not be ready until June or July at the earliest.  So the animals that had outlived their usefulness had to be slaughtered and salted for meat, and the perishable parts eaten quickly.

It was not just the animals that faced mortality at this time.  For the majority of human history, we have faced high mortality rates in winter, and even now, you are more likely to die in January than August (click here.)

As the weather deteriorated, and darkness closed in, people were forced inside to do more meditative tasks.  Winter is necessarily a more interior time, and this means both literally and metaphorically.  There is even an energy change – plants retract as greenery dies off, while the roots go dormant in the cold soil, recharging in preparation for the growth spurt of Spring.  Some animals hiberate, and for good reason.  It is no coincidence that there are many myths associated with this process, most notably that of Persephone’s sojourn in the Underworld.

We live in a 24/7 world adorned with electric light and heating, but if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, you will understand how human biorhythms fluctuate over the seasons, despite our best efforts to pretend we are immune.  Most of us cannot afford to spend 6 months of the year in warmer climes, and if we could, it would not necessarily be good for us.  We need downtime too, just like the plants and animals from which we have evolved.

We need to withdraw into our interiors, our homes and our souls, to curl up beside a crackling fire under fluffy blankets, with hot drinks, to rest our bones.

The active, exterior period of the year is over.  Now we concentrate on the swift approach of Christmas, a time for family, and New Year, and time for assessing our lives and where we want to take them next.  Prior to the rush, it is good to set some time aside to contemplate our dark interiors, to work out what we really want, and perhaps, what we are most afraid of.  Some elements of our lives naturally die off, whilst others are hibernating, or are seeds lying in the ground awaiting the rush of Spring.

We usually choose New Year in January to make resolutions and start new habits, but for the Ancient Celts, Samhain was the new year, and they valued this time of contemplation and stillness.  The Scandanavian Viking cultures observed ‘Winter Finding’, also a period of contemplation.   Instead of letting your plans arise out of the post-Christmas exhaustion and a haze of overindulgence, October/November can offer more time and space to think.

Samhain Journal Exercises:

Make space to be alone.  Settle down in a warm room, light a candle, put on some soft music if you like, and have a glass of apple juice or red wine handy, along with your journal and favourite pen.  Rest and relax.  There is no pressure.  This is time for you.

Think over the past year.  What were your goals?  What were your successes?  Did you experiences failures or losses? Write about them – and what you have learnt from them.

Samhain is a time of natural wastage, of matter decomposing to feed future growth, a time of endings that feed beginnings.  What has died for you this year?  What relationships, habits, activities have fallen away?  Are there elements in your life that you would like to release?  Write about them.

If you have lost a loved one, take time to remember them in your journal, to write down your favourite memories.  If you had a difficult relationship with them, write about your ambivalent feelings.  People say it is wrong to speak ill of the dead, but it is far more damaging in my experience to deify them into saints that they were not.  Do not judge yourself as you write.  Lay your pain, your loss, your grief, on the page if you need to.

The apple is the fruit of Samhain.  Inside its tasty flesh are five seeds.  What seeds would you like to plant into the dark earth for the coming year?  Take time over this – it may take you the whole of ‘Winter Finding’, or the run-up to Christmas, to decide what new dreams you wish to plant.  Don’t rush it.  You are setting your intentions for coming months.  You may like to think about this post from Kelly Rae Roberts as inspiration.

Draw or collage pages to represent the past year, and what you hope for in the coming year.  Don’t worry about how good your pictures are – they are for your eyes only.  The point is to root images of your intention in your subconscious, which doesn’t care if you are Rembrandt or not!

Happy journalling,

EF

Journal Friday: Derek Jarman’s Sketchbooks

jarman diariesIt’s been a very busy week, and I’ve been diving into all kinds of exciting new and inspirational activities, including the UEA Literary Festival.  I’ve also been submerged in the magical world of Derek Jarman’s Sketchbooks, edited by Stephen Farthing and Ed Webb-Ingall, and I want to share the inspiration I’ve found in them with you.

derek_jarmanIn case you have never heard of Derek Jarman, he was a fabulously talented artist, film-maker, designer, writer, gardener and Gay Rights activist whose career was tragically cut short by AIDS in 1994, aged 52.  He directed music videos for the Pet Shop Boys and designed the sets for Ken Russell’s landmark 1971 film, ‘The Devils’.  At his home in Dungeness, he created one of the most haunting modern gardens in Britain, one that I am deeply in love with.

I first became aware of Jarman when I saw his film, Caravaggio (1986), starring Nigel Terry, Sean Bean, and Tilda Swinton in her first film role.  Later, in 1991, I wept my way through his heart-breaking ‘Edward II’, an adaptation of Marlowe’s play that spoke of Jarman’s outrage at homophobia in Thatcherite Britain.  These are not easy and accessible films.  They are, however, fabulous to look at, and very moving.

