When it Comes to Writing Journals, Why Stop at One?

Today, for the second in my occasional series of guest posts on journaling, I’m delighted to welcome Diane Woodrow in the House of Dreams. Diane is a writer, blogger, workshop facilitator wife, mother of twenty-somethings, dog walker and renter of rooms via Airbnb and word-of-mouth, who loves encouraging and talking to people. She moved to North Wales nearly a year ago.

What I love about her story is that she has so many notepads on the go, all at the same time! I’ve only met one other person who does that, in all my years of writing.

So, over to Diane…

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Diane Woodrow

I have been doing personal writings for as long as I can remember. I’m really disappointed now that I’m older that I do not have my teenager diaries and journals and other writing that I did. I am thinking I either threw them away at that stage of “growing up” when you think all your teenage writing is angsty rubbish or that they are hidden in a box in my mum’s attic and I’ll find them when I clear it out after she’s died.

I got back into regular personal writing twenty-five years ago when my son was born and I also became a Christian. I had so many questions about my new faith that I just had to write. The when and how I write has changed a lot over the last twenty-five years but I still have a need to write a journal every morning and a diary every night.

The start of my day is used to deal with something that has been bugging me on waking. As I write I often reach a conclusion or solution to the issues and it helps me then to plan my day. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been writing 2-5 pages in a horrid A5 notebook that I found in my daughter’s pile of things when we were packing to move. I’m using it because I was feeling broke at the time and that I was being self-indulgent regarding things I was buying because of the move. Even though I do see writing as vital to my life I also often see it as self-indulgent and do not spoil myself with lovely journals. But I am determined to fill this latest book so that then I can buy myself a nicer one for next time.

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The view from Diane’s study window

My evening diary is a page-a-day diary which I started the year my son was born and since he has been sixteen my son has bought for me every Christmas, which then makes them extra special. I really do find solace in putting down my thoughts and feelings at the end of the day. If I am travelling light so don’t have the space for that diary or camping where the lights are out once it’s dark I find it hard to sleep as though there are still things that need to be removed from my brain.

During the day I do have a nice notebook I carry with me for inspirational things, poems, thoughts and feelings. At the moment there is one that lives in my handbag and another that lives on the little table in my study. They take more than a year to fill but they are the ones that I take things from to write further with – whether poetry or stories. I would never take anything from either the morning or evening writings. Those are very much unloading places. In fact I rarely look back at either of them; though at times I might look back through the night time one if my husband has brought up something to continue and argument about. It is then interesting how I have written down my day.

You can find out more about Diane’s work and writing here and here

What do you think – could you keep a morning journal and an evening journal going at the same time? Are you tempted to give it a go?

 

Donald Trump and the Tower in Tarot

On Friday I listened to President Trump’s inaugural address; yesterday, I watched footage of the millions of people all over the globe coming out in protest at the policies and attitudes he represents, and last night I dreamt about the Donald.

I’m in a small group of journalists who have been invited to do a feature about Donald and Melania Trump. The venue is a swimming pool at the very top of a tall tower, all glass and steel and, when they arrive, it’s clear the reason why they’ve chosen this venue is because Donald wants to show off his trophy wife. They both arrive in robes over swimwear – ‘Just wait till you see what she’s wearing underneath,’ he says. ‘Her body is just sensational. Sensational!’

He goes first, with her behind him and the rest of us following, so that we can admire her legs. Her shoes are impossibly high heeled, and she will have to climb to the top of the tower in them. We can see how hard and painful that is, though she’s trying not to show it. How can he not realise how completely unimpressed anyone is by this? He’s the President, she’s the First Lady, and this is his whole agenda. It’s frightening.

When I woke up, I immediately thought of the Tower archetype in Tarot, which I’ve blogged about previously in a post I called Death and Regeneration. The Tower card always looks alarming, with a tower being struck down, often by lightning, and people being thrown from the top.

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The Tower is change of a radical nature; not gentle evolution but complete destruction and rebuilding. It’s an archetypal principal, because change is the nature of life, and where systems are so powerful and entrenched that they can resist evolving, change will be thrust upon them.

