Archive for February, 2009

Letter Writing – Alive or Dead?

 According to a recent article in Newsweek, the art of penmanship has a new slant today. Most Americans rarely, if ever, craft a handwritten letter, especially when they have access to other modalities of communication, such as email, Twitter, Facebook, and My Space.   I even advocate to my students that they don’t have to send the letters they write in their journals if they don’t feel comfortable doing so. So  what often ends up happening, is that the only people who might be fortunate enough to receive “snail mail” letters are those without Internet access.  In fact that’s how I communicate with my seventy-nine year old mother. Although she is somewhat computer literate—she works in a hospital twice a week performing data entry—she refuses to incorporate a computer into her personal life.


Those who study handwriting believe that the art of handwriting can be thought of as a form of individual expression, which offers cues to our personality traits. The question is, what will happen to the predictions gathered from handwriting analysis, if current trends continue and keyboarding replaces learning cursive in elementary schools across the country?


Personally, I much prefer writing a thank you note by hand over sending it via email. The former is more time-consuming, particularly when you consider writing the letter, addressing the envelope and figuring out what is the current postage. But, I glean a great deal of personal satisfaction from this old-fashioned ritual. Feeling the power of the pen, and seeing the loops and swirls of ink on the paper, like on the pages of my journal, can make me feel quite a sense of accomplishment.

What do you think?



Journaling Your Heart

I am reading a wonderful book written by a woman I met at AWP. It’s called, Foolsgold by Susan G. Wooldgridge, who also wrote another masterpiece called, Poemcrazy.

She came to my book signing because she was drawn to the title of my poetry book, Dear Anaïs: My Life in Poems for You. She told me she had a letter from Anais and she even quoted it in her recent book. After talking for about half an hour we revealed a deep connection through our mutual friend Anaïs.


In the first chapter of her book, Susan mentions how most of her life she ignored her body’s impulses as if they were bothersome, like her physical heart didn’t exist. She began watching for heart shapes and noticed how her heart felt, reacted and how they live in her body and ultimately might have prepared her for her father’s death.[ She encourages her readers to speak to their hearts and shares how scientists say there are brain cells in the heart. She suggests writing a letter beginning with, “Dear Heart,” to see where it leads you. Taking it one step further, she also suggests allowing the heart to write back and offer answers. Just paying attention to your heart, she says, opens it up and allows you to be creative in healing ways.


I am now hooked on her way of thinking and can’t wait to read the rest of the book and maybe even incorporate her writing exercises in my classes.

Journaling AWP

I  just returned from the annual AWP conference in Chicago, which is probably one of the largest writer/writing conferences in the country. It’s always stimulating and always chaotic. This year again, I moderated a panel called, “Writing in Multiple Genres,” with my panelists were Phillip Lopate, Molly Peacock, David Huddle and Rebecca McClanahan. The room was full and my panelists were marvelous.

The rest of my days there were spent doing book signings for my latest poetry collection, Dear Anaïs: My Life in Poems for You, roaming the book fair, checking out the latest releases and speaking to editors and publishers. As an advocate of traveling only with a carry-on, I shipped back a box of books, literature and contact information. I usually spend my first week home focusing on follow-ups. It’s sad that I rarely get to check out the city where the conference is—as I’m so wrapped up in the goings on. At night there were meetings in the bar and specially sponsored cocktail parties. For a California girl it was quite cold and the city was also prepping to receive Michelle and Barack to celebrate one of their favorite holidays, Valentine’s Day in their home town!

Did anyone else go? If so, what was your experience like this year?

Journaling For Inspiration

This week I saw a fabulous film at The Santa Barbara Film Festival, called “Skin.” It was about a white couple raising their biological American daughter in South Africa during Apartheid. The trials, tribulations and too infrequent joys of that experience were conveyed in a compelling and creative way. I highly recommend it.

For me, one of the best highlights of the evening was hearing the Director speak afterwards about his inspiration for making the movie. “Interesting question,” he said to the woman in the audience who posed it. “It was as simple as me sitting at my kitchen table listening to the interview of the girl as an adult. I was captivated by the story and decided right there that I was going to find out more about the story.” We never know when ideas will excite and stimulate our psyches which is one very good reason to always carry a journal.

The journal captures not only interviews, but snippets of conversation, dreams and writing ideas which could be particularly helpful during times of literary drought. I have often turned to my notebook for guidance. Other details gathered in journals could be the source of future stories, such as creative musings, images, dreams and synchronicities. Spontaneous inspiration may also come from the body and this can also be written in the journal.

Inspiration can also come from nature, listening to the silence, listening to the voices of birds and water. Something I also enjoy doing is instead of listening to what people say, I listen to their individual words and the cadence and tone with which they speak.

What ideas do you have about writing inspiration?

The Poet’s Notebook

      Since the early 1900s, February has been known as Black History month and although today there is some controversy surrounding such a celebration, in view of our new President, I believe it is a nice gesture.

        In honor of this month, I would like to mention the latest issue of Alehouse which features the work and lives of African-American poets. And just as an  FYI, I have an essay in the volume entitled, ‘The Poet’s Notebook,’ which focuses on African-American poets, both past and present who use notebooks to craft their poetry.

       Before discussing this article, I must say that Jay Rubin, the editor of Alehouse has been absolutely fabulous to work with. The publication is released only once a year, and surely he needs that much time to get such a perfect collection together. He needs to be applauded.

       I encourage you to pick up this publication. In the meantime, just to whet your appetite, here are some salient points from my particular essay:

       1)    As poets, we cannot always trust our memories, which is a good reason to carry a notebook.

      2)    Yusef Komunyakaa considers notebooks as “scrapbooks—pieced together with fragments, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, long and short passages.”

      3)    Rita Dove says she cannot live without notebooks where her poems “evolve slowly, in spurts and splutters, on these college-ruled pages.”

      4)    Dorothy Randall Gray says that without a notebook she feels “naked.”

      5)    Keeping a notebook is a powerful tool for coping with difficult times. Langston Hughes often wrote in his journal when feeling bad, “in order to keep from feeling worse.”

      6)    Al Young, California’s Poet Laureate began keeping a journal in his early teens as a place to chronicle daily impressions. Major Jackson did the same.




Journaling Ground Hog Day

As a kid growing up in the 1960s in New York, Ground Hog Day was a big thing. February was about the time when we got fed up with wearing winter clothes and shoveling heaves of snow in order to leave our house in the morning. Each February 2nd, we would all sit glued to the television screen awaiting to hear if the sacred ground hog had emerged from its burrow to see its shadow. If the weather was cloudy, and he failed to see his shadow, it meant that winter would soon end. On the other hand, if it was sunny and he saw his shadow, it meant he’d retreat to his burrow and we’d hear the grueling news that winter would ensue for another six weeks.


Having lived in Florida and California for nearly two decades, I forgot about the importance of this holiday in many parts of the country. I was reminded by today’s radio announcement and the reporter’s comment on the day. In fact, I had to pull aside while driving to giggle about his comments about this holiday which apparently originated in the 18th and 19th century as a Pennsylvania German custom.


“Here we are, a few thousand people freezing our buts off waiting to worship a rat,” he reported. I could not help chuckling at his comment.


Aren’t humans a funny breed? What are your thoughts on this day?

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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