Coping with the Madness of 2020: Journal!

Last week my friend Chella posed a question on Facebook: What are you doing to bear this anxiety? I can’t remember if I answered her question, but I’ve certainly thought about it.

Let’s face it–life can be hard, but 2020 has taken hard to a seemingly unbearable level. The year has presented a perfect storm of anxiety-inducing madness. There are things I’ve always done to deal with anxiety, stress, and the general disappointments and heartache that life brings: Pray. Meditate. Journal. Walk. Create. Though this hasn’t changed since we entered this tumultuous year, my activity in these areas has ramped up quite a bit since March.

I thought I would kill the proverbial “two birds with one stone” and get a few short blog posts out of my answer to Chella’s question. I’m not answering in any particular order. It’s all important and part of my spiritual practices and soul journey.

If I don’t write, I feel like I’m not breathing, so I journal.

I journal every day—in the morning, throughout the day, and in the evening if I don’t crash first. I have literally seven [or is it eight?] journals going at once; they serve different immediate purposes, but they all work to save my sanity.

Weekends, though, provide freedom to journal without worrying about schedules and tasks.  I can spend hours journaling without disruption. Today, I’m adding something new to my practice–a guided journal.

I rarely have a shortage of words, so I’ve never needed journaling prompts or guidance. I don’t think I’ve ever done a full guided journal before, but since my friend Dee [Delores James of Keep It Tight Sisters] wrote one, I am doing one now.

It’s nice to sit down this Saturday evening  with her latest publication, It’s My Time: A Guided Journal to Deeper Self-Love. In addition to plenty of writing space, the book includes affirmations, quotes, motivation, lists, writing and thinking prompts, and contemplative exercises to guide the self-care journey. Bonus: It’s purple! 🙂

If you’d like to learn about the therapeutic [and other] benefits of journaling and some simple approaches to journaling, see my July 2016 post: Journaling: Unleash the Magic. If the idea of a completely blank page is a bit daunting, a guided journal like Dee’s is a great place to start!

Note: All the images in this post are from It’s My Time: A Guided Journal to Deeper Self-Love. Even though this sounds like a sponsored post, it is not. 😀

Sylvia Barnes and Toni Morrison | Teaching, Preaching, and Doing the Work

Dr. Sylvia Barnes, October 2014.

Last week was not a good week for my heart.

Before I could digest the news that the literary goddess herself, Toni Morrison, had passed, I learned that Dr. Sylvia Barnes, one of my undergraduate mentors, had passed. With the news of both deaths, I felt as if every bit of oxygen was squeezed from my body.

As I sat through a brief meeting holding in the knowledge of their passings, I realized with everything in me that I am sick and tired of loss.

I’m tired of trying to find the words to express the deep sense of emptiness I feel when someone significant to me dies. There are no words for the love I can’t give, the unexpressed admiration and near deification of those who have profoundly impacted my life and who have had a strong hand in shaping who I am as a person, a writer, a scholar.

Sisters. Aunts. Uncles. Friends. Mentors. Professors. Literary goddesses. I’m tired of processing loss.

It is interesting that both women died the same day, August 5, 2019. I held both in high esteem for their unapologetic focus on black lives, for their commitment to excellence, for their wisdom, for their very humanity.

Dr. Barnes was the Toni Morrison of my undergraduate world. We were in awe of her—her standard of excellence, her fiery passion, her unflinching dedication to the deep study of literature, language, and light. Her dignified presence filled any room she entered. She taught eager undergraduates so many things, not just about literature but about life and love and how to navigate the madness of the world. I distinctly remember some of the wisdom she shared about the importance of reading in gaining and creating knowledge, about relationships and love and attraction.

In her raspy voice, with polished Jamaican accent, she urged us to “Read, read, read everything you can get your hands on. Read!” She wasn’t just an English professor. Like Baby Suggs Holy of Toni Morrison’s Beloved–preaching in the clearing–she was a divinely inspired preacher offering keys for life; every single class with Dr. Barnes felt like a sermon of love for our beautiful Black selves.

