Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Taking Time Off

The Writing Life blog will be suspended during the holiday season. I am gearing up to launch some new projects in 2016 and need this time to lay the ground work. I will be back in January with new content for this site.

I wish all of you Happy Holidays, and I'll reconnect in the New Year. Keep up the journal writing.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Pen or Keyboard: Choosing the Perfect Journal Medium

By Summer Jayne

It’s probably fair to say that I’ve been a journaler since the day I learned how to write, though perhaps I wasn’t aware of it. I’ve had multiple journals along the way, most of which are half filled; I’ve never like the idea of finishing an entire book before moving onto a new one. I’ve always felt it was important to have an emotional relationship with my journal, and that came with the physical act of putting pen to paper and crafting the words by hand that needed to spill from my soul.

While I was in my mid-twenties, I noticed something odd was happening. I could no longer marathon write without excruciating amounts of pain in my hand. Well, this was a problem, and a big one at that. How was I supposed to put everything on paper? This was my coping mechanism for everything in life. It preserved my sanity, and in many ways, probably saved me from jumping off the nearest tall building. How would I be able to do this?

Fortunately for me, I went to a high school that insisted on teaching typing to every student. Instead of my beloved tomes of paper, handpicked for its texture and coupled with the pen that felt the best gliding across it, I turned to my laptop. At first it was just a running Word document, but over the years, I’ve developed an affinity for both manual and electronic journaling. Each has its merits and drawbacks, and each has a time and place.

Manual Journaling
Over the years, I’ve begun separating journals loosely by topic instead of putting everything in one book. Currently, I have two manual journals I use on a regular basis. One is a travel journal. I chose to do this one with a pen and paper instead of a digital source because it contains everything travel related, and it’s a light weight item that can be tossed into a suitcase without taking up too much precious space or weight. This volume not only contains a record of my adventures, but also the copious amounts of notes I’ve compiled while planning the trip, from budgeting to sight-seeing. I daydream in this journal because no one can tell me it’s unrealistic, and I find great comfort in being able to take my mind somewhere else, even if my body never physically gets there. I’ve spent many blistery Boston nights mentally lying in the sands of the Caribbean and blizzards wrapped on the beaches in Hawaii, which have served me well on planning the three various Caribbean cruises I’ve been on!

The other manual journal I have is a spiritual journal. I was born Catholic, but as I grew older, I never felt it resonated, so I’ve been on a spiritual quest for the past 20 years. To loosely quote U2: “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” And yet, this is another area where sitting in silence with a physical piece of paper and a pen seems to resonate more than pushing buttons. When I’m trying to reach G-d, so to speak, I don’t want the clacking of a keyboard as a distraction. I’ve always found spirituality to be a deeply personal topic of the utmost intimacy. The act of crafting the words from ink again seems fitting for times such as these.

I switch journals quite a bit, and as gorgeous and appealing as the expensive leather ones are, I could never justify the cost. Knowing my habits, I’ll change my journal before it’s full, and that’s an expense I can’t justify. The other issue is that, if I absolutely love it, I’ll fill it too quickly, and I’ll still need another journal. A refillable journal is a good option in this case. There are many blank refill journals on the market in a plethora of sizes. The key to choosing this option is to choose a journal with a standard size paper, ensuring that new volumes can be loaded into the (expensive) beautiful cover as needed.

I mentioned that I separate my journals out loosely by topic, and I’ve only mentioned two so far. So what about everything else? Surely I can’t always write about traveling and G-d (although sometimes I wonder).

Electronic Journaling
Over the years, my arsenal of technology has evolved. When I was in high school, we had one computer that took up all of the space on one desk for the entire family. By the time I graduated from college, everyone had a laptop, and most people were buying into the iPad frenzy. In 2012, I purchased my first iPad, and I was amazed at what it could do. It reminded me of something out of Star Trek, and I must say, I’ve always found Star Trek appealing. I wondered what it could do for my journaling habits, too.

After much trial and error, and experimenting with different apps, I stumbled across Noteshelf. Noteshelf is a remarkable app that allows for the creation of different journals with infinite pages and customizable covers. It can pair with a Bluetooth keyboard, or it can be used with a stylus and record handwriting, if the need arises. Like most journaling apps, it has a magnified window that allow for easier writing with a stylus. This has definitely become my “go-to” app for journaling!

I’ve created journals for writing topics, short stories, novel excerpts, recipes, notes from meetings at work, as well as a catch-all-I-just-need-to-vent book.

The Bluetooth capability has help immensely when I can’t physically write. I actually type faster than I can write by hand, so using this method almost allows the writing to keep up with the rate at which I’m thinking. And sometimes that’s the entire point—just get it out of my head as quickly as I possibly can. For me, that’s typing it out. I’m not worried about what the writing looks like or how the pen feels on the paper. I’m not concerned with anything except the flurry of my fingers as they roam over the keyboard. The organization feature of Noteshelf is nice, but it’s also just as easy to have multiple Word documents. Pull out your tablet, search for journaling apps, and see what pops up. You never know, there just might be one that’s perfect for your specific needs.

Manual vs. Electronic
So which is better? In my mind, neither. Or both.  There are some die-hards who will insist on handwriting, just as there are those who insist keeping an electronic journal is more versatile and secure (hello, password protection!).  The truth is, they both have a place. The important part of journaling isn’t about the paper or what app you’re using; it’s about being able to put thoughts to feeling and transcribe them onto a page (actual paper or virtual). 

My journal is still my best friend, all twelve of them. 

Happy journaling!


