Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Appreciate the present and leap into the future by reflecting on the past

I was cleaning my bedroom Sunday afternoon and that included reorganizing my journals in their proper order. As is customary when I do this, I was compelled to open them to random pages and read some entries.

The first I came upon were two letters I’d written, separately, to my parents about a month before my move from Cincinnati to New Jersey to pursue an acting career in the New York City market. I knew they were concerned for my safety, especially since it had not yet been one year since the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. In those letters I reassured them that I would be fine, that I loved them, and how much I valued their guidance and love throughout the years. I made a note to myself to ask Mom if she still had those letters. (She does.) I had totally forgotten that I had written them. The content was unsurprising because I’ve always been quite sentimental and emotionally open with those closest to me.

The second entry I read was the first one in that journal, dated February 17, 2002. It was still about six months prior to my departure and in one paragraph I’d written about what I envisioned my life to look like in 2012. Well, it is 2015 and my life little resembles that which I had hoped for or envisioned at that time. This made me stop and ask myself some questions:

  1. Does this disappoint me? Am I a failure? 
  2. If not, why and what has replaced this vision?
  3. Where did my planned path go astray? What factors influenced the change in trajectory?
  4. What on that list did I accomplish?
  5. What not on my list has manifest in my life that is better, or merely different?
  6. In what ways am I happy or satisfied in my current situation? How am I not and what steps can I take to change any dissatisfaction?
This to me is the value of journal writing. Unexpectedly finding ideas from your younger self and discovering that you are wiser, or maybe not, and reflecting on where you are in your current life—how it works and where it needs improvement.

To answer the above questions, no, I do not feel like a failure. Does some of it disappoint me? Yes and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t, knowing the expectation, excitement, and hope behind those dreams and goals.

I always longed to be an actor and was for a while although never at the level I’d imagined. My acting and singing work was quite prolific during my Cincinnati years, and I loved it. It was when I moved to the Northeast and decided to try to make a living at it that much of the joy was lost in performing. The business aspect diminished my love for the craft. Being in my late thirties when I made the move, getting leukemia fourteen months later, and starting at it again in my early forties, without a manager or agent, was really tough. I know. Those are a lot of excuses but most are valid, and after cancer, my priorities changed.

Asking the above questions encouraged me to dig into the "whys" and "hows" of ending up where I am currently. Instead of feeling down about it, when reviewing what I have accomplished, the people who have shown up in my life, as well as the independence and financial well-being I now possess—which I sorely lacked thirteen years ago—reassures me that I am no failure.

I pursued acting for five years post-cancer, during which time I also wrote a book, began volunteering in the cancer community, speaking, started a journal writing workshop for cancer survivors, and became more politically active, especially blogging on politics. Current events, domestic and global, captured my attention much more so than events happening in the entertainment industry. My actor friends talked acting while I talked politics, which was a major clue as to how my goals and interests were evolving.

Paris, Notre Dame--2012

Annual trips abroad commenced in 2006. Those experiences have been transformative, especially my solo trips to Paris in 2012 and this past spring to Ireland, Scotland, and England. These adventures have increased my confidence and made me more independent. I possess a self-assurance of which that woman back in February 2002 could've only dreamed. 

Edinburgh - view of Old Town from New Town
May 3, 2015

I am single, never been married, nor do I have children. However, I do have kids in my life who are like my own, and they are precious to me. We have an excellent relationship. Adoption was always a possibility for me, even if I remained single, but as I’ve aged and have my nieces and nephews, the desire to adopt has disappeared. 

While my life may not be the grand vision of thirteen years ago, it is a wonderful one filled with much love. I have everything I need, I’m healthy, and more importantly, over a decade since my leukemia diagnosis, I’m still here. I commit to living each day to the fullest. Furthermore, by my definition, I am successful: I do what I want, when I want, and live life on my terms. It has definitely been an adventure. Still, there is much to accomplish because, well, that's who I am. 

One thing I have forgotten over the years is my mantra: "Leap, and the net will appear." Practicing that has worked for me many times. The goals I have now set—reset rather—for my future, start now with that first leap of faith, propelling me forward. It's time to leap.

The next time you read through your journals, take some time to reflect on where you've been, where you are now, and what twists and turns brought you to your current situation. It's worth exploring in order to keep moving forward, and on track; or if necessary, to change tracks. So dear reader, what are you leaping toward?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Why Journal? (Tip/Reason #10)

Tip #10 – Journal writing is a way to hone and practice your writing skills, expand your creativity, and play. 

Journal writing is a way to test out a short story, article, or poem you are trying to craft. It is a place to jot down ideas and play with phrasing. Don’t be afraid to strike out words and try others in their place. Make a mess of the page–out of the chaos you may produce some literary gems.

