Monday, December 12, 2011

Digital Scrapbooking Giveaway!!!

Over the next two weeks, I will be hosting a Digital Scrapbooking Suite Giveaway on my other blog site.  Feel free to check it out and enter http://missasmuse.blogspot.com/2011/12/digital-scrapbooking-giveaway.html.  There are 8 ways to enter, so remember to leave a comment for each "quest" that you fulfill.  The winner will be chosen on December 24, 2011.  This will make one very special person very happy for the holiday season!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Day of At"ONE"ment

I recently celebrated Rosh Hashana with my family.  We indulged in tzimmes, carmelized apple kugel, apples and challah in honey, and offered greetings of "L'shana Tova!" wishing that each and everyone of us has a "Sweet New Year."

Last year was hard.  Very hard.  On all of us.  I find it bewildering and somewhat amusing how we all wish for a good year to come, but we do nothing to change the circumstances that lead us to the same state we were in last year (or the year/s before for that matter).  When we fall into the same situations we feel that we have been cast into the wilderness by an omnipotent G-d, but the truth is that we never left in the first place.  That is where the Jewish Holiday of Yom Kippur comes into play.  On the days between the New Year and the Day of Atonement, we make restitution for past sins against our Creator and his creations, donate to charity, beg for sweetness, and fast, all to have our chance of a good year.  This is a custom that leaves me bereft and my soul feels deeply unsatisfied while sitting in the pews of a shul for 5 hours dreaming of food.

The truth of the matter is that I never feel that I alone am to blame for my circumstances.  I do what is right, I help others, I actively seek improvement in my life, I go to school, I say "yes" way too much, etc.  And what does it give me?  I am still sleeping in the same bed in my mother's house.  I still don't have a teaching job.  I still cannot afford to go to school full-time, and I am still without friends and a significant other.  Recently I read a book called The Fifth Mountain by the renowned author Paulo Coelho.  In the book, Coehlo writes of a poignant scene between the profit Elijah and the Lord on the Day of Atonement.  Elijah states that he has sinned against G-d, but that G-d has also sinned against him, leaving him homeless, loveless, friendless, and impoverished in a strange land.  Elijah uses this day to declare a truce with G-d.  That is where my opinion of At"ONE"ment comes into play. 

Earlier today, while reading Mr. Coelho's blog, I learned that this scene in The Fifth Mountain comes from a  Hasidic Jewish folktale.  For your enjoyment, and mine, I have included this tale in my blog.  It reminds me that we alone do not write our history or our future for that matter.  Without the Divine, we are nothing and have nothing.  However, the relationship with our Maker is symbiotic.  Without us, He seems very small and insignificant.  Today is the Day of Atonement, and I choose this day to be at "ONE" with my G-d.

On the Day of Yom Kippur
a Hasidic tale

On the day of Yom Kippur, Rabbi Elimelekh of Lisensk took his disciples to a bricklayer’s workshop.
“Watch how this man behaves,” he said. “Because he manages to communicate well with the Lord.”
Without noticing that he was being observed, the bricklayer ended his work and went to the window.
He took two pieces of paper from his pocket and raised them to the sky, saying:
“Lord, on one paper I have written the list of my sins. I have erred and there is no reason for me to hide that I offended You several times.
“But on the other paper is the list of Your sins towards me. You have demanded of me more than what is necessary, brought me difficult moments, and made me suffer. If we compare the two lists, You are in debt towards me. But since today is the Day of Atonement, You pardon me, I pardon You, and we shall continue on our path together for another year.”

Monday, September 26, 2011

Love in an Elevator

The immortal words of Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, "Love in an elevator, livin' it up while I'm going down.  Love in an elevator, lovin' it up til I hit the ground," seem to ring true to all of those who have felt the highs of love and the lows of heartbreak.  I have often wondered if Love is really such a bi-polar daimon.  I think that both Plato and I would have to disagree.  Love doesn't simply come and go as he pleases.  Love is a constant; we are the variable.

