Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Out of the Blue

It never fails to surprise me - the way an idea, a possibility, an alternative can sneak up on me, show up in the periphery of my vision, appear suddenly out of the blue when I least expect it.

For the past several years, I've taken this week to formulate goals for the coming year.  Usually by arenas - health, relationship, work, etc. Or, occasionally by values - family, accomplishment, creativity, etc. This past year, I had one major, all-encompassing goal. Move to St. George, downsize, and reorganize our home. (Thrilled to say, I've/we've accomplished it.) 

So what about 2012?  What's next? And in the spirit of this blog, how might I approach goal-setting in a new way?  I am slowly wending my way through old journals for insights and new possibilities, true, but that will take months to finish and a goal should be rooted in the future, right?

Then, quite unexpectedly, over a cup of coffee one recent morning, scanning a USA Today, a story caught my eye, a charming, inspiring story. The subject of the story, Jim Henry. He is 98 years old. And he has just published a book, In a Fisherman's Language. Amazing. Even more amazing, however, is that Jim was illiterate until he decided to learn to read and write - in his mid-90's! 

"It's never too late to learn," says Jim. So, what do I want to learn about, says I?  And the organizing principle for my goals for 2012 suddenly crystallized.

I'm starting with a bucket list, not of places I want to see, but of things I want to learn more about and things I want to learn to do. And from this list, I'm creating not so much a series of goals in the traditional sense of the word, but a course of study, my own syllabus. I don't know if this would work for anybody else, but for me this feels so right. Because, unlike too many of the goals of the past, goals driven by what I felt I should  or needed to do, this I want to do.

My initial thoughts - choose a theme per month. To begin with, nutrition. I'm embarrassed to admit I know too little and genuinely want to know more. And learn about the state we live in, including take a trip to explore and become acquainted with it. Or World War II, or the 20's.  And  there are the Impressionists, and the classic novels I've not read. 

And - what I want to learn to do or learn to do better -  to draw, to make better use of the computer, to write more creatively.

An explosion of ideas, generated by a brief newspaper article. Thank you, Mr. Henry.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Road Not Taken

I've been giving a lot of thought lately to how I make decisions, particularly the big ones. Not just while rereading past journals, not just to understand for the sake of understanding. I know I've some big decisions ahead of me, foreseen and unforeseen. And I want to make them as consciously and effectively as possible.

In the past, I have been quite influenced, positively and negatively, by the perceptions and opinions of others. The usual cast of characters - parents, teachers, friends, authors. And the occasional stranger.

One in particular. A young woman who impacted the entire course of my life. Picture this - l957, Mid-west, Catholic all-girls school, sheltered girl from a strict Sicilian family, taking clerical courses to become a secretary. Enter a young woman asking to give some IQ tests to juniors for her masters degree thesis.  For some undisclosed reason, I am selected to participate.

After the test is completed and scored, young woman asks what I intend to study in college. "Who, me? College? I'm not going to college." The young woman, aghast, "But you have to. You're too bright not to."

Me, stunned. No one had ever called me bright before. She persisted, speaking to the nuns to support the idea. Offering to speak to my parents on my behalf - did not take her up on that one! And the more she persisted, the more an idea that I had never entertained became a possibility.

So, I summoned the courage and went directly to my father, who, somewhat stunned himself, said, "Why would you do that, you're just going to get married and have a family. Besides, we can't help you. Any money we can spare has to be set aside for your brother." Remember, it was l957!

But the possibility had become a dream and with it came a new possibility. I could make a decision that my parents did not support.  The rest is history. How I was one of only a very few of my class to enter college on graduation. How I earned my own way, becoming the first woman on both sides of my family to get my degree. How I went on to get my masters degree.

Certainly, I will never know what my life would have been like had I not met the young woman, had I not gone to college. But to quote my favorite poem by my favorite poet, Robert Frost...

                        Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
                I took the one less traveled by
                And that has made all the difference.

So, however much I research and contemplate alternatives, how much I seek the wisdom of others, I hope I never forget to stay open to the insights and inspiration of total strangers.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

What's Important?

