Tag Archives: journal

Real Talk

Where have two weeks gone? Since Memorial Day weekend, summer has arrived; we finally became first-time homeowners (hurrah!); I took my first writing class since college days; my parents bought their ticket to visit over the Fourth of July (hurrah again!); we made our inaugural visit to Sam’s Club… the list goes on and on. While I actually have a gazillion things to write about and think about lately, the practical part of me has been focused on the need to organize as much as is humanly possible. Thus writing quickly gets pushed to the bottom of my to-do list, ironically when I need to process the most.

Of all things to inspire me, it had to be watching an episode of The Next Food Network Star last night. This season they modified the format: the finalists are broken up into teams being coached by Alton Brown, Giada de Laurentiis, and Bobby Flay, respectively. Every week, they are faced with two-part challenges, because they are expected to cook well and be able to be themselves (budding stars) on camera, too — obviously, the latter tends to be the far more difficult part. So I’m watching this episode, and by now the finalists are expected to have a very clear sense of their individual points of view, food-wise and personality-wise. Listening to the coaches, they all had the same message for each person: Be yourself. Be authentically you and no one else. Be confident in you and the stories you have to tell. It will translate positively on camera, we promise, because people want to connect to Who You Really Are.

Last week in my 5-day writing class, we all walked in on Monday as strangers. The first sharing we had to do was read aloud an informal piece of writing that we had to bring with us: metaphors for our writing process. What floored me — and maybe what I should have expected, having been in writing workshops before — was how much we revealed about ourselves through our writing as the week went on. On Wednesday our instructors put us into workshop groups based on our chosen genres (we had three non-fiction pieces and one poem in mine). My personal essay was about three different writing experiences at various points in my life. Immediately after reading my work, the poet in our group said, “This piece is about the narrator reclaiming joy in her life that she used to feel when she was a child.” What?! That’s what I wrote about? I thought I had been taking a walk down memory lane with myself. But there I was, naked like a baby in the words on the paper, and this semi-stranger called it out.

So it was as we workshopped everyone’s piece – the “cheapest therapy” available, our instructors called it. Each of us — in our small groups and in our class overall — uncovered (re-discovered?) parts of ourselves that we didn’t realize were there. It’s a very disconcerting and simultaneously liberating experience to meet yourself on a piece of paper. Even when you want to or try to lie to yourself (or about yourself), people who are paying close attention will recognize what’s going on below the surface. Real talk. No hiding from that. By the end of the week we couldn’t help but be engaged authentically with each other, as was made apparent in the notes people shared after reading portfolios and the meaningful, no-cost gifts we exchanged (including the priceless gifts of honesty and actively listening to each other throughout the week).

If you’ve never had a Moleskine journal, I promise it’s inspiring.

The other best part of class for me was doing free writes in my  (unlined) journal for the class. I truly love seeing people’s handwriting — including my own — because there is energy and emotion there, and I like to imagine the person doing the action of writing. Again, there is an individuality and concrete-ness to ink on paper that doesn’t exist on a computer, where I can cut/paste/delete at will, even dictate words to a smart computer, and everyone turns into Times New Roman. Now, by my own hand, I have this small collection of beginnings of things, some attempts at poetry, and some reflections all in one place. I can’t say specifically why it’s more special to me to have it handwritten (it would be more practical to have them typed already); it just is.

Last week I also thought often of why we need things like art and music and writing in the world: it teaches us empathy and reminds us that we all have our human imperfection in common. For the entire week I kept thinking about the stories behind the people at the grocery store, or why the checkout girl had a certain tattoo on her arm. I was mindful in a way that I forget to be sometimes when I’m with people I love the most, like Husband and family. I want to be that way more often — to be more aware that I am living my own story and in the stories of countless other people’s lives. What will we remember about each other when we meet again in the next life?

I find that when I really need guidance, God has this way of being super didactic in my life. But I’ll remind myself one more time to be sure: Be yourself. Be authentically you and no one else. Be confident in you and the stories you have to tell.

Yes. I will.


Why I Write

Of course I stole the title from this talk, from George Orwell. One reason I stole it was that I like the sound of the words: Why I Write. There you have three short unambiguous words that share a sound, and the sound they share is this:

I

I

I

In many ways writing is the act of saying I, imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its aggressiveness all you want with veils of subordinate clauses and qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating, but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.

-Joan Didion, from The New York Times Magazine, December 5, 1976

During my senior year in college, I took a writing course on Creative Nonfiction; our professor called it something like “Literature B.” I love that name because it reminds of the B-side of a single — it’s not the feature track, but it can be just as interesting and sometimes more original.

Our first assignment was to write an essay on “Why I Write.” After many years of avid journal writing — starting with a 4th grade hardback diary that had a lock — I struggled to come up with an answer. I have many happy memories of writing from a very early age, whether it was diligently practicing my print and cursive letters with my mom, or writing out highly detailed descriptions of the world on the ancient royal blue family typewriter. By the time I was in high school, I would write in my journal to process my so-called life while listening to all of the Lilith Fair ladies (Sarah, Jewel, Indigo Girls, etc, etc.) And when the college years arrived, I chronicled life in my Bible of a grid-lined journal. Now that I have entered a new decade of life, I have moved into a one-line-a-day journal that is supposed to live for 5 years if I do it right. At this point, one might imagine that I would have an eloquent response for why it is that I feel compelled to write.

I have boiled it down to three basic reasons:

1. It makes me happy.

2. I like to save writing. People hoard and save and collect many different things in this life, and for me I love to save the record of my life in my journals, my school work (dork, I know), my email exchanges with girlfriends, notes and letters from family and friends…

3. I am a reader. Readers are writers and vice versa because we love language and the way it sounds and the way it looks on a page, the way it can fundamentally change how we think and feel.

So. While I harbor no dreams of becoming a poor-girl’s Carrie Bradshaw (no way could I do the whole “I couldn’t help but wonder” convention), I do think there is space in my life to write and perhaps there always will be. Zen Buddhists believe that it is important to clear out old ideas in the closet of our minds so that we have room for fresh/new/alternative ways of thinking, and I will consider this my space to process the old and the new.