Category Archives: Journal Pages

All about journaling, journal prompts, visual, art and soul journals.

Checking on the Word of the Year

This time of year the time seems to pick up speed and race toward the end of the year. The days are noticeably shorter and we begin to become more focused on the end of the year.

A good time, then to check in with your word of the year. Is it still serving you well? Are you satisfied with your choice? How often do you think of it or consider what it means in your life?

Half-way through the year, I changed my word from “scatter” to “distill.” It was

It's not a painting; it's an open space in the wall, overlooking Arizona's desert. Beyond is the Bar-T-Bar ranch, with the San Francisco mountain range in the background.

It’s not a painting; it’s an open space in the wall, overlooking Arizona’s desert. Beyond is the Bar-T-Bar ranch, with the San Francisco mountain range in the background.

worthwhile. “Scatter” was what was happening to my life–too many open doors, too many choices to keep them all balanced. What started out as some far-flung ideas ended up as not getting enough of the right work done.

It was less of a paring down and more of a taking the essence of my work–distilling–that worked well. I’m glad I made the switch.

How do I weigh the choice? I write the word on random calendar days and see what has happened since the last time I considered it. Because I look at my calendar on the weekly view before the daily view, I see the word coming and going through the week.

Tell me how you remember your word and what it has meant to you so far.

-Quinn McDonald loves watching words make meaning, whether or not she changes them.

Life in Small Details

Maira Kalman’s vision of the world is by turns, quirky, wonderful, intriguing and 24671359absurd. Her 2007 book, The Principles of Uncertainty is her diary of one year in her life. It covers the absurdity of life– p. 122 reads, “Which leads me to my candy collection. The JEWEL of the collection is the CRATCH bar, purchased in Cuba. It sounds like a disease more than a candy trat, and I like to imagine the naming session.”

There are several pages of her collections–egg slicers, suitcases, sponges. She draws them all. The book is really an art journal-each page a full color illustration of some aspect of the day. Some of the pages relate to each other, others do not. Kalman is interested in whether or not people know who they are, an always interesting question.

© Maira Kalman

© Maira Kalman

The simplicity of this post and the depth of what it did and didn’t say, is fascinating.

Go to Google Images and type in her name, you will find dozens of Kalman’s illustrations. The book is both an inspiration and a journal prompt all its own. It’s an autobiography and a diary. Kalman may be the best emotional multi-tasker I know. And a mental magpie, collecting ideas and emotions at random.

kalman-coffee1

© Maria Kalman

What I love most about the book is that she was not afraid to write and illustrate an odd, fascinating, philosophical, funny book that doesn’t fit into a common genre, and, I imagine, defended it to an editor or agent. Still, quirky and odd, the book is 63,500 on the amazon.com list. (The hour I checked.) Compared say, to Kitty Kelly’s book on Oprah, which is 96,100 and two years younger. Or Stephen King’s Carrie, which is ranked at 61,380, and a perennial best-seller.

Why, that gives hope to all of us journalers of details.

Quinn McDonald loves to take a peek at other people’s lives.

Light on the Intensity

Life is jammed with detail, color, reactions, music, noise–both visual and felt. I’ve been working on ways to re-write the past in a way that lightens the darks and fades the shadows. Could I do the same thing visually?

Today was a day of too-saturated color, too much high dudgeon, too vivid emotions. Dramatic clients, fierce news, people shrilling for attention, credibility, everyone demanding to be heard and admired.

Poppies. Graphite, watercolor, pen on watercolor paper.

At the end of the day I was exhausted without having done any heavy lifting. So I decided to draw some cheerful flowers. Poppies are always cheerful, breezy. But the colors were too much, too bright, too assertive on my retina’s rods and cones. (Rods distinguish light; cones distinguish color. There are more rods, but they are not as sensitive as cones.)

Looking for another way to tone my day down,  I did the equivalent with drawing. Using my monotone gray Art Graf Stix, I drew the poppies, using shades of gray and black. I added very faint touches of red-orange and blue-red. Just a touch.

The final effect is light and airy without too much burden of color or detail. For right now, that suits me perfectly. Tomorrow may be different.

