“What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.” ― Gabriel García Márquez
Years before I started writing for others, I wrote poetry and journaled for myself. Sometimes I would share a poem with the person who inspired it yet seldom a journal entry. Journaling by its very nature is a private act, a conversation with oneself, often a daily record of happenings, experiences and observations. Sometimes our loved ones or curious friends or colleagues surreptitiously read our journals. Much is written about the consequences of reading someone’s journal without the author’s permission.
For me, journaling is a record of my journey. It helps me document where I’ve been, where I am today and directs me to where I’m going. It’s a series of snapshots in time, moments captured in words on a page sometimes handwritten, today often characters strung together by a keypad.
Like many others, I received my first journal, a diary, as a preteen. It had a lock and a key and before a word was written in it, it was precious. At first I was afraid to write in my diary, knowing that once the words appeared on the page they would hold some kind of power and significance. I was a self-conscious diarist; I wrote as if some invisible reader was standing over my shoulder. I wasn’t writing for myself but for an audience. This established a pattern for a number of years. I would be given the gift of a journal or purchase one for myself because I talked about wanting to write from a very young age, but found myself intimidated by the act. I began many journals that I would soon abandon.
It wasn’t until in my mid-thirties when I decided to get sober that I successfully embraced journaling when it became a tool for my recovery. I was still self-conscious about my writing, yet no longer judgmental about the words that hit the page. I was desperate to travel inward, to understand what was happening to me in the moment, to reflect upon where I was and how I got there and to look ahead to where I wanted to go and how to get there. Recovery journals functioned as a rear view mirror, a reality check, and a compass. I no longer wrote for an audience, I wrote for the person I was becoming.
For the first two years of recovery from both a family history of alcoholism and my own, I was a disciplined journalist. I wrote about the who, what, where, why and how of my life. It helped me take a personal inventory, to make amends to those I had hurt, to forgive myself, and to forge a roadmap for my future and a strategy for change. Like that very first preteen diary, my recovery journals are precious. They are precious not for who or how I wanted to be perceived by others, but rather how I saw myself and for the actions I needed to take to be the person I aspired to become.
Over the years, between then and now, I began journals during times of difficulties and transition and often abandoned them when things improved. I have a library of journals, blank books and sketchbooks, with a few written pages, often outlining my intentions, identifying the problem or desired change, followed by stark white blank pages. It wasn’t until the dissolution of my 15-year committed partnership six years ago that I began a disciplined practice of journaling again.
It was an effort to learn how to live my life to its fullest potential with intention and self-discovery so I could navigate the wilderness of intimacy and chart a path so I could live and love authentically.
An unexpected gift of my renewed practice of writing was a growing interest in reminiscence writing. I took a series of classes on memoir-writing with a teacher and mentor, Sarah White. At the same time I joined the LGBTQ Narratives Activist-Writers group. I now expanded beyond journaling to include memoir-writing, activist essays and personal narratives. I also continued to write poetry and self-published three chapbooks, Scenes of Everyday Life, The Valentine Poems, and Crush(ed). I wrote and submitted one act plays and monologues to Forward Theatre, a local repertoire group and StageQ, a Madison-based queer theater group. I currently edit a poetry and prose feature, Our Storytellers, for Our Lives magazine, I’m working on my memoir, Perfectly Flawed, and I’m beginning a freelance story-telling and writing consultancy, Full of Myself Productions. A year ago I launched this blog, Mixed Metaphors, Oh My!
My journal/journey transformed me into a writer. Sometimes we become what we do. I became a writer by writing.
My journaling practice informs my creative work and I often look back at entries for a particular date and/or time in the past. Journals provide that record and archive. I often find that I continue to work on the same universal issues we all face: work, finances, health, home, intimate relationships, family, friends, creative endeavors, spiritual journeys and the meaning of life. Sometimes the entries are simply mundane summaries of how and with whom I spent my day. The journal entries I offer are mile markers of where I’ve been, how I got there, where I need to go next and how to get there.
Join me for my journal/journey.
The Recovery Journals
Saturday, April 12, 1986
“Today I have the courage to keep my dreams alive.”
I woke early this morning and I’m feeling a lot of gratitude and hope. During the past two weeks I feel like I’ve gotten to the other side of some challenges. The first is the “March Madness” of work. This past week I’ve gotten caught up and the stress levels have lowered. I’m no longer having nightmares.
