My ‘great complaining notebooks’…some background on ‘Write to the Centre’ …

My whole adult life I have kept journals, capturing bits of my life in words and images. I’ve also taught journal writing classes from time to time. Journal writing is a key part of my creative process as a writer and my self-care regime as a human. Journals get some bad press – sometimes seen as self-indulgent, angsty or just plain pointless. I can only share my own experience with keeping a journal, which has been positive, helpful and life-affirming.

I assumed all writers keep journals of one sort or another, but then I read all of the Mansfield Questionnaire interviews on Booknotes Unbound because there is a great question: ‘Do you keep ‘great complaining notebooks’ a.k.a. journals?‘ I was surprised to discover it is about 50/50, in terms of writerly journal-keeping habits.

Earlier this year I was part of a literary panel and a member of the audience asked us the question ‘If you were the only person left on the planet, would you still write?’ I had the microphone in my hand, so I answered first: ‘Of course!’ I said ‘I love writing, it wouldn’t bother me if no one else was going to read it.’ I anticipated my fellow panelists would agree with me, but instead the other three writers were looking at me incredulously and answered with variations of ‘Hell no! Why bother?’ and talked about how they write with an audience in mind.

This could be a factor in the journal or no journal divide, perhaps? Keeping a journal is essentially writing to/for yourself. You either find intrinsic value in this, or find it as interesting as watching paint dry.

I have been toying with the idea of writing a book about journal writing for a few years but was wrestling with whether other people would find it interesting, or horribly self-indulgent? I decided to leave it to fate (aka, a panel of board members) by applying for a grant, figuring if the panel granted my proposal, it would be signal enough that there was some value in the idea. They liked it and I received a grant to create the book!

A condition of the grant was that the project had to be completed in 2016, so it has been a bit of a race! If all I did was write, a year would seem like a good amount of time…but I’ve been doing it on top of the usual full-load of work, family, etc. Plus I don’t really do fast. If I were a creature, I’d be a snail, for sure.

The book is nearly done, though, all going well with the printing process it will be released on October 15th, & today I got a message from my publishers that they have set up pre-orders on the Haunui website! (We are being optimistic…) Wheee!

Here’s the cover:

Write-to-the-Centre-cover-large

I have gone through some real ups and downs during the making of this book – I will write a little bit more about the process in another post… it is a very personal, vulnerable, possibly somewhat naive book…it is not the New Zealand way to be so ‘out there’ with emotions and sometimes ugly private stuff. I feel a little like I am about to walk onto a stage in a crowded auditorium, flash my undies and then cry….or something. And yet….and yet…there is enough of me which believes there is value in sharing this stuff that I am persisting!

My journals aren’t ‘beautiful’, the visual parts are usually pretty haphazard, hastily daubed, scrawled or slapped together and the writing is not profound or intellectual…it is unfettered, raw expression…and is offered as such. Now all I can do is wait for the publication process to unfold and hope that the book is met with open hearts, just as it was created with one.

BJ_2006_12

 

 

many moons

moons_1Hello! Its been a few moons since I posted…I took an unintended break there for a bit!

What have I been up to? (I’m going to assume the fact you are reading my website means you are interested…ha ha.) Last year I received a grant from the Earle Creativity Trust to write a book about my life-long practice of keeping a journal. It was so wonderful to get the grant and I’ve been busy working on this time-bound project, which has to be completed in 2016 (a condition of the grant.) It will be coming out SOON and I will write some more about it later this week.

Here’s a bare bones catch-up of the rest of my working/writing life since I wrote my last blog post: I finished year one of a permaculture design course last year, but took this year off the course to work on the journal book. I also had a go at making yoga teaching my main source of income, really didn’t like it and am back to teaching just two classes a week, which is just the right amount for me. I had a year’s contract working for an environmental trust, doing communications and events work, and now I’m back at Massey, teaching writing.

Working with the Palmerston North City Library, I edited this anthology – you can download a .pdf version here. I gave a talk about nature writing at the Massey University-based symposium, ‘Working With Nature: understanding entanglements of humans and nonhumans in the Anthropocene’.  I have a lot to say about nature and writing and nature writing, so I really enjoyed being a part of this great event.

I taught at the 2016 Kahini Retreat – it was terrific, a whole weekend of being steeped in writing and writing conversation. There will be another one in March next year, in case you like the sound of it! Kirsten from Kahini interviewed me for the last one. 

Me and my dear friend, Nga Taonga Puoro artist Rob Thorne  collaborated on a performance combining poetry with music, called ‘Tohu’. Huge satisfying fun, and we hope to do it again soon.

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I was part of Massey University’s ‘writing in / writing of’ talk series, in a panel about Manawatu writers.

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In May, I read with Janet Charman, Belinda Diepenheim and Johanna Aitchison at the Palmerston North City Library. I’ve loved Janet’s writing for a long time, so it was a real privilege to read with her when she visited Palmerston North from Auckland.

poetryreading_janetcharmanandfriends

Last Friday was National Poetry Day and I read with other Seraph Poets and friends at Vic Books in Wellington, Paula Green took some great photographs. 

I also started (with my friend Marolyn Krasner) a writing group we call the Manawatu Sunday Writers Group. We meet, you guessed it, one Sunday per month. There is always tea and cake, it is very casual, very supportive and we don’t intensively workshop stuff (unlike other groups I’ve been part of in the past). We read our work out loud to each other, share writing-life news and opportunities, and have a lot of fun!

Whew! I think that is all the major stuff I’ve been up to over the last year…I’ll probably think of a bunch of stuff I forgot as I drift off to sleep later tonight – that’s usually how it works, right?