Summer Jayne is an author and avid journal writer in the Boston area.  When the economic crisis of 2008 hit, she was unemployed for nearly two years.  She turned to writing to combat the unending boredom from being home-bound, ultimately creating the novel Lioness (April 2009) available on Amazon.  She works as a chemist by day for a local medical device company while pursuing her second novel in her spare time.  She currently resides with three roommates, three cats, and a pile of student loans.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Journaling Tip #13

Give it a try with minimal investment

If you are someone who is hesitant to start journaling because you have never been able to commit to it or are unsure if it is "your thing," start with a basic notebook. That's really the only essential element, plus a writing implement, that you need. A fancy journal is not a requirement. A spiral-bound notebook serves your purpose and it is inexpensive, so the investment is minimal.

Try to schedule a time to write regularly. It doesn't have to be every day, but in the beginning, set a schedule and see if you can stick to it. You may find that it becomes a habit or you miss it when you don't write. If that is the case, it may be time to upgrade to an actual journal.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Always be on the lookout...

Two recent posts encouraged readers to purchase their journals from a bookstore, but be on the lookout wherever books are sold.

I was in New York Penn Station a couple weeks ago, waiting to catch a train. I ventured into Hudson News to see what new books were available because I had some time to kill. I stood there perusing the shelves when a woman needed to squeeze by me. I turned to let her pass and saw these:

...and these:

Gorgeous, right? I was so tempted to purchase one or two but resisted because I have one, in addition to my current journal, that needs to be filled before I purchase any more. When I do need another, I may pop into Hudson News because these are lovely. So dear readers, keep your eyes open because you never know where you may find your next treasured journal.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Journaling through Cancer in the 21st Century

My article is in Coping® with Cancer magazine and on the website as a featured article and the lead one on the Wellness/Emotional Well-being landing page. Enjoy!

Journaling through Cancer in the 21st Century

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Journaling Tip #12.1

Visit a bookstore when selecting a journal (Journaling Tip #12). Writer/author Summer Jayne weighs in on the importance of getting up close and personal when choosing your journal. 

But what’s important in choosing a journal? A huge component is to physically get off the couch, go to a bookstore, and choose one. Don’t do it online. All a website can give you is a photo of said journal. In a bookstore, you can pick it up and open it. You can feel the texture of the paper. I’m rather picky about the paper in my journal. I like lines, because otherwise my writing goes all over the place. And I prefer a matte finish to the paper. In fact, the closer to a natural paper texture, the more I like it. I love pens with big, chunky tips (0.7 mm or larger), and a soft matte paper allows the ink to settle on the page without smearing the instant the book closes.  

I would never dream of picking the first blank book I saw. I always ask myself, “do I like this book?  Do I want to hold it and manipulate it?” If I don’t like the feel of it, or if the answer to those questions is no, then that book goes right back on the shelf. Interestingly enough, the journals I’m currently using are actually refills. They have a simple cardboard cover, and they are only a few dollars to replace when I fill one up, but I love the paper in them!! I have lofty ideas of finding an expensive leather cover or beautiful artistic sleeve for it, but for now, I’m perfectly happy with my plain brown book.

Summer Jayne is an author and avid journal writer in the Boston area. When the economic crisis of 2008 hit, she was unemployed for nearly two years. She turned to writing to combat the unending boredom from being home-bound, ultimately creating the novel Lioness (April 2009) available on Amazon. She works as a chemist by day for a local medical device company while pursuing her second novel in her spare time. She currently resides with three roommates, three cats, and a pile of student loans.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Journaling Tip #12

Visit a bookstore when selecting a journal.

Selecting the perfect journal is important to me. The appearance of my journals reflect the mood I'm in at any given moment as well as the events happening, challenges presenting themselves, and goals being set during any period of my life. I crave variety, and if variety appeals to you too, then a trip to the bookstore should be on your to-do list. There are entire sections devoted to journals, from the very plain, utilitarian ones to those that are bound in elaborately embossed Italian leather. (Yes, I do like the Italian leather journals.)

You may ask: But I can find them online too, right? Of course, you can. You can find just about anything online. However, what you miss shopping via the Internet is the experience of touch and smell, turning the pages, getting a feel for the book in your hands. I pick them up, page through them because some include inspirational quotes and pictures, so one never knows what surprises reside inside. 

It may sound silly, but I find connection to my next journal this way. My current journal has a smooth navy cover with an embossed quill on it. The interior cream-colored pages are edged in gold and have black lines, ensuring that my script moves straight across the page and not up towards the right, which is apt to happen absent any lines. I selected this journal when I was feeling more professional (it is no frills), prosperous (it is elegant), and confident (it is sleek).

A few years ago I used a National Football League pigskin covered notebook from the office because I was in the process of paying off all my credit card debt and decided to use a notebook I already had. It served its purpose, but it wasn’t as pretty as some of my others. 

The perfect receptacle for your thoughts, ideas, and happenings can make writing that much more enjoyable. The purchase you make in that moment is a reflection of your current life. Of course, life changes and then it's on to a new journal—one that may be radically different from the previous one. That’s been my experience anyway. Happy journal hunting! 

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Journaling Tip #11

Write honestly. Avoid censoring yourself. 

This is the most important advice I give in my workshops or when asked about journaling: Avoid censoring what you write. Your journal is a place only for you, where you can record and reflect on all that is happening or has occurred in your life as well as your hopes for the future. The content can be as wild, dark, inspiring, or joyful as you are feeling.

