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.

Skateboard Journal

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This is my new journal, and I love it. Skateboards cover the front and back. The teenager in me, who recalls the “old guard” of skateboarders of the late 1980s, feels drawn to this notebook’s bright colors and playful graphics.

As a high school student, I remember Mike McGill, Tony Hawk, Lance Mountain, Steve Caballero and others gracing the covers of magazines like Thrasher and Transworld Skateboarding. Those publications still exist, and those athletes — especially ones like Tony Hawk — are still influential even though they are in their early 50s. And their original brand, Powell Peralta, continues to produce visually-stunning boards, including an annual Bones Brigade Series that draws on artwork from those legendary skaters’ first designs.

Here is what 2019’s Bones Brigade Series 11 looks like:

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I never owned one of those boards — or any other one. Although I loved the bold graphics of the skating community, my personality did not align with those of my peers who were part of that scene. So I watched from a distance and admired the artwork of their boards, t-shirts, and stickers. And I paged through magazines, imagining what it might be like to be one of the guys featured on the glossy pages and in the cool ads.

Today, those gentlemen look like this:

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When I stumbled upon this notebook in the clearance section of my local STAPLES store several months ago, I immediately scooped it up. It was only $1.00.

At the time, I didn’t think that I would use it myself. Rather, I imagined possibly making a blog post entitled something like “Journals for Teen Boys.” It would have featured the skateboard cover and others with designs that might appeal to adolescent males. Note — It does not escape my awareness that most members of this demographic are not hungry to embark on a personal writing campaign or keep a “diary.”

Little did I realize then that the adolescent male in me would begin feeling attracted enough to the skateboard journal that I did not hesitate to grab it after I filled up the last page in my New Year’s Adventure Journal.

And then I remembered something very compelling that I had lost track of while immersed in the essays, lessons plans, and letters-of-recommendation that filled much of my last few years of teaching: there is a professional skateboarder named Brian Bishop.

Here he is:

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From what I have been able to learn online, Brian Bishop was in his prime in the early 2000s. He skated for a brand called Original, which was established in 2002 by brothers Scott and Brad Imbrie. Although Original is still producing skateboards, Bishop’s name almost cannot be found on its website. To the best of my knowledge, he has shifted his attention to a career in architecture and only occasionally shows up to skating events to lend support to his former brand.

Curiously, Brian Bishop did not use boards like those of the 1980s Bones Brigade squad. Rather than ride skateboards that were well-suited to stunts on half-pipes and acrobatics in empty swimming pools, Bishop piloted something called a longboard. As the name suggests, longboards are longer than their brethren: they measure 40 to 60 inches (nose to tail) instead of the 30-inch boards that were — and still are — ridden by the likes of Rodney Mullen, Tony Hawk, and Steve Caballero.

When I laid my eyes on the graphics of today’s longboards, I felt the same surge of excitement that I did as a teenager when admiring the artwork on boards from high school. Longboards look cool. Here is one from Koastal, which offers boards that are handmade in the USA. This is their 38″ Pin Tail, and its colors make my mouth water:

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This sidewalk cruiser mixes modern materials, a classy script logo, and a retro-cool shape. I just love it. The top looks like it could be a surfboard from the 1950s.

Anyway, all of this has been resonating inside me recently. So when I opened the cover of this notebook a week ago and penned my first entry, this is what spilled out onto the page (transcription follows):

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2-11-19  7:37 AM — kitchen table, Crow’s Nest

Skateboarding? Yes, this journal features a design that I didn’t think I would ever gravitate toward — but I have. There’s something so appealing about the multi-colored geometric designs and the small wheels and trucks. The skateboards look like little toys that a very tiny person could ride right off the cover! I admire the gray, slightly-textured background, too.

The tri-color deep blue/light blue/sea foam board draws my attention immediately. But I also like the green deck with the brown and white pinstripes running length-wise. I imagine that if I could turn that board over I’d see a textured maple underside with a glossy finish. The contrast between the natural wood and the plastic wheels and stainless steel trucks would be pleasing. Three elements combined to create a simple device for rolling along streets and sidewalks. Simple, yet a vehicle for hours of fun and afternoons of exploration.