We who remember the austerity of the post war years, the inequality of the class system, the oppression of women and the persecution of minorities are feeling scared, because all the wonderful developments we have striven for seem to be being swept away.

But beneath the legal protections we have put in place, the cultural repression of women continues –  pornography and plastic surgery are huge industries built upon it – and the inequality of opportunity is as great for people born into poverty now as it ever was for those born into working class families in former times. Racism and homophobia are still easy to stir up, as we’ve seen in all these anti-establishment movements going on in the Western world at the moment.

So there is still work to be done, but our sense of being able to have a voice in politics has been eroded so much in recent years that people have felt too despondent and disenfranchised to engage with it.

The election of Trump is galvanising people to stand up for the higher human values again, and the sheer force of numbers turning out on the streets all over the world yesterday shows the grassroots is not dead.

Where the tower falls, something new always springs up. There’s room, in my view, for some hope that the new order will be fuelled by this re-energised mass movement for social equality, but it will only happen if everyone who objects to Trump and his values stands up, speaks out and plays an active part.

I couldn’t march yesterday, but I’d like to thank everyone who did.

What are your thoughts about this new presidency? Have you had any Donald Trump dreams?

 

 

Diaries, Notebooks, Journals… Let’s Talk About Personal Writing!

Every year, in early January, I run a workshop called ‘Writing the New Year In.’ It’s one of my favourites, and I look forward to it. My goal is to help people experience the deep pleasure of personal writing, which can help you find your writing confidence and voice, and may become a seedbed for ideas that will grow into finished writing projects.

So what better time to launch my new occasional series of guest blogs about private writing?

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Karen Laura Steel to the House of Dreams to talk about her writing journals. Karen is a funeral celebrant – she takes naming ceremonies and weddings as well – who has also worked for 20 years singing to elderly and brain damaged people in residential settings.

Here is the story of her personal writing.

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Karen Laura Steel

I remember the first diary that allowed me to write more than childhood entries: “Went to school. Ate jam sandwich…”. It charmed me with its ornamental lock and pretty little key. I was 10, and it was a 5-Year diary, so I was aware it was something of a commitment, but the closely drawn lines and the never-ending feeling gave me a kind of hope. There weren’t many days over those 5 years that I didn’t write at least a small entry on how I was coping at new schools; having begun Comprehensive Education, only to move after 18 months, having to start O Level courses again. My diary listened as I missed old friends, found that cliques, once made, were hard to break into, and that friends we’d moved to be closer to weren’t necessarily worth the effort!

My teen-diaries received emotions on unrequited love, the excitement of prospective love-interests and despair when things went hopelessly wrong.

By the time I was beginning my degree, a plain notebook accompanied me everywhere, especially invaluable during my semester in America as I recorded first impressions of places and people every few hours at least. It was my 1980s version of fb, but private and didn’t need the approbation of others.

Battling depression in my twenties my journal received all my heart’s outpourings when no one else seemed interested or capable of understanding where I was coming from. In my thirties when finally receiving help, dream journals, notes on counselling sessions or discussions with helpful friends gave way to writing about new avenues of spirituality as I explored Yoga, its philosophy, and anything which gave a different perspective on the world.

Over time my journals have also generated other creative outlets, germinating ideas for songs or other writing.

Too much work ate into journal time last year, until I decided that life was far more enjoyable when I could jot down my problems and see the solutions emerging spontaneously.

Part of me wishes the notebooks were all the same size or of similar design, but the array of covers which have held my confidences are a testimony in themselves to my changing life, tastes and experience and are precious for that. I am writing once a week at the moment – and the desire to do it more often is encouraging me that I’m back on track!

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Some of Karen’s notebooks

You can find out more about Karen’s work by visiting her website or reading her blog, Diary of a Funeral Celebrant.

Do you have a practice of personal writing? If so, we’d love to hear about it here in the House of Dreams. Please email your piece, up to 400 words, a sentence or two about yourself and any links you’d like to include, to author@jennyalexander.co.uk. A photo of yourself would also be good, and possibly one of your journals.

I’m planning to make this an occasional series throughout 2017, welcoming a wide range of guests. Let’s celebrate personal writing!