When I came across this edition of the sketchbooks in the library the other day, quite by chance, I had no idea that Jarman was a committed visual diarist.  The sketchbooks themselves are large – family photo album sized – and each cover is decorated in black and gold, making a slightly varied but pleasing continuity.  Inside them, Jarman uses ephemera, calligraphy, drawing and painting, poetry, pages of film scripts, actors’ head shots from casting sessions, clippings from newspapers, reviews, photographs of friends and colleagues, bits of feathers and pressed flowers to document his life and each of his projects.  The sketchbooks contain his thoughts on everything from his garden (there is a carefully drawn planting plan), to his illness, to sex, history and death.

Jarman made a series of paintings, the ‘GBH’ series, of black on gold abstracts, inspired by Goya’s Black paintings, and a film called ‘Imagining October’, which arose from finding Sergei Eisenstein’s own copy of ‘Ten Days that Shook the World’, the famous book on the Russian Revolition, and on which Eisenstein had based his ground-breaking film, ‘Battleship Potemkin’.  Jarman had been shocked to discover how much of the book had been redacted with blacked-out text by the Communist authorities.  Both of these concepts are reflected in the sketchbooks, where you can see Jarman working on the idea of black bars with gold writing, seen on the cover of the volume.  Jarman’s anger at the political situation for Gays in the UK shines through these blackened pages.

One of the things that particularly strikes me is the simplicity of the layouts he uses.  Even when he is writing pages of text, making notes or journalling, there is a sense of space.  Nothing is cramped.  He spreads out, not denying himself room to work, enjoying the clarity of white space around his words and images.  This is something I will definitely take away. My diaries always feel cramped.  I always feel that every inch of space must be used, because materials are scarce.  This denial of room to grow is cramping my creativity, something I need to break out of.

I want to draw inspiration from the sheer range of activities Jarman undertook, too.  For him, there is no line in his sketchbooks between diary, writer’s notebook, sketchbook, planner or scrapbook, anymore than there were boundaries between the creative areas he worked in.  Although he was primarily a film-maker, he was so many other things as well.  Jarman teaches me that I don’t just have to stick to writing.  I can follow where ever my Muse leads me.

There are no limits to what we can create, only the ones we impose on ourselves.

Things to try:

  • See if you can get hold of a copy of Jarman’s sketchbooks.  It isn’t cheap – £28 – so maybe you can order it from your library.  You may not like his style of modernist art, but you can appreciate how he puts every aspect of his life into these visual journals to make a record of his thinking.
  • Use your own sketchbook or diary as a kind of studio to record everything you do and think about a particular project.
  • Collect clips, postcards, photos, anything relevant to stick in – Jarman even stuck a ten pound note into his!
  • Luxuriate in space.  Allow each of your drawings, paragraphs, or collaged pieces to bask in a frame of white space, so that they can shine out, and be seen for what they are.  Don’t fall into my scarcity trap – there will always be more paper.
  • Decorate the covers of your sketchbooks or journals in a similar way, as Jarman did, each one slightly different, but using the same colours or materials.  Maybe you could do ‘series’ of notebooks, with matching covers, for different projects.  Don’t be precious about them, however.  Jarman once stuck a heavy bronze seal on the front of one of his books, but it was too heavy to carry and got in the way, so he ended up prizing it off.  The scarred gold cover is even more interesting as a result.

Happy journalling,

EF

Journal Friday: The Emotional Swingometer

go away bagThe Creative Life is a carnival ride.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Right now I am on the rollercoaster.

Thank goodness for my diary.  If it were not for that little Moleskine notebook, I would be a complete basketcase.  Actually, I’m probably still a complete basketcase, but I feel better about it, because I write it all down.

The days when I am completely sure I have squeezed every last drop of juice out of Johnlock.

They days when I can’t stop writing Johnlock.

The days when I have so many ideas for stories that I don’t know what to do with them all.

The days when my imagination is a barren wasteland.

The days when one comment has convinced me that my work is utter crap and I owe it to the world to never write again.

The days when a stroppy comment has filled me with so much anger and resentment and martyrdom that I am going to passive-aggressively hold the entire fandom to ransom by never publishing another Johnlock story again because frankly those bitches are all so ungrateful.  (as if they’d even notice.)

The days when that novel I am writing is the greatest thing ever written.

The days when that novel is so bad I am ashamed to even walk into the same room as my laptop.

The days when reviews flood in, and I am Queen of the World and Goddess of All Writing and my ego is the size of Jupiter.

The days when the reviews flood in, and they just aren’t praising me enough, they’ll never say enough good things about me because I am so bloody wonderful, which of course means that secretly I know without doubt that I am an absolute fraud and completely useless.

The days when the reviews flood in, and I am cowering under my desk in shame that anybody could think that story I wrote is readable.

The days when I am satisfied because I have written something that I think is good.  Good in the way that tapping on solid mahogany with your knuckles is good.  Something that is out of my own real, original voice.  Something that I am satisfied with.

The days when the fandom bores me to tears, or irritates the hell out of me, and so does my writing.

The days when I know my writing is completely stagnant, and I need to progress onto the next stage but I don’t know where to start.