This is a no-judgment zone, except from you, but avoid doing that. No good comes from it and judgment inevitably leads to censorship. Be honest—brutally so if necessary—because that is how healing and growth happen. Then after some tough love, be gentle and kind with yourself and all your flaws, remembering that you are only human after all.

Happy writing.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Appreciate the present and leap into the future by reflecting on the past

I was cleaning my bedroom Sunday afternoon and that included reorganizing my journals in their proper order. As is customary when I do this, I was compelled to open them to random pages and read some entries.

The first I came upon were two letters I’d written, separately, to my parents about a month before my move from Cincinnati to New Jersey to pursue an acting career in the New York City market. I knew they were concerned for my safety, especially since it had not yet been one year since the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. In those letters I reassured them that I would be fine, that I loved them, and how much I valued their guidance and love throughout the years. I made a note to myself to ask Mom if she still had those letters. (She does.) I had totally forgotten that I had written them. The content was unsurprising because I’ve always been quite sentimental and emotionally open with those closest to me.

The second entry I read was the first one in that journal, dated February 17, 2002. It was still about six months prior to my departure and in one paragraph I’d written about what I envisioned my life to look like in 2012. Well, it is 2015 and my life little resembles that which I had hoped for or envisioned at that time. This made me stop and ask myself some questions:

  1. Does this disappoint me? Am I a failure? 
  2. If not, why and what has replaced this vision?
  3. Where did my planned path go astray? What factors influenced the change in trajectory?
  4. What on that list did I accomplish?
  5. What not on my list has manifest in my life that is better, or merely different?
  6. In what ways am I happy or satisfied in my current situation? How am I not and what steps can I take to change any dissatisfaction?
This to me is the value of journal writing. Unexpectedly finding ideas from your younger self and discovering that you are wiser, or maybe not, and reflecting on where you are in your current life—how it works and where it needs improvement.

To answer the above questions, no, I do not feel like a failure. Does some of it disappoint me? Yes and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t, knowing the expectation, excitement, and hope behind those dreams and goals.

I always longed to be an actor and was for a while although never at the level I’d imagined. My acting and singing work was quite prolific during my Cincinnati years, and I loved it. It was when I moved to the Northeast and decided to try to make a living at it that much of the joy was lost in performing. The business aspect diminished my love for the craft. Being in my late thirties when I made the move, getting leukemia fourteen months later, and starting at it again in my early forties, without a manager or agent, was really tough. I know. Those are a lot of excuses but most are valid, and after cancer, my priorities changed.

Asking the above questions encouraged me to dig into the "whys" and "hows" of ending up where I am currently. Instead of feeling down about it, when reviewing what I have accomplished, the people who have shown up in my life, as well as the independence and financial well-being I now possess—which I sorely lacked thirteen years ago—reassures me that I am no failure.

I pursued acting for five years post-cancer, during which time I also wrote a book, began volunteering in the cancer community, speaking, started a journal writing workshop for cancer survivors, and became more politically active, especially blogging on politics. Current events, domestic and global, captured my attention much more so than events happening in the entertainment industry. My actor friends talked acting while I talked politics, which was a major clue as to how my goals and interests were evolving.

Paris, Notre Dame--2012

Annual trips abroad commenced in 2006. Those experiences have been transformative, especially my solo trips to Paris in 2012 and this past spring to Ireland, Scotland, and England. These adventures have increased my confidence and made me more independent. I possess a self-assurance of which that woman back in February 2002 could've only dreamed. 

Edinburgh - view of Old Town from New Town
May 3, 2015

I am single, never been married, nor do I have children. However, I do have kids in my life who are like my own, and they are precious to me. We have an excellent relationship. Adoption was always a possibility for me, even if I remained single, but as I’ve aged and have my nieces and nephews, the desire to adopt has disappeared. 

While my life may not be the grand vision of thirteen years ago, it is a wonderful one filled with much love. I have everything I need, I’m healthy, and more importantly, over a decade since my leukemia diagnosis, I’m still here. I commit to living each day to the fullest. Furthermore, by my definition, I am successful: I do what I want, when I want, and live life on my terms. It has definitely been an adventure. Still, there is much to accomplish because, well, that's who I am. 

One thing I have forgotten over the years is my mantra: "Leap, and the net will appear." Practicing that has worked for me many times. The goals I have now set—reset rather—for my future, start now with that first leap of faith, propelling me forward. It's time to leap.

The next time you read through your journals, take some time to reflect on where you've been, where you are now, and what twists and turns brought you to your current situation. It's worth exploring in order to keep moving forward, and on track; or if necessary, to change tracks. So dear reader, what are you leaping toward?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Why Journal? (Tip/Reason #10)

Tip #10 – Journal writing is a way to hone and practice your writing skills, expand your creativity, and play. 

Journal writing is a way to test out a short story, article, or poem you are trying to craft. It is a place to jot down ideas and play with phrasing. Don’t be afraid to strike out words and try others in their place. Make a mess of the page–out of the chaos you may produce some literary gems.

If you prefer a more visual medium, draw or paint in your journal. One of my workshop participants drew a gorgeous image using pens of vibrant shades of yellow, green, purple, red, pink, and blue to express a situation with which she’d been struggling. Painting, coloring, creating a collage or even scrapbooking are all forms of journaling to consider. Allow yourself the freedom to experiment with different colors, visual image techniques, and writing styles.  

When I was going through cancer, I was given several decks of inspiration cards and regularly wrote my interpretation of the sayings and why they resonated with me. I bought colored construction paper, made small rectangular cut-outs, and glued them into my journal to create pouches in which the cards were placed, and decorated the pouches with stickers. This was a way to add variety to my journal pages and make them aesthetically appealing. Furthermore, it was enjoyable.  