So many times in my life, particularly the past ten years, there has been so much despair, anguish and angst. It is changing. The simple beauty of crocuses blooming this morning from bulbs I planted when I was lonely and hurt, but hopeful, now soothe my spirit. I feel like I’m on a journey, I’ve turned a bend, climbed a mountain, and crossed a river.
Good Friday, April 17, 1987
It’s incredible how this program works. Two months ago I was in the midst of a lot of change, I had just stopped smoking, I was beginning a new intimate relationship and two months of work stress —struggle and change.
During my quitting smoking period, writing was extremely difficult. I just have to look at my handwriting. The physical withdrawal has pretty much subsided. I am amazed to think that today I am a non-smoker. I couldn’t have done it without my twelve-step programs.
Work too changed just as quickly as it had geared up. It feels wonderful after all the stress and learning to cope without smoking. I feel like I accomplished even more because of the time I chose to quit. (Note: I relapsed with smoking a few months later. Beginning a new relationship after my first year of sobriety tested me. Gratefully, a year and a half later I quit smoking and have not smoked for over 25 years or had a drink for 28 years).
I began naming my journals. Following are excerpts from my journals of the last six years.
Journal in Search of a Title
Sunday, April 12, 2009, Easter
All week I’ve been reflecting on Easter holidays from the past as well as think about what the holiday means to me today. Easter has become very important to me and symbolic of many things. Most of all it affirms and celebrates spring, rebirth, new beginnings and the resurrection of the spirit.
I’ve been remembering childhood Easters: decorating eggs, hiding baskets, finding eggs and baskets, chocolate bunnies and candies, Easter ham and brunch, first at Grandma Lenzke’s then Mom and Dad’s, the orphans potlucks, and most recently Cindy and I, and finally, me alone. Random memories of lamb cakes, movie matinees with cousins, decorating eggs with Mom and Dad and siblings, Dad’s “poop” egg tradition, Mom’s assembly line filling of Easter baskets, new Easter outfits and obligatory pictures, plastic eggs with money inserted from the Grandmas, church services, plastic grass, pink jelly beans, peeling and eating hard-boiled eggs for a week.
Today, I’m preparing an Easter brunch of ham, cheesy potatoes, cherry Jell-O and a lamb cake! I plan on calling Mom and Dad, spending time in my home reflecting on the past and looking forward to the future, and most of all being present in the here and now of my life. For some reason, perhaps because of all of the reminiscing and remembering, I’m full of emotion and tears. I don’t know if the tears are caused by gratitude, grief or something else, but they are welling up as I write — a healing cry.
The Fortune Cookie Poems and Diary
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Work has continued to be intense as we integrate our new software. I’m feeling intermittently successful and have some sense of understanding, followed by moments when I’m completely baffled. In my lead role as CRM process champion I’m assisting others while I learn. It’s been a struggle juggling work and my personal commitments, finding the energy to meet deadlines while enjoying the activities.
I’ve been tired and stressed, yet I continue to marshal on and do my best to take care of myself in the process. For the most part I’ve been successful. I’m still struggling to find my journaling groove. Last weekend I didn’t write again, mostly because I spent evenings and the weekend at the film festival. I enjoyed the films I saw (ten in all) and missed only one by choice. I ran out of steam on the last day. I had added a film to my schedule, but by the end of Sunday I wanted to simply go home and be in my own space alone before the weekend.
I’ve been having vivid dreams and last night practiced falling in love (or lust) again. I must be mentally preparing myself for what’s ahead. I do feel ready again, yet aware that I’m not seeking as I have in the past. It feels more like being simply present for me and my life. There exists a curiosity and anticipation of what my next lover will be like and I’m enjoying that sense. At the same time, I enjoy my life as it is. I remember there was a time in the past I didn’t know how to be alone without drinking, overeating or engaging in some other compulsive behavior. Today I can spend time finding joy and serenity in my home in my own company.
Perfectly Flawed: A Journal Aspiring to be a Memoir
Saturday, April 16, 2011
What a difference a week makes. Last weekend was spring, almost summer-like. Today is quite the opposite. It almost feels like November weather, just before the snowy days of winter. It’s cold, gray, chill and ache in the bones kind of day. I intended to go to the first Farmer’s Market of the season today, but instead stayed in. I made some taco meat for the weekend and invited Candy for a post theater, late night bite. She’s been very generous inviting me to a number of concert and theatre outings where she’s treated by providing the tickets. The role I’ve assumed is post dinner appetizers.
