An Interview with writer, teacher, and long time journal writer Ellen Moore, Ph.D.
LJ (LifeJournal): How long have you been journaling? What got you started on keeping a journal?
EM (Ellen Moore): The year was 1977, and I was a single mother teaching high-school British literature. I was always a voracious reader, and in addition to the standard repertoire of English and American authors I loved, I was just exploring world literature. I was really caught up in Hermann Hesse, both his novels and short stories, but especially because of the story of his difficult mid-life and serene old age.
I finally admitted to myself that one of the deepest desires of my heart was to be a writer. I confronted myself and said: “What do writers do?” They write. “How often do they write?” They write every day.
I had wanted to start a journal for many years, but “knew” I didn’t have enough self-discipline. Instead, I’d been writing on the backs of envelopes and on little slips of paper that seemed to scatter themselves everywhere.
So I took a deep breath and bought a notebook and began writing observations and descriptions and story pieces. It was fun, nice, OK. It felt good.
After a couple of weeks with the journal, I went into the hospital for a biopsy. The man I thought was my “significant other” simply disappeared from my life. No calls, no cards, and he didn’t return my phone calls. Turns out I was having a relationship with him, but he wasn’t having one with me. (He later told me he “didn’t like hospitals,” and “just couldn’t handle the situation.”)
The doctor gave me a “benign” report, but in the meantime I felt incredibly confused, hurt, and angry. I picked up the journal and wrote 15 pages (spewed might be a better description) without stopping. It was a whole different process and at a different level from what I’d been writing in the “literary” journal. After that cathartic writing session, it felt as if a door had opened. I was hooked.
After that, I no longer needed self-discipline. Writing called me and furnished its own motivation and energy.
LJ: What do you most enjoy about keeping a journal?
EM: Everything! Seriously, it’s been my most important method for coping, celebrating, and rewriting my life. It’s central to everything I am and do. In the last few years, journaling has emerged as one of my most important ways of dealing with chronic illnesses.
LJ: You seem to have strong focus on stories, in particular life stories. Can you give us some more information about this?
EM: I grew up in an extended family of readers and storytellers. They told stories from Greek mythology and the bible, recited hours of memorized poetry, and gathered and created the most amazing narratives of all kinds. The family history stories were particularly important, and I began to notice that some of the stories gave “underground permission” to be imperfect in the context of an otherwise prim and puritanical teaching.
When I went back to school to study psychology, I began to see how people really do use life stories to create themselves and make real the world they perceive. I find it fascinating to observe the process unroll itself over time in real life. One of my favorite classes to teach is adult development because it’s such a practical help to people in dealing with issues pertaining to life stages. Around my 50th birthday, I woke up with the phrases “rewriting your life” and “new life stories” on my lips. I really “got” that everything in my life so far was a rough draft and that it’s never too late to edit. Since that time, I’ve seen some unexpectedly wonderful changes in my life.
LJ: What general recommendations do you have regarding keeping a journal?
EM: The two questions I keep hearing over and over have to do with frequency of writing and those pesky inner critics that sabotage our writing life and tell us we’re no good.
I think we need to honor the silences in our lives and not force ourselves to write just because we think we “should.” There’s a rhythm to our lives, so it’s “live a little, write a little, live a little, write a little.” When it’s time, the journal will call us. In the meantime, maybe we need to get busy living in order to have something to write about. Who needs any more guilt?
Those inner critics can be a life-long issue, can’t they? The good news is that there are lots of concrete and effective ways of working with them. I’m of the philosophy that we need to befriend them and put them to work–but only after we’ve gotten our material onto the page.
LJ: Do you have any specific tips or techniques about ways that you have discovered enhance your journaling experience?
EM: I love going back and forth between paper journals and the computer. I have a suspicion that using both hands to write may engage both sides of the brain and promote connections between the two hemispheres.
I adore my paper journals, but do about 90% of my writing on computer. For one thing, searching for words and phrases is so much easier. And I’m just starting an autobiography and memoir project in LifeJournal. It’s so easy to “file” things in the Life History Timeline. I’m looking forward to having a “bird’s eye view” of my life that I’ve never had before. A life story really does look different when you can see it in perspective. Themes emerge and events and people often take on new meanings.
Letter to the Future is another great feature of LifeJournal! I’m working on a project right now that involves a re-visioning of my future, and that’s an exciting tool. I get a sense of present and future as more connected, and can see how the actions of today really do build the future.
About the author: Ellen Moore, Ph.D. writes and ponders the mysteries early in the morning and late at night. She has just retired from teaching life-span development at a small, northeastern college. Now she conducts New Life Stories classes and workshops. She also writes and publishes New Life Story Seeds, a juicy newsletter for people who write and think. http://www.newlifestories.com/.