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Former pro longboarder Brian Bishop may be retired, but former high-school English teacher Brian Bishop may be headed toward the skate shop this spring. Lake Orion is the place where living is a vacation. Perhaps it’s time to connect my teenage awe with my forty-something curiosity and hop on a board when the snow thaws and the temperature rises.

My vacation could get started this year on four small wheels and a flexible platform of seven-ply maple. Thank you for helping to inspire me, Brian Bishop.

Now, what I’d really like to know is this: Can I get you interested in journaling?

Screen Shot 2019-02-18 at 9.07.07 AM.pngNote — The images featured above were borrowed from the Muirskate Longboard Shop, The Skate District, Powell Peralta, and Koastal Longboards.

I altered the bottom photograph of longboarder Brian Bishop by inserting the journal. If I knew he’d use it, I’d pick up one at STAPLES and mail it to him.IMG_5116 2

Postcard Project

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Dear former students,

This website, ink + sky, functions like a classroom; it is a place for learning, growth, community, and creativity. It is a safe space. Like my former classroom, my blog is not a place for harm or hate.

It is also not a platform for advancing others’ personal agendas or promotional campaigns. We all possess invaluable First Amendment rights, and venues and vehicles exist for us to exercise those rights. Please take advantage of those resources instead of attempting to use ink + sky. Thank you.

Please read the following information carefully before you request a postcard:

Harm

If your response to the writing prompt (“I am trying to figure out…”) suggests any of the following, your postcard will not be published:

  • Harming yourself.
  • Harming someone else.
  • Being harmed by someone else.

For help in these matters, please contact local law enforcement, a health-care provider, and/or a trusted friend or family member.

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Hate

If your response suggests any of the following, your postcard will not be published:

  • Hate language of any kind, including symbols and/or images that represent hate groups, their missions, and/or their tactics.
  • Religious or political criticism.
  • Slurs and/or derogatory language related to gender, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, ethnic and/or racial identity, age, class, financial status, and disability.
  • Defamation of another’s character.
  • Support for any activity (criminal in nature) that could result in distress to people and/or animals.

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Personal Agendas and Promotional Campaigns 

To exercise your rights of free speech and expression, please consider starting your own blog if you would like to advance a personal agenda or distribute promotional media. 

If your response suggests any of the following, your postcard will not be published:

  • Religious or political commentary. This includes contentious public policy issues (border wall, immigration, health care, etc.).
  • Profanity beyond those words permitted in classrooms (i.e. Mr. Bishop’s).
  • Recreational drug use, even of legal substances (e.g. alcohol and marijuana).
  • Any references to the debates about abortion, gun control, euthanasia, the drinking age, and/or drug legalization.
  • The naming, description, and/or imagery of genitals and/or sexual acts.
  • Advertising for non-profit organizations or for-profit entities (companies, individuals, etc.).
  • Marketing (web addresses, phone numbers, street addresses, QR codes, etc.).
  • Publicity for gangs and/or gang membership.
  • “Secret codes” of numbers, letters, and/or symbols that could be used to transmit information to others in order to advance a personal agenda.

Classroom

My blog, ink + sky, functions like a classroom; it is a place for learning, growth, community, and creativity. It is a safe space.

Assuming you have read this far — and that you agree to the parameters described above — please message me on Facebook and include this phrase: make it count. I will mail you a pre-stamped postcard like the one below. Directions are printed on its reverse side. The rest is up to you.

Note — A limited number of postcards have been created. Please request one only if you are committed to completing it and mailing it back to me. I am covering all of the expenses of this writing project. Be mindful of that fact.

We are all people first.

Sincerely,
Mr. Bishop

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Note — The photograph featuring the “no hate” sign was taken by T. Chick McClure, and it is available on unsplash.com. The image of the binder and bar chart is by rawpixel, and it was obtained from unsplash.com.

