Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Thanksgiving Journal

When we think of Thanksgivings of the past, our memories can often blur into visual "bytes" of rising before sun-up, basting turkeys, cooking down cranberries into a sauce, hanging harvest decorations, watching a wave of people rush into and then out of the house, washing and drying dishes in a bright, steamy kitchen, and laughing with others, like yourself, festively dressed in fashionable high heels, but also in slightly worn-torn aprons.

But what does Thanksgiving really mean to those partaking in the meal with you? There's a special window of time during Thanksgiving when you can find out. You know that time in between the Thanksgiving meal itself and dessert, when you need to digest the first part of your meal before you can even think about cutting into the pumpkin pie? Instead of rushing off to watch the football game or get a jump on loading the dishwasher, grab your journal and instruct everyone at the table to "set a spell" to talk about the things that they are most thankful for this year. Write them down in your journal.

Or, ask everyone if they can recall their most memorable Thanksgiving (outside of this year's!) and why. You may find out some interesting anecdotes about your relatives that can help you appreciate them even more. You might even hear stories from the old-timers about those who have passed on whom you may have never met. The practical joke Great-Uncle Joe pulled 50 years ago could sound remarkably like something you, your son or your niece might pull today. More than looks often run in the family.

Sometimes Thanksgiving is the only time the whole family really gets together, and it's a day that often goes by far too swiftly. If you record some of what people say and do during Thanksgiving, you can savor the day longer and your relationships more deeply.

Forget videocams. They put people on the defensive and no one feels comfortable enough to say anything substantial in front of them. Plus, hardly anyone ever looks at them again once the camera is put away. On the other hand, people open up when you sit down at a relaxed table and chew the fat (and the Turkey bones), as you just happen to jot down a few notes in your journal all the while! ◦

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

100 Memories Travel Journal

Hilary Liftin from Los Angeles described an interesting travel journaling tradition between her and her husband in the April 2005 issue of Real Simple magazine in an article called "Write It Down -- It's not a list. It's a lifeline." Whenever jetting back from a vacation together, Lifton and her husband pass a paper back and forth between themselves to log 100 memories from the holiday they just experienced.

In order to complete their list before touchdown back home, they have to dig up some obscure images, such as Entry number 12 from a Mojave Desert escapade: "By the pool at 29 Palms Inn, Chris briefly looked like a skinny Elvis." or Entry number 48 from another vacation in Bar Harbor, Maine: "We flew a kite until it fell in the water and a wave snapped it in two." Liftin finds that making these entries is "a way for us to preserve the random, funny, sweet little moments of our trips that would otherwise be forgotten."

Newlywed Liftin also said, "We love the tradition of our memory lists so much that if and when we have kids, we'll undoubtedly force them to participate. I can hear it now, 'Aw, Mom! Do we have to do the memory list?' In this age of digital cameras, it's nice to put more effort into remembering than the click of a button."

Note from me: However, these snippet memories can make the perfect companions scribbled next to photographs from the trip when a scrapbook or photo album is later assembled. ◦

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Day of the Dead Postscript

Rituals are part of being human. And observing holidays and special occasions are rituals important to many of us. To follow your own personal, family or religious traditions can keep commercialism at bay. Taking note of what holidays mean to you in your journal or blog can be a special way of celebrating.

After you read my post "Day of the Dead Journal," this postscript serves as a journal writing follow-up. Which special people close to you have passed on this year? Or which people in the public eye, such as the pope, also went on to the next world? Every Nov. 2, reflect on these people in your journal. This way, you are actually building a Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos altar or ofrenda using words.

What did these people mean to you? Can you remember something they said you will never forget? Do you remember something they did that made you laugh? If a loved one could visit you for a few minutes, what would you say to them which you didn't get a chance to say while they were alive?

Look through photos of someone special who died and feel the memories the pictures evoke. Write these memories down in your journal. You may want to include those things you'd care to share with others on your blog, and leave the personal, or more intimate, feelings expressed in your private paper journal. ◦

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Day of the Dead Journal

The trick-or-treaters have come and gone, and outside of seeing the little kids dress up and present their smiling faces and pumpkin buckets at my door, I have grown weary of the commercialization of Halloween. Instead of scary skeletons and ghosts, I push-pinned three Scandanavian cloths on our doors printed with images of a large gourd, a giant uncarved pumpkin and autumn leaves, respectively.

