The NYT’s “What’s All This About Journaling?”

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On October 25, 2018, the New York Times published an online article by Hayley Phelan — who generally reports on fashion, shopping, and culture — entitled “What’s All This About Journaling?* It’s worth seven minutes of your time.

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Why? In her short piece, Ms. Phelan (who is pictured above) shares details of her recent return to journaling as an adult. She also provides commentary from two of the most respected names in the field of expressive personal writing: author Julia Cameron and social psychologist Dr. James Pennebaker.

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Now in her early thirties, Ms. Phelan began journaling as an adult at the age of 29. Why? Her now ex-husband recommended she do so to, in part, cope with the stresses of their dissolving marriage. At the time, he was journaling by following the recommendations that Julia Cameron describes in her landmark book The Artist’s Way, which has sold more than 4 million copies since its publication in 1992.

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In her seminal work about creativity, Cameron challenges readers to pen three hand-written “Morning Pages” shortly after rising from bed each day. As Ms. Phelan notes in her article, Cameron describes this writing as “strictly stream of consciousness.” To read about how Cameron addresses questions related to the Morning Pages routine, please see her 2017 blog post entitled Morning Pages: FAQ.

In addition to interviewing Julia Cameron for her article, Ms. Phelan corresponded with the foremost researcher in expressive writing, Dr. James Pennebaker of the University of Texas at Austin. Nearly every news story about the process and potential of journaling written in the last decade features at least a quotation from Dr. Pennebaker, who is recognized as one of the world’s experts on writing therapy, a form of expressive writing that he is credited with developing in the 1980s.

Pennebaker’s book Opening Up by Writing It Down, which is now in its 3rd edition, shares his research about how focused writing can help us process trauma and lead to faster recovery. Ms. Phelan notes that Dr. Pennebaker is not necessarily an advocate of daily writing. Why? If frequent journaling results in “rumination” that causes anguish, he recommends a shorter-duration approach. His research has revealed that just several intensive writing sessions lasting 15-30 minutes can yield measurable decreases in stress and increases in one’s ability to cope effectively in the aftermath of trauma.

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Ms. Phelan describes how her journaling practice, which has now stretched into its third year, resembles Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages. She writes “three to five pages every morning by hand.” And how does Ms. Phelan assess the effectiveness of this routine? She explains: “[J]ournaling provided me with an important outlet for the debilitating anxiety that had come to paralyze me at odd hours each day. And besides, I enjoyed it. It was fun to wake up every morning and spew a hurried black scrawl all over those straight blue lines.”

Please see her full article “What’s All This About Journaling?” if you are interested in personal writing; it is worth seven minutes of your time. And stay tuned for future blog posts about Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and Dr. Pennebaker’s Opening Up by Writing It Down later this spring. In the meantime, pick up a pen and give journaling a try!

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* — Three days later, a version of the article was featured on page ST7 of the paper’s New York edition with the title “Writing in a Journal Can Help.”

Note — The photograph of Haley Phelan at the top of this post was obtained from her website, hayleyphelan.com. The illustrations featured in this post were borrowed from the online version of Ms. Phelan’s article, which can be reached at nytimes.com. The covers of The Artist’s Way and Opening Up by Writing It Down were taken from Julia Cameron’s website and the website for the Guilford Press, respectively.

Grab a book for National Reading Month!

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March is National Reading Month, which coincides with the birthday of the beloved American author/illustrator Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991). In honor of this occasion, make time for a book or two during the next thirty days. Yes, reading aloud to your kids also counts!

The renowned Dr. Seuss — who penned legendary children’s books including How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957), Green Eggs and Ham (1960), and The Lorax (1971) — was born on March 2 in Springfield, Massachusetts. During a career that spanned seventy years, his books sold over 600 million copies.

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The multi-talented author never earned a doctorate degree, but he did graduate from Dartmouth College. He then studied literature at Lincoln College in Oxford, England for two years. There, classmate Helen Palmer — who would become his wife — complimented Geisel’s drawings and encouraged him to pursue that creative outlet. They got married, he dropped out of Lincoln, and the newlyweds returned to the United States in 1927 so that he could work as a cartoonist and illustrator for Vanity Fair magazine.

Learn more about this incredible creative individual at his official Random House website, Seussville.com.

