Tuesday, May 4, 2010

An Examined Life

I was able to spend some time with a good writer friend this weekend. We spend a lot of time scheming about how to get great writing jobs and this adventure was no exception. We attended a Creative Writing workshop with author and poet, Melissa Greene (www.writefromtheheart.us). There were an interesting group of people in attendance. They were all people who loved to write and loved to use their imagination. Melissa talked about the creative writing process and said a lot encouraging things. She then led us in some exercises to help us find our “creative focus”. I enjoyed the opportunity to let my mind wander, unfortunately everything it wandered to was pretty depressing which was a surprise considering it was a gorgeous afternoon, I was hanging out with a friend I don’t get to see enough of, doing one of my most favorite things with someone who could be a potential mentor. That’s the thing about your mind though – it rarely goes where you tell it too. So sometimes you have to just follow it where it takes you and believe there is a reason.

The overall message of Melissa’s workshop (and I would say her “ministry”) is that writing is healing. It helps us to process what’s going on deep inside. Especially when you are writing for no one but yourself. I’ve kept a journal all my life. Every now and then I think about burning that huge box in the basement because really – why am I hanging on to those journals? I wrote those words for myself so that I could process my own emotions and ideas. I’m fairly certain they would be ungodly boring to anyone else, except maybe back when I was young and single and wrote about my dating exploits. But those entries might get me in trouble and I certainly wouldn’t want my children to happen upon them. Which brings me back to the question – why don’t I burn them? Maybe I will some day. Or maybe I’ll leave directions in my will that they be burned. Or maybe I shouldn’t really care because I won’t be around to be embarrassed by them.
If you’ve never kept a journal, I would encourage you to try one. Here’s why – life is going by much too fast. We are all in a hurry and there’s too much on our plates. When we stop for 10 minutes just to write what’s rushing through our minds it forces us to be present. To be here in the now instead of already planning what’s coming next. A journal doesn’t need to be great writing. In fact, it’s very freeing to know you can write whatever you want, capitalize what you want, put commas wherever you want, and no one’s going to judge. (I just got some critiques of my novel back from a contest I entered and they were all over my horrible use of, actually lack of, commas. I felt judged, but that was the point. Now, though, I’m feeling I should put a comma in every possible place,.) But with a journal you can leave your grammatical hang-ups behind and write stream of consciousness. Heck, you could do away with punctuation altogether. That might be a good way to confuse anyone who reads your journals upon your untimely death. Ah, now there’s an idea!

Anyway, today’s kid-friendly organic life idea is that you should keep a journal. If a journal is intimidating, find a scrap of paper and make a list of the words that run through you mind. Or look around you and list the things you see. It will force you to be present. Try this with your kids. In fact, this is a great summer project idea! Find a journal for your kids – you can buy a fancy one, or pick one up at the dollar store (they always have blank books) or just grab an empty notebook. Find a pen that feels good to write with and start journaling. When I got my daughter started, I bought a blank book that had a gray cardboard cover, used stickers to write, “Addie’s Dream Journal”, and then added all kinds of animals and flower stickers and left space for her to write. Inside the cover, I told her to fill it with whatever came to her mind and heart.

I think we have to help our kids be intentional in their living. They are much busier than we were at their age. I keep trying to figure out why that is and I think it comes back to expectations. When I was a kid, you had all the time in the world and no one was really paying attention to what you were doing and whether you were using your time wisely. Nowadays, kids have so many options - sports, camps, after-school activities, music lessons, religious groups, scouts, and instruction in everything from foreign language to computer programming. Although I think I limit my kids, we still have an activity every evening except Tuesday, so obviously I’m not practicing what I preach here.

I don’t know if all this activity is bad really. Who’s to say? I doubt there’s been any long-term studies done. What I do know is that we need to help our kids to pay attention and be present at whatever they choose to do. And journaling is one way to make that happen. It helps us sort out what our heart really wants and gives us permission to say what we think, uncensored by manners or expectations. It’s a safe place for our creative and contemplative spirit. And that is a spirit that must be nurtured if we intend to be happy (and sane).

Here’s one important final note – and I’ll write it in caps so you know I’m yelling this at you. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU EVER READ YOUR CHILD’S JOURNAL! Trust is key. This journal is meant for no one’s eyes but its authors. No matter how tempting – promise me you’ll never read your child’s journal.

I have some really special journals I keep in a fire safe. I could lose pretty much everything other book in my house, but not these three journals. They are the journals that I write to my children. I started a journal for each child when I first learned I was pregnant. I write in their journal of all my worries and wishes for them. I write about funny or poignant things they say or do. And I write the things I wish they would sit still for me to tell them. I write lots about how much I love them and how proud I am of them. I write observations about the things that seem to make them happy or sad or angry. I hope that some day no matter where this life takes us they will have this physical record of how much I love them and how important they have been to me from the moment they were conceived.

I hope this post inspires you to start (or re-start) your own journal and encourages you to get your kids journaling too. There is potential in any thought. It was Socrates who said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Kind of tough love reinforcement for journaling I’d say. Life is such an amazing, rich, boring, incredible, complicated, beautiful thing. I, for one, think it’s worth examining.

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