Journaling is not only about the written word. Have fun, express yourself, and be creative!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Is blogging journaling?

I came across an article a while back that asked readers if they thought blogging was akin to journaling? As someone who both journal writes and blogs, I say yes. Although my blog is public, it is still a journal. (Note: You can always choose to set your blog to “private” should sharing your ideas, thoughts, and content not be your intention.)

When I began blogging back in 2004, I was using it as a means to communicate with family and friends, keeping them abreast of my leukemia treatments and progress. I was writing my book, Rebirth, at the time and the blog was a place where I wrote two essays about “being enough” and “forgiveness,” both of which are included in my book. The blog was where I could practice my writing skills, share my thoughts, and receive feedback from family, friends, and even strangers.

The political writing I have done over the years is residing out in cyberspace for public consumption. Still, I consider it journaling too. When I review those posts, I am reminded of what topics were important to me at the time, how I supported my ideas, and reflect on whether my feelings have remained the same or changed over time, as I’ve received new information. The content is interesting (admittedly, maybe only to me) and revealing about who I was/am, where I fit into the world, how I view current events and those in charge who shape our society, for better or worse. 

(If interested in reading the above post, click here.)

Past posts have also been repurposed into new posts, taking old content and adding information relevant in today's world. I use this for blogging on my own or on other platforms or writing articles for publication. 

As open as I am sharing my thoughts, there are some moments or issues in my life that I prefer remain secret, even from those closest to me. That is the beauty of journal writing: it is a means to express your deepest feelings, transferring your emotions out onto the page or computer screen, depending on how you choose to journal. I admit to being a Luddite, as I prefer actual journaling books to online ones. If I type an entry, I format it to fit the page, print it, cut it, and tape or glue it into the book.

Regardless of how you choose to journal, be it on the page or on the screen, there are myriad ways to do it that fits your style and personality. Blog away if you prefer online tools. There are numerous blogging platforms out there, and remember, you are in charge of the privacy settings.

There are many online journals as well. A quick Google search for “online journals” will provide numerous options. One that has received excellent reviews is LifeJournal: “Since 1999 LifeJournal has been recognized by journal experts, professional writers and publishers, and individual journal writers as the leading journal application on the market today.”

Happy blogging, er, journaling!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Why Journal? (Tip/Reason #9)

Tip #9 - Journal writing is a way to better understand yourself. 

Self-exploration requires digging into past events, relationships, and emotions. When you go back and read your journals, you see patterns in your life—some beneficial and others detrimental. If you can recognize negative patterns, you are then able to make the required changes—that is if you are ready to do so. Self awareness can move you in a positive direction, making adjustments so that you avoid the same hurdles you've repeatedly jumped over in previous years. This provides an understanding of why you behave the way you do or why you keep using the same strategies and expecting different results. (Didn't someone say that is the definition of insanity?) 

Writing helps you process emotions and the why for making decisions. Understanding the why associated with your emotions and behaviors and recognizing patterns can potentially free you from insanity, so get sane! Search for the negative patterns that persist then resolve to make the needed correction(s). Write out a plan and follow it. Good luck.

Writing Exercise:

Think of one moment in your life or a person who may have been instrumental, purposely or not, in changing how you felt about yourself, the path you chose, or a decision you made. 
  1. What changed in how you felt about yourself and why?
  2. Why did you make the choice to go down that particular path? Were there other alternatives you had considered?
  3. Do you have any regrets? Why or why not?
  4. Can you imagine what your life may have been like if you had chose differently? Is that even a question worth considering?

Please email me at deborah@deborahludwig.com or leave a comment should you wish to share any of your writing with me. I may use it in a future post, with permission of course.  

Friday, September 11, 2015

Every 9/11 leads me back home to Tell City, Indiana

I was working in downtown Cincinnati at the Cigna offices on Seventh Street when my boss received a call from his dad in the New York office letting him know a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. He shared this information with us, and we all assumed it was a small plane and the pilot had somehow lost control.
It was a splendid September morning in Cincinnati, just like it was in New York City: warm, sunny, clear blue skies. The weather was perfect. Soon that blue NYC sky would turn to dark gray then black.
We gathered in the kitchenette where a TV had been turned on and were stunned by what we saw: a gaping hole in the North Tower with fire spewing out of it. I was horror struck, and even more so as we witnessed the second plane, United 175, crash into the South Tower. The shock of it was chilling. We remained glued to the television and when American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon, I lost it, crying and wondering, 'what city would be next?'
I made my way back to my desk and called my sister Karen, who I knew would be home. She was working on her dissertation. I told her to turn on the television. As we were talking, she gasped and said, “Oh, my God. One of the towers just fell.” Shortly afterwards, we were all sent home. Even away from the chaos and fear, we felt it and didn’t know if we too might be next on the target list. I made it home just before Tower One crumbled, a sheet of ash and smoke cascading to the street.
I spent the next few days glued to the television. Somehow I felt that if I paid attention, sat vigil with the emergency workers, medical personnel, the people searching for loved ones, and New Yorkers trying to cope with the devastation to their city, that somehow I was offering them support, love, and strength. My sister nagged me to turn off the TV because my nonstop mourning was becoming unhealthy.
I thought that with the number of people affected by this tragedy that most Americans probably would know someone who worked in the World Trade Center or knew someone who did. Well, it ended up that I did know someone. Two people, actually: one who got out, another who did not. Her name was Stacey Peak. She graduated high school a year ahead of me. She was 36.

