• Kathleen Cassen Mickelson

52 Ways to Shift Your Focus

Shift #18: Start a New Journal

Several years ago, I taught a journaling class to a grief support group for parents who had lost a child. The group was run through Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. We met in a room at a church in St. Paul. These parents were looking for tools to cope with the forever absence of their sons, their daughters. I remember telling them about the practice of having more than one journal for their journeys. One journal would be a cheap, spiral-bound notebook where they could pour out their anger over their child’s death, ranting and raving and swearing and bemoaning the horrible unfairness of their loss. That was the journal they could eventually burn as a release of that anger. It would make room for the other journal. The other journal would be the nicest one they could afford, a lush, lovely journal just for the memories they wanted to keep nearby. That journal was to be the one where they could pour love and joy, remember laughter, honor the beauty of their child, the promise of a young life. That journal would find a permanent place in their home.

Some of those parents were surprised at the multiple journal technique as a tool for grief. They simply hadn’t thought of journaling that way. They equated journals with diaries, with something to do every day as a record of life. But I knew how much a part of processing ideas journals can be. I hadn’t lost a child, but I had been through other life upheavals for which journaling was a helpful tool. And I new that journaling was an important tool in the creative process, something that allowed ideas and visions to become clearer.

I have a number of journals laying around that hold different things. I have one for scribbling notes and monthly line-ups for Every Day Poets. That one is a working journal for the business of publishing other people’s work; it’s a substantial spiral notebook that my husband picked up at one of his science conferences but didn’t want, so I recycled it. I have a handmade paper journal that holds my morning poems that was a gift from an old colleague. I have one that is all about personal things like what’s happening in my family, things I’m worried about, things I’m happy about, etc. That one has a magnetic cover flap, a leathery maroon cover and was a gift from one of my best friends. I have a stalled-out spiritual journal from a class I took once; that journal is a repurposed notebook from one of my son’s old girlfriends. I liked the cover and couldn’t stand to see him throw out a blank notebook. There are a number of old spiral-bound notebooks that I have used for other classes, for The Artist’s Way work, outlines, etc.

Which brings me to last week. For my birthday, my daughter Abby gave me a new journal. It’s just the kind I like: a leather cover with an embossed Celtic design, a nice heft to it, softly-lined off-white pages to hold my words. When I get a new journal that’s this nice, I’m always worried about what I’m going to put in it so that I don’t waste it. This journal honors what I do and I want to honor the gift with what I put in it.

Since I’ve been thinking about how to shift my focus through this blog series, I began thinking about this journal in terms of focus shifts. What do I need to focus on in my life in this next year? What has been on my mind that I could get clearer about if I processed it through a new journal? And, as often happens, that answer was right in front of me. I’ve been intensely focused on taking Abby to college campuses this summer. I’m in the process of letting her go. Both our lives are shifting and we will both be focused on ourselves a little more intently in about a year. What better use for my new journal than to give it over to moving through this phase of parenthood and seeing how it affects my ideas about writing and other creative work?

Yes. To go with the seismic shift of my younger child going away to college, I will do what writers who are parents have done forever: sift through the process with pen and paper. Honor it in a journal from that same child. Celebrate that I have raised a thoughtful daughter.

What would you honor with a new journal?

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