My husband and I also covered a small bookcase with a Guatamalan cloth and placed an eclectic collection of items on top to serve as a Day of the Dead altar. It is not an altar of worship, but of remembrance, prayer and meditation. According to Mexican tradition, children are honored on Nov. 1 and adults are honored on Nov. 2. The practice is reflected in the Catholic holidays of All Souls' Day and All Saints' Day.

We are honoring three special people who passed on this year. My husband's father, Ramiro, a special friend and fellow poet Carlos Cortez, and my beloved sister Darcy. A small sugar skull with blond frosting hair represents my sister. A pin with the face of Carlos Cortez sits atop a small box, and a photo of my husband's father bring his memory to mind.

We leave rock salt, a clove of garlic and a shotglass of water on the altar as symbols of food in the afterlife. We scatter petals from fall flowers across the altar which are so colorful in their reds, yellows and oranges that spirits who have passed away might see them through this small window of time. We light two votive candles each night to help us stop, remember and pray each time we pass by. ◦

Monday, October 31, 2005

Writers Can't Help But Dance

I have to admit it. My life is surrounded by books and writing and plays and ever more words. Fortunately, I am married to someone who has the same caliber of bookish values as I do. Our usual night out might include dinner, followed by a poetry reading, an inexpensive, local play, a bookstore browsing session or a coffeehouse to read or write while sipping java. So it was a little unusual when we both signed up for a dance class together at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago. Or was it?

Before I was a writer, I was a dancer. I used to tear it up on the disco floor. Before that, I took ballet, tap and acrobatics for seven years. My husband, too, had studied Aztec ceremonial dancing and knows a lot of other tribal steps.

So last weekend, we revisited and explored our dancer selves once again, and set a new foot forward into the dance mode, tripping the light fantastic, starting with Mexican Folkloric dancing. We moved our feet quickly to follow the pattern of the teacher's staccato dance steps, which seemed to be landing in a combination of dance locales -- reminiscent of Irish stepdancing, tap and flamenco.

While I danced, I remembered how years ago, a poet friend Effie created a literary magazine called "Salome," entirely devoted to dance. I had contributed a number of dance poems and also helped her edit others' submissions. Effie took all sorts of dance classes as both afficianado and researcher, and reviewed the performances of any dance troupe that came through town. She invited me to a few of the modern dance classes, to participate, and to a vast number of performances, to perform as spectator. At one venue we frequented, MoMing Dance Theater, my then future husband worked in its artist-in-residence program. We met for real years later.

But back to the Mexican Zapateado class. We danced solo. We danced as a pair. We danced in a circle with all the others. We danced in a line dance. There was guitar, clapping, our feet stamping, a singer shreiking calls and songs, a loud din of energy and mindless release and memory. Afterward, we were exhausted but invigorated. The possibilities of where these out-of-mind and into-body experiences could take us seemed endless. But one look at the syllabus and we learned that in weeks to come our feet would venture to the middle of Amazon country in a traditional Indian dance, to Northeast Brazil, home of the farro, and finish off doing the samba like it's carnivale.

But come on, shouldn't you be sitting alone in your room writing in your journal? For the most part, that sounds pretty good to me. But there arrives a time to come hear the music play. Because writers can't help but dance. And dancers can't help but write. ◦

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Vacation Journal Keepsakes

Creating Keepsakes Magazine sent me an e-mail filled with free journaling tips. The tips cover journaling and scrapbooking ideas, and as far as I'm concerned, embrace the photographer's or artist's journal or blogsite, which intersect the visual with the written.

According to Creating Keepsakes: Gone are the days of journaling with nondescript accounts like: "It was fun." We now journal about our life experiences in the same voice we'd use to tell stories to a close friend over a cup of java. Thanks to an increase in e-mail, message boards and blog communications, we are now driven to write about everyday experiences—and that's what tells the story of our lives.

