Monday, February 9, 2015

Journal writers recommend....

I think that to lead a fully creative life some sort of journal-keeping is necessary. We need to have some way we can record our feelings, impressions and inspirations. And have some way of going back to them later for ideas and reminders.

I have been a sporadic journal-keeper since my late teens. Some years I go really hard, and other years I will only journal occasionally. I have also used Julia Cameron's Morning Pages system and have done Progoff's Journal Workshop a number of times. Whenever I am consistently keeping a journal I always see the benefits in my life, and I only ever abandon it out of sheer laziness.

Naturally, when I am travelling I journal quite seriously, many pages a day and taking an hour or so at a time to record my ideas and impressions. These are then the basis for my books.

As part of my Year of Cheer project in 2015 I have made a commitment to journal daily. As part of that process, and to give me prompts and ideas to keep my journalling fresh, I have been reading and working with a really lovely and practical book called Keeping a Journal You Love by Sheila Bender. It has been a tremendous help, and a fascinating read, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

One of the things that has me captivated are the books that are referenced, both by Bender herself and by the various writers she uses as case studies. Book recommendations within books are always interesting, and I often make a note of them. I have discovered many fascinating books this way.

So I thought I would share with you some of the books that are being recommended and talked about on the pages of Keeping a Journal You Love and why. I think you will agree it makes for a most intriguing reading list:

1. In the excerpts from Denise Levertov's journal (one of my favourite parts of this book) she writes about enjoying reading Emma, which she says is better than Pride and Prejudice (an opinion, incidentally, shared by two Australian writers and Austen experts: Susannah Fullerton and Damon Young).

2. Levertov also writes about Voyage Round My Room by Xavier de Maistre. I must say that I have seen this book referred to before, but reading its description now makes it sound fascinating. I must read it.

3 Ditto for Raj by Gita Mehta, another of Levertov's readings. Gita Mehta is the author of Karma Cola, one of the most funny and insightful looks at the meeting between Western mind and Indian spirituality. I have read that book several times, so shall seek out Raj.

4. Levertov also talks about re-reading Okamura's Awakening to Prayer. I have never heard of this book before, but it has gone right to the top of my "Must Read" list.

5. Poet Maxine Kumin says that she is "keenly interested" in Sylvia Plath's journals.

6. David Mas Masumoto loves Joan Didion's very apropos essay "On Keeping a Notebook" contained in her legendary collection (much beloved of Brain Pickings) Slouching Towards Bethlehem.

7. Poet William Matthews talks about David Wagoner's edited edition of Pulitzer-prize winning poet Theodore Roethke's notebooks, Straw for Fire and how Roethke would go through his notebooks looking for inspiration for new material.

8. Fenton Johnson writes about how fragments of his letters written during his partner's death from AIDS later found their way into his novel Scissors, Paper, Rock.

9. Novelist Robert Hellenga writes about how he has been influenced by Dorothea Brande's classic book on Becoming a Writer. He is not alone there - it is still a book that inspires many. Brande was also a prominent New Thought teacher, though she is remembered now mostly for her seminal book on writing. She is utterly charming.

10.  Sheila Bender writes about how she is inspired by a passage from a book by Reginald Gibbons called Sweetbitter.

11. She says journal groups (what a lovely idea!) might benefit from working with Julia Cameron’s aforementioned The Artist's Way. I was part of an Artist's Way group this time last year, run by my friend, the talented travel writer Rosamund Burton. Doing it as a group is a great way to keep discipline and motivation up.

12. Some noteworthy book mentioned in the bibliography include: The Collected Prose of James Agee

13. The Journals of Andre Gide - these are fascinating and I still have my battered edition pulled from a junk heap on Victoria Rd in the mid 90s :-)

14. Tristine Rainer's The New Diary - a beautiful book I have also worked with in the past. Must pick it up again.

15. Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse - most people know I am NOT a Woolf fan. I have read this book several times (including studying it at university). Still none the wiser. 

Kathleen Alcala

16. And finally, one of the contributors is Kathleen Alcala who wrote an interesting collection of short fiction called Mrs. Vargas and the Dead Naturalists.