And the days when I just sit down and write.

Before, or after I have written some fiction, I take a little time to reflect.  Sometimes I write in my journal to get my juices flowing, the way Morning Pages are supposed to.  Sometimes I write afterwards, to reflect on where I am going, on my emotional equilibrium (or lack of it).

Usually, when I have published a story, I watch the comments coming in, and try to write through my responses, the paranoid ones and the egotistical ones, the happy, the grateful and the furious.

My journal helps me keep my writing experience in perspective.  There isn’t a lot of perspective about our own creativity, lets face it.  We are all reared to be perfectionists, to rule ourselves out in the basis of not being Picasso, or to believe ourselves to be Dickens without needing to do the hard work.  It is so hard to be objective.

My journal helps me remember that the only life I am saving when I write is my own.  In the great scheme of things, this is not battlefield surgery.  Or, if it is, it is on my emotions alone.  That is why objectivity is important.

I need to remember that my writing is not about what other people think.  It’s about me.  At its very core, it is about healing my own wounds. 

Even if I never publish another word, I will still keep writing, partly because it’s a compulsion, and partly because it mends my soul.

That is why keeping a journal is crucial for every creative person, whether you are amateur or professional.  It reminds you of the WHY.

How do you use your journal in your creative process?

Happy journaling,

EF

Journal Friday: The Structuring Absence

elephantWhen I did my English degree, way back in the late ‘80s, Literary Theory was all the rage.  I don’t know if they even study it now, but it was the thing then.  Literary theory is the place where literary criticism, philosophy and linguistics meet.  Throw in a good handful of politics, sexual politics and psychology and you have a seething mass of academic pretentiousness that no one with a reasonable sense of humour should be subjected to.  Literary Theory goes in fashions like everything else, and the Next Big Thing then was Postmodernism, which leant heavily on Poststructuralism and the work of theorists like Jacques Derrida and Roland Barthes. We read Thomas Pynchon and Paul Auster and pretended to know what they were on about.  We were encouraged to use words like signifier (word), signified (meaning), and problematize (make something difficult).  I find it deeply satisfying that Roland Barthes’s death resulted from being run over by a milk float.  It couldn’t be more pedestrian (sorry for the pun), or ironic, could it?

Now why am I ranting on about all this pretentious bollocks when I should be talking about journaling?  Well, let me explain the one phrase that poststructuralism gave me which I still cherish today:

The Structuring or Signifying Absence

This is actually another way of saying ‘The Elephant in the Room’.  It is the thing that is never spoken of, yet which underlies and give shape to everything that happens around it.  It is the empty space which is significant, which speaks of something profound.

It is ‘that which is left unsaid.’

Take a very simple example.  In Daphne du Maurier’s novel ‘Rebecca’, the character of Rebecca de Winter and her untimely death are the signifying absence.  Rebecca structures the whole novel, and the behaviour of all the characters revolves around her, even to the extent that we never learn the heroine’s name, because Rebecca is more important in everyone’s mind, including her own.  Rebecca is a tangible presence, even though she no longer exists.

Actually, this isn’t strictly a good example because its too overt.  Take the Wooster novels of P G Wodehouse.  Set in the 1920’s and ‘30’s England, they almost never mention the Great Depression or the First or Second World Wars, and yet the fact that as readers we know that the ridiculous events are going on against this backdrop makes them all the more ludicrous.  Wodehouse does lampoon the figure of fascist leader Oswald Moseley at one point, but basically, his choice is to exclude politics.

The point of the structuring absence is this:  that what the writer chooses to exclude is just, if not more, significant than what is left in.

How does this relate to writing a diary?

I am thinking right now of gaps.  I have been keeping a journal for nearly 40 years now (ouch!), but there are plenty of gaps.  And I am sure those gaps say as much about my life as the parts where I was writing.  They usually happened for two reasons:

  1. I was having a brilliant time and was too busy living life to bother writing everything, or anything, down.  My honeymoon is a great example of this.  I was determined I was going to record every detail of our tour across the south of England, but when it came to it, I was having too much fun!  So all I have is the photos we took.  And I think that is very significant.
  2. I was in a state of such terrible depression that I was incapable of writing.  This is far more common.  There are several gaps of months in my diary during my early 20s, when I was struggling with clinical depression so profound that it threatened my life, and it was impossible for me to write at that time.  So I didn’t.

What we don’t write about in our diaries is just as significant as what we do.  Every diary entry is an act of self-censorship, whether we know it or not.  By choosing what we write about, even if the choice is unconscious, we are in fact editing, fashioning a narrative of our lives structured by our choices and the responses we have to our life events.  Just as Wodehouse chose, out of what I believe was sheer political naiveté, not to write about politics (to his great cost as it turned out), we may choose not to write about our cancer, our son coming out as gay, our struggles with debt, even though these are massive issues which shape our lives in profound ways.  We may even choose at times simply not to write at all.

