Archive for May, 2009

Journaling About “Evil Genes”

This is not a topic I would normally write about, but last week I went to a talk given by Dr. Barbara Oakley and it was based on her recent book called, Evil Genes. Ms. Oakley is an engineer who was compelled by the bizarre things her family members did, like her sister who stole her mother’s boyfriend when she found out the man was going to take her mother to Paris, a place she always wanted to go!

At the same time, Oakley began questioning why we hear about some of the crazy things that those in high power positions do, such as Hitler, Mao, Milosevic and Stalin. For example, when Milosevic was asked why he killed all those people in the Balkan Islands he said that people die in war, but when he was asked why were their eyes cut out, he said, “What? I can’t hear you, the speaker is not working.” For him there was no explanation, no right, no wrong. He just did what he did without remorse, a classical sign of a psychopathic personality. She brought the scenario closer to home by asking us, “Did you ever wonder why somebody did something they did?” There were nods throughout the room. Surely, we all know someone who repeatedly does bizarre things and Dr. Oakley’s mission, through research, has been to understand why.

She mentioned the two disorders (psychopathy and borderline personality disorder). You can Google these to get all the detailed descriptions and symptoms. The fun part will after reading the descriptions to write about the disorder and to study which people you know who fit the bill. Surely there will be someone in your memory bank who brings you their craziness to mind. And by the way, Oakley’s book is fabulous and I understand she’s in the midst of writing some others. Definitely someone to check out, particularly if you are a writer, since we are always fascinated by people’s actions and motivations!                                                 



Seasonal Journaling

Each season offers its own unique beauty, but if I had to choose my favorite writing season, it would be spring. There is something about the flecks of sunlight, the bursting of yellow, white and mauve crocuses, different color tulips, infant buds, the smell of spring rain and sound of thunder, which drives me to the blank page to an essay or poem. In springtime, my most treasured moments are spent sitting at the little bistro table in my garden with a new notebook cracked open, writing whatever flutters into my mind. I may be inspired by the wings of a passing butterfly or charmed by the smells and wonders of spring. I love hearing the sound of the chirping birds and watching the baby rabbits chasing one another in and out of the bushes surrounding my house. In the spring the air has a renewed freshness about it, a sense of newness, free from toxins.

With the arrival of summer, there is another sense of newness, but it’s also a time when the kids out of school and traveling becomes paramount in many people’s lives. Editors and publishers take holidays and manuscripts often sit on desks unopened. The fall offers another new beginning as we welcome the changing colors of the deciduous trees.

Winter is a good time to be indoors and for some this is conducive to writing. Personally, I see winter as an ideal season to revise my newest musings and also a good time to send work to publishers and magazines after months of brewing on the pages of my journal or behind the brightness of this computer screen. An acceptance letter is a good way to bring the needed warmth during that time of year, when the natural world hibernates awaiting next spring where a new story is born. No doubt, my writing season lasts 365 days per year. For me, being a writer means being overtaken and obsessed by the profession which chose us, regardless of the season or the vulgarities or niceties of the weather.

Journaling During the Santa Barbara Fires

It has been said that writers tend to write more during times of difficulty. Well, I bring you this blog entry from my home town Santa Barbara, which has just been through four major fires in less than two years—Zaca Fire, Gap Fire, Tea Fire and now the recent Jesusita fire. My husband, dog and I have had to evacuate for the last two fires, but I must tell you that The Jesusita fire was the most frightening because of the strong sundowner winds, every firefighters nightmare. Luckily, we happened to be out-of-town for most of the fire, but friends here emailed and called to say that it might have been some of the scariest days of their lives—Apocalyptic in nature—a multitude of helicopters caressing the air space, high winds and power failures sprawling from one end of the city to the next.

My email updates to friends around the country questioned whether this was the price we had to pay for living in a paradise like Santa Barbara, which some call the French Riviera.  Our beautiful surrounding mountains are now covered with ash. I have frequently hiked the Jesuisita Trail (the fire’s namesake) to a scenic peak called Inspiration Point which offers  the most magnificent panoramic view of the city. It’s the place I love to take photographers and out-of-towners to point out the magnificent town framed by majestic mountains meeting the expanse of the Pacific Ocean. These trails are often visited by runners, bikers and hikers. In fact, there is speculation now that the grass was so high in certain areas that you could not even see your feet as you ran and that one of the visitors might have used a power tool to clear the brush and this might have precipitated the fire—an act that might have been well-meaning, but it was not well-thought out and definitely, ‘back-fired.’ (excuse the pun).