-–Quinn McDonald is a writer who likes to explore the drawing side of writing from time to time.

10 Commonplace Journal Ideas

For more than a week, I’ve posted about journaling and Writing Yourself Whole. It’s not always easy to keep a journal, so why do it? Who cares? Who will ever look at all that writing? The answer is simple: this is your life. You are keeping track of it. Your journals are not for your children to admire, your friends to share, and strangers to copy.

The journal you keep is to document your life. To prove you were alive. To write history the way you experienced it. Many of us don’t watch news because we are overwhelmed. Our own lives overwhelm us. Journaling puts you in control. Write about what happened at work, how you reacted, what you really thought. Putting it down helps us look at our reactions, our emotions, at arm’s length.

What else can you put in a journal? I’m a big fan of a Commonplace Journal--a journal that connects closely to what happens to you every day. Here are some ideas of what to put in a journal that will make it interesting to you:

1. Weather. Rain, sunshine, wind changes how we see the world and how we feel about it. A bright crisp day brings on different thoughts than low clouds and rain. Write down the temperature, the kind of day it was, and how you felt.

2. Movies. Glue the ticket stub into your journal and write a few sentences about the content and your level of enjoyment. You can do the same for movies you watch at home. Was it a good plot? Were the characters believable? Did you like a character or hate another one?

3. Food. I’m not talking about a food diary. What did you eat that was delicious? Do you remember what you had for breakfast? Is food an enjoyable experiences or just something to get over with? What was your favorite snack today? What would you like to remember to cook more often?

4. Music. What did you listen to that made you feel like dancing or singing? Do you have a favorite singer or performer? If you could create a soundtrack to your life, what five songs would you include? Maybe you don’t listen to music or even like it much. What’s the background noise to your life?

5. What’s the cost? How much did you pay for a tank of gas? How much for milk? Eggs? Liptstick? The price of the small chunks of life rises and falls, but it also creates a sort of set point in your life.  Compare the price to a gallon of milk to a gallon of gas and think about what you get from each. As you get older, you will think things are different than they used to be. Now you’ll be able to check.

6. Titles. Create a whole page of titles you like. Book titles, song titles, the names of restaurants, hair salons, or any other name or title that makes you smile or think. You fill it as you go along. Keeping it all on one page gives you a fascinating look at your sense of humor.

7. Maps and diagrams. Where did you go? What route did you take? Do you always take the same road to work? To the store? What other route could you take, even if it is longer or slower? Is speed the most important part of travel? What does that mean about your sense of time or necessity?

8. Quotes. Not just famous quotes you come across, although that’s handy to write down. What people in your life said that made sense, was funny, was ridiculous. What you said in return. Keeping track of dialogue makes you a better listener, a smarter speaker, and a wiser soul.

9. What catches your eye? Ads, headlines, photos, good designs. Cut them out of magazines, or photograph them and print them out.  I photograph the wallpaper in hotels. I’m amazed at how many of them are interesting abstract designs.

10. Spend time in your journal. Look back over old journals. Has your taste changed? Your ideas? The music you like? Your life is a mosaic and you can decide on the shape and color you want it to take. Watching it change over time is part of growth.

Keeping a journal doesn’t require daily deep soul-searching. It’s a way to keep track of the tiny grit that you turn into the pearls of your life.

–Quinn McDonald is a journaler and a creativity coach.

 

 

The Slow Work of Change

My thanks to everyone who participated in the last week of Writing Yourself Whole. And thanks also for your generous contributions. I was happy to see that so many people participated. Your generous contributions will help many homeless families in Phoenix have clean and safe drinking water. Thank you so much for that, too.

Now what? Taking a course online doesn’t really lend itself to community. You might have felt that you were falling behind by the second day. Maybe it was hard to concentrate, or when you sat down, your mind went blank. If you thought, “I need more time to write,” but didn’t get started, you have encountered the most common stumbling block to self-care through journaling.

Like anything else, journaling takes practice. Writing down your thoughts and looking at them is hard. You want to avoid some hard thoughts. Pema Chodron, in her book, When Things Fall Apart, tells us to lean into the sharp points, but who wants to do that?

“…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.”