When I struggled with racism in graduate school, I reached out to her for counsel, and she candidly shared stories of her own similar experiences while in pursuit of the doctoral degree. Somehow, just knowing she overcame them intensified my determination to push through.

Toni Morrison speaking at “A Tribute to Chinua Achebe–50 Years Anniversary of Things Fall Apart.” December, 2008. Photo by Angela Radulescu

I spend a great deal of time studying, teaching, and writing about Toni Morrison’s novels. My first real encounter with her came when I was in college through my own not-for-a-course reading. The Bluest Eye left me in utter despair. I had read other black writers. I was drawn to them because of the way they spoke to an American experience with which I could identify. But it was Toni Morrison who awakened the scholar in me, who made me ask questions and drove me to write about books; it was her body of work which led me to theorize through literature the unique experiences of Black girls and women.

It was Sylvia Barnes who showed me I could, who encouraged me to use my singular voice to speak about Black girls’ and Black women’s experiences.

It has only been a week, so I’m still processing these losses and what they mean to me. These women—goddesses, really—have filled me for more than half my life and have prepared me for their parting. Though they toiled tirelessly, there is yet much work to be done. The mantle has been passed on, and we—those of us who write about, think about, theorize about Black experiences—must get down to business and with urgency do the work.

I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge–even wisdom. Like art.  Toni Morrison, The Nation, 2015

Photo from Pixabay

Joy Break 5 | Scatter Joy!

Scatter JoyWhen I was in college, every Friday students were given an opportunity to write positive, joy-filled messages to whomever they wished. Someone would go around the cafeteria during the lunch hours and pass out minimally decorated colored paper entitled “Joy Notes,” give individuals an opportunity to write a message, collect them, and deliver them to the dormitory offices for distribution via students’ mailboxes.

It was such a pleasure to write these notes because I knew they would make the recipients feel loved and appreciated.

What a treat it was to discover a “Joy Note” in my own box–especially after an unbearable or stressful week.

I saved many of the Joy Notes written to me, and they still warm my heart. Among them are a note from my roommate, expressing her delight that we were rooming again and appreciation for my friendship; a note from one of my good friends that decried our busy senior-year life and that let me know she cherished our friendship though we didn’t have as much time to chat as we had in previous years; one from another friend, thankful for my support through a difficult time in his life; a lengthy “missive” from my bestie after she moved off campus about how much work she was getting done since she didn’t have our long talks, shopping sprees, one-on-one basketball games, and other adventures to distract her. But, of course, she was missing all of that! 😀

You know where this is heading.

This wouldn’t be Joy Week on Pics and Posts if I were to let it end without encouraging you to spread joy to others.

It’s always a delight to know that someone is thinking of us and that we are appreciated for simply being who we are. So…take a moment to write a “joy note” today. Write a note to your spouse, your child, a long-lost friend, your parents for putting up with you; a “thinking of you” note to a few individuals you haven’t heard from lately; a thank you to the neighbor who kindly drags your trash can from the curb each week or who cuts your grass as a surprise while you’re on vacation.

We shy away from such activities because we overthink them and try to do much more than is necessary. In this case, “less is more.” Even one sentence is sufficient to spread a little joy.

To make life easier, you can use the simple 4×6 printable I designed using one of my own doodled flowers. [Aren’t you proud of me?] The card prints nicely in black and white too and can be sent as a postcard if printed on card stock.

[Click the links below to access the freebies–one ruled, one unruled]

The “spread joy” flower was inspired by a coneflower drawn by my penfriend Christine for the Brooklyn Art Library Sketch Book Project. Her flower was inspired by a flower sketched by Jane M., another artist and Love Noter. One person’s creative joy led to another’s and that led to another’s. See how quickly the joy spreads?

Come on! Let’s scatter some joy this weekend!


Bonus: Check out the gorgeous “Scatter Joy” image available as a free download from Ashley at The Handmade Home.  Be sure to download the freebie and display it in your home to remind yourself to “scatter joy” each and every day.

 

Vote: New Blog?

My hubby recently uncovered a treasure trove of writings, photographs, and journals from my early life. As I was looking through everything, it seemed a waste to just have things sit in folders and notebooks, unread.