This venture, considering alternatives for the future, is taking me down some interesting pathways. I am, as I initially intended, revisiting old journals to see what I may have forgotten, what original dreams I have given up on, what themes or patterns of thinking could open up new possibilities.

But I am also journaling now in some ways I haven't before, an alternative in itself.  This new "special journal", for example, simply asking myself at the end of the day, "What's the most important thing that happened today?" Heaven knows, I've filled pages on what I haven't liked about a day. But what's important? And why it's important?

Some days nothing seems to have been important. Some days, two or three things seem to be and deciding which is most important proves to be the most valuable aspect of this little exercise. Case in point...our tradition of listing, on Thanksgiving Day, what we are grateful for over the past year. Taking turns, usually while we are driving somewhere. Started on a whim. A ten year tradition now.

Reflected that night - was it important that we continued the tradition? Or that the list was so long? Or that we agreed so often? Or that he seemed to enjoy doing so - in the past, I think he just humored me. Ultimately, I decided that what is most important to me is that I have a partner who is willing to create tradition with me and still healthy enough to do so. Talk about grateful! 

Don't know yet if I'll continue this practice, or whether it will lead me in new directions, but for now it seems - well, important.

Monday, November 14, 2011

So Many Books, So Little Time

Recently, I came across one of my "special" journals, a journal devoted to one topic. Like the one I kept after my divorce when I was so angry with virtually every man I had ever known.  Got to find that and burn it!

This volume contains brief reviews of the books I read one year. Mostly was a stressful year and mysteries have always offered a respite from the stresses of life. Somewhere there's a journal with reviews of Steinbeck, Maughm, and Hemingway. I also tend to read by author.

Rereading these reviews has brought back some pleasant memories. But more important, I can see how much my tastes have changed and grown. Mysteries still beckon me - Donna Leon, Louise Penny, Andrea Camillieri read this past summer. On my Kindle, however, Wendell Berry, a book of essays, a National Book Award winner, and on my bedstand, David McCullough and a book of haiku.  Not bad for someone who didn't read a novel until high school.

Haven't kept up recording book reviews.  Maybe if I did, I wouldn't be finding duplicates.

Looking forward to finding other special journals, particularly my old gratitude journals, to seeing if there are patterns, threads that run through the fabric of my life.  Seeing if something I wrote years ago may still be on a list recently
compiled. Because this is a practice I have maintained, every night now for over 30 years.

As I'm typing this in the evening, seems appropriate to end with today's gratitude list...on this day I am grateful for -

  • the spontaneous movie matinee with my husband
  • roses from our new rose garden - in November, no less!
  • a warm afghan and a cup of tea on a chilly afternoon
  • the call from my brother to recommend yet another book I "have to read"
  • and being able to 

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Ghosts of Halloweens Past

 Well, am starting with the premise that looking back, reflecting on my past by visiting my stash of old journals, will help me consider my future more creatively. Thankfully I’ve already had some evidence that this will prove to be valid and a worthy use of my time.

It’s always fascinated me how memories surface, like pop up pictures in a children’s book. Sometimes I can recognize the trigger, but most frequently not. To be actively seeking them feels a bit like therapy.  

But this week I was visited by the Ghosts of Halloweens Past and I was encouraged that this will be a fun project, indeed.  I was writing in my current journal using the stream of consciousness approach to get me going on a particularly sluggish morning, spinning off a porcelain pumpkin in my den. Suddenly, the ghosts appeared.  Halloweens as a youngster, pre-store bought costumes, dressed as a pirate or hobo, traveling with a small band of neighborhood friends, invited into homes where we had to sing a song or tell a story or recite a poem to get a treat, usually a homemade cookie. Much simpler times.

Flash forward to Halloweens as a teacher. The 70’s, an open space, team teaching elementary school, my fondest memories of teaching. Curriculum freedom, creative license, experimentation. And no time more creative than Halloween, the true kids’ holiday. Our fourth, fifth and sixth grade students created their teachers’ costumes.  As I wrote, I laughed out loud remembering myself as Al Capone, a basketball player (all 4’11” of me), and a trash can – complete with an authentic lid for a hat! And the glee of the kids, the peals of laughter, the affection.

