Archive for the 'Notebooks' Category

Forgetfulness

I wrote this blog in honor of my cousin, Jed’s 55th birthday. (Happy Birthday, Jed!)

Most of my favorite poems are found on the pages of Billy Collins’s poetry collections. So many of his sentiments and images resonate with me. If I had to chose one poem to share, it would be, “Forgetfulness.” The main reason is that this poem inspired me to rediscover the poet in me who had been dormant since childhood.

This is how it happened. It was 2003 or 2004, and I was in the charter class of Spalding University’s low-residency program, working on my MFA. Our class was invited to a Billy Collins reading at a neighboring university. It was just after Billy completed his term as Poet Laureate of the United States. The university auditorium was packed and Billy read many poignant poems, including “Forgetfulness.”

I vividly remember chuckling to myself throughout his entire reading. It was just about the time of my fiftieth birthday and I was beginning to forget more than I remembered. Billy received a lot of laughs during his reading, but with an audience filled with baby boomers, I think he got the most chuckles while reading this poem. If you have ever heard Billy read, you understand his talent and dry voice. In his poem, “Forgetfulness,” he incorporates his classic teasing technique told in a conversational and accessible manner. His imaging is extremely clever and it continues to resonate with me this many years after that first discovery.

I rarely will choose to spend the time to stand in line for an author signings, but after Billy’s reading, I purchased all his books piled all the way up to my chin and decided to wait for his signature on each one.  I didn’t care how long it took me to reach the front of the line. I knew that his reading would launch the new poet in me and I wanted to avail myself of the opportunity to read the poems of a giant.

You can hear him read on u-tube or you can read it here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrEPJh14mcU

Forgetfulness

The name of the author is the first to go

followed obediently by the title, the plot,

the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel

which suddenly becomes one you have never read,

never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor

decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,

to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye

and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,

and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,

the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,

it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,

not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river

whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,

well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those

who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night

to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.

No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted

out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Happy New Year — resolutions, yes or no?

I made no resolutions for the New Year.  The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me. — Anaïs Nin

It’s 2010 and this is the first year I toasted the New Year without any resolutions. What’s the point, we never keep them anyway! Instead of pronouncing my resolutions over a glass of champagne, I decided to write mine in my journal. First and foremost, I decided to slow down a bit this year, do more reading and less published writing. Four books in eighteen months has given me a little bit of heartburn and although I’m happy about my accomplishments, I’m somewhat tired of reviewing galleys.

During the holidays, I read two books—Mary Karr’s third memoir, Lit which was great, but just a continuation of the tragic drama in her life. It’s mind-boggling how one woman my own age could have already written three memoirs. I bow to her writing style and story. The second book I read is one which has to do with my written New Year’s Resolution and it’s called, Awakening The Buddhist Within by Lama Surya Das. The first chapter is called, ‘Contemplating Your Life,’ which for me will be the subject of 2010, the year my first child gets married. Das writes in a very compelling and easy-to-understand manner and much of what he says appears to be common sense, but it’s nice to see it on the page. He says that self-reflection helps us heal our lives and accept any problems we have and realize that something might need to be changed. He says that everything in our life depends on our relationship with the self, the world and the other. He says that when something is going on inside your head, chances are it will have something to do with at least one of these parameters.

On the path to happiness, he suggests sitting down and trying to change one of these relationships. He poses some interesting questions which can make great journaling prompts. Try these:

  • Where do you want to be in a month, a year, five years, ten years?
  • What or who might you be if you were given the choice or the chance?
  • If someone gave you a cosmic credit card what would you do with it?
  • What do you want to do with your creativity?
  • What would you do about your compassion for others? How would or could you help others?
  • Who am I and who can I be?

In summary, the tenets of Buddhism includes being mindful or pleased in the pleasures of the moment. Focus on the words, ‘just this here and now,’ while you inhale and exhale (important part) and simplify, simplify, simplify and remember what the Buddha said, “Wherever we go, wherever we remain, the results of our actions follow us.”

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL OF YOU AND THANKS FOR BEING FAITHFUL READERS!!

Thanksgiving in Paris

I am writing you from Paris where my family and I just celebrated our favorite holiday together—Thanksgiving. My son, Josh, an NYU student, is in the midst of a semester abroad here. Although this is not a French holiday—we thought we would join him and have our own celebration. It has been a feast, the days before and after our Thanksgiving, as we enjoyed the pleasures and decadences of French dining from the cheeses, French breads and pastries. (Although I must say there is a strong lack of fresh fruits and vegetables, and today’s task will be to locate a fresh market).