Although a great photograph can tell a story, the written word completes the tale. That's why journaling is so important! Not only is journaling a powerful part of the page's meaning, but a vital feature of its design as well. How it's written, presented, attached and included can help polish your page and take your words from meaningful to truly memorable.

Before leaving on vacation, create a short list for yourself of questions to answer at the end of each day, such as: "What was my favorite thing about today?" or "What was something new I tried today?" This way, when you scrapbook those vacation pages, you'll be able to remember exactly how you felt. ◦

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Journal Writing Blogosphere

Technorati Profile

Journal Writing Tips with a Twist became a member of and today. By doing so, I was able to "claim" the blog. I learned through a special webcast that the above were suggested blog directories worth a visit. After visiting, I determined that these sites are much more, as well as design-conscious and user friendly. is a search engine that also analyzes and reports on daily activity in the blogosphere. It features links to the top blog posts, top blogs, and top news stories. I was able to submit my blog to this site. seems a little more radical, hip and casual, and features top searches of the hour, most popular books, most popular movies and the 100 top blogs. I "claimed" my blog through them, "pinging" a link to their search engine, and hope to find out in the coming weeks what that may mean in increased hits and more outreach to journal writers, teachers, librarians, and program directors.

I also visited a blog directory site called, which seemed clunky looking, heavy on politics, exuding an insider's clubby atmosphere, and didn't have a place to submit your blog.


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Theater in the Court

Julia Cameron, in her "The Artist's Way" recommends making a two-hour artist's date with yourself every once in a while. The purpose? To open your horizons to experiences and people who might inspire new writings. And these inspirations can lead to creative writing projects or serve as juicy fodder for your journal. Not ready to spend cash on a "date"? You don't have to. One special outing might be a visit to your local state or county court. Slip into a courtroom and listen to the proceedings of a criminal or civil case. A strange and exciting new world and all its characters may be laid before you to take note of in your journal.

And if you happen to be on jury duty and are going through the selection process before a judge and panel of lawyers, take journal notes on your fellow jurors as they answer the judge's questions. Those mild-mannered, newspaper-reading suburbanites you first glimpsed in the waiting room may reveal personal details about their lives that will make your head spin and journal pages ignite.

Librettist and playwright James Lapine makes weekly visits to his local family court in between projects and finds it "The best theater in town," according to an article in The Wall Street 1ournal. ◦

Saturday, August 13, 2005

E-mail Journal

In a hurry? Who isn't? Create an e-mail journal. If you regularly communicate with friends and family through e-mail, those messages contain a hefty portion of information, thoughts and feelings that often go into a conventional journal.

Save all your e-mails as drafts before you send them along to loved ones through cyberspace. Once a week or once a month, print off your e-mails, three-hole punch them and place them in a binder. At the end of the year, you'll have a hardcopy journal of the places you visited, the people you've met, goals conquered, discoveries made and the heartbreaks and happiness that have accompanied you along the way.

Rather not deal with all the paper and storage? Cut-and-paste those e-mails into a Word file and keep them in a special sub-folder on your computer or portable disc drive. Again, you can group the pieces by week, by month, or just thread the whole thing together in one continuous document.

You can do the same thing with the e-mail responses you receive from others. Remember when people packed away stacks of letters in a cedar chest? This is a modern turn on a similar idea. ◦

Friday, August 12, 2005

Blog Update

A recent story in the Detroit Free Press reported that nearly 6 percent of U.S. adults have created blogs (short for Weblogs) and 16 percent of them read blogs. This 2005 data was gathered by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

A blog is a personal journal published on the Internet where people can write about any subject, including their personal live and jobs.

"Journal Writing Tips with a Twist" mixes a few personal stories in between educational tips on journal writing. The emphasis, however, is strongly placed on tips over the personal.

Some bloggers seem compelled to even venture beyond revealing personal information, by offering inside secrets about or potential products being developed at their places of employment, unflattering portraits of their bosses, or blasts against coworkers.