My plan for later this morning is to meet up with Cindy to help her pick out paint colors for the house and flooring for the kitchen. I must admit to some degree of anxiety. All week I’ve had a twitchy right eye. I think more than seeing her it’s about the anticipated sense memory of being in the house. I’m reminding myself to just trust my emotions, and allow whatever feelings I have to flow freely. On the other hand I enjoy interior decorating and color. It harkens back to my silk-screen printing days and working with color and mixing ink. I have a good sense of color.
Learning to Divine
Monday, April 09, 2012
Back to work after a restorative weekend at home. As mentioned earlier, for the exception of my coffee date, I spent the weekend at home alone. Saturday became primarily a day of rest after morning chores, and Sunday a combination of laundry, housecleaning, phone calls, Mad Men, and my traditional Easter dinner and holiday Facebook postings.
I was finally able to begin then complete most of my housecleaning chores except the floors, which I’ll do tonight. I always feel better when it’s done, yet some weeks I struggle with procrastinating. The next few weekends I’m busy again, so it had to get done now. I find most of my journal entries are about looking back at what I’ve recently accomplished, experienced or struggled with, and looking ahead to both challenges and people and activities I’ve planned and look forward to.
This coming week and weekend is chock full of activities and people, from a movie date with Julie at the Red Gym, the Conceal and Carry planning meeting with the narratives group, coffee Saturday morning with Patti and Abbie, a matinee with W4W, post-play date with Candy, and ending Saturday evening with Dorrie’s game night birthday party. Sunday is all about Quinn and Gemma and a day at the museum exploring the Houdini exhibit, making art and shopping at the museum gift shop.
Mixed Metaphors, Oh My!
Friday, April 19, 2013
Oh what a week it was! It’s been a week since I’ve written. The Wisconsin Film Festival concluded last night. I didn’t make all my films missing two of them. I saw six films over the weekend, and one each day of the festival except Wednesday when I attended the Allison Bechdel talk (which was absolutely fabulous) and last night when I totally crashed from exhaustion. This is what I learned, or more precisely was reminded of, I won’t make any films 9:00 p.m. or later and three films in one day is my max. I must say however, that I really enjoyed this year’s festival and most of the films I absolutely enjoyed with a few standouts including, I Am Divine, 56 Up, Breakfast with Curtis, In the House, and Shepard and Dark.
Tomorrow I’m travelling to Racine for the family birthday celebrations. I’m looking forward to time with the family and sharing my news about the move and hand surgery. Additional random things: The Farmer’s Market starts again this weekend, though I will miss it since I’m travelling. Next weekend I get a haircut and color. I’m ready for a spring refresh. I’ve been grateful that I’m actually feeling a little healthier and energetic. I’m thinking I may take advantage of the fitness center and also get my bike lubricated and ready to ride again, since I’m right there on the bike path. The little gremlins in my condo seem to be resolved at least temporarily. I replaced the bulb in the pendant light and it seems to be working.
Lastly, I’ve been getting positive feedback about my blog and I hope to carve out more time until my surgery to write more and more often. Life is good, damn good!
The Solace of Ritual — the Wonder of Change
Saturday, April 19, 2014
I’m so glad it’s Saturday and I have a weekend ahead that’s pretty open and not overbooked so there’s room for spontaneity, rest and relaxation, or time for spring cleaning projects like filing which I’ve been procrastinating about for the last two months. Ha!
As I write, neighbors are taking to the outside. I watched two presumably gay men with canvas tote bags in hand walk the Tobacco Lofts parking lot from Seven27 on their way to opening day of the Farmers Market. I can hear the chatter and excitement of friends walking the bike path. The weather promises to be beautiful today, sunny and mild in the 60’s nearing 70, and equally nice tomorrow.
Tomorrow is Easter. I’ll make my ham, cheesy hash browns and cherry Jell-O traditional dinner, call Mom and Dad, post Poop Eggs and Lamb Cakes for Easter and enjoy the spring weather, maybe even walk my neighborhood with a camera and sketchbook and explore.
Life is what I make of it. And, life is good. Thanks H.P