The thought of Love has been a concern of mine for several years.  I have recently reached the age of 30-something, and looking around me, all of those who revolve in my immediate circle of friends, family, and acquaintances are married and on their way to starting families.  However, just as many are on their way to divorce or are starting their second families.  I even have a friend who jokingly refers to me as his future third wife.  In an era where half of all marriages end in divorce, I wonder if I have already missed out on love or if I am just holding out for that one true love.  

Mind you, I have loved and lost just as everyone else has, but I do not blame Love himself for all of the loss:  I consider myself to be a victim of circumstance.  I have been sick for many years now, and that just doesn't allow for meeting people, forming lasting, intimate relationships, building a family, etc.  At least, that is what I thought.  After reaching that 30-something milestone, I was forced to re-evaluate my ideas of love, intimacy, and family.  I soon realized that I was surrounded by Love of all kinds: maternal love, filial love, sisterly love, even Love by and for a Higher Power.  I have Love for knowledge, Love for self, Love for my pet cat Cleopatra, Love for family, and Love for friends.  The list is long and true.  And although I may not have a significant other right now, I am open and receptive to the idea, and that is the start.  

Each of my Loves feeds my spirit and does leave me with that wonderful "high" of which Steven Tyler sings.  But, that doesn't mean that I have to experience the lows of Love.  Recently, I read an article which reminded me that Love is not a given.  Love must be nurtured in order to grow, and love must be sustained in order to continue.  It is not constant, nor does it claim to be so.  I found that the following list could be applied to every type of Love there is, and if it is meant for me to experience that true love in the future, I must know how to maintain it so that it does last forever.  I hope that you find the list as elucidating as I did.

Ten Thoughts on Romance (www.wholeliving.com)

   1. True love begins with both curiosity about and acceptance of yourself.
   2.  Heartbreak does more than just hurt. It opens you up to love in a whole new way.
   3.  Passion does not get lost -- just abandoned. It's never too late to find it again.

   4.  Celebrate the milestones that mean the most to you, not someone else.
   5.  Real intimacy is expressed not with more words but with meaningful ones.
   6.  Love nourishes your soul; passion ignites it.
   7.  Touch is a powerful healing tool; use it lovingly and often.
   8.  The quality of your connections with other people will carry you further than you think.

   9.  Rediscover sex as a source of life-giving energy.
 10.  Sometimes the situations that make you most vulnerable offer the greatest rewards.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Reflections through Picasso

How many times have you looked at yourself in the mirror?  I mean REALLY looked - not just the casual look while washing your hands or brushing your teeth.  Maybe you noticed the crooked eyebrow or that random hair that isn't in the right place.  Maybe you noticed the huge zit popping up in the middle of your forehead.  And maybe, just maybe, you noticed that you were starting to show the signs of aging that all of us dread.

Last year on my birthday, I noticed that I had started to get age spots underneath my eyes.  For a 30th birthday, this was not a present I wanted.  This year, I noticed that I no longer had the features of my youth.  But, I wondered what else does a mirror reflect.  Can we really look into our own eyes and see our soul peering back at us?  Can we see all of the mistakes and regrets written in every little line or wrinkle?  Can we see the aura that constantly surrounds us or the reflection of light that each of us disburse?  What would we see if we were looking at ourselves from a different perspective?

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I tend to be very realistic (verging on pessimistic) and straight-forward.  I try to look at every situation from a variety of perspectives, weigh the pros and cons, and choose the option which has the greatest good for the most people (like a true Utilitarian).  Today, while surfing the Milliande website, I saw a link to an art site called Picasso Head at www.picassohead.com.  This wonderful little application allows a person to create a portrait of themselves in the style of the most famous Cubist that ever lived, Mr. Pablo Picasso.  For the first time in my life, I stepped outside the normal portrait of myself.  And although this little sketch took less than 10 minutes to create, it compelled me to look inside myself to see what I reflect to other people.  My mother sees me as a ray of Sunshine that brightens her day and warmly loves her.  My sister sees me as an overstressed, underpaid nerd.  My grandfather sees me as an enlightened student and teacher.  My friends see me as an honest and devoted companion.  Never once have I stopped to think what I see myself as being.

