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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