When I don’t write in my diary, I am always aware that something is going on for me.  I may be in denial about some issue that is obsessing me, or I am too sick to write, which is an issue in itself.  Either way, the gaps between dates in my journal are a red flag.

But they are not a reason for self-flagellation.

When I was a kid, I thought that you had to write a diary every single day.  A lot of people believe this, but very few manage it, and most give up because of this misconception.  Don’t beat yourself up when you have non-writing periods.  Accept these empty spaces as significant, as structuring absences, and consider what they might mean for you.  Above all:

Write when you need to write.

Journal Exercise:

At the moment a big gap is developing between today’s date, and the last one I wrote in my journal.  I know why this is.  I am ill.  Staring into space or lying on the sofa watching Harry Potter yet again is about as profound as I can manage right now, and I’m okay with that.  I will go back to it when I am ready, and because I don’t make a big deal about it, I won’t be creating any blocks, so the gap will be much smaller than it would have been otherwise.

Are you creating a journal gap, a structuring absence, consciously or not?  Take some time to contemplate why this might be happening for you – you don’t have to write about it in your journal, just allow it some kind and accepting thought.  It may because you are hung up on ‘doing it right’.  It may be because there is a HUGE elephant in your life that you are simply not ready to address yet.  It may just be because you are present in your life, too busy or, what a delight, having too much fun!

Whatever is going on for you with this, make peace with it.  Be accepting of yourself.  You might even want to write something in your journal to that effect:

‘I am not writing much here at the moment and I’m okay with that.  I’ll get to it when I need to.’

You may not want to write in the ‘why’.  Perhaps that is better left until you are ready to write again.

And if you are writing regularly, and getting lots out of it, make sure you relax into it and don’t make it an OUGHT.

Happy journaling,

EF

Journal Friday: The Life Organiser

life org pages 2I’ve been enjoying Jennifer Louden’s The Life Organiser for a while now, and I wanted to share it with you.  It is a weekly practise that may offer those who struggle with daily journaling an easier way into self-expression.

Now I have to confess, I’ve got a bit of a thing about the whole Organising scene.  It is definitely a displacement activity for me.  I would much rather go out and drool over new Filofaxes than actually do the work to sort out my office.  I love stationery.  I love notebooks.  I love books about how to organise your life.  I love the websites too.  Call me a GTD addict.  It cons me into thinking I’m actually getting something done.  I am sure many of you can relate to that!

Lately, though, I have been wrestling with something of a mid-life crisis, and that, together with the complexities of actually writing on a regular basis for this website, as focussed my attention on the real core of the whole productivity mindset:

 Intention

Life Coaches and self-development gurus go on about formulating your life goals, having a vision, a mission statement, working towards SMART goals, and all that stuff.  Achievement, in other words.  All of which is great of you actually know where you are going, and what you want.

But what if, like me, you are about to fall off the edge of 45, and still don’t have a clue what you want to do when you grow up?

Deciding what direction you want to push your life in is a huge project.  It can feel overwhelming.  Jennifer Louden’s approach is more subtle and manageable.  Building on her work with The Women’s Comfort Book, and other invaluable tomes, she has written a workbook that gives the reader a chance to get in touch with their essential self, cut down empty busyness and focus on what is really important.  On a week-by-week and day-by-day basis, she encourages you to think about what is going on in your life, here and now, and what you need to help you flourish.  It feels quiet, comforting and manageable.  And it offers you a chance to choose direction and improve the quality of your life in a gentle, incremental way.  So how does it work?

 The Life Organiser Book

The book itself is a delightfully satisfying object to handle, even before you get inside.  It begins with some explanatory chapters, and then sets to work.  Each week of the year has a two page spread, offering journal prompts and questions to contemplate and answer, inspiring quotes and the chance to list things you have to do, would like to do, and can reasonably let go of (the latter is my favourite, because it is the most thought-provoking for me.)  It is all laid out so that you can use the actual book to write in if you like, but there are inspiring examples at the front of how other women have made their own notebooks and digital documents into Life Organisers too.

My Life Organiser Kit

My Life Organiser kit comes in this cute little bag...

My Life Organiser kit comes in this cute little bag…

I was given a little bag which is just the right size to keep my organiser kit in, and my day-to-day dates diary and journal fit in there nicely too.

 I like to use lots of bright colours when I am answering the questions, so I include coloured felt-tipped pens, both fine and brush point, so that I can do that.  I have settled on a colour scheme that I like, with particular colours for certain subjects, and that helps me if I want to check back through the pages of my notebook.

... and here is what's in it!… and here is what’s in it!

The notebook itself is one I bought from WH Smith because I liked the cover.  It has wide-spaced lines and lies open easily, which is great if I want to do a two-page spread for a mind map or such like.

Doing My Organising

I try to do my Organiser on Sundays or Mondays, so I can set a clear intention for myself for the week.

I like to write in my journal or do morning pages before I start on my organiser because it clears my mind, and helps me to focus on my needs rather than my complaints.  I like to check my date diary or calendar before I start too, so I know what appointments I’ve got coming up, and how my time and energy will have to be distributed for the ensuing week.

