I see the art journals and stunningly gorgeous bullet journal spreads pictured in Instagram and whizzing through my Facebook feed, and I feel pangs of envy about the art skills on display.
I am a long-time keeper of ugly journals. I love artsy journals. I ooh and ah over beautiful bullet journals, but my journals just don’t measure up. I try to make them pretty, but the harder I try the more tacky they get.
Sometimes I get self-conscious about how my ugly journals fail when compared to the artistic journals of some of my friends.
It’s that comparison bit that really trips me up. Every time.
My journal does not exist for the purpose of impressing other people. I forget that detail way too often.
My journal exists for a lot of reasons
It helps me stay organized
It helps me set goals and work towards them
It helps me plan my days, weeks, months, and years
It helps me figure out how I feel about an issue
It helps me figure out my next steps
It helps me understand what happened
It helps me figure out how to move on
It connects me to the deepest parts of myself that are otherwise difficult to access
It’s those deeper issues that really draw me to the practice of journaling, and it’s those deeper issues that keep me coming back again and again.
There’s nothing wrong with making it pretty
Sure, I like to doodle in my journal. I play around with prettying it up. I love to add stickers because I can add interest without relying on my limited drawing skills. I use a straightedge to draw lines. I use markers. I color code. Sometimes I trace images or try to free-hand images I see in coloring books. There are a lot of things I do to make my journal more fun and appealing to me.
I practice drawing, and I’ve created and evolved a number of layouts that I use to help organize my journal. I love those aspects of journaling and playing around with art. I love looking back over old journals and seeing how my creative skills have improved just with practice in my journal. This is so much fun for me, and it makes me happy.
But sometimes it goes too far
Your journal should not be a source of stress in your life. There have been times when I chose not to open my journal because the thought that I needed to create something beautiful was too stressful.
There have been times when I went to pick up my journal and then put it back down again because I didn’t have time to draw out an entire layout.
There have been times when I didn’t go to my journal because I didn’t have the right pen handy.
Whoa! Wait a minute!
My journal is not a place for perfection
My journal is my sandbox. It’s the place where I figure things out. Where I try things out. Where I practice. Where I learn and improve. It’s the place where I play.
My journal is my safe place.
If you have to be perfect in your safe place, it’s no longer a safe place.
A journal is what you make it
Ultimately, you write the rules for your own journal. If you want your journal to be a showcase, that’s awesome. But if you find yourself getting stressed out about your journal, or holding back, maybe it’s time to give yourself a break, and take a chance on letting it be ugly.
Here’s one week’s worth of prompts to get you going in your journal. If you’re really feeling sassy, you could also ask these prompts of your characters in your current WIP. Imagine what new insights you might gain into your characters’ backstories. Journaling is a great way to get to know your fiction characters better. Journaling is an even better way to get to know yourself.
Monday, October 1
It’s a new month. What are you looking forward to this month? What are you going to do differently from last month?
Tuesday, October 2
What is your favorite part of autumn? What is your least favorite?
Wednesday, October 3
What memories does the thought of Halloween evoke? Are you looking forward to Halloween? Why or why not?
Thursday, October 4
This is the beginning of the fourth quarter of the year? What are your plans for the last three months of 2018? What will you accomplish this year?
Friday, October 5
What are your thoughts on Fridays? Are you a TGIF person? How do you spend your weekends?
Saturday, October 6
Is the weather starting to change where you live? How do you feel about the changing of the seasons? Do you look forward to the changes, or prefer things to stay more constant? Why is that?
Sunday, October 7
What are your plans for the week ahead? Anything you’re excited about? Anything you would rather avoid? What are you going to do to get this week started off right? Is there anything you can do today to make next week better?
We got our six-year-old a butterfly habitat for her birthday. Essentially, it’s a mesh enclosure that comes with a gift certificate for caterpillars.
The caterpillars were quiet at first, but after a few days, they got active and started spinning themselves into their cocoons.
Ten days later, butterflies emerged.
So we took them to the park to give them their freedom.
We unzipped the lid to free them, and waited for them to fly away.
But they seemed quite content to hang out in their little habitat sipping orange juice.
