Friday, August 6, 2010

Writing is Knowing: Reflective Journals

Reflections. If I stand before a mirror or catch a glimpse of myself in a pool of water, I see me as others do. Often, a tuft of hair, standing straight up as if at attention, a cowlick that can never be forced into alignment with all the other locks, surprises me. When I look at my reflection through writing, I must admit that my character resembles that tuft of hair. I bristle when expected to fall in line, and I cannot comprehend why things must be done the way they have always been done.

Such insight has, however, taken a lifetime to acquire. I did not glance into a mirror and see the truth; I did not awaken one day with an epiphany. The truth peeked around corners, only to disappear again. It burrowed into anxious nights when sleep was little more than a rough-cut documentary of my day, but Truth grew more daring and more defined as the decades drifted along and I wrote about all sorts of people, places, things, and notions.

Indeed, the truth unfolded as I reflected, and that, blog friends, is the magic of journalling: writing is discovery and knowing. (Yes, I have said this before in many places since this blog began. As Tom Stoppard has written: If an idea’s worth having once, it’s worth having twice.)

So let your experience fold back upon itself. Consider the things for which you are grateful. Describe the places you go. Make the people in your life rounded and alive through words. Evaluate your actions as a parent, a worker, a citizen, and a human being. Then, when all else fails, accept the moment as inspiration enough, and write what you hear, see, smell, feel, and/or taste.

You should never lack for subject matter. The muse is everywhere although, I admit, sometimes writers long to publish the next great American novel and must settle for a memory from childhood. Persevere. Write about your past anyway. From it, you may draw insights that lead directly to that great American novel.

Obsevations. In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, a very funny and thoughtful play, Tom Stoppard commented upon the fleeting nature of human experience through Guildenstern who says: “We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered.” What an amazing bridge we could build for the next generations if we recorded our human experience for them; we could give them the gift of continuity.

Ask yourself if you know your parents as human beings, separate from the person you recognize as Mother or Dad. Can you imagine them as children? Teens? Young adults? Do you know if they made their dreams come true? Do you know what they think about December 7, 1941; November 22, 1963; April 4, 1968; or September 11, 2001? Does it matter to you?

You could ask all these questions and more. You can also create a record for your children. Through journals and scrapbooks, they will read about the people who shaped you and the events that shaped them.

Do this for your children. Write to bring the truth into the light.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics (GUM):

As I began the section above, labeled “Observations,” I used a quotation, but I also commented upon it; i. e., I interpreted it and allowed the reader to see my interpretation. Doing so is essential.

Avoid dropping in a quotation and assuming that your reader will recognize what it means in context. You must put your reasoning on display. You must suggest how the quotation relates or links to the discussion on the page.

Also, remember that quotations must meet all rules of standard English usage (GUM). Quotations must be complete sentences or linked logically to independent clauses. They must flow logically from the sentences before and after. Writers should not “drop in” a quotation like sprinkles on cupcakes. Quotations should be part of the batter, icing, or both—part of the entire creation.

Reading Challenge:

If you have not already read the following titles, listed for previous posts about journals, consider reading them now.

1. To Our Children’s Children: Preserving Family Histories for Generations to Come by Bob Greene and D. G. Fulford
2. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, a nonfiction account of Dillard’s life in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

Consider also:

1. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
2. Animal, Vegetable, Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver
3. Marley and Me by John Grogan
4. Dewey: The Snall-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron and Bret Witter
5. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, 1st ed. by Ishmael Beah

Writing Challenge:

Respond to one more quotation from Tom Stoppard:

“The truth is always a compound of two half- truths, and you never reach it, because there is always something more to say.”

What do his words suggest to you? What do they have to do with the subject of this post: reflective journals.

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach.