Recently someone asked me, “why take a class in journaling?” Her thinking was: You just take pen in hand, or fingers to keyboard and type. Right? Well, sure, of course, that’s true. You might say the same thing about how to live properly: Breathe, eat, expel wastes, and sleep. But we all know there’s more to living a good life than that! There’s a lot you can learn in a journaling class that helps you expand, deepen, and make your journal writing more effective.
I am in the midst of teaching a five session class on journaling–three sessions presented, and two more coming up. You can still sign up for the class, The Write Life: Journal to an Optimal Life
, and when you do you can listen to the recordings of the first sessions and then you’ll be able to join the last two sessions live, or also listen to them all as recordings. Click here to learn more.
If you are interested in improving your writing, sign up for either or both of these two excellent courses:
- Author, poet, and writing coach Sheila Bender will be teaching a class, Take the First Step in Writing Your Memoir: Personal Essays, the Short Memoir Form, beginning Tuesday, April 3. This five week class is the perfect way to get started, to dip your toe in the water of writing for an audience larger than yourself. Click here now to learn more. (Open to both IAJW members and non-members.)
- Judy Reeves, author of A Writers’ Book of Days and writing provocateur, runs a monthly Online Writing Practice. The next one is Wednesday, April 11. These hour-long writing sessions create the occasion and support to write. (Open to both IAJW members and non-members.)
The first article of this newsletter is a review of Eric Maisel’s book, Rethinking Depression: How to Shed Mental Health Labels and Create Personal Meaning. If you are puzzled why this book is included in a newsletter on journal writing, that question is addressed in the article. And the second article offers information about the online Journal/Diary exhibit online at the Morgan Library in New York City. Don’t miss this!
Review of Eric Maisel’s book: Rethinking Depression: How to Shed Mental Health Labels and Create Personal Meaning
By Ruth Folit
Eric Maisel takes real life and everyday yet weighty human problems and examines them and develops solutions that are simple, straightforward and practical. And that work.
His most recent book is Rethinking Depression: How to Shed Mental Health Labels and Create Personal Meaning. Perhaps you are thinking: What’s that got to do with journaling? First, some people who keep journals consider themselves and have been diagnosed with the mental disorder of depression. This book will be incredibly helpful for them.
Secondly, Maisel argues that “depression” is not a mental disorder, but rather a human condition that has been distorted and manipulated to become a medical diagnosis by big pharmaceutical companies and the medical/psychological profession for financial gain. He asserts that what the mental health world calls depression is really a very challenging and difficult circumstance of profound sadness, not a mental disorder. What difference does it make how we label this condition? Once you are labeled with a medical condition, you feel stuck and disempowered to do much about it, other than to take prescribed drugs. When you shift perspective to see your situation as a part of the human condition, then you learn and feel empowered to make changes in your life to move from profound unhappiness to a life in which you can begin to create happiness.
Maisel isn’t alone in this stance about the medicalization of depression. Other books and articles have been written in recent years on the subject. However, where I believe Maisel is singular is that he offers people a detailed description of how to find a way out. Maisel claims that creating personal meaning is the doorway out of this profound sense of discontent.
How do you make–and continue to make– personal meaning in your life? (Ahhhh… now this is sounding like a topic which has great interest for many journal writers.)
Making meaning is different than finding meaning. It’s not as if meaning is something to be found, like it has slipped out of the back of a drawer in the file cabinet and is preventing the bottom drawer to close smoothly, and you suddenly find it when you are totally exasperated and investigating why that drawer won’t close fully. No. It’s a very different and intentional process. It’s about deliberately making meaning in your life—so that you aren’t constantly sad, angry, depressed and in pain.
How do you create your own personal meaning? Meaning, explains Maisel, is a subjective experience, different for each of us, based upon what we value and what our experiences are. Meaning is based upon the premise that each of our lives matter and that we have to take action to create an authentic, satisfying life. He describes a series of steps which include things like “looking life in the eye,” “investigating meaning,” “deciding to matter,” “negotiating each day,” “seizing meaning opportunities,” “engaging in cognitive and behavioral self-care,” and “investing in meaning.”
These phrases are new and require further discussion and thought. Rethinking Depression provides those explanations, chapter by readable chapter. Maisel makes a compelling case about how to go about creating more meaning in your life—whether or not you are diagnosed with depression, or if you are simply looking for ideas about how to get on a clear path to move toward a meaningful, self-directed life. Although Maisel doesn’t include this directly in his book, the concepts he presents lend themselves easily to journal writing.
The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives
An Exhibit at the Morgan Library and Museum
If you have any curiosity about others’ journals, then you’ll find this online exhibit fascinating. As described on its website, the Morgan Library in New York City, “began as the private library of financier Pierpont Morgan (1837–1913), one of the preeminent collectors and cultural benefactors in the United States. As early as 1890 Morgan had begun to assemble a collection of illuminated, literary, and historical manuscripts, early printed books, and old master drawings and prints.”
The exhibition, The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives, was on view at the library from January 21- May 22, 2011. Online you’ll find it at www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/online/TheDiary/default.asp
. The Morgan has done a superb job of capturing the diary in various media: There are images of pages of original diaries allowing you to enlarge and read them. There are recording of journal entries read by actors and actresses which bring the entries alive. You’ll find audio guides, podcasts and additional commentary about individual diaries.
It’s definitely worth your time to browse through the myriad pages of material—from John Steinbeck’s diary which he penned while writing The Grapes of Wrath, to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s describing his dinner with Henry David Thoreau, to Tennessee Williams’ diary describing his feelings about his plays on Broadway, to Charlotte Bronte’s which she wrote early in her teaching career.
Set aside some time to wander through this wondrous collection of diaries from many different eras.
All from the online Morgan Library and Museum exhibit:
“I think the act of writing cleanses me of the day’s stresses; a problem always seems smaller once it’s written down.”
”The empty page in the diary is equivalent to the moment of silence, which can sometimes resonate just as loudly as the best-chosen words.”
“What is a diary?…Perhaps it comes down to just two points: the subject of a diary is oneself, and the structure of a diary is incremental, building over time.”