Eventually, one flew away, and then another. But the remaining two were just hanging out on an apple core, giving no indication that they were thinking of going anywhere anytime soon.
After a while, I reached in and nudged the apple core a bit to see if the would move.
So I picked it up, and they both just continued sitting there. Since it was already in my hand, I lifted the applecore that held the two butterflies out of the enclosure and gently placed it on the grass. They just sat there. So my daughter decided to share a flower with them.
These butterflies showed no indication that they even noticed our existence. They only had eyes for each other.
They were really into each other.
Could this be a mating thing? The directions that came with the caterpillars did warn us not to wait more than a couple days before releasing the butterflies, or we would end up with a bunch of very hungry caterpillars that we would need to figure out how to feed.
These poor butterflies get no dignity, with all the detail of their first date broadcast across the internets. Also, they should get a room.
But it did give us a good opportunity to discuss the birds and bees a bit.
After a while one of them takes an interest in the flower Gem was holding out for them.
Oh, but then they discover each other again. This time a hookup in the grass.
She (or he) heads out on a stroll through the grass, while the other one watched her walk away.
There have been times, oh so many times, when the thought of compiling a list of things for which to be grateful was a little more than I could bear. Those are moments when gratitude is difficult.
Life can be difficult. Excruciating, even.
Sometimes, getting through one hour after another, means holding your breath till you remember that you are supposed to inhale and exhale. Then, those repeated steps become your occupation until you think of something else to get you through the next block of time. I’ll just hold on till the end of this show, or till Mom gets here, or till Aaron gets home, or till the baby wakes up. Then you make another deal to get through the next time span.
What is your touchpoint?
I remember those days during chemotherapy, when my stomach churned and my head spun, but the worst part was the unbelievable pain from the bone marrow stimulating shots that I had to give myself the day after each chemo. My shins ached and burned; they felt like the bone would split open, and no pain reliever would touch it.
My husband would place one of his palms on each shin and somehow found just the right amount of pressure. The combination of the heat of his hand and the pressure lifted the pain just enough. The first time he did that, I let out a sob. He stopped and quickly pulled his hands away, afraid that he had hurt me. I struggled to find the words to tell him that the sob was relief. Please, please, put your hands back.
As long as he held his hands there, the pain was held at bay, but it returned when he pulled them away. So we sat like that; his hands on my shins, my hands holding them there. Sometimes we talked, and sometimes we just sat there holding each other. These were the moments I could let my guard down.
Start with just one thing
Even in those worst moments, you can look around and find that one thing that is getting you through to the next moment. What is your touchstone right now? Find something, anything, that you can focus on, that you can appreciate. Is it the chair you’re sitting in? Your favorite pillow? The grain pattern running through your wood floor? A quiet moment? A distraction? A cup of coffee?
Now, really appreciate it.
Focus on it.
Allow yourself to lean on it.
Vulnerability isn’t easy
I felt so guilty about not having the strength to take care of my baby, unassisted. I’d just had a mastectomy and was going through chemotherapy, and later, radiation, yet I managed to heap guilt on myself for being an inadequate mother to my 1-year-old daughter.
It took me a while to see how blessed I was to have my mother and my friends there to help me care for my daughter. I could not bring myself to ask for help, but they showed up anyway. They sat with me and the baby, keeping us both company, just there to help with the heavy lifting, especially in those days when I was not even allowed to pick her up.
My baby was happy, and healthy, and well cared for, whether it was me lifting her out of the crib, or one of my helpers. I felt relief immediately, but it took a bit to fully embrace the feelings of gratitude. It took an attitude shift to appreciate the fact accepting that help was not a signal that I was failing as a mother, but just the opposite. I was doing what my child needed most for her own safety. With my helpers there, I was free to nap as needed and regain my strength, so I could stay awake to watch her another day.
Sometimes gratitude requires an attitude shift
That change from thinking I am supposed to be super-mom, to acknowledging that I’m only human was difficult.
I had to redefine for myself what it meant to be a mom. I’ve always been a proponent of the idea that it takes a village to raise a child, and I had to accept my own hypocrisy, and then allow my village to participate in raising my child.