Journaling is hard work. It is not always fun to know our weak spots. It’s certainly not fun to work on the weak spots. But the effort itself can be invigorating, and the effort is always worth it. Stick with deep journaling and you will learn what you need to learn about yourself. You will begin to accept yourself and those around you. Your life will become brighter, and you will begin to enjoy the happiness you build.

Journaling takes practice. You don’t have to delve into yourself every day. There are other ways to journal–and you can mix them up any way you like. Tomorrow’s blog will help you with some ideas about journaling.

Keep building inner heroes. You are filled with sparks of joy and healing. With flashes of understanding and beauty. Gather them to you and build a fire that keeps your heart and soul warm and that lights your path.

—Quinn McDonald has returned to journaling with many emotions. She’s glad she did, though.

Beyond Art Journaling

Nothing against art journaling. I still love it. But I need a break from it. So many people have piled on so many products, paints, stamps, stencils, embossers, hole-punchers that I got dizzy and had to sit down.

A page of William Blake's Commonplace Journal

A page of William Blake’s Commonplace Journal

I’m back to using my Commonplace Journal. The one that holds all the facts, ideas, quotes that pile up in my days. It’s so comfortable, like a pair of shoes that are soft and still can be worn to a teaching gig. My Commonplace Journal doesn’t demand painted pages, drying time, or planning. It holds whatever shows up. For me, that includes meaning-making.

Two deep loves for journaling (for me) is watching time pass on a big scale and nature. This time of year (fall for the Northern hemisphere) the days begin to get noticeably shorter. For Arizona, it is a huge relief, as the sun simply doesn’t pack the punch to crisp your skin in five minutes. The pool starts to get cool again. By the end of September, you will need hot water when you shower (in summer, the water comes hot out of the cold water tap.

Because my memory is keyed to weather, its hard for me to remember what happens when. It was easier on the East Coast–my memories were tied to cool weather or a coat I had on. Or mud season and black flies. But here, there is a giant blue bowl of sky above us 322 days a year, so I have to keep track of what happened, and when.

Calendar at the beginning of the month, pencil boxes still in place. Not much filled in.

Calendar at the beginning of the month, pencil boxes still in place. Not much filled in.

In the Commonplace Journal, I draw a rough outline for the month on a page that starts the month. I use a pencil to do this. Then I use a pen and box in days in which something is caught. On the first and last days of the month, I notice the length of the day.  In September, the day of the Harvest (full) Moon, the autumnal equinox, and the progress of my plants. Maybe I add sketches, maybe not. Depends on what happens.

At the end of the month, I add color (if I want) and erase the lines on days that I didn’t fill in.

Feb. 2010, complete with what i noticed around the yard.

Feb. 2010, complete with what i noticed around the yard.

Keeping this calendar doesn’t replace writing, I do that, too. But it shows at a glance what happened outside for that month. It’s great for gardeners, nature lovers, and hikers.

You can, of course, track anything. Birthdays, school milestones, heights of your kids, grandkids or how long you walked the dog.

Calendars keep track of items we want to remember but not use up brain power remembering. A simple, hand-drawn calendar is an excellent journal page.

-Quinn McDonald keeps journaling in ways that make meaning, whatever they are.

 

 

Distilling the Journal

Small words and short sentences are powerful. Half a thought can pack a lifetime into a few words. Your mind fills in the rest, and that can be more color, action and more imagination than a long line of words.

I’ve been playing with distilling journal entries. (Distill is my word for the year, I switched to it halfway through the year.) Yesterday, I talked about using lists of words to journal. Today, they wind up in a tiny journal.

Trader Joe has tiny, cute metal boxes that hold mints. Re-purposing them into tiny journals is fun. I found some cardboard 35 mm slide mounts, and they fit perfectly into the box. (35 mm slides were pieces of film projected onto a screen before the digital age.)

Box7Empty, the slide mounts are just, well, cardboard. Using small pieces of paper, I created a front and a back for each slide. One side has words, the other a small image taken from a larger image–distilled.

Box2First I painted the slide mounts with Neocolor II. Then I took the words from journal entries, and let them be their own possibilities.