I enjoyed revisiting younger me and reconnecting with her, so I’ve been thinking about starting another blog to allow her to speak–without the intrusions of “present” me.

It is absolutely insane for me to even consider another blog. I have to steal time for this one.  But summer always makes me feel like I can conquer all–including time.

So what do you think? Should my early musings get their own blog? Or should I make it a regular feature–twice monthly, maybe–of my current blog? Or leave it alone altogether?

Vote below.

Live, Love, and Write Good Sentences

Poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Photo by Hans Beacham

I want to live, to love and say it well in good sentences.  –Sylvia Plath

I want to write because I have the urge to excel in one medium of translation and expression of life. I can’t be satisfied with the colossal job of merely living. Oh, no, I must order life in sonnets and sestinas and provide a verbal reflector for my 60-watt lighted head.   –Sylvia Plath

Postcard Note: The postcard, featuring Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, came from Gina B (aka Bianca), my pen friend/literary twin in Germany. I received the postcard a day or two after talking with one of my students about her senior thesis. I’d suggested to her that she include Sylvia Plath in her discussion about Anne Sexton’s poetry. Coincidence? More than that, of course.

Haiku and the Little Ones

Right around the time the season changed from summer to autumn last year, I stumbled upon a haiku collection while perusing a colleague’s bookshelf.  I hadn’t read haiku in years! I borrowed her book and enjoyed the haiku for a few days before giving in and ordering my own copy of the book. The book is entitled The Essential Haiku: the Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa, edited and translated by Robert Hass.

The haiku masters offered the perfect moments to sip tea and reflect on changes in the natural world as the seasons transform from one to another. They served as a welcome substitute for time that would have been spent outdoors (and perhaps with my camera) because the weather was often icky last autumn and winter.

After I had my fill of the haiku masters, I moved on to Sonia Sanchez’s Morning Haiku, a book I must blog about at another time.

As you can guess, I was pretty haiku obsessed. I read them to my son. I tried to get him to write haiku with me. He ran in the opposite direction–screaming, arms flailing (slight exaggeration). Aha! But eventually I found a way to “capture” him (along with his 15 classmates).

Last April–building on the lessons on metaphor, simile, and image I’d taught the children in second and third grade–I taught a brief lesson on the haiku form, read a few to the (then) fourth graders, and allowed my son to transform a longer poem he wrote for National Poetry Month last year into a haiku to demonstrate for the class how a three-line poem can tell the same story and present the same image as a much longer poem.

Poem written by my little one when he was in third grade.  The frog is one of the many animals he loves.  Scrapbook elements by Amanda Wittenborn: Amanda Creation

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The children were tasked with writing about something in nature, the change of seasons or an animal.  They “mastered” the form easily and loved writing their haiku.  Since nine-year-olds are still eager to please, they vied for my attention to read their haiku. They didn’t have time to read their poems to the class, but I took their poems, typed them, and created a display for the university library. (FYI–The school is situated on the university campus).  In May, during the last week of school, the entire class gathered in the library with their teacher, Mrs. Johnson, and a few other parents and had a poetry reading followed by a class picnic at “Unity Pond” on campus.

Many months after I’d intended, I’m sharing their haiku. [Click an image for a closer look]

The lesson and writing took about 30 minutes. They did a great job. Don’t you think?

Even though haiku is a lot more complex than it seems, it is a good form to teach to children. They won’t catch all the subtle nuances of language and imagery, but they get the basics in terms of the traditional structure and themes of haiku.  I am looking forward to my next adventure with my son’s class. I don’t know how or when, but I’m sure we’ll have some literary adventures this school year!

 

Journaling: Unleash the Magic

Faith Journal: This is one of four journals I use regularly. It holds scripture, snippets from devotional readings, prayers, intercessory prayer lists, inspirational quotes, meditations, sermon notes. The notebook is a Staples Arc. The flexibility of the disc-bound system is perfect for journaling.

The ARC: This is one of five journals I use regularly. The notebook is a Staples Arc. The flexibility of the disc-bound system is perfect for multi-focused journaling.