Guest Spotlight — MT’s Greenroom Journal

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If this notebook’s black cover leads you to suspect that its backstory might be ominous, think again. The narrative behind it is full of light. Margaret Trudeau’s 6″ x 8″ journal is a product of Greenroom, an innovative producer of eco-conscious writing materials founded by Southern California’s David Imbernino and his wife, Hyun Mi Oh. The husband-and-wife team is anything but subdued, as their diverse and often colorful line of notebooks, binders, greeting cards, and stationery can attest. When the light hits Margaret’s journal, those gold foil dots sparkle like droplets of water on a seal’s back.

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What does the company’s name refer to? In surf culture, the greenroom is — according to greenroomeco.com — the “perfect space inside the curve of a wave when the water completely encircles the surfer.” The man below, who was captured by photographer Jeremy Bishop, is experiencing the fleeting beauty and power of this space.

All of Greenroom’s products feature recycled paper and soy-based inks, two qualities that reduce their impact on Mother Nature. As a college senior with a keen awareness of her place in the natural world, Margaret is someone who reduces her carbon footprint when possible — so this 190-page journal, which is composed of 60-70% recycled materials, is an obvious fit.

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As a busy young woman who is finishing her last year at the University of Michigan, preparing for her wedding in 2020, and planning for a move to Lansing in the summer, Margaret keeps many balls in the air. And that is one reason why she was drawn to journaling last year. She explains: “With so much going on, setting aside time to reflect is a necessary meditation for my daily schedule.”

Let’s let Margaret, who will soon be earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in American Culture with a minor in Digital Studies, explain how she uses her notebook:

“Many of my classes cover philosophical arguments that bring up more questions than answers. This journal is a great way for me to form my own arguments, angrily scribble my annoyances (if necessary), and plan for future events and assignments. The content of my journal ebbs and flows with my mood; however, many features remain constant:”

  • List making: I am prone to making lists of things I need to do, upcoming exams and due dates, and items to be packed for vacations and weekend trips. These lists take the form of pros/cons, weekly schedules, and creative project descriptions.
  • Planning: The freshness of a new page excites the part of me that likes to plan four steps (read: four months) ahead. Many wedding plans, coursework requirements, vacations, apartment hunting thoughts, and job search updates are to be found in my journal.

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  • Sarcasm: At times, the beauty of journaling makes itself apparent in the moment for me, when overhearing nearby conversations to which I wish to respond, for example. The privacy of a journal holds my comments safely inside for my entertainment. Excerpt from 1.10.19, second day of my last semester of undergrad school: “SI 410. First meeting. I’m sandwiched between two men who seem to disregard their showers.”
  • Reflection and observation: Many entries in my journal are a digestion of my day, which lends itself nicely to comprehending conversations and observing the world around me. Excerpt from 12.5.18. Writing about what life will look like as we move to Lansing, and what opportunities are there for me. “In Lansing, there is Michigan State (the enemy), and the State of Michigan (funny how prepositions rearrange a college into a government).”

When Margaret is laying down ink on the page, she uses Pilot G2 Ultra Fine Point (0.38mm) black pens. You can learn more about these high-quality gel-ink pens on ink + sky’s Materials page.

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Margeret’s preferred mode of transfer is cursive (not print). Why? She “[finds] the cursive font encourages an unending flow of information and thought.”

Before she dashes back out into the welcoming surf of her daily life, Margaret has these final words to share: “I thoroughly enjoy journaling, and having a record of my thoughts helps to keep track of where I’ve been, and where I’m going in all parts of life.”

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If you are looking for Greenroom notebooks, binders, or stationery, you have two options: your local Target store, or Target.com. In 2005, Greenroom formed an exclusive partnership with the national retailer; therefore, you won’t find its unique, eco-friendly products at office supply stores or Amazon.com.