On Thanksgiving Day, we only had one glitch—the French do not eat turkey. In fact, through the eyes of Frenchmen, turkey is served to peasants and sometimes only at Christmas. It is rarely, if ever seen on restaurant menus. At the restaurant we chose for our private Thanksgiving feast, I did manage to find a small hen which was a fabulous substitute. I ordered mashed potatoes and salad—just the type of meal I would have prepared, had we celebrated at home. In the end, I came to realize that home is where your family is and the fact that we were all together was even more important than the food which was served. After all,

Thanksgiving has always been our favorite family holiday for as long as I can remember. One of the reasons we love it, is that it is does not have religious connotations. I recently learned that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in St. Augustine, Florida, America’s oldest towns and the one that all Florida school children (including my own) have visited at least once during their youth. The one thing I remember about that town, this many years later is the old school house and the dunce cap worn for misbehavior and as the name implies, ‘stupidity.’ In those days they definitely knew nothing about being politically correct! They would never get away with such a practice today.

In addition to Thanksgiving being a good excuse to get together and eat with loved ones, it is a time to give thanks for the harvest and to give thanks, in general. The dinner table as a perfect place to reconnect and tell stories and catch up. It’s fun to reminisce about past holidays and how in the 1970s my husband and I had our honeymoon in France. We discussed all we are thankful for. In years gone by, when my kids were young we used to feed the homeless at the local shelter in Orlando where they fed 1500+ people in a big tent downtown. My kids would go to the buffet and fill up plates of turkey, mashed potatoes and yams accompanied by a bun and serve all the homeless men, women and children. There was enough gratitude to go around. They were thankful for the warm meal, and we were thankful to be able to help and for the life we lived. As we struggle with social and economic issues we must never forget all the good which surround us and to always find time to journal our blessings.

In fact, this is a good week to do some powerful gratitude journaling!

Writing for Wellness and Health

This past weekend I attended a conference in Atlanta — the Wellness and Writing Connections Conference. My dear friend and colleague, Julie Davey also the author of  Writing For Wellness (a fabulous book) was the keynote speaker. I conducted a workshop entitled, “The Healing Notebook.” It’s the second year I have taught this workshop and the crowd is always very enthusiastic and includes writers, therapists, and clinicians. The premise of my workshop is to discuss not only the healing power of words, but how regular notebook-writing can empower us. Recent studies have shown that writing down your feelings can help you  come to terms with difficult situations. The good thing is that there are no rules to the healing notebook. You can dictate your own method and do at your own pace. By doing this you will gain control of your life.

Quite a few writers have used their notebooks as a way to heal and they have also gone on to publish their work, including Walt Whitman, Andre Lorde, May Sarton, Hilda Raz, Donald Hall, Elizabeth Berg, Jane Kenyon, Isabel Allende and my favorite diarist, Anaïs Nin who began her first journal as a letter to her estranged father who left the family when she was ten years old. Writing that letter was her way of healing from the pain of losing him. Since that day, Nin became an avid diarist and today has numerous published volumes.

I am also a big advocate of letter writing in the notebook and novelist Isabel Allende began her writing career by writing a letter to her grandfather when he was nearly 100 years old. At the time he was dying in Chile where her novel House of Spirits was set. She admits that in many ways, writing that novel saved her life.

The Healing Notebook has numerous benefits including: it’s a place to capture and record memories, a place to clear the mind, a place to build self-confidence, a place to empower and a place to witness the healing process. I always suggest using proper tools—that is, a notebook and pen which inspires and resonates with you. You want to be motivated to use your journal. I suggest starting with free-writing first thing in the morning, with 15-20 minutes and increasing the time as needed. Basically, this is writing without lifting your pen off the page and seeing where your mind goes. Begin by writing about an experience which has deeply affected your life or which has obsessed you for quite some time.

In general, my only suggestion is that when you sit down to write, you should write as long as you like, but if the pain gets too great, it is probably a good idea to stop. This would be an appropriate time to take a break and do something different like walking or some other form of exercise. The best part about keeping a healing notebook is the ability to turn a negative into a positive and what can be so bad about that?

Journaling Breast Cancer Awareness Month

BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH

October is many things, including the anniversary of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Although breast cancer awareness should be promoted all year round, this month tends to focus on an intense campaign to promote awareness, education and empowerment to women of all ages. Given my background as an educator and registered nurse, I cannot help, but to share some reminders and statistics.

Statistics show that one in eight women will get breast cancer at some point during their lifetime. Here are statistics broken down in age:

Age 30 to39  – 1 in 233

Age 40 to 49 – 1 in 69

Age 50 to 59 – 1 in 38

Age 60 to 69 – 1 in 27

For more information, check out this website: http://www.nbcam.org/about_nbcam.cfm.

Personally, eight years have already passed since my diagnosis with breast cancer and I have to say that I feel better than ever. Because I feel so good I want to urge women over the age of forty to get annual mammograms. The reason I am still here today is because mine saved my life. My type of cancer, called DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) is sometimes called, ‘precancer,’ and is only detected on mammograms.

Coincidentally, this month the Mayo Clinic Women’s Health Source Newsletter featured an article, entitled, “Ductal Carcinoma: A Highly Treatable Breast Cancer.” The article says that before mammograms very few women were diagnosed with DCIS and now more than 62,000 cases are diagnosed yearly, which also accounts for about 20 percent of all new cases of breast cancer diagnosed each year. The good news is that its treatment is extremely successful with a 10-year survival rate of almost 100 percent.