Stacey was from my hometown in southern Indiana and had been living in New York City for about two years, working at Cantor Fitzgerald as a gas/power stock broker. I heard the news from my mother. She told me that Stacey’s mother had received a call from her that morning. She was on the 105th floor of the North Tower when she made the call. Newspaper reports later revealed that her mother said Stacey was hysterical when she called, telling her that she was trapped and didn’t know if she’d be able to get out. She told her mother she loved her and then had to hang up.
I am forever haunted by that detail, wondering what those last moments of her life must have been like, the horror of rising flames and intensifying heat, knowing you were about to die. I know that is morbid, but it’s what I can never stop thinking about when I see photos of her lovely face and hear stories from friends and family. I also think of the helplessness her mother must have felt, not being able to protect her, save her. The anguish must have been intolerable and suffocating, as she waited for news of her daughter, holding out hope that somehow she escaped the carnage.
I did not know Stacey except casually, but the hometown connection, and discovering that she was single, never married, living life on her terms, taking acting classes, all of it somehow connected me to her. Sadly, her remains were never found. There is a memorial to her erected in our hometown, Tell City, Indiana, in Sunset Park by the Ohio River. Every year on September 11, the Perry County News highlights a story about her and local news stations in Evansville remember people from the area who perished that day as well.
Healing definitely takes time and the scars from that fateful day remain, the images and stories etched in our collective memory—for those of us who lived through it anyway. So as I do every year on this date, I will take a moment to remember Stacey as well as the other victims and their families, send a smile and a blessing heavenwards, say a prayer for her family and friends, and recommit to doing my best to try to make this world a better, more peaceful place. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Why Journal? (Tip/Reason #8)

Tip #8 – Journal writing generates ideas for articles or stories.

I’ve found that rereading past journal entries sparks ideas for articles or books. Take some time to peruse your writing and see how you might be able produce an article or story that will entertain or benefit others in some way, as I did with my journal of 2004 when I was going through cancer treatments, which became my book, a memoir, Rebirth

Recently, I included a letter I wrote to the Police Commissioner of Covington, Kentucky, back in 1999 in a political piece on police abuse of power. I was able to reproduce it and insert it as a PDF in the post because I had formatted it to fit my 1999 journal, printed it off, and taped it onto the pages—saved for posterity and (unbeknownst to me at that time) my political blogging sixteen years later. 

Explore your journals. You may find some gems in those pages that will ignite your creativity and/or advocacy and activism.  

Monday, August 31, 2015

Thanks for the inspiration, Dr. Dyer

Being creative means trusting your own purpose and having an attitude of unbending intent in your daily thoughts and activities. Staying creative means giving form to your personal intentions. A way to start giving them form is to literally put them in writing.  ~ Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, The Power of Intention

Dr. Wayne W. Dyer passed away Saturday, August 29, at the age of 75. His book The Power of Intention has been one of a handful of inspirational books I reread every couple of years.

I purchased this book in 2004 when I was going through leukemia treatment. At that time, I was trying to figure out what I wanted my post-cancer life to look like. Utilizing some of the techniques he describes I returned to acting, working in commercials and a couple independent films, wrote Rebirth, and started a journal writing workshop for cancer survivors, all within a six-year period.

Over the past few years, I have been going through a transitional period, finding myself uninterested in the pursuits that used to occupy my daily thoughts and actions. I have been moving in new directions—a passion for politics and travel, to name a couple—yet still not quite ready to relinquish my past goals and dreams.

It is time to pull out The Power of Intention again and read it—even if only the highlighted sections. It's time to get clear about what I want, to decide down which road I am heading. As always, my journal is the place I will turn to write about and imagine that future. As I've done before, I will write it down and make it happen.

Thank you, Dr. Dyer, for giving me tools and strategies to co-create my life, and yes, for the inspiration!

Friday, August 28, 2015

A Reader Asks: How do I make journaling a valuable part of my life? (Part II)

In Part I, I wrote about the importance of being truthful when writing, not censoring one's self. However, I also touched upon editing your writing, grammar and content, should you decide to publish all or part of your journal(s).

My email exchange with Marty also touched upon the audience for whom one writes. He shared with me:

You reminded me of something: the audience for my journals. When I write a journal entry, it's usually just for me, but also with an eye towards someone possibly picking them up and reading them. I remember one journal book (I have several completed) where I wrote on the inside cover something like "This journal is for Marty's eyes only, but if I'm dead, go ahead and read it. I won't care!" So there's always a lot of humor in them because in the back of my mind I have this weird expectation that someone is going to read them. Sometimes I'll write to make that mystery person laugh, or I'll deliberately put something in there to make myself laugh. It sounds conceited, and it probably is, but often I'll go back through my Facebook "Today in the Past" posts and find some silly status from five or more years ago that I'll have completely forgotten about, but it will just make me laugh. I guess that's what I do with my journals too, though I rarely reread them.

But the "mystery audience" is also a reason I will sometimes censor things, in the rare moments when my journals actually get that interesting. I'll really need to go back and read things to get a sense of what I leave out, because I think I'll be able to tell.

For those of us who consider ourselves writers, and maybe anyone who keeps a journal feels the same, it is natural to think of who may read our most personal thoughts, the struggles we are ashamed to share with anyone, or our darkest secrets. Will those readers be family and friends or strangers and what will be their reaction? Do we plan to publish parts or the entirety of our diaries? These are all considerations. 