How to make the best New Year resolutions

I’m a big fan of goals in life generally, and I always take a few days over New Year to consider what I want to achieve in the year to come, both in my personal life and my writing.

It takes a few days because it’s a broad field, if you don’t measure success only in terms of finances and career development, as we tend to do in our culture. There’s creative satisfaction, greater understanding, social engagement and every other aspect of life to consider.

So how do you narrow it down? Well, according to Alain de Botton on the radio this week, it helps to ponder your own mortality. Most people don’t really think about the prospect of dying until they’re in the 40s or 50s, but de Botton suggests we should all start to think about it from at least the age of 10.

Having faced the fact that you’re going to die, and it could happen at any time, then, says de Botton, it’s good to think about regrets. If you were to die tomorrow, what would you regret never having done? Maybe you’d wish you had travelled more, or read more, or written a book, or taken up a musical instrument, or learnt to fly. Or managed to master your temper better, or speak up for yourself, or say sorry, or tell someone you love them.

Whatever you would regret not having done in this life if you were to die tomorrow, those are the things you need to get on and do today. Even for things that are going to take much longer than just this coming year, you can still make a start.

Like any journey, once you start, you build momentum. You see the way unfolding ahead of you, and feel the excitement of working towards the place you want to be. It doesn’t matter whether you arrive or not – you will have extended yourself, and striven, and felt energised along the way. And discovered new goals to start going for, like unexpected signposts and turnings in the road.

So if you haven’t set any New Year resolutions yet, imagine the Grim Reaper were to come for you today – what would you wish you had done? Write a list of things you can do right away and things that could take a long time. Select two of each. With the long-term goals, make a start this week – write that email enquiry, make that phone call, start that conversation, do that search.

It feels good – and that’s why I’m a fan of goals and resolutions!

 

Get more from your dream life in 2017

As the old year comes to a close, it’s time to take stock and think about what you’d like the new one to bring. Intention is a powerful magnetic force, and focusing on what you want greatly increases your chances of achieving it.

The sharper the focus, the better the chance; having a vague notion of something you might like to achieve is like throwing a dart in the general direction of the darts board and hoping it’ll hit the bullseye. It could happen, but it it’s not very likely.

Once you’ve set a goal, you need to think of practical steps you can take to work towards it. As you’re reading this blog, I guess you’re interested in dreams, so here are my suggestions for anyone who’d like to get more from their dream life in 2017.

  1. Make dreams part of the conversation. Talk about dreams generally, with your family and friends, and share specific ones you happen to remember. Talking about dreams, whether you have regular recall or not, increases dream awareness even for experienced dreamers. The secret of happy dream talk is to treat your dreams like the experiences of waking life; keep it brief, keep it interesting, leave out any long-winded boring bits and, most important of all, don’t try to interpret, either your own or other people’s. One of the reasons we can feel reticent about sharing dreams is because we think they might reveal something about us, and focusing on finding meaning takes our attention away from the actual experience of the dream. Besides, as Alfred Adler wrote, The realm of meanings is the realm of mistakes. 

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    Dream sharing in the family whatsapp from one of my children, the day before our Christmas get-together including new addition, one-year-old Daisy.
  2. Let go of psychological interpretation generally. If we value dreams only as a source of information about our waking life, that puts an automatic filter on our recall. We will tend to remember and write down only the dream material that we identify as important or relevant, and miss the good stuff that takes us outside our waking understanding and into the complete unknown. Letting go of trying to interpret dreams could be interesting for more experienced dreamers as well as beginners; try it for a few months, and see if your dream life changes.
  3. Keep a dream diary. I’ve put this one last because it’s what everyone says and I didn’t want you to roll your eyes and abandon me mid-post! But everyone says it for a reason; it works. It’s the power of intention again. By buying a lovely notebook and placing it beside your bed, you’re setting the intention to record something when you wake. At first, you may not have many narrative dreams, but just fragments or single images – however random, uninteresting or irrelevant they feel, write them down. Draw them. Value them. From these little scraps, dream recall will gradually develop. Have faith and stick at it. I recommend you set the intention for a manageable amount of time initially, say 6 weeks, to record something every day. You will need to set your alarm 15 minutes before you have to get up, so that you’ll have time to wake slowly and enjoy that gradual surfacing from sleep.