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Note — This image of Theodor Geisel was obtained from website of the Campbell County Public Library in Kentucky. His signature was borrowed from Seussville.com.

I wonder about a bookstore…

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Would you support this small business in Lake Orion? Or would you browse, leave, and order books on Amazon for 20% less with FREE 2-day shipping? Please answer *honestly* below. I’m curious. And serious. 🙂

That new building at 120 South Broadway? I walked by it yesterday. Would an indy bookstore REALLY survive in our community? Your dollars would determine its success.

Amazon will always be cheaper — and open 24/7. You are probably a Prime member. Just click and the books arrive at your door. So easy, right?

Lake Orion: Where living is a vacation. 🌞

What if LO was also a place of culture, curiosity, and enlightenment?

Would you pay for that?

Guest Spotlight — AB’s Q&A-a-day Journal

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This compact but powerfully-designed journal belongs to Alex Bergquist, who is a person of pleasing contrasts. Although she is a passionate skier and outdoor enthusiast, Alex is also a committed reader and a student of culture and history. Thus it is not surprising that an individual who harbors so many diverse interests would also be attracted to personal writing and the reflection that it fosters.

The Q&A-a-day guided journal, which is a product of the Crown Publishing Group’s Clarkson Potter lifestyle division, encourages the user to pen a brief response to a single daily question. What makes the notebook unique is that its goal is to motivate the writer to re-visit its 365 questions over five successive years. Consequently, a fully-completed volume will contain 1,825 short responses — each limited to four lines of text.

Alex remarks, “[E]ach day probably won’t seem profound, but the purpose of the journal is to see how much can change over five years, even in small areas of life without consciously being aware.” She continues by noting that, “I’m very eager to see the progression in this time of life right after graduating from college!” Alex graciously shared not only images of the inside of her journal, but photographs of several of her initial entries:

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The question for January 3 is What are you reading right now?

What books are currently part of Alex’s life?

Having finished the first two novels in Lisa McMann’s The Unwanteds series, she is now working through the third installment — Island of Fire (2013). It holds an 85% 5-star rating from 210 reviewers on Amazon.com. Lisa McMann — a Holland, MI native who moved to Phoenix, AZ in 2004 — is the author of several other series including The Vision Trilogy, The Wake Trilogy, and The Unwanteds: Quests. Island of Fire and its predecessors hold a special place in Alex’s heart because they were gifted to her from her grandfather.

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Liza Mundy’s 2018 national bestselling Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II is also part of Alex’s current reading routine. Mundy’s non-fiction account of the 10,000+ women hired by the U.S. military to break German and Japanese codes carries a 72% 5-star rating from 422 reviewers on Amazon.com. More about Liza Mundy and her books — including a young-adult version of Code Girls — can be found at LizaMundy.com.

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The third book in Alex’s rotation is Jodi Picoult’s novel small great things (2016). With 79% of more than 8,000 Amazon reviewers providing it with 5 stars, the #1 New York Times Bestseller’s track record is certainly impressive. The book’s press release notes the following: “With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, injustice, and compassion — and doesn’t offer easy answers.”

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If you are curious about Alex’s Q&A-a-day journal and desire to know more about the kinds of daily questions that it poses, here is a selection from the first two weeks of the year:

  • January 1 — What is your mission?
  • January 2 — Can people change?
  • January 3 — What are you reading right now?
  • January 4 — The best part of today?
  • January 5 — What was the last restaurant you went to?
  • January 6 — Today was tough because _____.
  • January 9 — Was today typical? Why or why not?
  • January 10 — Write down something that inspired you today.
  • January 11 — Today you lost _____.
  • January 12 — What is your favorite accessory?
  • January 13 — Where do you want to travel next?

Although 2019 is already underway, can you pick up the journal now and still find great value in it? Absolutely! Simply begin responding to the guided questions on the date that you acquire it. Then take comfort in knowing that the notebook will carry you into January of 2020. In effect, you can already prepare for one of next year’s New Year’s Resolutions — continue your habit of daily writing!

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Note — The image of Island of Fire was borrowed from Simon & Schuster’s TheUnwantedsSeries.com. The image of Code Girls was obtained from Liza Mundy’s website. The cover of small great things was found at barnesandnoble.com. The author of this blog post took the photograph of the back cover of the Q&A-a-day journal.

