Archive for the 'Writing, journaling' Category

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


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:

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.

Memoir and Truth

Last weekend  I taught a memoir workshop at the West Hollywood Book Festival. It’s my second year doing so and it’s one of my favorite gigs. The class overflows with enthusiastic attendees who are smart and ask great questions. One recurring question in most of my workshops is, “Are you liable if you write a memoir about a mean family member or unfortunate childhood situation?” In light of all the attention given to the exaggerations and falsehoods in James Frey’s memoir, A Million Little Pieces, many people have begun to suspect memoir writers as a group, but I would like to set things straight.

The truth is when you write memoir, you are writing your truth as you remember it. It is no one else’s truth. It’s your own. You can be sued by a family member, but they might not be able to win the suit. They need to  prove that what you wrote is a lie and often this is very difficult to do. When writing memoir, in either the short or long form, the best advice is to be as honest as possible. As I mentioned in last week’s blog, our memories are not reliable and they tend to play tricks on us.

If Frey would have just written a caveat in the beginning of his book attesting to this, chances are he would have not received all the negative PR that he did. Most memoir instructors, myself included, will tell you that often times, the act of writing will help you remember and that’s why I am such an advocate of keeping a journal. It is a place to practice your writing. In her book, Fearless Confessions, my colleague, Sue William Silverman coined a term, ‘memory truth,’ where she identifies memories as completely subjective. She says, “While it’s not acceptable to make up facts willy-nilly when writing about your life, it is acceptable to convey your individual version of events—your memory-truth.” I cannot agree more with this sentiment. This is great advice,  particularly if you have already decided to head down the road to writing your memoir.

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.

The Universal Rhythm of Music

My family has always believed all birthdays are a cause for celebration, but this past weekend was a special celebration in honor of my father-in-law’s 85th. There were close to seventy adoring people. After the events of the past month, I was delighted to have something positive to celebrate.

I cherish my father-in-law and there is not much I would not do to honor him, the family patriarch who for years has filled our family with his love, generosity and wisdom. This year’s celebration was particularly important in view of his recent diagnosis with Parkinson’s Disease. We have all grown accustomed to watching him sit uncharacteristically quiet during our family meals and discussions. Through his occasional questions, we know he is paying attention, but his interaction has been severely hampered since the onset of his disease.

The highlight of the evening was the presence of two Hungarian musicians, a violinist and guitar player. I watched as my father-in-law was transported by the music to his childhood growing up in Komarno. When the musicians arrived he sat watching in shock and then stood up, and began singing and dancing in the living room of his grandiose Toronto apartment to each melody and song played. It was as if he went into a blissful trance. I don’t remember him dancing like that since my wedding in 1977 where he swung me around the dance floor. We mostly watched in awe, but a few of us took the opportunity to get up and dance with him one by one. I was amazed by the way the  music took him out of his cocoon and brought so much joy to this eventful day.

At the airport I picked up the magazine, A Scientific Mind and there was an article very apt to the situation encountered at my father-in-law’s party. The article was entitled, “Why Music Moves Us.”  It discussed how music was the universal language. The neurologist Oliver Sacks in his recent book, Musicophilia, says, “Music seems to be the most direct form of emotional communication.”

As the mother of a son who is a musician I have seen the power of music and how it  can sway the human spirit. For years music has been shown to improve both mental and physical well-being. In the elderly it has been shown to decrease anxiety and agitation. So now, I am suggesting to my beloved mother-in-law to push self-medication with music, even if it means hiring musicians once a month for a live personal concert. There is nothing to lose, but so much to gain and Oliver Sacks professes, “Music is the most direct and mysterious way of conveying and evoking feelings. It is a way of connecting one consciousness to another. I think the nearest thing to telepathy is making music together.”