When I have done that, I put in the date, and then write a section I call:

Where I am right now

This is a way of grounding myself, working out where I am emotionally and physically, and what issues are coming up for me at present.  It isn’t in the Louden version, but I find it useful to do.

Once I know where I am, I start on the actual questions for the week.  I always write out the questions in, in full, in a bright pen.  (This year I am using pink, last year it was orange.) I answer in a kind of stream-of-consciousness.  Sometimes a list comes out, sometimes a paragraph, sometimes a complete rant!  It doesn’t matter what, it is all instructive.  It tells me what is important to me at the moment, what I need to encourage and nourish myself, what I need to take notice of.  From these realisations come the lists of what I could do, must do, and need to let go of.

I have found it is important not to make long lists of things to get done or to force myself to release things.  Once you become prescriptive, these things become OUGHTS, and just make yet more burdens to add to those we have already.  I keep my list of things I could do for the week to a minimum so I don’t pressure myself.  Sometimes it is just a couple of things I could think about.

The lists can then be transferred over into my day to day diary and calendar if appropriate.  I can make appointments to do the self-care things I have identified, and book rest time in, which I need because of my health.  I put my ‘Let Go Of:’ list in the margin of my diary too, so that when I refer to it every day, I reminded of what is important to me.

Life Org pagesI think the Life Organiser is a more mindful way of keeping true to my intentions and needs than the endless To Do lists most productivity tools offer.  It forms a kind of accounting process that lies on top of my journaling, a means of orienting myself in a more concrete way.  Because I do it on a weekly basis, (although sometimes I miss, in which case, I don’t worry about it)  it doesn’t feel so much like a chore, and I look forward to it.  It keeps me in touch with myself and has helped me formulate my dreams and visions into doable agendas in a gentle way that seems far less scary than other methods.

I recommend it.  Get yourself a copy, and have a bash.  You might find it bridges the gap between journaling and Filofaxes that you need!

(You can find out mroe about the amazing Jennifer Louden here.)

Happy journaling

EF

Journal Friday: How to write yourself out of a hole

Lighthouse at Dusk, Islay, Scotland

Lighthouse at Dusk, Islay, Scotland

(DISCLAIMER:  I am not a qualified counsellor, psychiatrist or doctor.  I am just describing what works for me.  If you are suffering with depression I urge you strongly to reach out and get help.  You do not need to suffer.)

I have suffered from bouts of depression since I was a child.  Depression is not having a bad day, or feeling blue, though both of those are unpleasant.  Depression is a soul-crushing, heart-lacerating misery that debilitates and destroys everything in its path.  Do not deny it or under-estimate it.

That said, over the years I have found ways to help myself, and believe me, helping yourself, feeling you have a little control over something that feels like it is controlling you, is a real relief.  Journaling is one of those ways.

So what to do if you find yourself at the bottom of the depression mine shaft?  Or even if you are just having a bit of a black dog kind of day?

How to:

Get out your journal.

Write down how you are feeling RIGHT NOW, in this moment.  As my counsellor often says, you can’t get to Edinburgh if you don’t know where you are now. (Think about trying to plan a journey that way – impossible!)

Be specific.

Stop and take the time to feel what is going on inside your body.  Do you have particular sensations associated with this low mood?  If so, where are they?  Write them down. They may be indicative of trapped emotions.

How are you feeling emotionally?  Write that down too – a list of adjectives if that is all you can face doing.

Does an image that describes how you feel come to mind?  Describe that.  For example, for me a real, deep depression feels as if my ribs have been ripped open, and my heart repeatedly slashed.  I feel it bleeding inside my chest.  Yes, it is a horrible image, but that is exactly how I feel, and describing it, in as much detail as possible, can be a huge relief.

Do not judge your feelings as you record them.  Do not judge yourself as selfish or unfeeling because you resent the fact that your husband is not doing much to help with your crying baby, or that you are angry because your boss does not recognise how hard you are working..  Have a good rant, safe in the knowledge that you don’t have to protect anyone’s feelings.  You are not being a martyr or a victim at this point.  You are just recognising how you feel.  Do not feel bad about what you write.  Admitting these feelings exist to yourself is the first step to healing, and no one else is going to see what you write.

If you don’t feel anything, write that too.  An absence is just as important.  Describe the void in as much detail as you can.  You may even find, as you progress, that you begin to pick up on little gimmers in the abyss, feelings you didn’t know were there.  Write those too.

As you write, you may find other feelings coming up from underneath the ones you are describing.  Get those down.  I often find that underneath my depression is anger, and underneath the anger lies a need not being met.  When I identify what it is I want that I am not getting, I am right in touch with the small child inside that feels unloved, whose needs went unmet.  Do not judge the need.  Simply recognise it.  Is there a way you can get what you need now, in a healthy way?  Now you know what it is, you can ask for it.