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Note — The photograph of the surfer and the woman wearing a watch were taken by Jeremy Bishop, and they were obtained from Unsplash.com. The photograph of the seal was captured by British photographer Samuel Scrimshaw, and it was borrowed from Unsplash.com. The photograph of the two pairs of shoes was taken by Marc A. Sporys and is available at Unsplash.com. The image of the Pilot G2 pens was taken from Target.com. The image of the Target puppy gift card was found on wdwinfo.com.

Disney Characters Journal

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Perhaps the most vibrant notebook that I own, the Disney Characters Journal is the third to be featured from the group that I affectionately call The Fantastic Four. Why choose this name? The set of four unique journals was designed and constructed by a pair of my former students, Meagan and Kathryn. If you missed the first two blog posts in this series, please see the following:

  1. “Let’s Make It Count” Journal
  2. Many B’s Journal

This notebook’s front and back cover feature dozens of Disney characters — including both heroes and villains — that were carefully cut from multiple sources and then assembled into collages that sit beneath a veneer of packing tape. This process likely took hours.

Before I share the journal’s first entry, please realize that it was penned on June 4. There is no significance to this particular date, but the fact that it lies less than ten days before the end of the school year (and thus on the eve of summer vacation) means two things:

  1. I was likely exhausted from months of instruction and innumerable weekends spent critiquing essays, and…
  2. I was surely giddy with anticipation that a decrease in work-load was right around the corner.

So if you sense an excessive level of optimism in the following passage — as though I was channeling the spirit of Walt Whitman — these are the reasons why. Not four cups of coffee. But I do enjoy coffee, especially dark roasts. Anyway, I created this entry (which is followed by a transcription) in either my 1st- or 2nd-period class during a five-minute free write with my students. It was Thursday, June 4, 2015.

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Beginning a new composition book today. I like starting off, embarking on a new writing adventure with limitless potential in front of me. My pen directs the course. My mind pushes it forward.

Summer rises up ahead, a bright orange-yellow glow that beckons for a marriage of reality and possibility. So much intellectual freedom. So much openness. So much joy. Barriers previously noted have been withdrawn, and my senses expand wildly as I imagine the possibilities of the spaces in front of me. Every day becomes worthy: it is full of possibilities, tantalizing the spirit, coaxing out the best from the soul, provoking the imagination.

Days are investments — conscious efforts glazed with the unexpected. Releasing so much that could be!

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This journal’s Disney theme was not accidental.

Although I am not a mouse-ear-wearing fanatic, I do have a history with the company that has brought dozens of legendary characters to life through animated features, live-action films, and theatrical productions. For a semester during my undergrad years I participated in the Disney College Program Internship in Orlando, FL. Rather than attend classes at Michigan State in the spring of 1996, I spent five months immersed in Disney culture, tradition, and hospitality. My students — including Meagan and Kathryn — knew this.

Pictured below are my identification card and name tags. You might notice a yellowish hue to the latter; that was caused by long exposure to the bright Florida sun.

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During my internship I enrolled in a series of classes taught by Disney executives that dealt with such topics as marketing, communication, guest service, and hospitality management. I was also taught about the rich history of Disney culture, learning about such concepts as the two-finger point (never a single finger, as that could be perceived as rude) and the understanding that all Cast Members exist “on stage” and thus they constantly inform the Guests’ experience.

Although the classes were instrumental in helping me understand Disney philosophy and gain some awareness of how large corporations function, the real learning occurred at my work location. For 40+ hours per week I served in a retail shop situated on the ground floor of the Hollywood Tower Hotel, which is more commonly known as The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror to park attendees. The tall salmon-colored building looms ominously at the end of Sunset Boulevard in Disney’s Hollywood Studios (one of WDW’s Orlando theme parks).

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After Guests plunged multiple stories in a fright-filled elevator car, they were deposited into a hallway that led to my gift shop. There we offered them picture frames, bellhop caps, and all manner of custom-themed products that you might find in an upscale hotel: monogramed towels, guest books, door hangers, disposable cameras and film (it was 1996, after all), and small collectibles. Our biggest seller? T-shirts featuring various Twilight Zone-inspired designs and slogans. We sold hundreds of t-shirts every week.

