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I make resolutions every year — or to put it another way — I set goals every year, as most people do with varying degrees of success. I believe the motivation behind the resolution or goal is the key to its success: why do you want to do it? Because you think you should? Because someone else wants you to? Because you feel like circumstances are forcing you to?

As I got ready to set my goals for 2013, and as I hand-wrote a rough draft of this blog in a notebook with aching hands, I pondered my writing habits. I’m thinking the time may have come when I have to change them. I don’t know what is wrong with my hands (tendonitis…arthritis?), but it has already been a few weeks and the pain is not only not subsiding, it seems to be escalating. I could use this as an excuse not to write, but I can’t allow it. Should I get an ergonomic pen? Speak into a dictaphone (which I actually have; I can’t afford Dragon)? Would typing be better?

My current morning pages notebook

My current morning pages notebook

Although I’m a decent typist (having worked as a secretary right after college) I still prefer hand-writing in a spiral-bound notebook with ruled pages. Friends over the years have gifted me with some lovely journals, which sit there like “good china,” waiting for the special occasion, that SOMEDAY when I will feel like I am finally the writer I want to be, when everything I write will be brilliant and worthwhile, clothed between luxuriant covers. SIGH…

My new beautiful journal

My new beautiful journal

I’ve always been like this: saving the “good jewelry” for special occasions that never seem to happen; saving the “good poems” for special publications that I never get up the courage to submit to. When I was a young art major, one of the best drawings I ever created was done on newsprint paper. My art teacher asked me why I did that. There was no creative reason; it wasn’t elemental to the concept or an essential factor in the art produced. My answer: “I didn’t think it was going to come out that good and I didn’t want to waste good paper.” I have to ask myself, “why don’t I think I’m good enough to use good paper or good journals?”

Just change your habits you say; it is simple, just go ahead and write in the good journals. I have tried that a few times. My closet contains some lovely leather-covered journals with a couple of entries, abandoned because their beauty did not inspire me to new heights; their outsides did not elevate what was inside.  Morning pages are just morning pages whether they are written in a cheap cardboard-covered notebook or a leather-bound book with handcrafted paper.

What are “Morning Pages” you might ask, if you have not read Julia Cameron’s books. I have turned to the “Artist’s Way” every year with the best of intentions. This time I’m reading “Finding Water” for a change of pace. Same author, same principles: sit down and hand-write 3 pages as soon as you get up. Get rid of all the random negative thoughts you may have as you start your day. Get in touch with your feelings and your “small still voice” inside. In Julia’s words (from page 14 of  “Finding Water”):

Be trivial, be petty, whine, grump, groan, and complain. Morning Pages siphon off a haze of negativity through which we normally face our day. The negativity goes onto the page instead of just wafting around us as we make our way through our daily lives. “These pages are boring,” you might complain. Write them anyway.

Julia recommends doing it for twelve weeks to make it a habit you will stick with; I never seem to be able to do that. I ultimately fall off to a couple of days a week, and that is the never-ending story of my “journaling” activities. But a funny thing happened as I read the next paragraph, sitting down to write my morning pages. I understood why I prefer to write in the spiral-bound notebooks!

Julia goes on to say: Sometimes we try too hard to have something to say. We feel desperate but we don’t want to act desperate. We want to pose a little–even on the page. Posing gets us nowhere. We do better to just come clean. It can take getting used to, this nakedness on the page…We want to pretend we have momentous things to say when the truth may be that we yearn to say something but we don’t know what.

I think when I write in the beautiful journals I feel like I’m posing. I’m putting pressure on myself; I’m not allowing myself to be “naked” on the page.

I started this post to write about the tendonitis or arthritis I’m having in my hands that is making it difficult for me to write right now, but the actual writing has revealed that this is just the latest excuse. (How can I write in these beautiful journals when my writing is cramped and nearly illegible?)

Breaking the habits seems difficult in itself, but facing the reasons behind those habits is more difficult still, and that confrontation may be the only way new habits can be created after all. Morning pages are worth their weight in gold, even if they are clothed in cardboard covers.