This little attempt at art and entertainment has deepened into an exercise of self-exploration.  It doesn't matter how much makeup, lotion, hair dye, or toothpaste I use in the great scheme of things.  It doesn't even matter what other people see me as.  I need to see what image I would like to portray to myself.  A plethora of titles run through my head beginning with artist and ending with zealot.  Now, I only need to fill in the rest of the alphabet.  Until then, I will take the lesson that I have learned from Picasso and try to see myself in a new light each day.  I challenge you to play on the website yourself and step in front of your own mirror.  Are you the light or are you the reflection?  Only you can decide.


Let the Sunshine In by Melissa Travis

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Only the Lonely

Recently, I have found myself in quite a pickle.  I don't have a social life, and I can count the number of friends that I have on one hand.  I sit in my cave under the covers waiting, wanting, wishing for someone, anyone to call.  How did I get to this point?  Where did it all go wrong?

Usually, once a day or so, I get that coveted phone call.  My sole experience with living, breathing, emoting people.  Mind you, I really enjoy blogging and doing all of my art projects, but it doesn't get the job done anymore.  Lately I have noticed that my one communication with the outside world always involves doing something for someone else with all the trappings that come with friends and family.  Babysit my kid, shop for groceries, do the dishes, give me money, help my kid, run an errand, pick the kid up from school, shop for more groceries, etc. seem to be the only things that I hear.  I am tired of playing the doormat, but I don't have the testicles to actually do something about it.

My situation often reminds me of a song in the musical Chicago that sums up my situation perfectly.  It is called "Mr. Cellophane."  I often feel that I am made up of a transparent material that only comes out of the kitchen drawer when you can't find the lid to your favorite piece of Tupperware.  Nobody really wants to use cellophane; it is just convenient.  And when the piece of crumpled plastic no longer serves its purpose, it goes directly in the trash.  Do not pass go.  Do not collect $200. 

The saddest part about being virtually invisible is the constant ruminating that keep the brain running in circles, the constant hope that someone will call because they want to and not because they have to, and the constant heartache that comes when I realize that the situation is never going to change.  I am tired of playing the role of doormat in my own production of my life.  I am ready for change but my world may not be ready for it.  I think that the world will be greatly surprised when I gather my strength and shake off the cellophane garb that renders me virtually invisible.  All I can do is pray that I am seen for exactly what I am instead of what I can do for others.

Chicago -"Mr. Cellophane"

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Seizing the Day

Over the past eight years, much of my life has been spent in a 10'x12' box/ bedroom of some sort.  I don't know if this is because my body is physically sick or rather because my spirit has been wounded.  Sometimes, I felt like a bird whose wings had been clipped, with mind intact but body completely broken.  I was meant to soar on the wings of eagles, not to be afraid to drive my car, face my friends, or go to the park alone.  However, someone or something decided that I was not able to live my life as a regular human being, partaking in all the little details that make life worth living.  In retrospect, I think that it was I who made that decision.

Now that I have two little ones in my life, I realized how unhealthy I had truly become, not just in body but in spirit as well.  I had to get outside.  I had to breathe fresh air.  I had to socialize.  And perhaps most of all, I had to seize the day.  "Carpe Diem" is a Latin phrase that has been thrown around in so many circumstances over time that it has almost become trite.  But that is exactly what I needed to do.  I needed to take as much care of my spirit, emotion, and mental well-being as I had my physical well-being.  I, indeed, needed a rebirth or renaissance of sorts.  The major question was where to start.

Just like with anything lost, the best place to find ones'  self is where you left it last.  Where was I last happy?  When was I last happy?  When was the last time I had actually lived life?  My mind immediately took me to the year I taught Latin.  I knew that teaching would make a difference in my life and hopefully in the lives that I touched.  I laughed, cried, played, danced, and lived as much life as my failing body would let me.  That is where I needed to start life again.  So, after weighing the pros and cons of my situation, the pros certainly outweighed the cons and I applied for a teaching position at a local middle school.  As of now, I don't know if I have the job, but I have realized that that doesn't matter much at all.  I have taken the first major step in seizing the day, or rather life by the horns.  If I get the job, then I will be elated.  If not, then I will be in no worse shape than when I started.  However, I have recognized the importance of living life to the fullest.   I seriously doubt that my life will ever be ordinary, so as I see it now, my only other option is extraordinary.