Box3

For some of them, I use pressed petals or pieces of fern. When you look closely, you see a lot more than if your eyes just pan the horizon looking for something new.

Box6After the paper is cut, I write a phrase on it, which may become a story on its own, or just a way to get me started thinking more imaginatively.

Box5Some papers are handmade, some printed. In each case, choosing just a few words or a small piece of beauty. It is both a way to focus and a way to let go of seeking perfection in the whole.

Box1The box holds five or six of the slides. They can tell a story on their own or be taken out and used as journal prompts. For right now, they are simply fine the way they are. They don’t have any more work to do.

How is your word of the year doing?

–Quinn McDonald is a distiller of words. She’s glad she changed her word of the year half way through this year.

 

 

Journal Entries in Shorts

The tag Lisa uses for this journaling challenge.

The tag Lisa uses for this journaling challenge. Don’t click, it doesn’t work. Use the link up on the left, in the text.

Journaling every day is tough. Staying current on Lisa Sonora’s 30-day journal challenge is even tougher. So far, I’ve made it through 22 days. It has not been easy. A lot of the prompts are interesting, but for me, there are some that don’t jump start me.

Now, I’m a writer, but some times I do not like to write essays on a prompt. In fact, I hardly ever like to write an essay when I’m told. It sounds suspiciously like work. Admittedly, Lisa is encouraging art journaling, but I wanted to try getting down to content, not allowing myself to hide behind color or hand lettering.

This is hard. And then I had a weird idea and tried it. And it is working, although not quite fully developed.

Rather than writing down my thoughts about the prompt, which can be kind of thin, I created a list of words that the prompt made me think of. It didn’t matter if they made sense to someone else, or how I connected them. Simply words that jumped to mind.

journalWhen I read the list, some of them were strange, almost-poems. One of the prompts was a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke:

“Let nothing in me hold itself closed. For where I am closed, I am false. I want to be clear in your sight.”

Without over thinking (a habit of mine), I wrote:

Closed
silent
strong
false

Clear
windows
sunlight
warm
hot
burn

balance

Certainly not a poem, but also certainly an idea for one.

Another quote was “Solitude is the cure for loneliness.” –Caroline Casey.

And the list:

Solitude is peace
Loneliness is heartbreak
Welcome solitude
Inner warmth
Comfort

Loneliness runs from itself
can’t escape
runs to others
who can’t hear you

in their solitude
which they want
to protect.

Again, not a poem, but certainly the blip on a radar screen of one. If you are a list-maker, this idea may be something that works more than writing three pages a day. Just a list of words that come to mind. Then leave it alone. When you return, it will have done some work on its own, and you can take what you need for your poem.

--Quinn McDonald is developing an affection for list journaling.

Visual Journals Need Visual Edits

She handed me her journal–pages splashed with color, thick with found items and inserts. “What do you think?” she asked eagerly.  Tough question to answer. It doesn’t matter what I think if she is satisfied. If she likes her work, if she found meaning in the activity or the result, then my opinion has no importance.

A journal, like a suitcase, can be over-packed. At that point, it's not luggage, it's baggage.

A journal, like a suitcase, can be over-packed. At that point, it’s not luggage, it’s baggage.

In another way, I’d like to know why she’s asking the question. Is this the art journal equivalent of “Do these pants make my tuchus look fat?” Is she asking for praise in a hidden way? Is she looking for suggestions? Approval?

I turned the pages of the journal. I’d heard of the technique–do anything. Some pages were sewn chaotically, combining junk mail and lace, tulle and magazine pages. The bobbin thread had become confused with the different tension needed for the different papers, and there were big loops and knots of thread. One page had a piece of ruler glued to it, the next one an angel next to which was stamped the word: guardian angle. When I smiled at the typo, which seemed to make sense along with the ruler, I thought (to myself): What this needs is visual editing.

It’s fun to slap things together and see if it makes sense. Occasionally.

It’s also interesting to ask yourself what you are doing and are you presenting a message or searching for one.

Visual editing is much like word editing. It’s done in stages. When you edit your -1writing, you first look for content, logic and flow. Does it make sense? Does it unfold logically?  Is it interesting?  Next you look for typos, meaning-gaffs, punctuation errors. Next you make sure all the visual elements–headlines, image credits, page numbers are in the same font and style within each category,  Three passes and you’ve done some editing for clarity and understanding.