I’m elated! Today I spent time with some really super women who meet periodically for journaling and vision board workshops. One of my friends, who spearheads the journaling program, asked that I come and talk about journaling with the group. Although I journal a lot and in multiple ways, I felt I had nothing to say that she probably hadn’t already said. My hubby, who knows how I excited I get talking about writing in notebooks and pretty papers, pens, and stickers, said–“Do what you always do. Show them what you do. Be you.” [Forgive the overuse of forms of the word “journal” in this post].

So that’s what I decided to do. I gathered as many crafting tools as could fit in my rolling scrapbook case–a zillion pens in various colors and weight, washi tape, stickers, Project Life cards and elements, Memory Keepers Envelope Punch Board, paper trimmer, Martha Stewart punches, old magazines, three of my journals, camera, and iPad (of course). It would have been fine with me if we’d just sat down and played with stickers and washi tape! But I’m sure the women wanted to do more than play with pretty things. And I appreciate their tolerating me.

Journaling isn’t easy for everyone. Besides the “intimidation” of writing on a regular basis or confronting one’s feelings fully, one has to take time to journal. And that is often the most difficult part. But it doesn’t have to be so involved or time-consuming, and it should be something to look forward to.  In a life that is often too busy for words, journaling is typically the only “me time” I can manage!

I shared with the group some no-stress ways to journal. I use every method I suggested, so I know they’re quick, easy, painless, and even fun. Some of you may be looking for easy ways to journal, so I thought I’d share. 🙂

  • Morning Pages: Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, suggests “Morning Pages”–three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. “There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages– they are not high art. They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only.”   You can read more about morning pages by visiting Cameron’s site: Julia Cameron Live.
  • List Journaling. I wrote about list journaling in a post last fall.  I really enjoy Cori Spieker’s (The Reset Girl’s) monthly list prompts for adults and little ones.  You can access the lists and find out more at her website:  Listers Gotta List from the Reset Girl.
  • Scripture Journaling.  Scripture journaling requires nothing more than actually handwriting and meditating on biblical texts daily.  I thoroughly enjoy the quiet time of contemplation. I’m sure there are a number of scripture writing plans available, but here are two themed plans I recently started using (If you prefer to purchase a journal for scripture writing, check out the Write the Word journal offered by The Lara Casey Shop):
  • Photo Journaling. Photo journaling requires little writing, but it requires making a concerted effort to “see” the world in which one moves. Phone cameras make photo journaling a whole lot easier. The two sites below offer inspiration and motivation for documenting life through photographs.
  • Digital Journaling.  Though some people journal exclusively using their phones, tablets, and/or computers, apps make journaling appealing even to the non-journaler.  Each of the apps listed below allow a combination of text, pictures, handwritten notes, drawings, information from websites, and digital content from other sources.  Each also accommodates folders and/or tags so we can categorize our thoughts and musings by subject or theme.
    • Day One
    • Evernote
    • Notes
Scripture Journaling. I scripture journal inside my planner because I want to have access to the day's scripture throughout the day. I use washi tape and stickers in my faith journaling.

Scripture Journaling. I scripture journal inside my planner because I want to have access to the day’s scripture throughout the day. I use washi tape and stickers in my faith journaling.

In a conversation about the importance of writing, one of my good friends, Dee, a professor in the area of health and human performance at the University of Florida (Go Gators!) pointed out that “our brains were designed to generate ideas not store things.” That makes it all the more important for us to flesh out our ideas in writing and record not only what we want to remember but also use writing to sort out and untangle all the “stuff” that gets crammed into our brains every.single.day. Writing unleashes our creativity, yes, but it also frees our minds from the heaviness of our day to day interactions and stretches our critical thinking “muscles.” I like the way Dee put it–“When we write, magic happens.”

Write on!

List Journaling: What Makes 4th Graders Happy?

I really, really don’t have time to write a blog post, but I must interrupt my unplanned blogging hiatus to share with you how I thoroughly enjoyed the brief time I had with a group of fourth graders earlier today (my little one’s class). We talked about and played with some of the things that bring me joy–writing, list journaling, stickers, and washi tape!