If you prefer a more visual medium, draw or paint in your journal. One of my workshop participants drew a gorgeous image using pens of vibrant shades of yellow, green, purple, red, pink, and blue to express a situation with which she’d been struggling. Painting, coloring, creating a collage or even scrapbooking are all forms of journaling to consider. Allow yourself the freedom to experiment with different colors, visual image techniques, and writing styles.  

When I was going through cancer, I was given several decks of inspiration cards and regularly wrote my interpretation of the sayings and why they resonated with me. I bought colored construction paper, made small rectangular cut-outs, and glued them into my journal to create pouches in which the cards were placed, and decorated the pouches with stickers. This was a way to add variety to my journal pages and make them aesthetically appealing. Furthermore, it was enjoyable.  

Journaling is not only about the written word. Have fun, express yourself, and be creative!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Is blogging journaling?

I came across an article a while back that asked readers if they thought blogging was akin to journaling? As someone who both journal writes and blogs, I say yes. Although my blog is public, it is still a journal. (Note: You can always choose to set your blog to “private” should sharing your ideas, thoughts, and content not be your intention.)

When I began blogging back in 2004, I was using it as a means to communicate with family and friends, keeping them abreast of my leukemia treatments and progress. I was writing my book, Rebirth, at the time and the blog was a place where I wrote two essays about “being enough” and “forgiveness,” both of which are included in my book. The blog was where I could practice my writing skills, share my thoughts, and receive feedback from family, friends, and even strangers.

The political writing I have done over the years is residing out in cyberspace for public consumption. Still, I consider it journaling too. When I review those posts, I am reminded of what topics were important to me at the time, how I supported my ideas, and reflect on whether my feelings have remained the same or changed over time, as I’ve received new information. The content is interesting (admittedly, maybe only to me) and revealing about who I was/am, where I fit into the world, how I view current events and those in charge who shape our society, for better or worse. 

(If interested in reading the above post, click here.)

Past posts have also been repurposed into new posts, taking old content and adding information relevant in today's world. I use this for blogging on my own or on other platforms or writing articles for publication. 

As open as I am sharing my thoughts, there are some moments or issues in my life that I prefer remain secret, even from those closest to me. That is the beauty of journal writing: it is a means to express your deepest feelings, transferring your emotions out onto the page or computer screen, depending on how you choose to journal. I admit to being a Luddite, as I prefer actual journaling books to online ones. If I type an entry, I format it to fit the page, print it, cut it, and tape or glue it into the book.

Regardless of how you choose to journal, be it on the page or on the screen, there are myriad ways to do it that fits your style and personality. Blog away if you prefer online tools. There are numerous blogging platforms out there, and remember, you are in charge of the privacy settings.

There are many online journals as well. A quick Google search for “online journals” will provide numerous options. One that has received excellent reviews is LifeJournal: “Since 1999 LifeJournal has been recognized by journal experts, professional writers and publishers, and individual journal writers as the leading journal application on the market today.”

Happy blogging, er, journaling!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Why Journal? (Tip/Reason #9)

Tip #9 - Journal writing is a way to better understand yourself. 

Self-exploration requires digging into past events, relationships, and emotions. When you go back and read your journals, you see patterns in your life—some beneficial and others detrimental. If you can recognize negative patterns, you are then able to make the required changes—that is if you are ready to do so. Self awareness can move you in a positive direction, making adjustments so that you avoid the same hurdles you've repeatedly jumped over in previous years. This provides an understanding of why you behave the way you do or why you keep using the same strategies and expecting different results. (Didn't someone say that is the definition of insanity?) 

Writing helps you process emotions and the why for making decisions. Understanding the why associated with your emotions and behaviors and recognizing patterns can potentially free you from insanity, so get sane! Search for the negative patterns that persist then resolve to make the needed correction(s). Write out a plan and follow it. Good luck.

Writing Exercise:

Think of one moment in your life or a person who may have been instrumental, purposely or not, in changing how you felt about yourself, the path you chose, or a decision you made. 
  1. What changed in how you felt about yourself and why?
  2. Why did you make the choice to go down that particular path? Were there other alternatives you had considered?
  3. Do you have any regrets? Why or why not?
  4. Can you imagine what your life may have been like if you had chose differently? Is that even a question worth considering?

Please email me at or leave a comment should you wish to share any of your writing with me. I may use it in a future post, with permission of course.  