Whatever else you do, try to write daily, and get whatever miserable feelings you are having onto the page.  Once you have let them out, keep writing.  You may find more positive stuff coming through behind, and perhaps even ideas of things to do to help, comfort and console yourself.

Above all, be gentle with yourself. 

Show yourself the same compassion you would to a friend in need. (We often don’t do this, conditioned as we are to berate ourselves for the smallest failing.)

What next?

This is a process of continuing orientation and expression.  If you were on a cross-country walk, you would stop regularly to check your map and compass, to be sure where you were, to work out which was the next direction to take.

In the same way, depression is a long journey.  You need to be taking your own emotional temperature, checking your compass, as regularly as possible.  So make time to write often.

In my last spell of depression, I worked in my journal like this three or four times a day, for several days, then continued on a daily basis long after.  That probably sounds like quite a lot of effort.  On the other hand, you might take a pill three or four times a day if told by the doctor that it would make you feel better.  And this will make you feel better.

Why?  Because it gets the toxic feelings out of your body and mind, and puts them somewhere else – onto the page.

NOTE:  Do not reread what you write when you are still ill, or at all.  That would be ruminating on your feelings, and will encourage you to judge, feel guilty or ashamed.  Just get it down.  You are looking for TRUTH, not BEING GOOD.

You may find it helpful to write on loose sheets of paper, rather than in your journal proper.  This way, you could opt to burn the pages, ritually releasing the feelings, and freeing yourself.

Whether you are in the midst of a long bout of clinical depression, or just having a low spell, I encourage you to try this way of journaling.  I hope that it will help you to release your pain and move back into the sunshine.

With love,

EF

Journal Friday: More about Privacy

sussex church

Herstmonceaux Church, East Sussex

I’ve been thinking a lot about boundaries lately, and about the freedom they afford us to be ourselves.  We talk a lot about the boundaries we set for ourselves in the external world – saying no to doing too much, closing the door for some quiet time, backing off from an over-needy friend who is monopolising us.  What we rarely seem to do is think about the internal boundaries we set up, or fail to set up.

I think one of the things women, especially, do is to set up one set of boundaries for themselves, and one for everyone else, and not in a good way.

Let me give you an example:  my mother is a nice lady.  People like her.  She is charming and good company.  But she speaks to herself in ways she would never dream of using to others.  ‘You stupid bloody woman,’ I hear her saying to herself when she gets frustrated that she can’t remember things anymore now she’s in her 80s, ‘You idiot, can’t you do anything right?’  My mother does not have a boundary about treating herself in acceptable, compassionate and loving ways. I suppose I must have learnt the same trick from her, because sometimes, I catch myself doing it too.

It is hard enough to put your foot down when you need to set external boundaries.  It is even harder to do it when those oh-so-flexible standards are inside your own head. We need to destroy those self-sabotaging habits as much as we can.  This is what my husband calls:

‘Locating and Killing Your Inner Nigel.’

(You’ve heard about my ‘Nigel’ voice before!)  Sometimes Nigel is just your inner critic, telling you the story you just wrote, the sculpture you just made, is crap.  Sometimes he is a complete Hitler, out to annihilate you with core beliefs you didn’t even know you had!

Keeping a journal is a great way to kick the crap out of Nigel.

To do this, you have to feel free within your journal’s pages to say and do whatever you want.  Rubbish spelling?  Fine.  No punctuation?  Great.  Scribbly handwriting, not being neat? Perfect.  And those scrappy drawings?  Absolutely compulsory, if you feel the need.  The rule is this:

No Judgement.

Tell Nigel to go copulate with himself.  You say and do what you want.  Only then wil your journal come into its own, only then can it be your complete friend, your safe place, without self-censorship.

I wrote in a previous post about who you write your journal for, and although I still stand by that piece, it has been bothering me.  Because you see, if you always have an eye on posterity, on what people who come after you will with think of you, then you will never be honest.  And you must be honest, otherwise why bother?  Without honesty, you are wasting your time.  Who cares if you are being petulant, smug, dull or sulky inside your journal’s pages?  No one is perfect all the time.

Your diary must be, first and foremost, always for you alone, whatever else it is.

Journal Exercise:

When you write this week, do not judge yourself. Do not think about what anybody who reads your journal in years to come will think of you.  Pay no attention to Nigel the Neat Nazi, who wants everything in pukka little rows, with perfect handwriting and impeccable grammar, spelling and punctuation.  Scribble.  Make a mess.  Be what ever you are inside.  Set yourself this new internal boundary.

When it comes to my diary, I will be completely myself, whoever that is at this moment.

Happy Journalling,

EF

Journal Friday: Motivations

Grandmas 80th

Family memories: Who are you leaving a legacy for? (That isn’t me, incidentally, its my own Grandma, and my nephew and two nieces, all grown up now.)

I became a Great Auntie for the third time yesterday.  Actually, saying that makes me sound old, and I’m not, really I’m not.  I became an aunt for the first time when I was 14, and since then my siblings have surrounded me with a reasonably sized and very rewarding family.  A big family event like this, or even just a friend having a baby, always raises a question for me, since I don’t have children of my own.