Dragons waiting for our love

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“And if only we arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust and find most faithful. How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses. Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” [emphasis is my own]

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), Austrian poet and novelist

Source text: Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties: Translations and Considerations of Rainer Maria Rilke by John J. L. Mood.

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To read more of my thoughts about Rilke’s writing, please see the blog post Timeless Advice: Letters to a Young PoetIt features several passages that I recommend from Rilke’s correspondence with a student struggling to find his voice — and his place in the world.

The following image of Rilke is from a painting by Russian artist Leonid Pasternak (1890-1960) who, in 1928, created this likeness of the poet as a young man. The work is entitled Rilke in Moscow, and the portion shown below was obtained from the website of The Paris Review.

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Note – The photographs featured above were taken by photographers Thomas Despeyroux (upper) and Sharon McCutcheon (lower). They were obtained from Unsplash.com.

Ten Principles of Compassionate Education

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This book is dedicated to the young men and women with whom I shared my classroom. I am forever grateful for their willingness to lend me — and, more importantly, one another — their ears, hearts, and minds. Thank you.

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Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

- Walt Whitman (1819-1892), from "Song of the Open Road"

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One — The most important value in my classroom is humanity – honoring every individual’s inherent worth, unique selection of talents, and yet-to-be-realized potential. By upholding this value, my students and I remain dignity-driven.

Two — In my classroom, we are all people first. We are students and a teacher, second. If we lose sight of this essential dynamic, we must pause, reflect, and re-assess. Our respective roles drive our collaboration — but they do not dictate it.

Three — Despite the discomfort that it causes, I sometimes allow myself to be vulnerable because I want my students to feel safe to be themselves. I carefully lower my teacher’s mask at times, so that they may trust me enough to share what is real.

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Four — My students and I practice listening before speaking, because reasoned voices are more effective than reactionary ones. By doing so we learn that compassionate leaders are servants before they are guides, and that they exhibit humility — not hubris.

Five — My students’ creativity and my own are exercised regularly, so we feel justified in taking calculated risks. Occasionally, failure results. More often, though, we succeed because fostering creativity leads us to be flexible, adaptable, and always curious.

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Six — I invite others’ diverse ideas and opinions because the opposite signifies ignorance, and that is anathema to teaching and learning. At times of impasse, we can agree to disagree – a mature sign of respect. Intimidation, however, is forbidden; it breaches our shared humanity and violates the principle that we are all people first.

Seven — My students are not common, and neither are their futures. They are unique and evolving. Consequently, my instruction, classroom activities, and assessments are not common. Instead, they are innovative, rigorous, and customized to my students’ changing needs. As a professional educator, I am well-trained for fulfilling this responsibility.

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Eight — My classroom is expansive enough to hold a broad range of ideas, but one concept that has no place inside its walls is shame. Feeling disconnected, flawed, or lesser are not acceptable where we teach and learn. Each one of us is a part of our community, and my students and I watch vigilantly to ensure that no one feels apart.

Nine — As a teacher who earned an advanced degree in his content area and accumulated many years of experience, I make no apologies for my deeply-held beliefs about education. My convictions are strong. But they are also supple: they evolve in response to my students’ needs, my colleagues’ insights, and my ongoing education.

Ten — Service is my calling, and teaching is my art and science. But if I can no longer uphold humanity as the core value in my classroom – if data is privileged above dignity, and policies supplant people — then it is time to straighten the desks, push in the chairs, and turn off the lights. The open road extends beyond, and I will find my students there.

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“In our rush to reform education, we have forgotten a simple truth: reform will never be achieved by renewing appropriations, restructuring schools, rewriting curricula, and revising texts if we continue to demean and dishearten the human resource called the teacher on whom so much depends.” [Emphasis is my own.]

— Parker J. Palmer, PhD, The Courage to Teach (2007), p. 4


About the Author

A former high-school English teacher of 15 years, Brian is now designing the next phase of his career — or what he thinks of as Plan B. In the meantime, he works as a tutor and writing consultant at Bishop Writing Services, LLC, and he shares his photography and writing on the blog ink + sky. Brian’s former students, who are now out forging their own paths in the world, are never far from his mind. And he hopes that they are making every day count.


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