LifeJournal™ Newsletter – September 2003

LifeJournal: A Place Where You Can Hear Yourself Think
In our continuing efforts to bring you new perspectives in journal writing, this month’s newsletter includes an interview with Margie Davis, a teacher of personal essay writing. There is also an article with ideas about using LifeJournal for your everyday organization needs.

Sincerely,
Ruth Folit
Chronicles Software Company

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TABLE OF CONTENTS:
An E-Mail Interview with Margie Davis, Writing Teacher 
Using LifeJournal for Everyday Organization
Tip: How to Delete an Entry 
End Quotes 
How to Purchase LifeJournal 
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An E-Mail Interview with Margie Davis, Writing Teacher 

Q. Let’s start with a basic question: What is a personal essay?
A.
 A personal essay is a true story in which you disclose your thoughts and feelings about events in your life. The reader expects to learn about you, and may identify with something you say or a lesson you have learned. A well-written personal essay satisfies the author and entertains and informs the reader.

Q. How did you get started in personal essays?
A.
 I was lucky to have found a wonderful class at the Cambridge, MA, Center for Adult Education led by Mopsy Strange Kennedy. I enjoyed Mopsy’s course so much that I took it three times! From my first diary in elementary school, writing has always played an important role in my life. I have written instruction manuals, marketing materials, and novels, but no genre touched my spirit until I was inspired by the personal essay.

Q. Tell us about the kind of experiences people have had when they write personal essays.
A.
 At the first class I taught, I asked my five students in their 70s and 80s to write for 20 minutes about some benign topic involving their childhood years. I wanted to start them off with an easy, in-class assignment so they could quickly gain confidence in their writing ability.

The first student to read aloud was Mary, an 82-year-old woman. With a shaky voice, she read about her sister dying from a disease when Mary was five years old and the guilt that Mary had carried her entire life. For 77 years, Mary thought she was somehow to blame for her sister’s death because no one had ever talked to her about what happened. In those days, no one talked about death, least of all to children. At the end of her essay, she read that from putting her emotions into words for the first time in her life, she felt a lot better. There was not a dry eye in the room. The experience showed me how powerful personal essays can be; they offer a rich opportunity to examine and find meaning in life events.

Q. What courses are you offering this fall?
A. 
Four courses are available:

  • Writing Personal Essays
  • Writing Personal Essays – Advanced
  • Your Life in Essays
  • Revising Personal Essays

Please visit www.writingtoheal.com to find out more specific information.

Q. Who takes your courses and for what purposes?
A.
 A wide variety of people take my personal essay courses for different reasons:

  • To learn how to write personal essays
  • To become skilled at writing for publication
  • To heal from emotional events
  • To make sense of and find meaning in their lives
  • To uncover trends and patterns in their lives
  • To overcome emotional stumbling blocks
  • To explore what more they want in their lives
  • To pass on family history to children and grandchildren

Many of my students have gone on to publish essays in local, national, and online publications.

Q. How does journaling relate to writing personal essays?
A. 
People can find a wealth of raw material in their journals that they can turn into personal essays. Sometimes they might be struck by a single sentence from a journal entry, or they might find an entire essay in raw form, just waiting for revision. The prompting questions that LifeJournal offers can trigger great personal essays.

You may want to create a topic in the Topics List in LifeJournal called “essay idea” or “essay seed.” By bookmarking particular journal entries or highlighting passages with that topic, you’ll build a steady supply of writing material that you may work into full-fledged personal essays.

Q. Would you share some personal essay writing prompts from your courses?
A.
 Of course I’d be happy to share some prompts. You can find them available to easily import into your LifeJournal program at www.lifejournal.com/prompts.html.
1. Write about the first day of school. What were your feelings? How did you act? What happened? Whom did you meet? How do you feel now when you see children walking to school or riding on a school bus?

2. Write about a mentor or relative who had a great impact in your life. How did s/he affect you? Describe your relationship. Has your relationship with your mentor led you to mentor another person?