In more than one instance, such frankness has cost the blogger his or her job. Caution may be the byword when walking a fine line between free speech and slander or peddling proprietary company information for free. ◦

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

True Person of No Rank

Zen philosophy describes a "true person of no rank." I put my faith in Christianity, but I hold much admiration for Zen points of view of the world and of creativity. Deep inside each of us is a "true person of no rank," and we can approach our journal writing as such. Those of high rank and with many credentials need to remember that, as blessed as they are, they put on pants (or pantyhose) one leg at a time like the rest of us. Such a person is, deep down, a "true person of no rank." On the other hand, a person who has little schooling and a humble track record may feel unqualified to write anything worthwhile. But who isn't more qualified to expound on life than a "true person," and especially a "true person of no rank." By ignoring our rank or pecking order and focusing on our true personhood, we can look more closely at the world, pay attention to its beautiful detail and bring our observant meditations to life on our journal pages. ◦

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Poetry Leaves a Legacy

Journal entries are not the only way to record memoirs. Leave a family legacy for your children and children's children through poetry. It's more creative, more engaging and leaves behind a work of art that exemplifies your family for generations to come. Lord willing.

Here's an example. In my book of Chicago poems, "Swimmer's Prayer," I wrote a poem about my stepfather John. He worked for city government and oversaw operations regarding the Chicago River and bridgetender units. He was the one who came up with the method of dying the Chicago River green for St. Patrick's Day in the early 1960s. Since then, Chicago bears an emerald river every St. Patrick's Day and several others cities have adopted the custom using the same water-soluble non-toxic dye stepdaddy John got his hands on way back when.

The story is certainly one that family members can pass along, but they can also refer to "The Leprechaun from Blue Island Avenue," which tells the story through poetry. Here's an excerpt:
"Who else could it have been
to send out the speedboats
like crazed blenders
into the Chicago River
dumping bags of orange crystals
that exploded into its other,
churning up a new wardrobe
for the clang, clang,
workingman's river,
until now, clad in railroad overalls,
the river that found itself
wearing one, long Leprechaun sleeve
in time for the parade."
(Missing Spoke Press, 1999)

By the way, although stepdaddy John was a leprechaun at heart, he stood six feet tall. ◦

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Practice Naikan While Journaling

Naikan (pronounced nye-kahn) is a Japanese practice that blends meditation and gratitude. The word means "inner observation," made up of nai (inner or inside) and kan (observation). Naikan creates awareness by helping you remember the significant people in your life.

In the book, "Wabi Sabi Simple," author Richard Powell suggests taking your journal to a quiet room and sitting comfortably with no distractions, preferably in a corner behind a screen. Write down the names of one to five people who mean a lot to you, whether relatives, friends, teachers or coworkers. Then ask yourself three questions concerning each person:
1. What have I received from _________?
2. What have I given this person?
3. What troubles, difficulties or worries have I caused this person?

Write down concrete examples, such as "My mother always made lunch for me for school and told me she loved me as I left the house in the morning." General statements such as "My mother was nice to me" doesn't work. Try to put yourself in the other person's shoes and try to feel what he or she has felt.

Through your meditations and writing, what you find important about your relationship to this person will become more clear. When the time is right, express to each person on your list your gratitude for the specific things that they have given you.


Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Travel Journal Shortcuts

One of the best times to start a journal is during a special trip or vacation. And when teamed with photos and drawings, the same journal entries will take on added power to fortify an artist's journal or scrapbook.

How do you start a travel journal, especially if you have never journaled before? Take a shortcut. This means writing short, brief phrases that describe the people, places and things you encounter on your journey, instead of trying to tackle long sentences and hefty paragraphs. And because you're on-the-go, you may not have time for anything more than short, pithy descriptions. Think postcard writing, but even more brief!

Here are a few examples, cited in "Creative Utopia," a book on maximizing your creativity by graphic designer Theo Stephan Williams. In her chapter on "Keeping a Journal," she includes a few of her own personal photos from a trip to Provence in France.