{January 10, 2011}   Lists, Lists, and More Lists

I’ve spent a lot of time since New Year’s day writing lists or thinking about writing lists — daily lists, weekly lists, and monthly lists; lists of things my husband wants me to do, lists of things we need to get done as a couple, and lists of things I want to do.  I’ve tried to mind dump approach, but it seems endless.  I’m trying to figure out what I have to do and what I can cut out, but there’s too many important things (well, they are important to somebody in my life, whether it is my husband, me, or my mother…).  Is it making me feel like I can make a plan and set goals?  Is it making me feel like I get organized?  No, so far it is making me panic more — I don’t think that’s how it is supposed to work.

I know that I have to do something.  Right now my days off seem to disappear in a fog of small everyday tasks such as making meals, doing dishes, emptying wastebaskets, reading emails, scooping the cat box, folding laundry…on and on and on.  And all the things I SHOULD be doing to combat the panic and anxiety — meditation, prayer, exercise — I don’t fit in because all they do is eat up more time!  (Although, exercising gives my brain a jumpstart, but that ends in my adding more to my lists.)

As I have been helping my mother go through the piles of paperwork my father accumulated, guess what we’ve found a lot of?  Lists.  I’m sure it did help him get some stuff done.  I also think that he would often misplace his list and have to make a new one.  But the bottom line was, bless him, he didn’t have the energy or the time to accomplish everything on his lists; I know he wanted to, desperately, but he knew his time was limited.  Unfortunately he didn’t do some of the practical things he should have done.  (You can learn a lot about a person by looking at their “to do” lists.  Like me, some of his lists were just random thoughts or ideas about creative projects; he was imaginative and needed escapes from reality.)

I DO understand you can’t get caught up on years of being behind in a few days, so I’m making progress with some small steps.  I’ve cut back on my groups on LinkedIn and I’ve “unfriended” some people on Facebook, in an effort to cut back on emails and distractions that are simply unproductive.  (I wasn’t really “there” for those people or things anyway.)  And I continue to make lists — eventually the lists will force me to see what I don’t want to face: that I HAVE to narrow my focus and lower my expectations of myself, despite the initial pain I will feel about giving up some things.  Life really is short and the phrase, “No pain, No gain” (as has been said about working out or dieting) applies here as well.

There is no “Superwoman” and there’s a reason they haven’t made a “Wonder Woman” movie yet.



{January 3, 2011}   The Worst is Over…Now What?

The title of this blog refers to a lot of different things for me.  It initially came to me in the context of dealing with my father’s death and burial just before Christmas.  It was mentioned over and over at the wake, funeral service and burial what a bad time of year it was to deal with such a thing, but when is it a better time?  A year was coming to an end; a decade was coming to an end; a special person’s life had come to an end.

That unforgettable week was a whirlwind of activity and emotions, and brought me more-than-I-could-have-hoped-for support and sympathy from a lot of people.  But now that the most obvious emotional part is over, there is still so much to be done and worked through — for my mother most of all, but also for my family and myself.

Talking with my husband about our plans and goals moving forward (as we all must), I realized the title could mean so many things: economists and the media have said the recession is over, now what?  Now that one of the reasons I was working part-time has resolved itself (my father’s deteriorating health), now what?  Now that my wonderful father’s life has been summed up, what does that mean to me?

At my father’s wake, we set out a notebook containing a fraction of his extensive artwork and cartoons—it was something he wanted.  There were constant lines at the notebook; so many people had never seen his work—even I have never seen it all (but that’s another blog).  A couple of people he knew from the senior center were talking to me about how every time my father would show them one of his cartoons they would ask why he didn’t send it out to a newspaper and he would just shrug.  Family always came first for my father; he was long past having the required time and energy to publish his material.

Initially, my father’s death left me feeling no desire to move on; I felt lost and empty. But a strange thing happened as I watched people looking at his cartoons and artwork.  I felt like…I’ve got to DO something about that. I’m not sure what, but I’ve got some ideas, and somehow I feel like he is giving me a new strength, and new determination.

I also said to myself, “That’s not going to happen to me.”  At one point, I tried to do with my poems what my father did with his cartoons: I tried to put most of the poems I have written in a notebook in chronological order.  I didn’t realize what a daunting task it was —I am a disorganized writer; most of the poems had no dates and there were too many versions of the same thing.  I was never finished, always tweaking, and sometimes the initial off-the-cuff version was the best.  I realized it’s impossible to sum up a life in one notebook.

I’ve got some projects in front of me that are important to me emotionally, and I am looking forward to working on them.  It won’t happen overnight; I need to plan.  It could take me the next decade, but I feel ready to go.  Thanks, Dad.



et cetera
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