Visual editing works the same way.  Is the journal going to be shown to anyone or is it private? (Since she showed it to me, it became public.) Is there a theme to the overall journal? If so, is it obvious or does it need an explanation? While turning a page and moving from front to back is the normal order of Western books, does this one create an order? If there are inclusions, attachments, found objects, how is space created for them?

There are guidelines for visual editing just as there are for word editing. To break the rules you have to understand them first. Yes, ee cummings and James Joyce broke the rules, but they first followed them, then knew why they wanted to break them. And some well-read people are still grumbling about that decision.

Personally, I’m not fond of splayed-out books that are sewn, spackled with gesso, layered randomly with paints and papers, and weighted down with found objects that don’t create a narrative that can be followed. But then again, I’m not the art police. If that makes meaning for you, it is your meaning. If you are satisfied, that is an important step for you.

In the end, instead of giving an opinion, I asked questions. “How did this book come together for you?” “What did you like best in making this book?” “What caused problems for you?” “How did you solve those problems?” “Will you keep this for yourself or will you give it away?” The answers told me a lot, including that my opinion was not required. So I kept it to myself. And we both parted with our perspectives intact.

Quinn McDonald understands visual editing, and knows that sometimes, no matter how much she loves that page, it doesn’t belong. Sigh. So she saves it for another time.

What to Put on the First Page of Your Travel Journal

It’s summer and vacation time. Travel journals and vacation go together. But what to put on the first page? If you make your journal ahead of time, a printed map of the location is a good beginning. If you are going to share your journal, it helps to orient your friends to where you were.

Map4For my travel journals, I favor 6″ x 6″ square watercolor journals. Even with the wire binding, they make practical sketch, writing, and storage journals.

On the cover, I placed all the suitcase identification, a name tag, and a small sticker that showed my suitcase had been opened by the TSA.  I love the contrast of those stripes as well as the starting and completion airport identifications.

You can, of course, put those on the first page of your travel journal, too. Another good start is the boarding pass (you’ll have to remember to print it out the old-fashioned way) if you are flying.

I write my contact information around the edge of the page.

I write my contact information around the edge of the page.

I start every journal the same way: two crossed and curved arrows and a request that the finder please contact me if I lose the journal. My email address on the page, and I’ve had two lost journals returned to me.

The arrows represent different paths, interests and the constant demand to consider more than one view in my journals.

If you don’t fly, the first page can hold

  • A snapshot of everyone who went on the trip
  • The checklist of what needed to be done before you left
  • Information you found about the vacation location
  • Places you hope to visit or sights you want to see while you are on vacation.
  • And of course, there are always maps.
Map: Phoenix to Las Cruces, August, 2014/

Map: Phoenix to Las Cruces, August, 2014/

I’m a fan of drawing my own map. It’s neither to scale nor accurate in any other way, except that as I drive, I note interesting sights along the way. Once I arrive, I complete the map with the notes I take.

Trip from Denver to Colorado Springs.

Trip from Denver to Colorado Springs.

You can just sketch in a few notes, and add more as you go along, too. The second part of the above map (not shown on the blog) lists places I ate, shopped, and who I met, all detailed with small sketches.

Map3If you aren’t into maps (what?!) you can add photos from flyers, postcards, notices you find in coffee shops or museums you hang out in. This photograph of sandhill cranes reminds me that I want to see their migration again this fall.

For pockets, I use placemats, menus, or other ephemera found in coffee shops or restaurants. The Corner Bakery has cute 2″ x 5″ bags for cutlery that just fit into a small journal. OK, they also have menu items for diabetics. But those cute brown bags! They wind up in the travel journal and hold movie or concert tickets or other memorabilia you pick up.

I also tuck 6″ x 4″ watercolor postcards into the journal before I leave, so I can make and send postcards to friends and to myself. It’s fun to come home, find some postcards you sent and add them to the journal. Enjoy your vacation!

—Quinn McDonald also adds trips to her Commonplace Journal.