Dead Poet's Society - "Carpe Diem" scene

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Life is a Cabaret!

Last week, my family and friends suffered a great tragedy.  A 14 year old relative of my sister died in the woods after being shot with a BB gun in the head by his best friend.  At first we were shocked, then we were steeped in sorrow, and now, we celebrate the life that was lived and mourn the life that could have been.  Many people cried aloud, some let the tears slowly trickle down their faces and mourned in silence.  I have yet to do either.  Many may think that I am heartless, others say I feel nothing, and I quietly sit in the corner observing the passers-by and their reactions.

The truth is that I don't know what I am supposed to feel.  I am angry at the parents who bought a gun for their child yet failed to teach him the responsibility and danger that comes with owning any type of gun.  I am shocked that such a freak accident could have occurred while celebrating at a birthday party.  I am bewildered that the Maker would take such an innocent life that had not yet lived.  I am frightened that the same could happen to me at any moment.  So many emotions have flowed through this weak body during the period of a week that I can hardly begin to enumerate all of them.

I am reminded of my own mortality at times like these which try men's souls.  However, I find solace in the fact that death came rather quickly for our little one.  He lived life like tomorrow was not given.  He loved hard, he played hard, he laughed hard, and with every breath he took he learned hard and lived hard.  Little ones understand a language that we, as adults, have long forgotten: "Life is a cabaret."  Sure, we all know the lyrics of the Broadway show-stopper, but how often do we really live it.  I know that I spend more time than I care to nit-picking over the little things in life and less time than I need sucking the marrow out of life.

We need to learn that living is an active word while being is a passive word.  I tend to sit alone in my room without music, without nourishment, without joy, without love, without laughter.  But that will very shortly come to an end.  Maybe I will adopt the Epicurean philosophy of "Eat, Drink, and Be Merry."  Maybe I will make more of an effort to celebrate the little things in life.  Maybe I will try harder to show the ones I love how much they mean to me.  But I will definitely remember that Life is a Cabaret and that you have to show up in order to enjoy the experience.

"Cabaret" by Liza Minnelli
 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dancing Your Troubles Away

I used to dance.  I used to dance very well.  Then I became too sick to dance.  I think that is the part of life that I miss most out of everything that has changed since I became sick 9 years ago.  If I had a hard week at school, then I would simply dance the night away with a dear friend or two at a local club in New Orleans.  If I was filled with too many emotions to experience aloud, then I would dance on the outside and cry or scream on the inside.  I would plan my classes around dancing, join dance clubs, teach dance, compete in dance, practice new dance moves, and even had a regular dance partner or 3 over my years in New Orleans.  There was always one more move to learn, one more aerial to land, or one more step to master.  This was not only my exercise, it was my passion and my therapy rolled up into one little black polka dot dress, saddle Swing dance shoes, pearls, and Big Band music.

I never found a scene that would capture the vast array of emotions I felt while dancing until I watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I.  In the midst of despair, confusion, and anger, Harry lends a hand to Hermione and begins to dance.  Dancing is raw, sensual, primordial, and anyone can do it.  You don't have to be graceful, you just have to keep moving.  Sometimes in life, all we need to do is keep moving.  Otherwise, we will fall into the trappings of the world and our own consciousness.  So for now, until I can get back on my feet figuratively, then I will get on my feet literally.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I - Harry and Hermione Dancing Scene
 

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Thing of Beauty

Out of all the hats I wear, "The Artist" is one that I am constantly trying to cultivate.  In my quest to capture this title, I have been driven to create inspiration journals, a pictionary journal of myself, Artist Trading Cards, and even join a community of women artists called Milliande after its founder.  I cross-stitch, paint, sketch, create mixed media, create folkart furniture, and am constantly snapping pictures with my camera, possibly the best purchase I have ever bought for myself.

