I grew up in north Louisiana, an area of Louisiana settled by Native Americans, African Americans, and Europeans, specifically English and Scottish. Many people are under the impression Louisiana is or was French speaking from its early days as a French colony to now. And those people would be wrong.
From almost midway in the state, approximately where Alexandria is located, the culture changed dramatically. To the north Louisiana was much like Mississippi, Texas, and other states below the Mason-Dixon Line. English speaking, Protestant, and a cuisine most Southerners would find familiar. Cornbread, grits, turnip greens cooked with pork chops, etc.
To the south of Alexandria, many cultures thrived, most famously the descendants of French speakers forced by Great Britain out of Canada, the Acadians, or “Cajuns”. The Cajuns, despite popular culture telling you otherwise, have not populated the entirety of southern Louisiana, including New Orleans. Au contraire. There were Native Americans, Creoles, French natives, Spanish natives, Italians, Germans, Sicilians, and more. Southern Louisiana, especially New Orleans, is more of a gumbo of cultures than just one.
One of the north Louisiana colloquial expressions I grew up with was “fish or cut bait.” There’s another one with the same meaning, but it’s rather disgusting, so I’ll not use it. My interpretation is to do or get out of the way. It might have a different meaning in other parts of the South, but that’s what it meant to me. Fish or cut bait was a pretty black and white way of saying get on with things. No more lollygagging or procrastination.
I’ve been doing a lot of lollygagging lately. Part of it’s related to a health issue I have that leaves me exhausted and uninspired 24/7. It’s a project and ambition killer for sure. And a memory killer, remembering anything from one moment to the next sometimes is a challenge.
And that’s where I am and have been, for a while. My projects have been left by the wayside while I catch up on lost sleep and get life in order. My biggest goal was to jump start my writing while my husband attended a weeklong music festival this month. Instead, I found myself exploring the culinary limits of food delivery in my area and binge-watching Outlander. I found wild success at both.
Another success was finding an app called Productive, which helps establish positive habits and routines. For those of you gifted with an organized brain, Productive may not offer you a whit of help, but people with memory issues can benefit greatly. For the first time my husband has left town on trips, my house didn’t become a scene from Hoarders, and I went to bed on time. Well, most of the time. When he returned home, the house was tidy, and I wasn’t a wild-haired semi-recluse.
I also spent that week on computer work, putting off writing, mostly because of the discouraged frame of mind I’ve been in. Chaos and disorder are not a writer’s friend, and I’d been mentally living in them for a long time. A book I happened upon also helped bring about good changes. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg, is a fascinating view into how we create a habit and how to change.
I highly recommend it to anyone. I bought it in audiobook and listen attentively while doing mundane tasks.
It’s sort of like the old joke about the patient complaining to her doctor about something hurting every time she did something. The doctor simply says “Stop doing it.” Easier said than done, right? But obsessively checking Social Media, Emails, binge-watching TV shows, ruthlessly comparing ourselves to others is not easily stopped. But we can.
I also disengaged myself from Facebook which opened up hour after hour of pleasure in other things. Before leaving it, I “unfollowed” people who “friended” with the sole intention of selling or publicizing, and left groups that ate time and emotion. It also helped with the relentless and destructive self-comparing. There’s nothing constructive about comparing yourself to a writer further along in their journey. We all get there by different routes, routines, and techniques.
Now I have to practice what I preach and use all this new-found time and energy creatively. If not writing, then something else that makes me happy.
I started journaling and diary keeping decades ago when I was a young girl.
It worked like a relief valve on a pressure cooker, but with one sad result. Family members read what I wrote and confronted me. People, if you have a loved one, please respect their privacy and don’t read what’s meant to be private. Yes, there are exceptions, such as suspecting a loved one is suicidal or self-harming, but that wasn’t my case.
I just wanted to release the sadness and frustrations of being a child of twice married, twice divorced parents in northern Louisiana in a time when divorce was considered socially unacceptable. It also helped with siblings who had no kind thoughts toward me. Or the devastation of being molested by someone who I should have been able to trust. What a powder keg. My journals and diaries were read and often destroyed, or I destroyed them after finding them read or locks picked.
In college and later I tried journaling again, but often it was more depressing to write what was on my mind than keep it in. And somehow those journals disappeared too when I stored them in college things.
A while back one of the writers’ organizations I belong to, Romance Writers of America, featured an article on journaling and writing fiction. The artist in me caught onto words like colored pencils, stickers, tape, and I was lured in. Crafts, office supplies, dollar stores, and other places offer a treasure trove of journaling and scrapbooking supplies. I already had some things like colored pens and markers for editing, and those were integrated. One can get lost in all the pretty-pretty, so it’s important to remember why I was trying this new thing:
One can get lost in all the pretty-pretty, so it’s important to remember why I was trying this new thing: show accomplishments, goals, appointments, deadlines, encourage myself. Now the cynic in me scoffs at productivity stickers, but the artist oohs and aahs over them. Sometimes I need a sticker to remind me that a down day isn’t a failure, but just part of the effort.
When I achieve a rare “Lowell” and get over 10,000 words in a miraculously accomplished day, I can give myself an attagirl and a sticker. It works better than announcing it to social media and have negative people burst my happy balloon. That’s the nice thing about journaling: you celebrate successes without needing others’ approval.
I can flip pages of my journal and see days or weeks when I accomplished nothing because of lack of accountability. Seeing those blank hours, knowing my writing and editing didn’t get done, is a reaffirmation of sorts. I’m the only person who can make myself sit at a desk and write. Setbacks are temporary if we keep them in perspective. They’re only an end when we can’t see the whole picture, and that’s where journaling really succeeds. To flip through older pages and see where I’ve succeeded helps immensely.
You don’t need a lot to start journaling. A book calendar from the dollar store, discarded child’s notebook, an old artist’s pad, anything with lines in it will do, or you can add lines yourself. No one needs pretty stickers or pens, just paper or even apps already on your computer or phone.
The art journal above is made up of an artist’s notebook from Michael’s, brochures and mail bits, and stickers from one of my favorite sources. This was fun and a way to think about things that make me happy. It feeds the artist in me and a place for all the scraps and memories of adventures. They’re messy, just like my life, but that’s just fine with me.
I live in a safe place now and don’t worry about these things disappearing or being confronted. My journaling isn’t about surviving, but being happy, having plans for the future, enjoying my little family and friends. If someone picks up my efforts now, they’re welcome to see the hopes and dreams written and stuck into my sticker adorned pages.
I wish you happy journaling and a life of goodness and safety, my friends.