Aside from Santa Barbara’s natural beauty, the inhabitants of our town appreciate the quality of life which cannot be had any other place in the country. Many of the people now living in Santa Barbara visited years ago, fell in love and relocated. Others were lucky enough to have been born here. We are a fine eclectic collection of writers, artists, students, professors, engineers, entrepreneurs and developers. We’re a friendly bunch living in a crisp, clean, sunshine-filled paradise where rain is either thought of as either as a treat or hindrance, but, these past few days, most of us agree that we will put up with our umbrellas to save our town’s beauty!

Striding For Inspiration

I recently read Joan Anderson’s biography, A Walk on the Beach, a gem of a book and also a wonderful gift item for that middle-aged woman who has everything, but seeks deeper meaning in her life through growth and exploration. The book’s sentiments are akin to those offered by Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie.

Anderson decides to spend a year alone in Cape Cod where she befriends Joan Erikson, the late widow of the psychologist, Erik Erikson. Joan Erikson bestows her years of wisdom on Anderson and the book unravels alongside their extraordinary developing friendship. Anderson quickly learns the power in having a mentor. After living all those years with her therapist husband, it would seem logical that she’d have a good grip on how to cope with life’s ups and downs. While reading this book, I made sure my notebook was alongside. Each page had potent insights to spark my own thoughts and serve as kernels for future essays and stories. The last section of the book compiled these nuggets of inspiration into a reusable list.

I love reading books which offer insights to inspire my own writing. I also enjoy books which open my eyes to new activities, such as walking which cleans the cobwebs out of my mind and also unlocks writer’s block. By the time I reached the end of the book, I decided to make walking a part of my daily routine. Since moving to Santa Barbara nearly four years ago, I’ve noticed that many people favor walking as a hobby. For me, it’s a time to meet new people, but it’s also a time to nurture reflection and creativity. Santa Barbara offers a unique blend of calm and an unexplainable creative force. I often wondered if this is a result of its unique location, where the ocean meets the mountains.

Patricia Fry wrote an article called “Meditation Walking for Writers,” which I read with great interest. She suggested a walking meditation technique to help if you’re stuck in your writing. She says that there is no altered state of consciousness needed to embark on this type of meditation, and that it’s just a matter of quieting your mind and finding the stillness from within. She does admit that you have to want to do it and then you will see results.

The technique is simple. The first step is to establish a schedule, anywhere between forty-five and sixty minutes each day. Dressing comfortably and finding a quiet place to walk, is critical. Santa Barbara, thankfully, has a glutton of perfect walking locations. Fry suggests that while walking you focus solely only your senses—hear the sound of your shoes hitting the pavement, a sprinkler turning on, or the birds chirping. Then she suggests feeling the air against your skin and how the muscles in your legs tighten with each step. Pay attention to the aromas, whether it’s the blooming flowers, budding trees or grass being cut. In other words, put yourself in the moment.

Beth Baruch Joselow in her book, “Writing Without the Muse,” also suggests in her chapter “Go Outside,” to explore the outdoors and discover something unfamiliar—something growing in your garden, something living under a rock, something discarded in the alley. She suggests bringing that something back to your desk to examine all its facets. She recommends writing a description of it using all your senses. She takes the exercise one step further and suggests describing the item using someone else’s voice, someone you know.

Once you try these mind-clearing techniques, you can start allowing creative ideas to filter in. Fry claims that meditation walks provide an ideal arena for problem-solving. When she feels overwhelmed, she walks change her approach to life, whether it results in slowing down or figuring out what to do next. She suggests replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. If you think positively, then chances are it will soon become a reality. Meditation walking is a way to relax and increase your awareness while getting some of that fresh air and exercise we all need and who knows, the side effect might be a fabulous poem or story!

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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