Archive for November, 2008

Journaling to Happiness

Although I never took part in the practice of Buddhism, I have always been fascinated by it. Last week I went to a lecture given by a Buddhist Monk who used to be a middle school teacher. He began with a basic meditation which involve a breathing exercise where we were instructed to breathe out the black smoke of negativity and inhale positive energy in the form of a bright light.

I learned that the message of Buddhism is that the more you love, the happier you will be. As I took notes in my journal, I began describing all of the people in my life who were happy. It suddenly occurred to me that those who were indeed the happiest were those who opened up their hearts and were able to love. Conversely, those who were unhappy, were those who were selfish and unable to love complexly.

The lecture summarize what I already knew, but it was nice to have a refresher and something else to muse about in my journal. It’s nice being reminded that a world without love is a miserable place and that if we allow positive emotions to over power negative ones, the world would be a much better place.

What do you think?

Journaling For Gratitude

Thanksgiving has and always will be my favorite holiday. Like everything else, many of our deepest passions plant their roots in childhood. As the daughter of an agnostic mother and a father who survived the Holocaust and in the cradle of a weak marriage, Thanksgiving was the only holiday they could agree on to celebrate.

So in mid-November, when most families were considering the height of that year’s Christmas tree, my house became decorated with fall colors and leaves. Our Thanksgiving table was decorated with chocolate turkeys, cranberries and orange ornaments. The aroma of turkey roasting in the oven early in the day still brings with it an unexplainable sense of calm.

Thanksgiving is the holiday I’ve also focused on with my own three children stressing that it is the day when they they need to express gratitude–either to one another or on the pages of our journals.

These days when we are surrounded by insecurities and uncertainties, we should make this a regular practice–not only on Thanksgiving but every day we are alive. In honor of the Buddhism philosophy, those who are truly the happiest are those who appreciate what they have–even life’s simplest pleasures need to be celebrated–such as driving to the coffee shop i or carefully examining the center of a budding flower.

What have you done today to show your gratitude?

Journals and Emergency Evacuations

I live in Southern California and last week with only moments warning, we were told we had to evacuate due to fast-moving fires which were within a mile of our house. Having moved to California from Florida four years ago, I understood danger. We had dodged three major hurricanes and the final one flung us across the coast. Maybe it’s the continuous beautiful weather here which makes me feel safe or maybe it’s my perpetual state of denial, but I never thought I would find myself again at the edge of another natural disaster.

Needless to say I wasn’t prepared. My papers were not in order and my manuscripts were scattered on my desk and vital papers filed appropriately in my filing cabinet, but not together. Thank goodness, my husband is quite organized and he had the passports and insurance papers all in one file.

My packing was more sentimentally-motivated. I quickly thought of what was not replaceable. I grabbed my portable laptop. It held all correspondences, manuscripts and contacts. Next, I thought of all the family photos and evidence of raising three children. I piled the albums into a large plastic box. Then I thought of my journal collection spanning more than 40 years and wondered if they should take up valuable trunk space. Surely they were not replaceable, but I or anyone else would care if they got burned? I left them behind.

Now after returning home, I wonder if I made the right decision to leave all my journal musings behind.

Do any of you have any thoughts on this? What would you have packed if you were just given moments to get out of your house?




What Books Nourish You?

Over the years, my attitude has changed. I used to not be a fan of rereading books, proclaiming that there are simply too many books to read.

But now as a seasoned writer and one who studies the works of my favorite authors, I’ve changed my view on this. I believe it’s important for writers to have books near them which provide nourishment and inspiration.

Anaïs Nin believed that the books which nourish us are not books which tell us how things are, but rather books which show us how to change things in our lives. Nourishing books give us a feeling of being pushed into life. They are books which make us smile and stand proud. They are books we don’t want to sell to the used books stores each time we relocate. They are books which travel with us from residence to residence or from town to town.

For me sometimes the most nourishing book is poetry and sometimes it’s fiction and other times it’s memoir. As a teenager, the most nourishing book for me was Salinger’s book, Catcher in The Rye. As a budding writer, I was fascinated by his honesty and candor and wondered how one could write in a way that was easy for everyone to understand. I also loved the writings of the prophet Khalil Gibran and the poetry of Rod McKuen. I admired their simplicity.

These days, the books which follow me from residence to residence are the journals of Anaïs Nin, the novels of Balzac, Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s One, Norman Mailer’s Executioner’s Song and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. On those days when my attention span is shorter, I might gravitate to my favorite quotation books for the fuel for my creations, and the poetry of Billy Collins is always my favorite, no matter my mood. 

What books nourish you?


The Notebook as Playground

In my notebook-keeping classes I stress the importance of the writer’s notebook as a playful nesting ground. It is a place to try out words, metaphors, new styles and voices. Think of the journal as a journey and not a destination. It is the path to your castle, but it is not the castle. It is the key to your success, but it is not the finished product.

Many authors use the notebook to do warm-up writing exercises. John Cheever, for example, gave this one exercise to his students which you might want to do in your own notebook. He would tell his students to write a letter from the perspective of a person trapped in a burning building. In my classes, I suggest my students write a letter to their fictional character or write a letter to someone they’ve had difficulty communicating with, either dead or alive. Just because you write the letter, does not necessarily mean you need to send it, but if you decide to, then that’s all right also.


Have you written letters in your journal? If yes, describe how you felt afterwards.

Writing Begets Writing

The writing life involves hard work, perseverance, courage, finding ‘le mot juste’ and coping with the risk of failure. Writers can decrease their risk of failure by writing more and providing a steady stream of submissions to editors and publishers.

Those who get published are a special breed. They understand the graceful art of submitting their work and how with every acceptance there might have been 50 or 100 rejections. They understand that if you don’t send out your work you will never be read. Many writers don’t seem to understand this. Those who do not  get published sit in their office writing and waiting for the knock on the door, but unfortunately, it rarely happens this way.

Now is the best time to silence your insecurities and forge ahead with your work. Believe in yourself and your writing and send out your work out.


What are you waiting for?

Quote of the Week

"A writer uses a journal to try out the new step in front of the mirror."

~Mary Gordon

About Me

I am a memoirist, essayist, poet and teacher whose passion is keeping a notebook. My notebook is my muse and my alter ego. It contains personal snippets of my life and observations from the world around me. Diarist Anaïs Nin has been a great source of inspiration for me. My hobbies include writing, writing and more writing, but when I have extra time, I enjoy reading, walking, hiking, yoga, working out, cooking and hanging out with my family and Maltese Poodle, Spunky. In order not to become ensconced by the glare of my computer screen, I also teach in the UCLA Extension Writers' Program and in various conferences and festivals around the country. My pleasure comes from sharing my joy of journaling with professional writers and anyone interested in writing.

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