It is tempting, when an audience is in the front of your mind, to be less than honest with yourself. I try to avoid censorship because I know that no one will read my journals—I live alone and they are stored on a shelf in my closet that the nieces and nephews are still too short to reach without a stool. Like Marty, my thinking is that once I'm dead, I won't care if anyone reads them. In fact, I like to believe that even the revelation of my negative qualities and experiences will serve to remind others that we are all human and quite fallible. We possess strength and weakness. We hide struggles and internal conflict from others, especially those closest to us. 

The downside is that someone you love may read a negative entry about themselves or some conflict that occurred with them that may not have found resolution. How will they respond to it? Hopefully, the relationship was strong enough that they understand the complexities of human interactions, misunderstandings, and hurtful behavior. I know I would, or like to think I would, be that understanding. Perhaps forgiveness, especially of one's self, can happen in this instance.

A while back, my nephew Andrew, who is now eleven, asked me if he could have my journals when I die. I laughed and told him probably not, at least not now at his young age. Upon further reflection, I am thinking maybe entrusting him with them at age twenty-five, should I no longer be on this earth then or thereafter. (I’d have to put those instructions in a will.) He was curious enough to ask, and it was flattering that he showed interest. He is curious, and I can imagine it would be thrilling to read my “secret” thoughts. (That makes me laugh, Marty.) Andrew has shown interest in writing a book, even at the tender age of nine, so bestowing my journal collection to his care is definitely something I am considering. 

Contemplating this and making a decision about it, leads me back to the audience. Even if I refrain from censoring the content, do I try to make it entertaining or provide some moral to the conflict or struggles with which I am dealing? In the end, I write for myself and make it compelling, even amusing, all while learning something from my experiences.

Nieces and nephews, Christmas 2012. This journal was a gift I received Christmas 2013 - Andrew is 2nd from the left. 

Marty returned to the idea of rereading one's journal at the end of our exchange: 

I stopped for a few minutes right before this paragraph and pulled out the journal that I keep in my bag. It's the most recent one I've worked on. The first entry is from March 8, 2009, right after Ryan came home from his 9 weeks in the NICU after his birth.The most recent entry is from Jan. 28, 2013, so I've been a bit out of the habit. But WOW! I did find this gem from March 10, 2009, when Ryan would have been home for about four days and was just over two months old:

"Yesterday afternoon I was sitting in the rocking chair holding Ryan just after a feeding. We were listening to a CD the choir gave us at the baby shower they threw for us on February 26. The song 'Puff the Magic Dragon' came on, which is a sad song anyway, but I was looking at Ryan's little face, his perfect little eyes shut in little slits as he slept in my arms, and I was overwhelmed by his innocence, the newness of his life, and the loss of innocence in the song. It could have also been the fatigue, or the reality of the past nine weeks finally setting in on me, but I began to cry for several minutes. The next song, 'Child of Mine' by Carole King, which has beautiful, tender lyrics, only made the crying worse. It was a nice moment though." Okay, THAT made rereading my journal worth it.

Yes, Marty, it is worth it. Your journal is a treasure trove of memories, wonderful and sometimes devastating. It is the story of you, and that is a gift you can leave to Ryan, should you decide to do so. Happy writing, my friend.

Related articles:

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Why Journal? (Tip/reason #7)

Tip #7: Journal writing is a tool for self-expression and emotional release. 

Journal writing is a wonderful way to express one's emotions. Some people are comfortable verbalizing what they are feeling whereas others are more reticent about openly sharing feelings and thoughts. This is when journaling can be beneficial. It allows for the release of pent up emotions, positive or negative.

There are times when no one is available to talk to about a problem or share concerns and sorrow or fear. During my cancer treatment period, I often found myself alone and awake in the middle of the night, haunted by what-ifs and anxious about the future. My journal was where I turned, while others slept, to pour out all the unsettling thoughts and emotions building up inside of me. I always felt better after writing or typing about them.

Furthermore, because a journal is for your eyes only, you can be as brutally honest about what you are experiencing, and therein lies the value of putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard: it is healing. Write it down and let it go.

Note: Journaling can be an effective self-therapy tool. However, it is no substitute for professional help should you need it.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Reader Asks: How do I make journaling a valuable part of my life? (Part I)

Recently I received a question, a couple actually, from my friend Marty about journaling. I admit I was honored that he would reach out to me for advice. I thought his question would make for an excellent blog post so I am reprinting what he wrote, with his permission. His questions, a follow-up email message, and my responses will comprise a two-part post.

Marty's questions: Every now and then I get the urge to journal. I may keep it up for a few days, but I always fall out of the habit. Most of the time my journal ends up being very humdrum "here's what I did today" with occasional bouts of philosophizing, but not much of that. My question is, do you go back and read through your old entries? Obviously you must because you wrote a book based on that concept. My trouble is that when I go back and read what I wrote years earlier, I can't stand the sound of my own "voice." More depressingly, I don't feel like I've changed at all. I know I have, but it's sad because I want to think I more mature, more enlightened. All of that is probably a subconscious reason I don't journal with any consistency. I think I journaled the entire first year of Ryan's [his son] life though. That might be a good one to go back and read. I'm not sure what I am asking you, but I guess it's this: How do I make journaling a valuable part of my life?

Response:  I understand your feelings, Marty. Similar questions came up frequently in the journaling workshops I conducted a few years ago.  

First, I reread journal entries all the time, many of which are cringe-worthy. However, by reading them I realize how much I've grown. Yes, there are persistent issues and patterns that seem to be stuck on repeat and those are the ones I resolve to keep working on, or eventually, end up accepting that it is just part of who I am and live with it. I believe acceptance is growth too, right, being aware there are parts of your personality that aren't going to change? 

