Journal Writing to Seek Honest Words

Journal Writing to Seek Honest Words

I’m on day 42 of a 100-Day Journal Writing experiment with the hope that it would instill in me a consistent daily writing habit. I have been writing in a journal since I was a young girl. I remember my first journal; it was red with a gold lock and key. It was so precious to me and the act of taking the little key to unlock it was significant in helping me to feel that what I wrote was secret and important to me.

Over the years, writing would become sporadic, though I often found it cathartic and powerful. However, more often than I care to admit, it was just a place to vent my frustrations and became routine and pointless.

As I near the half-way mark I’ve become intimately aware that I have been writing of things of the soul, about the soul, seeking the nature of the soul, and in relationship to God. I began to think of my soul as my deepest friend, as my deepest soul friend that encompasses all of me; my body, mind, and will. My soul, created by God, as yours is.

Irish poet, priest, author, and philosopher John O’Donohue said, “It is in the depths of your life that you will discover the invisible necessity that has brought you here. When you begin to decipher this, your gift and giftedness, you come alive. Your heart quickens and the urgency of living rekindles your creativity. If you awaken this sense of destiny, you come into rhythm with your life.”

At day 27 I began to address my journal writing to “My Dear Soul” or “Dearest Soul” – perhaps to enliven the writing, or to go deeper, or to write more honest words. Honest words… my reflections these past two days are inspired by another poem by Antonio Machado… where my eyes, my heart, my attention has landed on “honest words.”

  It’s possible that while sleeping the hand
that sows the seeds of stars
started the ancient music going again
 
***
 
   like a note from a great harp
and the frail wave came to our lips
as one or two honest words.
~ Antonio Machado, Times Alone

For the past two days I’ve been writing to drill down into what the phrase “honest words” means to me. Yesterday I wrote, “It has taken loss, and loss again, and loss again, to strip away the layers of denial, protection, and wounds to see that I am no longer who I was, yet I am ALL of who I was —now seeing and feeling and loving in who I was borne to become.”

I wrote this in response to my eyes landing on a photo of Paul and I taken in 2016, all gussied up for a formal occasion. What I began to see was loveliness, a vastly different version of myself than I would have seen “before”, which would have seen only faults. Loveliness of soul —as seen through the eyes of my Soul.

Loveliness in the face of my affliction, my pain, my disability that makes walking hard and exhausting work. I think of Jacob who wrestled with an angel of the LORD and would not let go until the LORD blessed him, which he did, but Jacob was left with a limp.

I write all this to say; daily journal writing can be healing, especially when we get beyond the mundane and into something deeper, and even more especially when we can begin to free ourselves from our wounds, our stuckness, and the box we’ve put ourselves in, and to see through a new (soul) lense, and to see ourselves as God sees us as: Loveliness.

The Art of Living Happy

The Art of Living Happy

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.

~ Ralph Waldo Emmerson

I recently heard this notion that keeping oneself busy meeting friends for coffee, movies, or dinner dates, and shopping, or all the myriad ways we fill our time, may just be a form of distraction keeping us creatives from making our art – that which our soul yearns for us to create, and the world needs.

For the past couple of years I felt like I was living in limbo. I had this intense desire to write, but the words were often stuck inside, all bottled up.

During this time I became aware I had a constant low-grade anxiety (okay maybe more than low-grade). Truthfully, this awareness came when I began to take medicine to manage spinal stenosis and arthritis pain. The realization hit when the immediate benefit was a lack of anxiety. I felt easier in my body. It took the ease of it, the missing of it, to make me see.

This anxiety had become a constant, perhaps throughout my life. I’ve certainly beat myself up enough, certainly put a great deal of pressure on myself, certainly felt not enough in so many ways.

This past several weeks words have begun to flow in the form of poetry. In my last post I wrote about how it feels like I’ve come home – to myself – in writing poetry.

It’s been a release, a transcendent experience, and one of finding a measure of wholeness. In fact, it’s become so therapeutic I decided to experiment to see if the anxiety and pain would flare up if I reduced my medication.

I’m doing a slow, gradual withdrawal so that I can closely monitor things, and so far writing poetry has been winning as a pain and anxiety replacement – for me. (Of course, I can’t recommend it to anyone else.) Yes, even with all our lives being upended and we now live in a surreal world, with the coronavirus pandemic threatening every aspect of life, health, and livelihoods – writing poetry continues to be a cathartic healing experience.