Friday, September 11, 2015

Every 9/11 leads me back home to Tell City, Indiana

I was working in downtown Cincinnati at the Cigna offices on Seventh Street when my boss received a call from his dad in the New York office letting him know a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. He shared this information with us, and we all assumed it was a small plane and the pilot had somehow lost control.
It was a splendid September morning in Cincinnati, just like it was in New York City: warm, sunny, clear blue skies. The weather was perfect. Soon that blue NYC sky would turn to dark gray then black.
We gathered in the kitchenette where a TV had been turned on and were stunned by what we saw: a gaping hole in the North Tower with fire spewing out of it. I was horror struck, and even more so as we witnessed the second plane, United 175, crash into the South Tower. The shock of it was chilling. We remained glued to the television and when American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon, I lost it, crying and wondering, 'what city would be next?'
I made my way back to my desk and called my sister Karen, who I knew would be home. She was working on her dissertation. I told her to turn on the television. As we were talking, she gasped and said, “Oh, my God. One of the towers just fell.” Shortly afterwards, we were all sent home. Even away from the chaos and fear, we felt it and didn’t know if we too might be next on the target list. I made it home just before Tower One crumbled, a sheet of ash and smoke cascading to the street.
I spent the next few days glued to the television. Somehow I felt that if I paid attention, sat vigil with the emergency workers, medical personnel, the people searching for loved ones, and New Yorkers trying to cope with the devastation to their city, that somehow I was offering them support, love, and strength. My sister nagged me to turn off the TV because my nonstop mourning was becoming unhealthy.
I thought that with the number of people affected by this tragedy that most Americans probably would know someone who worked in the World Trade Center or knew someone who did. Well, it ended up that I did know someone. Two people, actually: one who got out, another who did not. Her name was Stacey Peak. She graduated high school a year ahead of me. She was 36.

Stacey was from my hometown in southern Indiana and had been living in New York City for about two years, working at Cantor Fitzgerald as a gas/power stock broker. I heard the news from my mother. She told me that Stacey’s mother had received a call from her that morning. She was on the 105th floor of the North Tower when she made the call. Newspaper reports later revealed that her mother said Stacey was hysterical when she called, telling her that she was trapped and didn’t know if she’d be able to get out. She told her mother she loved her and then had to hang up.
I am forever haunted by that detail, wondering what those last moments of her life must have been like, the horror of rising flames and intensifying heat, knowing you were about to die. I know that is morbid, but it’s what I can never stop thinking about when I see photos of her lovely face and hear stories from friends and family. I also think of the helplessness her mother must have felt, not being able to protect her, save her. The anguish must have been intolerable and suffocating, as she waited for news of her daughter, holding out hope that somehow she escaped the carnage.
I did not know Stacey except casually, but the hometown connection, and discovering that she was single, never married, living life on her terms, taking acting classes, all of it somehow connected me to her. Sadly, her remains were never found. There is a memorial to her erected in our hometown, Tell City, Indiana, in Sunset Park by the Ohio River. Every year on September 11, the Perry County News highlights a story about her and local news stations in Evansville remember people from the area who perished that day as well.
Healing definitely takes time and the scars from that fateful day remain, the images and stories etched in our collective memory—for those of us who lived through it anyway. So as I do every year on this date, I will take a moment to remember Stacey as well as the other victims and their families, send a smile and a blessing heavenwards, say a prayer for her family and friends, and recommit to doing my best to try to make this world a better, more peaceful place. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Why Journal? (Tip/Reason #8)

Tip #8 – Journal writing generates ideas for articles or stories.

I’ve found that rereading past journal entries sparks ideas for articles or books. Take some time to peruse your writing and see how you might be able produce an article or story that will entertain or benefit others in some way, as I did with my journal of 2004 when I was going through cancer treatments, which became my book, a memoir, Rebirth

Recently, I included a letter I wrote to the Police Commissioner of Covington, Kentucky, back in 1999 in a political piece on police abuse of power. I was able to reproduce it and insert it as a PDF in the post because I had formatted it to fit my 1999 journal, printed it off, and taped it onto the pages—saved for posterity and (unbeknownst to me at that time) my political blogging sixteen years later. 

Explore your journals. You may find some gems in those pages that will ignite your creativity and/or advocacy and activism.  

Monday, August 31, 2015

Thanks for the inspiration, Dr. Dyer

Being creative means trusting your own purpose and having an attitude of unbending intent in your daily thoughts and activities. Staying creative means giving form to your personal intentions. A way to start giving them form is to literally put them in writing.  ~ Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, The Power of Intention

Dr. Wayne W. Dyer passed away Saturday, August 29, at the age of 75. His book The Power of Intention has been one of a handful of inspirational books I reread every couple of years.

I purchased this book in 2004 when I was going through leukemia treatment. At that time, I was trying to figure out what I wanted my post-cancer life to look like. Utilizing some of the techniques he describes I returned to acting, working in commercials and a couple independent films, wrote Rebirth, and started a journal writing workshop for cancer survivors, all within a six-year period.

Over the past few years, I have been going through a transitional period, finding myself uninterested in the pursuits that used to occupy my daily thoughts and actions. I have been moving in new directions—a passion for politics and travel, to name a couple—yet still not quite ready to relinquish my past goals and dreams.

It is time to pull out The Power of Intention again and read it—even if only the highlighted sections. It's time to get clear about what I want, to decide down which road I am heading. As always, my journal is the place I will turn to write about and imagine that future. As I've done before, I will write it down and make it happen.

Thank you, Dr. Dyer, for giving me tools and strategies to co-create my life, and yes, for the inspiration!