Even though I have more than enough time to spare, I find myself lacking in inspiration.  How does one create without inspiration?  I have read books, searched through Bing and Google Images, and listened to music all in a vain attempt to ignite that creative spark.  I can only assume that this is an "artist's block" since I experience that same nauseating malaise I felt in college the week before a research paper or essay was due.  This artistic constipation is almost as bad as the real thing since I am constantly putting in effort, yet nothing ever comes out.  My inspiration journal has all but stopped.  My pictionary is stuck on the letter "N".  I am only producing about 2 ATC's per month, and I have completely stopped receiving Random Acts of Art Kindness.

So, what does one do in order to stop being "stuck"?  This is where I turn to the lovely group of ladies at Milliande Art Communtiy for Women (http://milliande.ning.com).  Here I find advice ranging from topics to art supplies and encouragement from ladies who feel the same way I do about art.  These women create art for the sake of art...simply to beautify the world around them and find the window to their soul through the pages of a sketchbook.  I have been inspired in more ways than one by these ladies.  Right now, I am working on a Symbolic Matchbox Shrine based upon my favorite symbol at the moment, the Hamsa, and I am trying to capture the essence of Mother Earth for a series of Artist Trading Cards due by the end of the month.  So, with these extremely feminine concepts, I have found myself perusing the pages of the Internet for inspiration that never seems to come.  That is, until today.

The lovely founder of Milliande posted a slideshow from YouTube of my favorite artist, John William Waterhouse.  Waterhouse appeals to my senses and sensibilities in many ways.  He lovingly honored women of history, mythology, and literature in every stroke of his paintbrush.  He captured all four embodiments of woman: the virgin, the witch, the martyr, and the saint.  (I always like to add the mother, the child, the teacher, and the whore.)  And although Waterhouse does not necessarily portray Mother Earth, I would prefer to think that she exists in each of his paintings.

Here I have embedded a little bit of lagniappe for your inspiration as well as mine.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Homecoming Hullabaloo

Tomorrow I set out for my excursion to New Orleans for the first time in 4 years.  I have to admit that I am very excited about venturing once more to The City Beneath the Sea.  You, see, although I was not raised there, I am a New Orleanian through and through.  I dream in purple, green, and gold.  I bathe in the Mississippi.  I crave bread pudding and king cake.  I dance to the zydeco music playing in my head.  You get the picture...  The fact is that I wanted to get away from North Carolina (where I never really belonged) for college, and I landed in the City that Care Forgot.  Home, sweet home, at last.

I lived in New Orleans throughout college, and when I got sick, I returned there hoping that the hot, humid weather of the city I loved would heal me.  My adopted Jewish family took me in with wide arms once again (no longer referring to me as a Shabbos Goy) and I was steeped in love, wisdom, spirit, and the laissez faire attitude that one can find only in New Orleans.  Unfortunately, my little dream ended with a hurricane named Katrina.  Although I had ventured back to North Carolina only to finish my education, my home was in New Orleans.  However, it both burned and flooded in the hurricane to end all hurricanes.  My family was displaced for a year, and I have only been back a handful of times since.

Tomorrow will be the first time back in 4, count them four, years.  And it is not to see the remains of my devastated home, but a rather jubilant affair: the Bar Mitzvah of the younger boy of my adopted Jewish family.  So, my homecoming will be in the form of tears and revelry.  It is weird (and eye opening!) to know that a child whom you are old enough to have had yourself is now becoming an adult!

Although I will only be there for about 3 days, I plan to suck the marrow out of that city.  I will take tons of pictures, baptize myself in the splendor of the occasion, shop until my feet are sore, kiss my family until my lips hurt, eat until I have had my fill (soul and stomach), and basque in the glory of the city I love.  I will take every bit of lagniappe that I can get and make it into a collage that only an artist can truly appreciate.

Home is calling, and I am coming... if only for a little while.  Sometimes you need to go home again, just to feel that you are connected to something greater than yourself.  And New Orleans...she is certainly great.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Evergreen Glance

Meijer Gardens Chihuly Exibit GRM 2010 007WaterfallAtlantic TideCreek BedSucculentMagnolia
TigerlilyMoon on the WaterSunflowerCherry BlossomEvergreen

Evergreen Glance, a set on Flickr.

