Thursday, December 27, 2012

Given, Received, Resolved - Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

Sunlight on water

Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas Day! Did you receive any pen/pencil/typewriter related gifts? Interesting books? Music? Fun toys?

In my case, I did a bit to spread the pencil revolution: gave my little nieces some Ticonderoga Noir pencils (they liked the sparkle) and some little notebooks for scribbling in, and I gave their mother a Classroom Friendly pencil sharpener. They homeschool and the girls are now at an age where they are starting to use pencils quite a bit, but all she had to sharpen them with was a poor quality hand-held sharpener or a knife: a sad state of affairs.

I didn't receive any reading or writing related gifts, but I did buy myself the Kindle editions of C.S. Lewis' space trilogy books just before Christmas (they're on sale for $1.99 now!), ordered a bunch more ink samples recently, and also used an Amazon gift card I got for Christmas toward a new fountain pen. Which brings me tidily to my New Year's resolutions. If I put them out there in public, maybe I'll be more likely to stick with them! We'll start off with:

1. As I have done several times before, I resolve not to make any pen/paper/ink purchases, at least not until I've used up a lot more of my current stash. I think thus far April is the longest I've managed to hold out, and that year I quite literally had dreams where I was buying Clairefontaine we'll see how this goes.

2. Practice mandolin/guitar at least fifteen minutes a day. This sounds like a pathetically small goal, but the reality is if I pick up one of the instruments at all, I usually end up playing and practicing a lot longer than fifteen minutes. If I set the bar low, I'm more likely to do the picking up part.

3. Reserve sweets for special occasions (holidays, some Sundays, sometimes when with friends). Because, even though I wouldn't necessarily say I have a serious sweet tooth, I have a tendency to go on x-treme ice cream benders and such, given free rein.

4. Exercise regularly--I've been spending an hour on the elliptical three nights a week, plus a long walk on the trail on the weekends. I'd like to keep that up, or the equivalent once it's no longer quite so dark out. My overall goal is to lose about a pound a month via diet and exercise, which would bring me close to my high school graduation weight by the end of the year...I'd be happy with half that, though.

5. (Because I am a natural slob in the extreme.) Leave the house a little tidier/more organized when I go to bed than it was when I got up. If I somehow actually reach a point where this is no longer possible (doubtful), then just always try to leave the house as tidy as it was when I got up.

6. Do a good deed per day--it can be something as small as a note of thanks to a friend, or saying a quick prayer for someone I see in passing. Really more about adjusting my mindset than a cut-and-dried numerical goal.

Summing everything up: this year I want to work on self-discipline and charity.

How about you?

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Perils of Journaling

(And if I may state right up front: I have very mixed feelings about using "journal" as a verb...)

As mentioned in some previous posts, I've kept a journal or diary off and on since before I could write. Journals have been different things for me at different times. When I was little, they mostly tended to be one or two lines about what I saw as the most interesting or important event of the day, and maybe a countdown to the next big holiday.

As I grew up, my entries expanded somewhat. I wrote more detailed reports of my days, some days almost minute by minute as I carried my notebook with me into the woods or watched younger siblings play. Once in awhile I recorded my dreams of the future or indulged in a bit of complaining about dealing with one particular brother or another, but for the most part, these entries remained primarily factual and in-the-moment.

I think it was after I joined the military and moved overseas that my journals became introspective and personal. I was alone a lot, especially when I first arrived. It took me awhile to find my crowd: I've never been much for the club or the bar scene, and back then I was a bookish, rather sheltered and naive kid, completely overwhelmed by new information and new places and new people. My closest friends were my family, who were now in a time zone six hours away, and this was before any of us had so much as e-mail. Mom and I wrote letters back and forth, and a few friends wrote now and then...but it wasn't exactly the same as being able to talk at any time.

So, partly at Mom's suggestion, I started keeping a journal again, but this time, I told it everything. At first (and this may be a little hokey), I addressed my pages as letters to an imaginary person--it made it easier to bare my soul to a notebook. Eventually I did away with that, but continued to write down anything and everything: not just daily happenings, but all the feelings and fears I would have told Mom or a friend had they been there.

It's a habit I've kept up, off and on, ever since. The proportion of facts to contemplation and complaining has fluctuated somewhat, but it's almost always a part of what I write. Some of the time, I believe it's helpful: when my head is spinning out of control, writing down my thoughts can help me pinpoint exactly what it is that's bothering me, so I can work on it. But sometimes...?

I came across this brief article recently and found it interesting. It's more to do with journaling about broken relationships, but I would think applies to other subjects as well.

I think there's likely some truth in it. I mean...I don't know about you, but I tend to remember things when I write them down. It's one reason I take copious notes in meetings and classes: even if I never look at my notes again, I'm far more likely to remember the material covered if I wrote something down. Writing things down makes them stick in my head. In some senses, it may be that writing down very negative thoughts gives them a credence and weight they wouldn't otherwise have.

I don't think I could completely give up the occasional vent, but perhaps I could make a New Year's resolution to avoid using my journal as a means of turing my psyche into a punching bag. I get very frustrated with my failings at times, but it would be better to come up with positive actions to work toward moving past them (and write about these postive actions so I remember!) rather than dwelling on them ad nauseum. A spiritual director I once had used to stress always stating goals in a positive way: "Practice random acts of kindness," rather than "Avoid being such a cranky sourpuss." Heh..or something like that. In any case, I think there's a lot of wisdom to that approach to life.

What about you? What is keeping a journal to you? Is it a bare statement of facts? A record of special happenings, the activities and accomplishments of your children? Or (if you're willing to admit this out loud) do you ever find yourself wallowing in the darkest bits of your life? If so, do you think it helps or hinders?