Second, people assume keeping a journal requires they write every day and that the content must be important and literary. That is false. I go months sometimes without writing in my journal. In fact, I have barely written in my diary since returning from Europe on May 10, and most of what has been written is quite mundane. It is important to eliminate any judgment about the quality or quantity of your writing. 

Sometimes one doesn't feel like putting pen to paper or typing on a keyboard. Still, at these times I try to make myself write for at least three to five minutes. Often I end up writing for much longer periods and filling ten to twenty pages. At other times, there is nothing worthy to jot down, so I put the journal away. That's okay too.  

These journals are just for you, right? Of course, you would probably choose to do some editing should you decide to publish them. I did for Rebirth. There are many ways to journal aside from writing in a notebook. For instance, you have a social media presence. Reviewing past posts on Facebook is a great way to reflect on what is important in your life. Your posts are often funny and clever, which reveals that you have a wonderful sense of humor and that you use humor to make sense of this crazy world. That's valuable self-information and a terrific character trait and point of view to pass on to Ryan.

Furthermore, there is no one correct way to journal. It can be done on paper, the computer, a blog, via audio or video. I have been using my blogging lately in lieu of writing in a book because it is a form of journaling. I write about what is important to me, what is affecting the quality of my personal or professional life or my reaction to current events or politics.

I hope some of this is helpful. Find what works for you: frequency of writing, the form, and the content. I like to think I am decent writer, but when I reread my journals, often times they are not up to my standards either. That is because I am not writing for an audience. I am writing for me and so grammar, sentence structure, all of that goes out the window. Don't worry about that and more importantly, don't censor yourself. Write whatever comes to mind, even the ugly stuff. There are no set rules, except one (at least for me) and it bears repeating: don't censor yourself. 

I'll address writing for an audience in Part II, since my exchange with Marty touched on that as well. 

Related post:

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Journal Writing Round-up: Three Articles

I am always searching for articles that outline the benefits of journal writing or ways to use journaling to improve one's life, career, or relationships. Recently, I came upon these three and provide a brief excerpt below the title. Click on the title to read the entire article. Enjoy.

Ditch perfection: "Your notebook is not meant to be a manuscript or memoir, but rather a place where you can "brain dump" ideas, organize your day and spark your creativity. It is not going to be a work of art archived in the Smithsonian, so don’t treat it as such."

Write in your journal. "No, not the “dear diary” kind of entries. Keeping a journal is a practice that can help you process the day and make sense of your thoughts. Keep your journal in the nightstand and every night take a few minutes to review the day’s triumphs and write down what you’re grateful for that day.

Don’t make this a boring, unthoughtful experience. Think of it as a nightly meditation -- just two minutes of reflection thinking about the day’s highlights and writing them down will transform your waking and sleeping thought. It’s part of a wealthy lifestyle to appreciate all the great things of the day: doors held open, great conversations had." 

""The act of writing is more powerful than people think," Peterson says.

Most people grapple at some time or another with free-floating anxiety that saps energy and increases stress. Through written reflection, you may realize that a certain unpleasant feeling ties back to, say, a difficult interaction with your mother. That type of insight, research has shown, can help locate, ground and ultimately resolve the emotion and the associated stress.

At the same time, "goal-setting theory" holds that writing down concrete, specific goals and strategies can help people overcome obstacles and achieve."

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Why Journal? (Tip/Reason #6)

Tip #6 - Research shows that expressive writing has health benefits.

Numerous studies have confirmed that expressive writing produces health benefits, such as a strengthened immune system, increased lung and liver function, increased cognitive function, reduced stress and blood pressure, improved mood, decreased symptoms of arthritis and asthma, and increased well-being in cancer survivors. Furthermore, it doesn’t matter if the writing topic is positive or negative. Healing benefits are derived as long as you involve the emotions. Therefore, journaling is a wonderful self-therapy tool, though not a substitute for professional help, if necessary.

You can read more about this in my Journaling through Cancer article in the March/April 2011 issue of Coping® with Cancer magazine.

If you are interested in exploring this topic further, I recommend Expressive Writing: Words that Heal by James W. Pennebaker, PhD and John F. Evans, Ed.D.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

5 reasons to journal (a recap)

I’m heading out on vacation this week and have little time to write so though I’d do a quick recap of the first 4 reasons to keep a journal and 1 tip. Click on the reason or tip to read more about each. Never fear, there will be more reasons to journal and many tips for doing so posted in the coming weeks.

  1. It's an easy way to record your life.
  2. It's a tool for working through life's challenges.
  3. Here's one strategy for tackling a problem.
  4. Use your journal to set and define goals.
  5. It's a safe place to express frustration and anger

Until next week, keep on writing, or start.


Friday, July 31, 2015

Write it Down, Make it Happen (Part II)

Read Part I

Ovation Theatre Company staged its first production on August 21, 1998. I and my fellow co-founders reveled in our accomplishment.

Opening night celebration at Arnolds
Fast forward to early 2000: I was managing director of Ovation and vice president of the newly-formed League of Cincinnati Theatres (LCT). LCT was formed in 1999 in large part due to the proliferation of small professional theatre companies like Ovation. The organization's mission: "to strengthen, nurture and promote Cincinnati's theatre community."

I was in an executive LCT meeting one day when the conversation turned to Cincinnati Playhouse in Park's upcoming season. They had slotted Talley's Folly in the spring of 2001. At that time, D. Lynn Meyers was the President of LCT and the producing artistic director (still is) of Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati. She informed us that ETC was planning to jump on Playhouse's bandwagon and stage Wilson's Sense of Place during the same time period.