Mind you, at the forefront of all this is being aware my faith in God is being tested, as is the case for all of us.

How much do we trust him?

How strong is our faith?

A book I am currently reading (very slowly for a deep integration) is The Year of Living Happy: Finding Contentment and Connection in a Crazy World, by Alli Worthington. I think there couldn’t be a more perfect time to read a book such as this.

Is it possible to be happy in these current uncertain times, when our ways of living are being uprooted?

I’ve spent several days mulling over and meditating upon what the author proposes just in the first chapter titled Happy Roots. She tells us that if we can live, with our happiness rooted deeply in God, then the temporary trials of the day will not throw us off.

… true happiness comes only from Him. It does not come through our material possessions, our relationships, or our circumstances.

~ Alli Worthington, The Year of Living Happy

Oh wow. How had I not understood it in this way before?!

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,

   whose trust is in the LORD.

He is like a tree planted by water,

   that sends out its roots by the stream,

and does not fear when heat comes,

   for its leaves remain green,

and it does not cease to bear fruit.

~ Jeremiah 17:7-8

It will soon be three years since I became a Christian, but I had lacked that insight. Over the years of my creative life (and life in general) I’ve had many successes and many failures, and upon reflection both aspects left me feeling something was missing and not quite right. Most important to note are how the successes made me feel. My accomplishments should have made me happy, right? The relationship with my wonderful loving husband should make me happy, right? Sometimes they did, but that kind of happiness is fleeting. It lasts only a moment. It’s not a day-in, day-out kind of happiness.

Pondering the idea that God should be the source of my happiness is illuminating, and a little confusing. I mean, how does that work?

I’m trying to take it in. I suppose this is not a matter of trying, but of letting the Almighty integrate this into my inner self.

I have to admit though, it is creating a lightness within, and despite also having been terribly sick with a cold and self-isolating, I am waking more now with a growing hope, a growing happiness that is not dependent on how I’m physically feeling, what I’m doing, or what I have.

It makes me wonder, is it possible to live each day, to write it on our heart that every day is the best day in the year, as Mr. Ralph Waldo Emmerson tells us? I can only speak for me, without God, without hope, without faith – it’s not.

Writing poetry is healing, it is transcendent, but without my believing in God, it’s not inspired.

Here’s a little excerpt from my poem titled The Calling Forth Garden

Coming Home

Coming Home

Once you find where the weight of your talent lies, that’s where you start putting down roots.

~ David Leite, quoted from Exit Interview on Qwerty with Marion Roach Smith

I’ve had an idea for a novel noodling around in my head for a year and a half now. Just when I thought I was getting my feet back under me after my father’s death last year and began to sort through my research to start working on it, life threw me another curve ball. This time over my mother’s health.

It put me into a bit of scramble for a few weeks, but I’m reminded I also need to care for my own health (and sanity and happiness and…)

Not quite ready for something as intensive as a lengthy novel, my soul was still urging me to put pen to paper. So, I decided to write poetry for a while because it seemed something I could manage.

A few poems in and I felt like I was coming home – to myself and my origins in writing. To a craft that has saved me on more than one occasion. A home where I could put down roots for a while; to express thoughts difficult to articulate in few, but healing words, to go darker and lighter, and to ease the pain in my body and heart.

Soon I felt poetry taking a hold on me and I’ve decided to write a book of poetry.

I love love love David Leite’s advice and it’s worthy of taking note. Letting it guide you to find the core of your talents and to help you put down roots if you’ve been struggling to figure it out.

Just follow the clues in the things that you love to do and what feels like home to you. We can put so much pressure on ourselves to make a living from our passion, but sometimes attaching money to things can ruin the whole experience before it has a chance to take hold of us and grow.

In a way, I’ve come back to poetry out of necessity, but it’s turning out to be the key to unblocking my words again after a drought.

I want to experiment and grow in my craft and the two books I am frequently turning to for inspiration are poemcrazy by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge and Selected Poems of Anne Sexton.

poemcrazy is filled with lots of writing practices to free the words inside. I enjoyed the chapter that suggests creating a word pool of feeling words. The practice suggests choosing a feeling, look at an image of art or a postcard and describe something in the piece that depicts your feeling.