Photos (taken by myself) which inspire me to stay "green".

Monday, January 17, 2011

Soul Searching through the Pages of a Journal

As one of my 101 goals in 1,001 days, I have started keeping a journal.  However, this journal is not your average day in and day out journal.  I keep a blank paged Moleskine large journal with me at most times with watercolor pencils or colored pencils, sketching pencils, erasers, and pens.  This journal has become an all encompassing one in which I can doodle to prompts, write down my daily thoughts, keep lists of various points that I think are whimsical or deserve reflection, and I even use it to keep account of other goals on my list.

For anyone interested in the soul-searching that can only be found in self reflection, I would encourage you to pick up a little black book of your own that would meet your needs accordingly.  These books are hardbound and include a bookmark, an elastic band to keep your work together, and a nifty little pocket in the back for storing all sorts of notions and little forget-me-nots.  Moleskine journalers may find a plethora of aids for each size journal at www.moleskine.com.  Register at myMoleskine and one will find goodies under the link MSK.  There you may find templates for lined paper, graph paper, blank paper, calendars, planning pages, loves pages, favorites pages, book reviews, recipe keepers, art, etc. that can be downloaded, printed, and glued onto the pages of your own Moleskine.  What a great way to customize your own journal!  You may even type your information onto some of the PDF pages and print a typewritten page for your journal.  There are so many ways to play in your journal that it would be a shame for your soul and posterity not to have one!  I can even convert the posts in my blog to the pages of the journal.

So, for those of you still wondering how, why, and what to journal, I have found the neatest site while reading the posts on BlogHer from Karen Walrond, author of the blog "Own Your Own Beauty."  She gives some wonderful insights that I would like to share with you here so that you may begin your journal to finding your own beauty which, if you are like me, lies within the pages of your soul as well as your brightly colored, clutter-filled journal.


The Rules and the Tools of a Journal

As I mentioned above, journaling should be completely freeform and generally rule-free; that said, the only rule for myself (and I would suggest, for anyone just starting out), is that you are not allowed to rip out any pages. In other words, if you make a mistake, or you try doodling something you don't like, or you don't think it's neat enough, or heck, of someone rests their coffee cup on the open page leaving a ring stain, it stays in the book. I know this might feel very frustrating at first, but just trust me on this. Years from now, after you've forgotten about it, you'll come across the scribble, or the coffee stain, and might actually be charmed by this.
So, since this is my rule, I never buy spiral-bound journals, since the temptation to rip out a page is too strong. Instead, I buy tightly-bound journals -- Moleskines are great (hard to rip out pages), and I started using those, but then I found a more eco-friendly version and have been using those instead. And I always get the unlined versions, so that I can write as big or small as I want, but it doesn't matter, really. And also, since you're going to want to have it on you as much as possible (you'll see why, below), be sure to get a size that's big enough to write in, but portable enough to throw into your handbag or backpack.
In addition to the journals, I have a favourite pen that I always use. Make sure to pick your favourite -- you'll want use it a lot.
Okay, so that's all you'll need. Here we go:

(I do not write in pen in my journal since I am constantly finding myself misspelling words, not able to draw a circle on the first try, etc.  I do have special instruments for drawing and a favorite mechanical pencil that is constantly used.  DO NOT erase anything of substance, but if you are a perfectionist like I, then it is quite fine to use a pencil...but make it special. ~MT)

Level 1: The Most Basic Journal -- the To-Do List and Scratch Pad
. Every day, whether I write or include anything else in my journal, the one thing I do make sure to do is to write down my to-do list for the day. There is something just so satisfying about scratching through the items I have to do as I get them done; in addition, having all of my to-do lists in one place is convenient: I can go back and remember when I did something, or if I fail to do something one day, I simply move it to the following day.