3. Write about family rituals. What special event do you do together? How did it start? What makes it special? Who is there? Who is not there? What are your private thoughts and feelings about it?

4. What expectations do you hold around the Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, or New Year holidays? Have you ever been disappointed or do the holidays always turn out the way you expect?

5. Write about the current weather and how it affects you. What does it remind you of? Show with examples. Write from your senses and emotions.

6. Write about your territory — your most intimate and telling space at home or elsewhere. What do you love/hate about it? How does it represent you? Describe it in physical and sensuous detail.

7. Write about a time when you were not in control of a situation. What were you feeling? What was happening around you? What was the outcome and how did you feel about it? What perspective do you now have of that time?

8. Write about silences you have known. Where were they? Who was there? Who was missing? What feelings do you associate with silence?

9. Write about bedtime. What was it like for you growing up? Who was around? What is it like now? What rituals do you go through? Do you think about them or just do them? Why?

10. Write about a lie you told and the repercussions that followed. What was the lie? To whom did you tell it? How did you feel telling it? What happened as a result of it?

Margie Davis leads personal essay writing courses at www.writingtoheal.com. Registration is currently open for her fall courses. You can reach her at margie@writingtoheal.com.

How to Use LifeJournal In Your Everyday Organization

LifeJournal encourages reflection, to go deeper into your inner world. However, there are many ways that LifeJournal can be used for the more mundane world of household chores and personal maintenance. Below are some ideas to use LifeJournal to make your everyday life run more smoothly.

  • Let’s say you have a monthly bill due on the 18th of every month–right in the middle of the month, when you may not be bill-paying mode. You can write a Letter to the Future to arrive on the 15th of the month, to remind you to pay that bill.
  • It’s easy to overlook some household chores, like checking your car’s tires, fertilizing plants, or cleaning out the roof gutters, all of which you should take care of periodically. To remind yourself, create a Letter to the Future right after you have done the chore. Date the letter to arrive when you want to take care of the chore again.Keep a record of the chores you have accomplished. You can create a journal entry called “Periodic Maintenance.” Alternatively, you can create a topic in the Topics List, perhaps in the Home folder, called “Maintenance.” Whenever you have taken care of a chore for reoccurring maintenance, write what you have done and select the text and assign the topic “Maintenance” to it. When you perform a search (by selecting the topic “Maintenance” and checking “Retrieve only Highlighted Passages”) a document will appear showing you when you had completed specific maintenance tasks.
  • Here’s a scenario: You have just come back from the dental hygienist who tells you that there are some pockets in your gums, and if you don’t floss regularly, you may have to have more extensive dental work. If you start to floss regularly now, this will likely solve the problem. You come home fired up to get into the routine of flossing as a regular practice, but know that that feeling may fade over time. How to keep the motivation alive? Sit down and write a quick dozen Letters to the Future that transmit the enthusiasm that you feel today. Set the dates of arrival for different days during the next month. When the month is up, if you need to, write another set of Letters to the Future to arrive as far into the future as you want.Of course, there are many variations on the scenario mentioned. You can use this same journaling procedure for any health issue to keep yourself fired up on any number of personal concerns, like reminding yourself to walk 30 minutes each day or to reduce your sugar intake. Use the Letter to the Future to keep your enthusiasm alive.

Tip: How to Delete an Entry 

From time to time you may want to delete an entry. It’s easy to do: right click on the journal entry in the List All Entries Grid or the Search Result Grid. The first item in the context sensitive menu is “Delete Entry.” To prevent your accidentally losing some of your journal data, the program will ask you if you are sure you want to delete an entry.

End Quotes:

The deeper benefit of keeping a journal is that it offers a way to be consistently aware or mindful.-
–Alexandra Johnson

A journal-keeper is really the natural historian of his own life.
–Verlyn Klinkenborg.

It’s very strange, but the mere act of writing anything is a help. It seems to speed one on one’s way.
—Katherine Mansfield

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