Life and Death Journaling

 This past week has taught me, that in learning how to die we learn how to live. The three prominent female figures in my life were struck by disasters. My 79 year old mother fell off her horse and sustained a severe subdural hematoma and has been in ICU, my mother-in-law, Jeannine is on a remote cardiac monitor and my favorite aunt Lilly and second mother, passed away. I don’t know who to write about first, as they are all such unique and dynamic women.

My mother has been riding since an early age and even though we tried to get her to stop she said she wanted to die on her horse. She always hung around with younger riders and has had a youthful spirit. I am happy she’s had this passion, but now as she slowly reclaims her memory and talking abilities after the accident, she finally agrees that she must give up riding and find a more age-appropriate hobby. We were told that her subdural hematoma was so large that if she was 20, she would probably be in a coma.

Aunt Lilly is my husband’s aunt, but I’ve known her for more than thirty-five years. She died in her sleep at the age of 88 after a tumultuous yet successful life. I suppose what I admired about her most was how in spite of all she had been through, she never wore her heartaches on her sleeve. She was a bright, vibrant and positive woman who was a successful clothing designer in Montreal where we lived during our early marital years. When Lilly’s daughter, Norma, phoned to ask if I would speak at her memorial I was honored to be included.

Here is my eulogy: Some people are immortal and Lilly Dee is one of those. I met Lilly more than 35 years ago when I married Simon. We immediately had a connection, but, more importantly, I so admired her vibrant spirit, positive attitude, sense of humor and snippets of wisdom. Lilly always seemed to say and do the right thing at the right time. Uncle Ernie called her the family diplomat as she always told us like it was with the right balance of honesty, grace, and compassion and like her brother Alex, with the sensibilities of a wise sage. I’d like to read a poem from my recent collection, Dear Anaïs: My Life in Poems for You. (Note: For those of who have my book, you will notice that I modified the last stanza for the occasion)

My Navigator

   Dedicated to Aunt Lilly

From the moment we met

I loved you, right there,

in your country house on a remote lake,

Hungarian cheese spread smeared on Swedish crackers,

chicken paprika draped over a mound of mashed potatoes,

that long French Canadian wood table,

delightful culinary aromas from your kitchen,

lively paintings and portraits enveloping your walls,

books piled on your bedside table.

Oh how I miss the warmth of your home,

nestled in your easy laugh and zest for life.

I knew I wanted to grow old like you,

proud shoulders pulled back,

despite years in concentration camp

and the loss of two adoring husbands.

I shall forever be impressed by your sense of humor,

how you called my husband the glue doctor

after he developed a prosthetic cement;

your fine attire as a clothing designer,

positive tint to life’s idiosyncrasies, and yearning

for learning and travel.

I sit here with the memory of your accented voice

and how you said you had to go to your room to

‘brush your tits,’ and how each time

we looked into one another’s eyes

we had a connection which transcended

any words I could blend on these lines.

You’ve helped me navigate through every

stage of this woman’s life and shown me

how to survive all that I’ve been through

and for this I thank you.

Lilly, your spirit remains forever alive.

Rest in peace.

Happy 106th Birthday Grandma !

Last week my grandmother, Regina would have celebrated her 106th birthday! After studying her life while writing my recent memoir, Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal, I realized that even though there were many aspects of our personalities which were similar—our lives and times cannot to be compared.

My grandmother lived through two world wars, and although there were already two wars in my own lifetime—The Vietnam War and The Gulf War—their physical proximity only were only as close to me as my television screen. What must life have been like in 1903 without radio and television? Imagine only knowing of the beginning war from the soldiers marching through the streets of your hometown or some distant newspaper finally making it to your doorstep? Surely, life was tougher when technology was not an integral part of society, but in many ways it was much less complicated—priorities were family and survival and the wondrance if the daily bread would appear on the kitchen table, or even be delivered to the corner grocer because of war-torn districts. Now we worry about whether the newspapers will survive the technological advancement and stressful economical times or if our environment will survive our waste.

In the end, we must always have our lives in the proper perspective.

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.

Twitter Feed

Blog Listings