Then -- and this is the part that might be unlike how you've ever heard journaling be done -- I keep my journal with me for the rest of the day and use the pages following my to-do list like a scratch pad. Someone calls and leaves a message for my husband? I write it down there. Need to make a grocery list? I write it down in my journal. Planning a trip? The packing list goes in the pages

Ideas for blog posts, names of bottles of wine I want to remember, even brainstorming book ideas while I sit in the car pool line, waiting for my daughter to come out of school -- anything that I would scratch on a piece of paper or even a napkin happens in my journal.

The beauty of this is that because your journal is chronological, you'll be able to go find things -- your notes, ideas, etc. -- easily. It's been a great way to organize my life, and an easy way to start "journaling" without feeling too exposed or weird about it.

(I have written daily to-do lists, contact information, favorite websites, etc. in a journal.  I do not keep it as regularly as a day planner, but as I venture into the world of journaling, I hope to include more of these daily lists and mementos. ~MT)

Level 2: "Morning Pages"

-- In addition to the to-do lists, above; and, in fact, before I even write down my to-do lists, I write two "morning pages." The idea is actually espoused in Julia Cameron's book The Artist's Way, and the concept is this: First thing in the morning, before you even turn on your computer, you write at least two pages (The Artist's Way actually suggests three pages) of whatever comes to your head -- completely stream-of-consciousness, without any particular attention to spelling or grammar, simply spilling all the thoughts that are cluttering your mind every morning.

To be honest with you, I rarely go back and read these pages -- but what I've found is that just doing this clears my head for the day, and gets rid of the superfluous thoughts so that I can focus on what's important to me for the day. It's just a nice little clearing exercise.
One tip that my friend Jen gave me that I try to maintain: Try to do the to-do list and the morning pages (if you do them) before you turn on your computer. In this way, you can be sure to focus what's important to you for the day before your email inbox decided to rule your world. Your email should supplement what you want to accomplish for the day, not take it over.

(I have not created any morning pages as of yet.  I write a little in the morning.  Sometimes it is just to get the clutter out of my head to start the day while other times it is just to get the day rolling.  There is no limit or time to writing daily, but do make sure that you at least write the date and something on the page with it...even if it is just a grocery list, a dinner recipe, or a to-do list. ~MT)

Level 3: For the Purpose of Capturing the Ephemera of Your Life, Use Your Journal as a Scrapbook and a Photo Album

I don't know about you, but (a) I do not scrapbook in the way that "scrapbook" has come to mean, and (b) I am horrible about putting photographs into albums. (Yes, I am a photographer. Yes, I know this is pathetic). But since I do journal every day, I've found a couple of ways to make sure that I manage to capture memories in a way that doesn't seem like a chore or even a huge chunk of my time:

First, whenever I come across a piece of paper that I love -- someone sends me a pretty card, for example, or I get a fortune from a fortune cookie that I like, or my daughter draws me a pretty picture that I want to save, I just glue it right into the pages of my journal:

Again, I just glue these down in the next available blank page I have, regardless of when I received or found the card, or when Alex did her original piece of art for me. Sometimes I caption them, sometimes I don't. And if I happen to be somewhere where I don't have glue, no worries -- the journals that I use have little pockets in the back, so I just save them there until I can get to them. When the pocket in the back of the journal gets too fat, I know it's time to start gluing.

Similarly, I discovered these awesome adhesive pockets that you can get in any office supply store that conveniently hold 4"x6" photos. So every now and then I print my favourite images, or if I'm cleaning out a closet and stumble on some old snapshots, I grab one of these pockets, stick the photo inside, and slap these babies in my journal:

and bam! instant photo album. The pockets are really great for anything you don't want to glue down:

Now gluing and inserting pockets admittedly can make your completed journal sort of fat, but trust me, that's part of its charm.

(I have got to find these pocket pages!  I rip out magazine articles, checklists, gift ideas, favorite fortune cookie fortunes, ticket stubs, my nephew's art, and I am sure that I would even put in lotto tickets if I played.  Anything that piques your interests during the day deserves to be recognized.  What better way to keep it all together than in your journal.  The Moleskine website allows you to insert pics from your computer that can be printed.  Sometimes, it is worth the effort just to download that pic you have on your phone of your little one with ice cream all over his face.  Those pics are worth a thousand words at least.  I might even start using it to insert pics of the dishes that I make.  ~MT)

Level 4: Color, Doodle, Add Art, Collage, Write Favorite Quotes, Etc.