When I am gone, who will remember I was here?

I think that is one of the reasons I have stuck so dilligently to the diary-keeping habit.  The need to leave a mark,  To leave something of myself for posterity.  My diary is a record of my brain as much as anything, its change and development;  the ideas and interests I have had; the things I believe in; the problems i have struggled with and the solutions I have found.  And yes, it records my loves and losses too.

Every time I write, there is a part of me, something in the back of my mind, that is aware that one day, some beloved relative will find these notebooks and start to read them.  I don’t censor myself because of that.  Far from it, because I want them to know, fifty years down the line, who I really was, and what my daily struggles and joys actually were.

Some women keep a diary throughout their pregnancies, talking to their unborn child through the pages.  Others record their terminal illnesses so as to leave a message for their children to remember them by in later years.

Writing a diary can also be a more direct conversation with another person.  Anne Frank wrote her famous diary to her imaginary friend Kitty, perhaps so that she would not feel so alone in her wretched circumstances.  I doubt she ever thought she was leaving a legacy that would inspire people all over the world for decades to come.  For Frank, Kitty was a friend and confidante, a person to whom she could confide things she would never be able to say to anyone else.

For the most part, people write diaries and journals for and to themselves.  They may have little thought of recording ‘interesting times’, unless they are self-seeking politicians such as Alan Clark.  They write because they need to, because it helps them work things out, or simply because they enjoy it.

None of these reasons is wrong.  There are no wrong reasons.  You might think it self-important to want to leave a mark on the world, but it doesn’t make it a reprehensible motivation.   We all have our motivations for doing what may seem an apparently narcissistic activity, at least on the surface.

What are yours?

Journal Exercise:

Take out your journal and spend a few pages musing on why you write it, and whether you write to or for someone.  Journals are not meant to be read by anyone except their writer, at least not without permission, but sometimes we write with someone specific in mind.  Do you write for someone else, to someone else, or just to yourself?  Do you mean to use your writing as a prompt for other forms of creativity, painting for instance?  Or do you want to record a difficult stage in your life so that you can learn from it?  Do you want to write things down so you will remember them in years to come, or do you want to leave a record for posterity and your great-grandchildren?

If you have something to say to a specific person that you cannot say to their face, write them a letter in your diary, letting it all out.  You never have to send it, but it can help to say those things in some private, safe way.  That is what your diary is for.

If you are interested in historical diaries, you might look at The Great Diary Project for inspiration.  Other people’s published diaries can be an endless source of inspiration, and I will be writing about notable ones in future posts.  In the meantime, why not pop out to your local library or bookshop and see what you can pick up.

Happy journalling!

Journal Friday: Check In and Kick Start

So how are you doing?  Have you been writing your Morning Pages?  Did you buy yourself a journal and scribble your thoughts?

I started my Artist’s Way ‘Redux’ on Monday, and so far I have only missed one day on the Morning Pages (MPs).  I’m feeling pretty proud of myself.  I keep my MP notebook by my bed, along with my fountain pen, and write when I wake up.  It seems to be clearing the sleepy fluff out of my head, and helping me to work out what I want to do for the day.  What’s important.  (Need to be careful not to get ink on my nice white sheets, though!)

How about you?

Did you have a go with the journal exercise last week, as Puggle did?  Did you find out more about your life, and where you are?  Maybe even where you want to be?

Why not share with us how you are doing by leaving a message in the replies/comments?

Sometimes, its hard to think of what to write, or how to start.  I have to admit, there are times when I sit down with my journal or MPs and stare into space and think ‘what now?’  My MPs especially are punctuated by the sentence:  ‘I don’t know what to write next, my mind has gone blank.’

If you are suffering from this, and need a little kick start to get you going, here are some ideas that might just prime your pump.

Kick-Start Exercise # 1:  What Happened today?

Yes, I know that sounds boring and traditional, but maybe its not if you go about it the right way.  What was the most important thing that happened to you today, the event or feeling that sticks out in your mind above all others as important?

It might be the moment the doctor told you that your child didn’t have meningitis.  (Or did, in which case I am sorry.)   It might be that your boss complimented you on your work for the first time ever.  It might just be a moment when you were sitting at the traffic lights and looked up, and the clouds making were breathtakingly beautiful shapes, and it felt good to be alive.   Maybe nothing happened, and that in itself is a relief, an achievement or a significant red flag for you.

We go through our lives in a state of dazed distraction most of the time.  We barely notice the things that are important, let alone the things that are not, no matter how beautiful or poignant they may be.  Take a moment to stop and record what was most important today, the lasting memory of the waking hours you have just experienced that you want to take forward with you into the future.

