SSS: Writing as a Way of Healing

Writing as a Way of Healing by Louse  DeSalvo, was required reading in my bibliotherapy class, and it’s well worth the piddly amount I spent to buy it and the amount of time I spent reading. (Seriously the ‘Zon has it for a mere 70 cents right now.) It focuses on writing, and specifically the Pennebaker Paradigm* (PP.) The basic idea with the PP is that you write for a set period of time about something that bothers you. You do the same thing for a day or two, telling a story- with a beginning, middle, and end; and eventually you find some relief from your depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc…  There’s a been a great deal of research into the PP, and I won’t bore you with the details but the gist of it is that if you can tell a coherent story about the thing that bothers you (that beginning, middle and end are important) you start to feel better. The PP is used to back up a great deal of the support out there for journaling as a healing tool.writinghealing

The chapter I chose to look closely at for this SSS was Chapter 3, “Writing as a Therapeutic Process.” It’s a good one to look at because it delves quite deeply into the desire to write and how damaging it is to not write if you really feel the need to do so. This, also applies to making art. If someone really feels a great drive to make art but they leave behind “childish things” in favor of work and other adult pursuits, they are leaving their creative self unfulfilled. A journal maybe a tiny drop in the bucket of creativity, but it is a necessary outlet, no matter if it is written or art based. One of the most interesting bits in this chapter is the various accounts from writers who used writing as a way to heal themselves.

Sadly, this chapter also flogs the age old untruth that “creativity comes from pain.” Yes, many people who have experienced some sort of traumatic event or pain in their life are creative people but also there are many people who are creative who have not experienced trauma. It really does a disservice to the community of creatives to portray us all as “broken” people who create out of desperate need. Perhaps this is an unfair critique of a book where the entire premise is based on “writing as healing” but frankly, it’s tiring to read the lame trope that artists are damaged. Yes, pain can bring about wonderful creative works, but pain does not beget creativity. Rather, creativity is a salve for wounds. This, I think, is what DeSalvo is attempting to get at by writing about pain and creativity, but sadly misses the mark with the blanket statements about creativity and pain.

The rest of the book is well worth the effort to read and delve into, though it is about novel writing, much of it’s contents also relate to visual journaling. Telling a story is telling a story regardless of how the story is told- through images or words or some combination of the two.

Next week, I’m going to review an old favorite, How to Make a Journal of Your Life, by Dan Price.

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SSS: Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers

Wabi-sabi is a confusing concept, especially for us Americans who tend to strive for more and better and more. This isn’t to suggest that we shouldn’t strive for better or what we need, but part of the concept of wabi-sabi is acceptance for what we have. Further it is in part accepting that nothing is perfect, that life is impermanent, and that there is beauty in not only the cracks but the differences. This is where I think wabi-sabi deserves a place in every art journaler’s list of things to read.wabi Sabi

I’ve noticed an uptick in people posting really polished pages out of their art journal to AJNing, the original as well as other places on the internet. In fact I’d say YouTube is rife with beautiful polished pages. What I’ve always found interesting about art journaling, and journaling* in general, is that the journal is a tool, and the most interesting journals I’ve seen are those that involve the struggle and document the work. This struggle is where the concept of wabi-sabi overlaps with journaling and where I think many journalers need to consider accepting their pages and journals as they work on them.

Acceptance seems to be a large part of wabi-sabi, it’s also a key component of mindfulness. Wabi-Sabi takes that acceptance a step further and not only do you seek to accept things in their imperfection, but you strive to see the beauty inherent in their imperfection and unique individuality. This is the part of wabi-sabi that is most important to a journaling practice, being able to accept the imperfection that you have created on the page, and allowing yourself to see that this is a reflection of the self.