Then, Caspar appeared and presented my favorite Halloween memory.  Nine years ago, while I was exhausted from bouts of chemo, needing something to cheer me up, John set out to create a memorable evening. Armed with bowls of candy, he patiently waited by the front door. As groups of youngsters approached, he delivered a ghoulish laugh through our intercom system  and took unusual delight as the kids (and some of their parents) were stopped in their tracks. I don’t know who had more fun – I suspect it was John, with me a close second.

And that was the last special Halloween. No longer teaching, no children of our own, recent years of living in an age specific gated community, we have lost touch with the fun that Halloween can offer. So, although this is instigated by current journal writing and the future is only a week away, these warm memories have definitely spurred a flurry of creativity in our household.  I guess I’m still a kid at heart, because I can hardly wait.

“Memory is a wonderful gift.  With it, the past is never the past.”    - Hercule Poirot
                                                                                                  Cards on the Table

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Resources and Recommendations (For Journaling Enthusiasts)

The New Diary, by Tristine Rainer
After many years, and countless journal entries, after checking out a dozen other resources, this is the one to which I return for inspiration.  It is the book that got me started.
The New Diary is a resource for the veteran journal writer as well as the neophyte.  It offers several possibilities for using a journal for your own purposes.  The sub-title, “How to use a journal for self-guidance and expanded creativity” captures the essence of this excellent resource.  Written in l978, it is still in print.  Check it out.

Creative Journal Writing, by Stephanie Dowrick
Another excellent resource for journal writers, whether you use a bound book and/or the computer is this 2009 edition.  Beside offering key principles, practical suggestions and helpful hints, Dowrick provides 125 starter topics to spur writing and several anecdotes of how people have used journal writing to transform their lives.  This is a fine addition to your writing library.

Harvesting Your Journals, by Rosalie Deer Hunt and Allison Strickland
          I have just started this book, so my recommendation here is merely for reviewing it to see if it could be of value to you.  I added it to my library because I was attracted to the chapter headings.  The authors have decades of combined journal writing and their book contains excerpts from their personal entries, as well as numerous strategies and exercises that the reader can use with one journal or a series of journals.  I most likely will refer to this book again in the future as I play with some of their suggestions.

At Last!

For months I’ve intended to start a blog. Sure that this would be a worthwhile endeavor, something to provide direction and purpose now that I am “retired”, well, semi-retired. Certain that I still have something to contribute. Yet, for months, stuck in a web of considerations – should I focus on a particular topic or theme? What   should I call it? Who comprises my potential audience? What if I throw a party and nobody comes? I’ve felt as though I were standing in front of the cereal section of the supermarket, overwhelmed by the sea of choices.

I bought books on the subject (my usual first line of attack), perused other blogs, and discussed the possibility with friends. I read The Happiness Project and saw Julie and Julia again for inspiration.  I debated topics, only to dismiss them – too heavy, too ponderous, too light, and too frivolous.  I created titles, only to discover my clever ideas weren’t available.  I even wrote a few articles, only to end up dissatisfied with the results.   Disconcerting to say the least. Definitely frustrating.

Then, after all the consideration and deliberation, over-thinking and false starts, the “aha” occurred ~ at an unexpected moment in a most unlikely location. Standing in front of another section of shelves, these in our garage, looking at boxes and crates of journals, accumulated over 35 years of writing.  Promising my husband, and myself, that I would reread them, glean what I most wanted to retain and then shred.  Thinking, aha, this could be the project to provide focus for my blog and the blog impetus to complete this overwhelming project.

So, I’ve brought in the first box of journals, chosen at random, and a book I’ve owned for years, Harvesting Your Journals (I’ve had this idea before!). I’ve created a special corner in my office to do this work.  And finally; FINALLY, I started this blog.

In the months ahead, I’ll open the boxes, dust away the cobwebs, and examine how looking into the past can help to look forward more creatively.  To see what patterns are revealed, what new possibilities will naturally emerge. To develop alternatives I’m not currently entertaining.  And by sharing this venture, to invite others to share and learn with me.