An idea ignited in my brain. I could hardly contain myself. Ovation needed to jump on that bandwagon too. This was my opportunity to perform a dream role I'd been writing about for years, but how could I persuade Ovation to stage Wilson's one-woman, one-act, The Moonshot Tape?

I brought this up at Ovation's next board meeting. We were in the process of planning the next season, so it was the perfect time to have this conversation. Joe, our artistic director, suggested we do a night of Lanford Wilson one-act plays. Unbeknownst to me—and seriously, how did I not know this?—Wilson had written dozens of one-acts.

We read through many and selected four, one of which was The Moonshot Tape. I immediately asked my Talley's Folly director, Mike, to work with me, as I'd told him I would in 1997. I was going to be onstage alone for fifty-five minutes. It was thrilling but I had no idea it would get even more exciting.

Two other small theatre companies decided they would also stage Lanford Wilson shows that May. There were now five companies producing Wilson's work, so it was decided to create a Lanford Wilson Theatre Festival, which generated a good deal of publicity for the smaller companies. To kick off the festival there was a reception at Cincinnati Playhouse. The guests of honor were Marshall Mason, a long-time collaborator of Mr. Wilson's, and Lanford Wilson. I met my favorite playwright. 'Pinch me,' I thought.
With Director, Michael Morehead and Landford Wilson
While talking to Marshall Mason, he asked what play Ovation was producing. I told him about the one-acts and that I was performing The Moonshot Tape. He told me that was one of Lanford's most personal pieces. Knowing that Ovation's opening wasn't until the following week and Mr. Wilson would be gone by then and unable to attend one of our shows, Marshall suggested Ovation host a private performance at our rehearsal space for him.

Thankfully, I was performance ready. I had worked on my character religiously over the past year, creating a biography for Diane, breaking the script down into beats, memorizing the end of the play and working back toward the beginning. I took copious notes and researched the time period and references in the play with which I was unfamiliar. I knew my character intimately and my lines were memorized by the time we began the eight-week rehearsal period, which is what my goal had been.

Mike picked up Mr. Wilson that Saturday morning and drove him to our rehearsal warehouse where I gave a private performance for a Pulitzer-Prize winner, my Ovation colleagues, and select friends. Lanford Wilson loved it. It was such an honor to perform for him and because he had praised my work so highly, it gave me the courage to finally commit, after ten years, to move to the New York City area to pursue a professional acting career.

I never imagined in my wildest dreams that performing Diane in The Moonshot Tape would lead to one of the most exciting, pivotal performance experiences of my life. Moreover, I was thirty-five when I played Diane, the same age as the character. I had also been thirty-one like Sally Talley in Talley's Folly. I felt like Lanford had written these women for me.

Receiving notes from Lanford Wilson post-performance
Can I say with 100% certainty that writing about these goals made them come true? No. However, without envisioning them, thinking about them, putting those wishes down on paper time after time and then taking action, they never would have happened. This is but one success story, composed of smaller ones, in my repertoire of how writing has shaped my life.

Think about any moments in your life that have manifest through your intentions. Did you spend time envisioning them? Did you write them down? If you cannot think of any examples or only a couple, I encourage you to test it for yourself, putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. It may take some time to see the results, so don't get frustrated. It took eight years to make performing The Moonshot Tape a reality. That only happened because of Ovation Theatre Company, meeting my Ovation co-founders through the Cincinnati community theatre scene, and being brave enough to go back to college to earn another degree in theatre and drama, all of which I wrote about extensively.

Write down your wishes and dreams, imagine what your life might look like, keep writing about it and be sure to inject your writing with passion—get your emotions involved. Be sure to follow this up with concrete actions. The outcome may be so much more incredible than you ever dreamed.

The examples I've provided in this two-part post demonstrate the power of imagination and writing, but action is also required. Work, even if only baby steps, is also necessary to propel you toward your goals and fulfill your potential. So, dear reader, what do you want to manifest?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Why Journal? (Tip/Reason #5)

Tip #5  - Take it out on your journal. It is the ideal place to vent your frustrations.

Sometimes one needs a place where they can safely express negative feelings. Rather than losing your cool at the office or with a loved one, which can easily escalate and lead to regret, retreat to your writing space at the first opportunity. There, lay it all out on the page or computer screen. I find venting is more effective when typing because I am better able to keep up with the thoughts racing through my head as opposed to handwriting them, which is considerably slower.

Allow all thoughts to appear on the page/screen. Do not censor them, just proceed with this task until you cannot, or do not, want to write any more. I guarantee you will feel a huge release from any pent-up negative energy. Do not read this entry immediately, if ever. Allow it to sit. Wait a few days if you do decide to review what you wrote. You can also choose to get rid of it. There are no rules.

If after a few days you are still stewing over whatever happened that incited your anger, take some time to read through the entry, if you still have it. Are there any solutions?  Do you feel the need for additional angry writing? If so, go at it. I repeat this exercise two more times if there is a situation over which I am obsessing.

However, if you fail to find peace or resolution, you may need to talk it out with the offending person. If you cannot directly speak with that person, perhaps a trusted friend or a professional can provide some guidance that will lead to relief.

Anger is stressful. I've found writing out my anger to be an effective way to not only alleviate it, but also to find solutions for dealing with whomever or whatever has upset me, or at least resolve to get over it. The next time you want to strike out at someone, take it out on your journal first.