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While working in my location, I wore the costume seen below. It featured a double-breasted suit, white dress shirt, tie, and striped suspenders. The young ladies between Mickey and me were two other MSU students who were also participating in the College Program Internship in the spring of 1996. They are wearing the costumes that were used at their work locations. Please note that although Cinderella Castle stands in the background, I did not work in the Magic Kingdom.

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Now let’s shift gears. What follows is this journal’s second entry, which was written on the same day as the one featured above (June 4, 2015), but during the next class period. You will notice a significant shift in tone and content, because an event loomed ahead that was causing me considerable nervousness: reading students’ names at the graduation ceremony held at DTE Energy Music Theater.

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Turning the page to the next class! Sitting in third hour now. Graduation is coming up next week. Wednesday evening at DTE in Clarkston will be our destination. We’re there for a relatively long span of time: about three hours. I’ll be ready. I am under less stress than last year. Should not have any trouble with getting my names ready. Middle of the alphabet. Won’t have to wait nearly as long as last year. Felt dizzy last year, but I am optimistic that that was a consequence of incredible levels of stress being revealed at a time of heightened challenge — an especially demanding situation requiring considerable focus and public presence. I know I will be calm next [week?]. Like the SEALs

  1. Goal setting
  2. Rehearsal
  3. Positive self-talk
  4. Controlled breathing

Results will come from these steps.img_4917 2A few observations…

First, the optimism of the first entry has been replaced with a realism shaded by caution. I am clearly apprehensive about the upcoming ceremony and the fact that I will — for a short time — be reading students’ names before an audience of close to one thousand people.

Second, the wordy sentence dealing with “an especially demanding situation” refers to an event that profoundly changed my life. During the previous school year, in April of 2014, I began experiencing surges of acute anxiety in my classroom. These unannounced waves of fear and paralysis occurred when I was leading instruction, and they normally overwhelmed my senses. I was often forced to stop speaking and regroup, which was deeply humiliating because I was typically standing in front of dozens of teenagers. A symbolic narrative documenting what occurred that month — and during the three years that followed — can be found in The Ranch Hand, which was my first blog post. That composition stands as one of the most honest pieces I have ever written.

Third, the reference to “SEALs” (and the four steps that follow it) emerged from watching a History Channel feature called The Brain: Mystery Explained. In that documentary, which you can watch a portion of right here, the narrator explains how U.S. Navy SEALs manage fear and stay focused in incredibly stressful situations. They rely on goal setting, rehearsal, positive self-talk, and controlled breathing. As soon as I watched this program, I latched onto the four-part series as a way to try coping with the periods of anxiety that were disrupting my professional life.

My last observation…

Although I worked for The Mouse over two decades ago, I am aware that modern life rarely plays out like a Disney movie. Instead, the moments of joy, comfort, and belonging that enliven us exist alongside those that are filled with sorrow, distress, and loneliness. Navigating these highs and lows shapes our character. 

I would like to thank Kathryn and Meagan — my former Honors English 10 students and current college undergrads — for providing me with this journal that features another kind of character. The colorful faces on its front and back cover keep me smiling even long after I filled its pages with my thoughts.

Since I was 16 years old I have been journaling because it helps me process the events and emotions that I am experiencing. When something excites me, I write about it. When something terrifies me, I write about. When I face a challenging decision, I write about it. Nearly thirty years of journaling have shown me that it yields relief and insight.

If you are struggling with soul-testing lows — or surging to great heights and wondering how to capitalize on those peaks of creativity or vision — consider picking up a pen and recording your thoughts on paper. Not for an audience, but for you. In time, you may realize that the small world inside you is actually a castle full of wonders.

Curious to learn more? Please see my Getting Started Page for a few suggestions.

img_4917Note — The image of The Hollywood Tower Hotel was obtained from the website of WDW Theme Parks. The photograph of the inside of the Tower of Terror’s gift shop was borrowed from insidethemagic.net.