I wrote a poem titled ‘I Feel…’ using this technique. In the poem I alternated stanzas between heavier and lighter themes. Here’s one stanza :

I feel…

the willy nilly of hills around the next corner,

a tap tap tap on a new film reel,

anticipation with cheeks puckered pink and a button nose.

This is so different from my norm, and gets me thinking in a new way using images to convey feelings.

I’m also enjoying Anne Sexton’s poetry and experimenting to help me grow. Emulating work you admire is a great way to learn and help you to develop your own unique style.

Here’s one of Anne’s earlier works that has so much flow and intentionality… The Balance Wheel:

Where I waved at the sky

And waited your love through a February sleep,

I saw birds swinging in, watched them multiply

Into a tree, weaving on a branch, cradling to keep

In the arms of April, sprung from the south to occupy

This slow lap of land, like cogs of some balance wheel.

I saw them build the air, with that motion birds feel.

 

Where I wave at the sky

And understand love, knowing our August heat,

I see birds pulling past the dim frosted thigh

Of Autumn, unlatched from the next, and wing-beat

For the south, making their high dots across the sky,

Like beauty spots marking a still perfect cheek.

I see them bend the air, slipping away, for what birds seek.

Something new growing alive in the writing… the study… the experimenting… of poetry.

When you have a big grief…

When you have a big grief…

I came across an author interview on YouTube yesterday, featuring Mary Karr and Helen Macdonald. Mary, I have listened to on numerous occasions, but never before had I heard of Helen. She is the author of H is for Hawk, an autobiographical account of how she trained a predatory goshawk as a way to deal with her father’s death.

It was not a far-fetched thing for her as she was a falconer, and it wasn’t losing her father that intrigued me, it was her extraordinary poetic and sublimely articulate way of describing this period in her life that did. (Please excuse the excessive use of adverbs.)

Having lost my father last year, I could relate to her escapism. Though, far from becoming a naturalist, I dove into the boring job of cleaning, decluttering and reorganizing cupboards and closets in my home. I had such zeal and energy for this – until I didn’t. Then everything came crashing down.

Helen is British and between her accent and beautiful vocabulary, I soaked up the conversation as nourishment for my soul. However, I had to pause the video when she said, “When you have a big grief you can’t be you anymore”.

Those words spoke to the core of my experience and I could think of nothing else until I put some words to it in a poem.  Not caring whether it was good or not, in fact it probably isn’t. It begins like this:

When You Have a Big Grief…

The whole stratosphere shatters

everything is transient

nothing can be trusted

the ground becomes

a gaping hole.

The poem continues for several stanzas and then I went for a walk.

Inspired, I suppose, by Helen’s experiences with training, living and hunting with her hawk “Mabel”, I chose to finally face a death of another nature. One that took place on May 21, 2018. An overnight fire at Sunnybrook Stables in Toronto, taking the lives of 16 horses.

I was a frequent visitor to the stables over the years; watching the horses grazing in the field or jumping in training sessions. When I heard of the fire it sucked the air out of me in shock and grief. My coping mechanism was to shut it out because it hurt too much.

As I watch the news clip, finally, today – my heart flutters its sadness.

I went resolutely prepared to see death in remnants of the barn. I know it’s almost two years, but time collapsed and I thought it was only perhaps one. Regardless, for some reason I expected to see a charred building abandoned. Instead there was only the ground – with a gaping hole.

The Sunnybrook Stables has been a city icon, a heritage for over 100 years – gone now and not to be rebuilt.

A big death indeed.

Grief is a long slow process. It comes in waves and tsunami’s.  There’s pain and sorrow, anger and fits, impatience and burrowing away under covers.

Here’s another excerpt from my poem:

The world shouts to get back on the train

but that within, whispers, no don’t.

 

It’s too soon for hope

too soon for wings

too soon for all the noise

 

but faith with lonely,

now that’s a sacred thing.

The line between life and death is so very thin and most of us never live in that knowing – until it comes for us.

I very much want to live with an open heart, to not shut down when the hard times consume. It takes intentional, thoughtful effort to live a breathtaking life. Writing, journaling and other creative practices help us to slow life down, to take notice, to feel, to think and to reflect on what our living means to ourselves, to others, and to our God.

I feel the pressure to jump back on the train some days, with the push and pull of the world whirling all around, but the sacred does call; the spirit within and the pen and paper. The latter infinitely more enticing.

 

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