Ultimately, I also had a learn to have a little compassion for myself. By asking what I would want my daughter to do in this situation, the answer became easy. It was easier to be compassionate with myself, after experiencing a little compassion for my daughter in a hypothetically similar situation.
The process of shifting my attitude towards gratitude allowed me to have a little more compassion for myself and ultimately, it made me a better mother, because I was able to fully embrace putting my daughter’s well-being ahead of any feelings of guilt.
I also understand, even more as she gets older, that I don’t need to be, nor should I be, her everything.
Sometimes, gratitude is difficult because it means accepting that we have weaknesses.
Sometimes, gratitude is difficult simply because we lack the creativity, or the will, to think up a list.
It’s easier to hold on to what’s wrong, because there’s more energy in that.
There are times, especially when I’m really enjoying wallowing in a good funk, that I don’t want to do the whole gratitude thing because I know it will mess up my funk, and I’m quite comfortable there.
The power of repetition
This emotional morass we experience through life doesn’t always adhere to logic.
It does, however, respond to repetition.
Thought patterns become habitual.
Emotional patterns become habitual.
So, whether the habit is wallowing in a funk or in gratitude, that becomes the default. But, that default is pretty easy to change, in either direction.
I’ve maintained a gratitude journal for a little while now. It’s nothing complicated, I just try to think of 5 specific and timely things for which I am grateful and write them down at the end of the day. It takes less than 5 minutes.
One day, a particularly bad day, I opened my journal with the intent of unloading everything that was wrong with the world. But while I was thinking through my plans of everything I was going to whine about, my hand, completely out of habit, wrote the word “Gratitude” at the top of the page. So, I decided to go ahead and do the gratitude list first, and whine later. By the time I finished the short list of five items, my mood had completely changed and I lost the desire to whine.
It’s not always that simple and easy and straightforward, but it usually is.
Over time, I have come to realize that gratitude is not just a means of cheering myself up, or engaging in the socially acceptable practice of being thankful.
Gratitude is a coping mechanism, and on those bad days, it’s one of the things that helps me get from one time span to the next.
I was one of 5 authors reading our work about living with breast cancer at Courage Night.
I was challenged to chronicle just one hour of my life for a blog post, and the results were magical.
I realized that I am still re-learning how to dream after cancer. “I’ve reached the point where I understand what I have been intuitively trying to do, yet simultaneously resisting – to improve the flexibility and range of my imagination, of my ability to re-dream my future.”
Two years after chemo, I finally got my hair back into a ponytail.
Every year, I run away with my girls from the Young Survival Coalition (young women with breast cancer) for a retreat at the Harmony Hill Retreat Center. It’s a slumber party for grownups, but even more important, for a moment, we’re in a place and group where life with cancer is normal, and everyone understands what we’re going through.
I wrote a piece for Survivorship Partners on Cancer and Guilt, when I noticed how much judgement there is around a cancer diagnosis. Nobody deserves cancer, not even me.
I traveled to Indianapolis to attend the Affiliate Summit for the Young Survival Coalition, and to participate in the process of changing much of the structure of that organization. The experience left me with a powerful lesson in change management.
My husband went to Istanbul to present his research at the International Society for Iranian Studies Conference. While he was there, he had a significant health crisis. I didn’t blog about that part, but it was more terrifying to me than my own cancer diagnosis. He’s healthy now, however, and he did manage to get a few great photographs of Istanbul while he was there.
We attended the cutest birthday party ever. Our cousin’s daughter’s 3rd birthday party had a dinosaur ballerina theme. Perfect, as Gem is into dinosaurs and ballerinas, as well. You really can’t go wrong with homemade dinosaur tails and tutus for each of the kids.
My husband and I celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary, and I reminded the universe that the sickness and poorer parts of our vows were not an invitation. I also challenged to universe to remember that there was a richer and health part in there as well.
In Taking Back October, I mourned the loss of one of my favorite months, October, to the Breast Cancer Awareness money making machine, and I discussed the difference between working towards awareness for the most well known cancer, and working towards a cure.
Plans for my second mastectomy and reconstruction surgery started in earnest. My surgery is scheduled for 2/4/13. Mom will be flying down from Alaska to take care of my little one.