My most recent creative act, though, has been painting moons. My friend is opening a shop in town with a theme of earth-based and earth-friendly hand made things. So I’ve been making moon gift tags, wall strings and cards for the shop. It is so much more enjoyable than writing poetry, which is always kind of masochistic and gnarly for me.

I promise it won’t be many moons before I write again!

 

 

help me find things

helpusfindthings

…like courage, certainty, a sense of purpose…motivation!

I have been on-again/off-again working on a book about keeping journals, featuring my journal pages (the above is an example) for about four years now, possibly even longer.

It’s not about ‘art’ it’s about vulnerability, honesty, my heart to your heart, the depth of a daily life….I imagine a  vulnerable book with my homely, shabby journal pages and my take on the creative life and why keeping a journal is such an essential practice for creative people…or well, just people, actually.

However, I veer wildly with this project from deep immersion, drive, fun, certainty ‘Write the book you would love to READ, Helen’, write to your friends and loved ones, write to all the people struggling to find purpose or to hold it or to white-knuckle-it through the hard stuff…

…..to a stultifying self-doubt, agonising inertia, FEAR FEAR FEAR – – ‘why would you do this? WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? no one wants to read this self-indulgent drivel…people will make fun of it…you’re a child…this is beyond pathetic…what are you, eleven? … this will be the kiss of death to your writing life….’  Y’know, that really helpful internal looping/mental torture that we are capable of inflicting on ourselves…

I would NEVER talk to another person like that….but I can squash myself into the ground without a second thought.

There is no middle-ground with this project….no days of ‘It’s fine, I’m not totally sure but I’ll keep on trucking…see what happens….’ It’s either HELL YES! or omigod-no-never-what-was-i-thinking-i’m-going-to-go-and-live-in-a-cave-and-learn-to-live-without-people-and-derive-nutrition-by-sucking-rocks….

Here is what I have so far:

20+ years of my journals

Four long essays to sit alongside the journal pages, about keeping a journal, life, creativity and self-care practices…

A scanner (I have scanned about 1/20th of what I need to scan – it’s a huge job…)

….& as of last week I have a designer! A really talented designer who is WILLING TO WORK ON THIS BOOK, AT MY SNAIL PACE, ON TOP OF ALL OF HIS OTHER WORK, & WHO IS WILLING TO DO IT FOR NOTHING UP FRONT BECAUSE HE IS A FRIEND AND LIKES THE IDEA OF THE PROJECT…

All that is stopping this book happen now is me and my own ‘stuff’. 

I SO need to get out of my own way…..which is easier said than done.

I don’t have a publisher (I haven’t looked for one). I am thinking I would probably self-publish this, using some kind of crowd-sourcing thing whereby people basically pay for the book up-front, before it has gone to production.

So yeah, ….your thoughts, advice, courage, opinions, boots-up-bum, prayers, links, love, advice, frank and open discussion are all very welcome right now.

Can someone please give me a shove?

 

shameless 2014: proud maker of bad art

After a couple of creatively dry years where I have only been writing in my journals and sticking the occasional thing in…I have re-found my zeal for art-journaling.

Yup. I make rough-and-ready bad art in my journals. It is so soothing and therapeutic and fun to me. It’s more about process than product.

I started a fresh journal for 2014 and made this page with my WORD OF THE YEAR. 

shameless_journal_1

I was going to scan it so the details would show better, but then I couldn’t be blathered and I just took a photo because I am SHAMELESS — ha ha!

Glitter, flowers, obnoxious colour. Vomit of my brain. Vitamins for my eyes.

shameless_journal_2

 

 

this week

I had the best cafe breakfast EVER – avocado mashed with feta and mint on sourdough toast with a poached egg on top, at Tomato Cafe:

I DIDN’T buy these things from the op-shop:

Horse fire-guard. I love these gothy horses…but I don’t have a fire that needs guarding…

Gorgeous Magnolia plate….but $25?? C’mon, op-shops, please stop that grandiose pricing:

I’m loving taking photographs of stuff in op-shops, instead of buying them! I get to ‘keep’ the discovery…without the loss of cash or the clutter. I think a big part of the joy of op-shopping for me is just spotting cool old stuff, so snapping a picture is often thrill enough.

I did buy this wonderful handknitted deer jersey, though:

I pulled all my Penguin Classics from their various hiding places and put them in a pile. Just because. Some are originals and some are recent reproductions.

I worked a lot on my journal project – I have a (self-imposed) deadline for this because I want to enter it into a competition, so the pace is picking up a bit:

& just because it’s winter, it doesn’t mean salads can’t be pretty – winter greens, parsley, radish and calendula petal salad from my garden:

As well as that, my oldest son turned 12, which feels like one of those significant ages because next birthday means the teenage stage begins…causing me all kinds of nostalgia/melancholia/emotional-wrenching…..and also some cake-making and happy birthday party throwing.

Hope you have a good, warm, inspiring week. X

the journal project

I’m writing two books at the moment (I think I’ve mentioned this before…), my second poetry collection and a book about my journals from 2000-2012. I’m turning 40 this year, the way I journal has kind of changed lately and I want to capture what my journals meant to me and did for me during the years my children were babies, then wee ‘uns. My journals really helped me stay sane during my most intensive stay-at-home-mother years. (I always had paid work, but I did it from home when my kids were wee.)

Here’s some of the journal pages from this project – I’m also writing a long …essay? um, prose-something…to go alongside the original journal pages…

I veer wildly with this project between thinking it is banal and self-indulgent, to thinking that perhaps it  DOES have some merit and might be interesting to other people. This week, happily, has been the latter.