DCIS occurs when abnormal cells multiply and form a tumor or growth in the mammary duct.  The first sign is the growth of calcium deposits (calcifications) which on a mammogram look like clusters of white spots, often confused with talcum powder. In general, DCIS is not life-threatening, but if not treated early, it can progress into invasive cancer. The biggest challenge with this type of cancer is deciding on its treatment. Fortunately due to the diligence of my fabulous doctors, mine saved my life.

Ultimately  we are all responsible for our own health and the more  we understand about our own bodies, the better we can take care of ourselves and maintain a path of health. For me, one of the most beneficial paths to my own health was writing about my experience in my forthcoming memoir Healing With Words: A Writer’s Cancer Story, which will be out in the Summer of 2010, just before next year’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Here’s one poem from that book:

To My Daughters

You were the first I thought of

when diagnosed with what

strikes one in eight women.

It was too soon to leave you,

but I thought it a good sign

that none of us were born

under its pestilent zodiac.

I stared at the stars and wished upon

each one that you’d never wake up

as I did this morning to one real breast

and one fake one; but that the memories

you carry will be only sweet ones,

and then I remembered you had your

early traumas of being born too soon,

and losing a beloved grandpa too young

and then I had this urge to show you

the scars on the same breast

you cuddled as babies, but then wondered

why you’d want to see my imperfections

and perhaps your destiny.

I caved in and showed you anyway,

hoping you’d learn to be careful, as

if it really mattered, because your grandpa

used to say when your time’s up, it’s up.

May he always watch over you.

Happy First Day of Fall — Fall Into Your Passion

There’s no time like the start of a new season to try something new—either for yourself or for your community. If you are a writer like me, you are probably compulsive about your craft. It takes a sort of obsession to be a writer—an obsession to start and finish an article, story or book. Perhaps, it takes this type of personality to bring any type of project to fruition.

After many years of being a writer, I also understand the importance of making the leap out of the office and away from the computer, journal or legal pad to wander into the real world in order to bring some awareness to an issue in the community or do something which unites your spirit with the community and/or the world.

For me personally, I have the need to inspire and teach others the power of writing, whether it’s for publication or to heal personal wounds. This has been an ongoing mission and passion of mine. Not all authors have the need to bring awareness to a particular subject. For example, in a recent Time Magazine interview with author Janet Evanovich (June 22, 2009), she was asked if she felt inclined to use her success to bring awareness to a certain issue. She said that she thought it was appropriate for some authors, but it didn’t seem appropriate for her. She explained by saying that she saw herself as an entertainer and that’s what she liked to do. I admire Janet’s honesty in knowing what is right for her. I also know that perhaps because of my past profession as a nurse, that I have an instinct to help and teach others. Today, I have decided to teach journaling to teenage girls at Girls Inc. in Carpinteria. They are excited about my visit and I’m excited about sharing my passion. It’s a win-win situation for us all and I hope the beginning of a series of similar events.

Think of what you might do that is different this Fall. Do you have a passion you would like to share with others? Is there a new hobby you want to bring into your life? Today is a good day to pull out your journal and jot down any ideas you may have and turn over a leaf of paper as the first colorful one change colors on your backyard tree.

Memory in Retrograde

There has been some negative energy in the air this past week and I recently learned that it might be because mercury is in retrograde. Some believe that this phenomenon can make people act differently. Supposedly, when a planet is in retrograde it moves back through the zodiac. Scientists don’t necessarily believe that planets can do this, nor do they believe that planets are stationery, however, those with more spiritual slants are more inclined to be believers

Mercury rules thinking, perception, processing and means of communication. As a result, mercury in retrograde can give rise to misunderstandings, various types of glitches involving computers, phones and transportation. Believers don’t suggest making any important decisions during these times because some people may have difficulty thinking clearly.

It has been said that retrograde planets mark a period of inevitability fated events. In fact, some unresolved issues from the past might surface. Whether I believe this is another matter, but I do know that I have been thinking about a particular event from my past:the death of my dear friend Lynda Percival Glickman in 1992. She was a brilliant woman and nursing practitioner whose passion was traveling. Each year she traveled to Africa to teach African women about birth control. She loved the culture. Because of a combination of emotional and physical factors, she shockingly ended her life by jumping off a 21-story building. She knew that there was finality in this type of suicide. Yesterday would have been Lynda’s 63rd birthday.

For years, Lynda had been my inspiration. In nursing school she was my mentor and over the years became a dear friend. I met Lynda days before my plan to drop out of nursing school because of a bad experience. I enrolled in Lynda’s pediatric nursing course and she immediately inspired me to stay in the program. The following year I graduated. That same year was the first time I came face to face with a child who lost his hair due to chemotherapy. It really snapped my life into perspective.

So today, when mercury is supposedly in retrograde and the effects of the full-moon of last Thursday still linger, I stop to think about the importance of keeping one’s perspective and to look at the glass half full, rather than half empty.

What do you have to be thankful for this week?


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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