The kids must have been as excited as I was: One of the parents sent me a text message thanking me for taking time out to do something special with and for the kids.  I joked that the kids are really my captive audience–since very few of my adult friends want to play with stickers and make lists just for the fun of it.

I spoke with the kids about list journaling, showed them a “100 Things That Give Me Joy” list I wrote a little over a year ago, and challenged them as a class to write 100 things that make them happy.  I figured, if everyone worked toward writing 10 each, maybe, we’d get to 100 collectively.IMG_5593

They had a blast selecting stickers and washi tape and decorating their new journals. In fact, some of them spent a lot more time on decorating than they did on writing!

If you’ve ever wondered what makes kids happy, here’s a list–in their own words:

  1. God/Jesus
  2. Family
  3. Friends
  4. Animals
  5. Robots
  6. Writing
  7. Playing
  8. Singing
  9. Dancing
  10. L.A.R.P.ing (If you guessed that my child wrote this one, you are absolutely right! Just in case you don’t know, LARP is an acronym for “Live Action Role Play”)
  11. Owls
  12. Reading
  13. School
  14. Bunnies
  15. Lions
  16. Tigers (and bears, oh my!–I added that part for dramatic effect.  Did it work?)
  17. The Philippine eagle (very specific!)
  18. Owls
  19. Panthers
  20. Falcons
  21. Basketball
  22. Soccer
  23. A great view
  24. Drawing smiling faces
  25. Singing happy songs
  26. Rollerskating
  27. Watching television
  28. Physical Education (PE)
  29. Resting
  30. Swimming
  31. Dressing up
  32. Doing hair
  33. Sleep (Yes!)
  34. Going to restaurants
  35. Movies
  36. Reading the Bible
  37. Eating
  38. Love (Hugs for this one)
  39. Brother
  40. Mom (Of course!)
  41. Flowers
  42. Ice cream (Surprisingly, I saw this only on one list)
  43. My pet
  44. This journal (Aww…)
  45. My toys
  46. When people play with me
  47. When my parents buy things for me
  48. Acting
  49. Taking care of animals
  50. Drawing
  51. Watching the flags outside the school
  52. Swimming during the hot summer
  53. Working out at the gym near home (This child is inspiring! How many nine-year-olds work out?)
  54. Watching stars in the sky
  55. Superman movies
  56. Football
  57. Iceskating
  58. Sleepovers
  59. Zoos
  60. Candy
  61. Flowers
  62. Stars
  63. Cake
  64. America
  65. Sewing
  66. Quilting
  67. The color pink
  68. Emojis
  69. Space

IMG_5595We fell a bit short of the 100-mark, but most of the kids wrote at least 10 things. It just so happens that many of the same things make them happy.  As a whole, they seem to value and find joy in things that really matter–God, family, and friends were on almost every list. I like that they take pleasure in participating instead of passively watching.

Their lists did not reflect the materialism that is so much a part of our cultures.They proved the point that no matter how much they whine, beg, and “barter,” electronics, clothes, and the latest “things” don’t really make kids happy.

We ended our short time together with their making a commitment to continue working on the lists and writing in their journals.  That was the goal–to get them writing for pleasure on a regular basis.

Thank you, Mrs. Johnson, for sharing your class time with me!

Just in case you have no idea what I mean by “list journaling,” it is simply journaling via list, usually based on a prompt. Although it is an easier way to approach journaling, it is amazing how much we can learn about ourselves through listing.

If you’re interested, there are many wonderful list journal “communities.”  My favorites are:IMG_5597

  • The Reset Girl’s #ListersGottaList–provides monthly list journaling prompts for adults and children
  • Kam and Amy’s 30 Days of List–provides journal prompts for three months out the year.  A small fee is required.

You can go all the way out and embellish your journal with stickers, stamps, washi tape, art, etc. or you can keep it simple and just make lists. It’s all up to you!

That’s it for now.  Be sure to “tune in” again soon. I plan to share with you artwork by the same group of fourth graders! Children’s art–one of the things that give me joy!