Describing her hotel Les Antiquities:
-- beautiful English flower garden
-- cherubs over bed
-- funny mustachioed check-in man
-- butt-shaped minitub

Describing Dominique, a photographer she met:
-- quick smile, slight space between front teeth
-- has supreme eye for lighting
-- Skecher shoes
-- worried about his health
-- fun, excited about his work

Refer later to your brief comments to write in greater length after you get back to your hotel room. Or you might try your hand at creating a poem or haiku based on one or more of your phrases. Or even take your snippets as is and use the words as borders for your photos in a scrapbook, writing with a colored or calligraphy pen along all four sides. Everytime you look at the photos and read the words, memories from your trip will come flooding back. ◦

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Active Versus Passive Voice

When you read your journal, you want to hear yourself speaking and not some narrator without a face or point of view. You want to feel part of the action instead of being some passive bystander. How can you make your journal more personal? Use the active voice!

In the passive voice, you're not really sure who commits the action. You only know the receiver of the action. An example:
“The car was hurled against the building.”
Something dramatic happened to the car and a building, but we have no idea how or why. Boring sentence.
Active voice:
“The tornado hurled the car against the building.”
Tells how car and building met. We can visualize what happened. Tornado caused the action.

Passive voice often uses forms of the verb “to be," is, am, are, was, were, be, being, become, becoming, also appear, seems, seems like, looks like.

Instead, use stronger and more active verbs.

Another example-
“Regina was saddened by the news.”
Instead “The news saddened Regina.”

Or “Tony was injured by the falling rock.”
Instead, “The falling rock injured Tony.” ◦

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Japanese Pillow Books

In male-dominated medieval Japan, the ladies of the court kept journal-style books under their bed pillows, used as an outlet to express themselves. These pillow books contained court gossip, as well as the ladies' innermost secrets, hopes and dreams.

In lieu of crying into their pillows, they slipped their identities under them. Writing what they really felt was at least one effective way these women could keep a handle on who they were in this "be-seen-and-not-be-heard" society.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Words Paint a Picture

Another way to approach journal writing is through the use of "captured moments." We all have envelopes, boxes or albums filled with photos tucked into the bottom of drawers or the back of shelves in our homes. But even closer to home, far within the recesses of our minds, lies a repository of visual snapshots that greatly outnumber even the holdings of Getty Images.

Whether the images are memories, seeing the present with your mind's eye, or imagining the future, you can capture these visual captured moments on paper. One thousand words can indeed paint a picture. But your picture, just in the telling of it, will charge the atmosphere with far greater emotion and meaning than most static pictures ever can.

Dialogues, which were covered in previous posts, are good psychological tools for working on relationships and other personal issues. On the other hand, captured moments are excellent devices to use in preserving memories.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Let Wabi-Sabi Happen in Your Journal

Wabi-sabi, the quintessential Japanese aesthetic, can be applied to journaling and is, in fact, an integral part of true journaling, whether we realize it or not. Wabi-sabi is the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest, humble and unconventional.

Published writing is usually rewritten, edited and polished writing, set in symmetrical fonts and printed in uniform order and quality.

Journaling, most often, is composed of our raw thoughts or emotions, scribbled down in an unsteady hand on a commuter train or a dimly-lit kitchen. Perhaps the pages are occasionally smudged with ink or stained by drops of coffee. Entries may be heartfelt and passionate, but can simultaneously be random, incomplete, unconventional and bold, without need to please an audience.

In the long run, the journaling process may add up to a complete picture or an epiphany of revelation, but tracing any single journal's pages, one-by -one, can render a modest journey, the humbleness of following a foggy path with no promise of reaching a clearing.

Most distilled, the Wabi-Sabi of journaling embraces a sense of faith -- in yourself, in life, and in the promise of a future.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Remembering Carlos Cortez

Poet, artist, Wobbly and journal writer extraordinare Carlos Cortez quietly passed away yesterday evening in his Chicago home. He used to own a large leatherbound journal/artist's notebook filled with journal jottings, haikus and pen-and-ink drawings that he lugged through Greece, Germany and his criss-cross excursions by train across America. He died at age 81, but Carlos' elder years were some of his best, with a prolific outpouring of linocuts, classes, tours of Pilsen murals and two retrospectives at the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, fueled by his unlimited capacity for generosity and humor, even while ailing.