You can read more about creative dreaming – that is to say, experiencing dreams rather than trying to interpret them psychologically – in Patricia Garfield’s classic book, Creative Dreaming, or in my own Writing in the House of Dreams.

I’ll also be running my Writing in the House of Dreams course in Cornwall later in the year, so sign up for my newsletter if you’d like a heads-up when I set the dates, or contact me, without obligation, to discuss a one-day or residential workshop for your writing group further afield.

That’s one of my New Year intentions in place – to include creative dreaming in my 2017 workshops programme – now time to ponder some more.

Do you set intentions at New Year? Could one of them be to get more from your dream life?

 

 

What does Christmas mean to you?

Christmas can be the most wonderful time, or the most bleak, depending on what’s going on in your life. We associate the festive season with abundance, and as much as it can be an opportunity to celebrate all the good things we have, it can also heighten our awareness of what we lack.

Money, certainly, with so much pressure on us to buy, buy, buy. For some people, a home. Family maybe, or friends. Or a specific family member, now departed, or a specific friend. Like most people, I’ve had some very bleak Christmases in my life, but I’ve never stopped loving Christmas.

Because for me, Christmas is about love. The birth of love in the world, the symbolic baby which, in difficult times, is the gift of hope for a better future.

I think that in the modern world we can sometimes have too narrow an idea of love. We tend only to think of it in terms of other people – children, parents, siblings, wider family and friends. But love is much bigger than that.

We can experience a deep love and sense of connection with our environment, or our work, or our inner world, which is just as transforming as love within relationships.

Carl Jung says the creative mind plays with the objects it loves, and whatever else is going on in my life, I always love the beautiful objects of my imagination, which I meet on the page or in dreams. That love is a force behind all my work, including this blog.

Love of every kind enlarges us, holds and inspires us. When we’re with someone we love, or doing something we love, or in a place we love, we’re not thinking, we’re just being. Time future and past is gone, and we are truly present.

You can call it God, this context in which we lose our small self. You can call it Nature, Great Spirit, Soul, or simply Love. Whatever we love redeems us from the lonely responsibility of feeling we are all that there is.

Love does not depend on money, home, family, friends – it’s a force in the world, and in our human nature. More than ever in these turbulent times, when we can feel helpless and in despair, love is a choice we can always make.

For me, Christmas feels like a reminder of that, in case we forget.

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This Christmas, may you feel blessed. 

 

I dream, therefore I am

I enjoy reading about quantum physics because it’s basically an exploration into the nature  of reality – matter, energy, parallel universes – all the things that I myself love to explore through dreaming.

Recently, I stumbled upon an article in Mother Nature Network with the intriguing title, Parallel worlds exist and interact with our world, say physicists

It takes the theory of parallel worlds a step further, because it proposes that they might not only exist, but also affect our lives in this one and, here’s the exciting thing, we might therefore be able to investigate them.

Now there’s a new theory on the block, called the “many interacting worlds” hypothesis (MIW), and the idea is just as profound as it sounds. The theory suggests not only that parallel worlds exist, but that they interact with our world on the quantum level and are thus detectable.

When I read about this, it reminded me of discovering that science had proven matter is actually energy – a fact that dreamers, shamans and other psychic explorers have always taken as read. I feel that science is not about discovering phenomena so much as discovering rational explanations for them.

Of course, when I talk about dreaming, I’m not talking about the psychological – that is, scientific and rational – way of being a dreamer. As soon as you let go of the psychological model, you understand through creative dreaming that the psychological model is far too small.

We are much more than what we think and understand about our self and our life. Our world is much more too. From just this universe, to parallel universes and now to parallel universes that interact with the one we know, the doors of perception are being cleansed.

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern~ William Blake

Dreaming is an opportunity to cross the borders into other worlds. We live in this world as if it’s our one and only life, but for a dreamer like me, it nests among other lives and way beyond, stretching to infinity.

It doesn’t matter to me whether this can be explained, or even whether it’s ‘real’ in the scientific sense. It is real because it makes my reality. I dream, therefore I am.

 

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