Kick Start Exercise #2:  Have a Rant

If you are still stuck, how about writing about somethiing that makes you angry.  Everybody has something.  If you don’t, maybe you want to consider that in and of itself – are you repressing feelings, and if so, why?  Maybe your rant has to do with the neighbour allowing their dog to bark at all hours of the night, or potholes in the road that the council doesn’t fix.   What would you say to them if you could?  Maybe you want to yell at the government for some policy you don’t like, or you hate that your washing machine seems to eat socks and you can never find a complete pair.  Perhaps there are things you need to shout at your parents, partner or children, but don’t feel able to.  Your diary or journal is a safe place for all this.  Let it out.

Good luck with your journalling and MPs this week, and please share how you are getting on with us here.

Journal Friday: The Rules

2013 diary

There is something about keeping a diary that makes us think there has to be rules. It may be something to do with those little lockable five year diaries girls were bought by well-meaning aunts in the 1970s.

If we aren’t careful, diaries become about OUGHTS – you know, how you OUGHT to do things – and I gave up doing OUGHTS about 10 years ago.  I don’t live in SHOULDland anymore.

The truth is that there are as many ways of keeping a diary as there are diarists.  But over the last 38 years I have found that the following guidelines are useful, for me and for friends I have helped with diary writing.

Guideline # 1:  Absolute Privacy is Non-Negotiable.

A journal/diary is a place you need to be able to be yourself.  Otherwise it is no good to you.  Where else can you say all the things you really need to express, but daren’t because someone might get upset or hurt.  Where else can you confide your deepest desires, wildest fantasies, greatest irritations, and the things you plan to do to Brad Pitt if you every get your hands on him?

I suppose this is what the lockable diary was about, all those years ago – I never had one, but I had a friend who did, and I envied her’s so much.  Funny – she never wrote in it.  I wonder why?  Maybe for her, it was an OUGHT.  Or maybe, she was worried that the lock was an invitation for her brother to break in and read her most intimate thoughts.

However you ensure privacy is up to you.  Maybe you need to get the agreement of those with whom you live.  My husband and I have shared a home for the last 16 years, and he has never once looked at my diary.  He knows it is my private place.  (I respect his privacy in turn.)

You may have to physcally hide your journal from prying eyes, which seems a shame to me, but then I don’t live with annoying siblings anymore.  You may need to keep it in a locked drawer at work, or hide it under a loose floorboard (I hope you don’t), but whatever you do, you need to be satisifed that whatever you say is safe and for you alone.  Otherwise you will not say what is in your heart, and that is not only defeating the object, but denying the healing power of the diary.

If your partner is upset and worried about your keeping a diary, comfort them that it is not a threat to your relationship with them.  Reassure them that it is a place for you to express yourself, to have a freedom that will in turn invigorate your relationship with them.

Guideline # 2:  Date Every Entry

Duh!  Yeah, this seems obvious, but sometimes people forget.  You need some kind of way to navigate this mountain of paper you are going to create.  Chronology is the way human beings connect things within their own lives, so it makes sense to use that.

Guideline # 3:  Write when you have something to say

Don’t allow yourself to fall for the tyranny of writing every day.  Sometimes you will write every day.  This is especially useful to do when experiencing difficult and demanding times, when you are trying to work out how you feel, or where you want your life to go next.  But do not force it.  Write only when you have something you wish to record, understand or work out.  And don’t beat yourself up if you look back and find a gap of months at a time.  Those were the times when you were too busy living to write, and thats okay too.

Guideline # 4:  It doesn’t have to be perfect

This is especially true if you have the nasty habit like I do, of perfectionism.  After all, whats the point in doing something unless you can do it perfect first time?

Reject perfectionism.  Make a mess.  Scribble.  Write scruffily.  Make blots.  Have fun.  Use different colours.  Play.

If you are doing art journals, beware of perfectionism in the images you create.  Its just for you.  You aren’t going to show this to anybody, so it doesn’t have to be Leonardo first time.

Aways tell Nigel (your perfectionist’s voice, remember him?) to bugger off, and just enjoy yourself.  Have fun.  It really doesn’t have to be perfect.

Journal Exercise – Where am I right now?

I hope that following last week’s post, you have been out and bought yourself a lovely notebook to write in.  Maybe you are already scribbling down your thoughts.  But perhaps you feel a bit stuck.  Sometimes it is a bit hard to get started.  Here is what I do:

Write down the sentence:  This is where I am right now.

Now, write whatever comes to mind after that.  You might want to describe the room you are sitting in, the town you may be visiting, the lover, friends or colleagues you are with.  Or you might want to talk about where you are in your life, the joys and frustrations you are experiencing, the hopes and fears lurking in the back of your mind.  Write whatever comes out, and don’t censor it.  No judging, no Nigels, remember?  Just do a brain dump.

Then, when you have finished saying where you are right now, maybe you can go on from there, and write about whatever else pops into your head.  Or maybe you can stop.  And use the same prompt tomorrow.

Whenever you feel you need to write, but don’t know where to start, this prompt is a great one.  It grounds you in your life and your feelings.  It often tells you things you didn’t know about yourself right now.  It illuminates, as well as getting the wheels rolling.

Happy journalling!