-- Over months, I've become really taken with the concept of art journaling -- not just writing down thoughts, but simply expressing them through art. I've never considered myself much of an artist in the traditional sense of the word; however, since a journal is ostensibly very private, I found that my journal is where I can play around with art and color without risk of anyone judging my work. I love colour, and when I first began, I would just paint a page with water colors, just to have something different from a plain white page to write on (see the seventh image, above). But since then, I've started also just playing with the pages. Sometimes I collage:

And sometimes I just doodle, using big fat colored pens to write down favorite quotes I come across, and just generally mess around doodling.

I admit that this might seem the most risky thing to do in a journal, but remember: no one has to see this but you.  This is just for playing purposes, and in fact, I most often do this sitting in front of our television, watching a movie on the weekend, just playing around. It's something to do rather than surf the web, you know? Just for play.

So that's it! Again, to make a journal a journal, you don't have to do all of these things -- you might just do some of them. Or none of them, and come up with some ideas all of your own. But I think the practice of just hand writing things on paper is meditative. It certainly helps me organize my life. And again, the result -- even the pages with the coffee/tea rings on them -- make for a really beautiful record of my messy life.

So if, for the year to come, you'd like to start spending more time doing something just for you, consider picking up a plain journal and a few pens, and start playing, without any preconceived expectations or judgments. You'll thank yourself.

For art journal inspiration, here are a couple of sources that I've found really helpful:

The 1,000 Journals Project -- This is an awesome project in which 1,000 journals were sent out into the world, and people added their own art/thoughts to a page, and then passed it on. It is a great source for seeing the different ways people journal, and I guarantee you, it's very freeing: Some of the pages are mindblowingly intricate; however, some are refreshingly simple, and will make you believe, "Hey, I can do that," even if you've never done a moment of art in your life. You can see a sampling of the pages here; in addition, I own the book, which is wonderful to go back to again and again.

The Diary of Frida Kahlo -- This is a book composed of the pages of the diary of the famous Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. The reason I love this book so much is because here's this great artist, one of the most famous of modern times, and in her diary there are scribbles, stains, ink bleeding through to the other side of the page, misspellings. And nonetheless, her diary is absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful. It's a great lesson in remember that perfect isn't always desired, and what's beautiful about a personal piece of work is our own humanity that we can leave in it. It makes "art" accessible, particularly when it comes to journaling.

Teesha Moore's blog -- Okay, before you click on that link, let me warn you that Teesha Moore is a mindblowingly astounding art journalist. Her work is astonishing. But she's also incredibly generous with her methods (and she even tells you how she does it in a series of YouTube videos, and I've found it really fun to just try to copy a small piece of her work in my journal. Really inspiring stuff.

Zentangle -- If you'd like to try making hand-drawn art but are a bit concerned about your drawing skills, consider straight-up doodling. These intricate doodles, called zentangles, are all about creating your own art by just making a series of repetitive strokes. Give it a whirl.

Charis Brown Malloy -- And finally, in response to my call to make vision boards last week, Charis shared her Vision Books -- she actually does her vision collage work in a journal. I love this. Take a look at what she does -- an ability to draw is not required, and the result is stunning.

(I use my journal to doodle my Hamsas and Mandalas.  They are a great way to remember scenes, dreams, or even free your mind while talking on the phone.  It is filled with color, just like me.  I also have just learned what a ZenDoodle is and I have used the concept in making Mandalas.  I am also following the prompts for art journaling on the Milliande Ning Art Community for Women which includes various art groups for women to learn art, communicate with other artists, support the art field, talk about various kinds of art, and even swap art.  I encourage all women who aspire to art in their journaling to check out the website and register.  It, like the Moleskine site is free.  Enjoy your journaling and see what the world has folded out before you!  ~MT)
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