Archive for January, 2009

Remembering and Journaling John Updike

Moments after his death, I received an announcement from my New York Times email alert. I had to read it twice. How could John Updike be dead? He was one of America’s most prominent and prolific writers, whose literary life encompassed so many genres. Although he was the author of 25 novels and over 12 short story collections, he had also written essays, poetry and memoir. He was the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, an accomplishment most writers only dream about.  It has been said that writers are appreciated more dead than alive. I don’t think this is true with Updike. I know many people, writers and non-writers alike who have admired and will continue to admire his work.


The last time I heard about Updike was from my poet friend, a niece of Updike’s who said that he was ill back in September and they thought he had pneumonia, but it turned out to be lung cancer. After speaking with her yesterday, I hear that he had just gone into hospice on Monday and by Tuesday he was gone!


Updike was part of my mother’s generation which really brings the story close to home. We often take for granted the people who have been steady figures in our lives, but once in a while it’s good to stop and tell them you love them, because you just never know when will be the last time. I think I will go do that now!

Journaling Reflections on Inauguration Day

On Tuesday afternoon, January 20, 2008 I walked out of a prestigious Beverly Hills department store and while waiting for my car to be pulled out of the valet, I stood next to a group of African American women. I smiled and asked if they’d watched the inauguration, “Honey, you bettcha,” one said. “Our country has been blessed,” I said. Another woman gently stepped forward and without hesitation we hugged one another. It was this openness, bliss and overwhelming sense of unity which reverberated across our country as a result of a shining star inhabiting the White House. I am humbled by the renewed sense of American pride across the generations, cultures and races and the huge spill of emotions across the country as Obama took his oath.

I was born in Brooklyn in the 1950s and my parents owned a general store on Broadway. Even though the racial divide was huge, I had many African American friends and dated a few. My favorite singers were Jimi Hendrix and Harry Belafonte and you can ask my mother how many times I read the book and watched the movie, To Sir With Love. . I also remember reading the greatly underrated (and under-read) The Man by Irving Wallace and loving the idea of having an African-American president.

For writers, I believe Obama brings inspiration and appreciation for the power of words. I have read his books and listened to him reading them on tape. Not only does he strongly believe in the power of words, but he is a master at putting them together, with great metaphor and elegance.

Michelle is also a special and accomplished woman. As a journaling advocate I was delighted to see that she gifted Laura Bush with a journal, with the first page dated today. This was such a gracious gesture.

There are not enough adjectives to describe how happy I feel. It is the perfect time to journal all these emotions.

Here are some ideas for you to consider in your own journal:

*  What would your deceased parent/grandparent say about this moment in history?

*  Did you ever think we’d have an African-American President?

*  What do you think the world thinks of America?

*  Do you think Obama will be given a larger grace period than his predecessors?

*  What kind of First Lady will Michelle be?

Journaling About Inspiring Moments

 Whenever a writer moves on, I believe we should take a moment to reflect on their work and I have made this my own particular practice. Even if you were not a great admirer of their work, I believe it is important to stop and examine not only their contributions to the literary world, but also what drove them to the page in the first place.

In yesterdays’ newspaper, I learned that the confessional poet, W.D. Snodgrass had died of old age. I had not read a lot of his work, but with the click of my Google finger it was easy to read some of his most popular poems. Even though Snodgrass wrote more than 30 books, the book of poetry which brought him his Pulitzer Prize in 1960 was called Heart’s Needle. This particular book grew from his apparent heartbreak of losing custody of his daughter in a very bitter divorce.

Even though many have credited Snodgrass as the founding member of confessional poetry, he disliked the term, believing it had too many religious connotations and he was not religious. I tend to agree, although the term for me denotes a certain amount of intimacy and an invitation for the reader to enter into the poet’s life.

Most authors are compelled to the page because of an inciting incident, something that may have happened early in their lives. I have always been fascinated by studying these inciting incidents amongst my peers. For me, personally, the incident which drove me to the journal and a lifetime of writing was the suicide of my grandmother.

Reading about Snodgrass’ life inspired me to journal about inciting incidents. What about you Are you able to identify what has drawn you to the written word? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

Traveling For Inspiration

p10002641My recent trip to Africa continues to be a major source of inspiration for me. I continue to generate poems about the experience and jot down notes and ideas in my journal as subjects for future stories.

Traveling can be a source of inspiration for everyone. William Randolph Hearst is a perfect example. Yesterday, I had the honor to visit The Hearst Castle in San Simenon, a mind-boggling property overlooking some of California’s most magnificent coastal views. The actual castle sits on a hilltop at the end of a winding road up from the Pacific. The castle’s design was inspired by Hearst’s travels as a little boy. When he was about ten his mother decided to take him on a one-and-a-half year trip to Europe, exploring its culture and magnificence. It is there where he developed his fascination and appreciation for castles and architecture. Little did his mother know how that trip would have affected him for the rest of his life.

These days people do not have a lot of disposable income and traveling is often the first expense to be cut from the budget. The fact is, you don’t need a lot of money to travel. It might just mean getting in the car and driving somewhere different, taking a book and a journal and seeing where the experience takes you. If you live in the city, you can even hop on the  bus or train and make believe you are somewhere else. Let your imagination run wild and take you places you’ve never been before.

We all need inspiration, particularly when times are thought, so give yourself a break and go somewhere, it does not have to be far and it does not have to be expensive!

My Journaling Safari

I am slowly getting over jetlag, as well as sifting through 14 days of unread email. This was the longest I’ve ever gone without access to a computer or the internet. We were truly in the middle of nowhere.

Our first touchdown was Johannesburg and my daughter’s luggage got lost which meant we had to spend two days there awaiting it’s arrival. It turned out to be a blessing since the rest of the trip was in the jungle. We had a chance to see the 2010 Olympic site and visit the Apartheid Museum. Then it was on to small plane rides to Namibia, Botswanna and Zimbabwe. It was other-worldly and impossible to put into a few words.

All I can say is that when you are in the wild like we were and taking game rides each day, your senses are very heightened. We had many amazing sightings– lions, cheetahs, warhogs, baboons, red lechwe, onyx, giraffes, elephants, zebras, cape buffalo, hippopotamus, monkeys, hyenas and an amazing selections of exotic birds were all within arms reach.

I journaled my way through Africa and hope to write a book one day, but I haven’t decided whether it should be a creative non-fiction work or a book of poems. (any recommendations welcome!) My daughter, Rachel is a photographer so we have some fabulous photos, many from the vantage point of jeeps and hot air balloons.

Here is one of the poems gleaned from my journal: 

Bush Solace

When left alone in an African jungle

what snippets of our lives

are captured in the treasure boxes

of our memories?


What artifacts

call us to our pasts?

What carries

the comforts of home

and the yearnings of tomorrow?


In this darkness

offered by the jungle

on its platter of sounds

where lions growl,

hyenas howl and

vultures wait until its over


Home is different to everyone.





Happy New Year !

Just like we ended last year with writing exercises, I want to start the New Year with the same. Just hours ago my family and I just returned from two weeks in Africa and when I when I dig out my journal from my suitcase, I will tell you about this spectacular journey, but in the meantime, I thought I’d give you a few ideas to kick start today’s writing:

  • Write about a favorable moment or day during the holidays.
  • Write about what you like or dislike about the holidays.
  • Write about any New Year’s resolutions you may have.
  • Create a scene where something out of the ordinary happens.
  • Imagine the people who lived in your home before you. Create a dialogue of their discuss about moving.

Cheers and happy writing!


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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