Anyway, I chose to look a little more closely at this book because like next week’s SSS, Writing as a Way of Healing, it deeply speaks to my journaling practice and has influenced my thinking of acceptance of both myself and my art.
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SSS: A Natural History of the Senses

I first read A Natural HIstory of the Senses (ANHotS) way back in 1992, only 2 short years after it’s release, and when I was the impressionable age of 16. It blew my fragile little mind. I’d never read anything quite like this book, and I’d certainly never read much about the human senses, particularly not in the way Ackerman writes about them. This is one of the few books that after reading a few passages I was moved to purchase my own copy. I read that copy repeatedly while I was still in high school and took it with me to college, where I would read and reread passages when I felt that they applied to my life. I shared it with friends over coffee, and discussed it at length. Not only did this book move me, it influenced my thinking over the years. After college I stopped referring to it as often as I once had and in the intervening years I’ve had the pleasure to explore many of her concepts. But after nearly 20 years of not looking at the book, I purchased a new copy (it’s wicked cheap on Amazon) and when I pulled the quote for my paper, the text fell flat to me. It simply didn’t resonate in the same way it once did. It came up during a recent discussion and I felt it was time to give it another once over, now that I’m outside of the rigors of academia I feel like I can give the text a slightly more fair reading. ANHotS

One of the frequent criticisms that I’ve read concerning Ackerman’s writing is that it’s very flowery. I think this is a very fair assessment, Ackerman is a poet, and her prose does lean toward the violet spectrum. That said, her style of writing, though flowery, is easy to read and flows in a beautiful manner. Part of the reason this book resonated so deeply with me is that a friend of mine and I read it aloud to one another. This book would likely be one that I could attend to on tape or via audible. Ackerman’s prose in inherently readable. 

Since publication in 1990, some of Ackerman’s thoughts and thinking have been disproven- through science and experience. In the section I was utilizing for my paper in school, one of the ideas had been disproven (don’t ask me to remember which/what it was, I’ve been wracking my brain, only to not remember.) I suspect this is why, when I was deep in the academic world, the book was disappointing and resonated with me less than it had in the past. Though some of what she surmised has been disproven much of what she guessed at or thought, has been proven. There is a great deal of truth in these pages. I think this is what caused me to enjoy the book less as I read it when in school.

Now that I’ve been out of school, and I’m not in the “peer reviewed only” article mode of thought, I’ve been able to delve deeper into the book and actually reread it from start to finish (As of this posting I’ve a little more than 75% through the book.) I find I’m rediscovering what it is I enjoyed about this book. It’s that nerdy in depth analysis of a topic of interest in a completely sincere manner. Ackerman delves deep into her topics, writes in violet prose, and yet the book is delightfully readable. One of the reasons I adored this book at 16 is that a friend of mine and I read passages of it aloud to one another. Ackerman’s writing begs to be read aloud. (Note to self: Check to see if the library has an audio copy of this book.) Yes the writing is flowery, and on occasion approaching too much, but at the same time, how deep on a topic can one go when really truly passionate about it?

Next week I’ll be looking at Wabi-Sabi, a slim little volume that is easily read in a few hours, but will leave you thinking for days, months, and perhaps years. I think the ideas in WAbi-Sabi particularly relate to the use of an art journal. But I’ll get into that next Sunday. Continue reading

SSS: Art Heals

Art Heals by Shaun McNiff was my “filler quote” book in graduate school. It is a collection of his writings on art therapy. If you are able to filter through the copious amounts of woo woo and heaps of frou frou* there is a great deal of good stuff within the covers. I chose chapter 7, Aesthetic Meditation for my focus this week. It hinges nicely with a new class I’m developing that uses what McNiff describes as “creating a dialog with the image.”** In the McNiff (and other expressive art therapists who use the studio art approach) approach one looks at their own art, and talks to it, creating a conversation with the image, and allowing themselves to create a story about around and from the image. art healsWhat is aesthetic mediation? In short it is a way of looking at art and more expansively at the world around you in a mindful meditative manner. When engaged in this sort of viewing you are engaging all of your senses and making yourself almost hyper aware of what you are looking at. In addition to really deeply looking you also make yourself aware of all of your senses and focus on what you notice. You are immersed in the object.

This is not an easy state to be in, McNiff likens it to sitting meditation, which is a practice one develops over time. One simply doesn’t sit down and begins meditation for an hour*** they work their way up to it.

Further what McNiff explains in this chapter is that we can use our finished images to contemplate and relax ourselves. How many of us have opened up the pages of our art journals, caressed the lumpy bumpy pages and remembered that sense of release as we created the page? I know I have, over and over and over again. Not only are my art journals a place to release pent up feelings but they are also a place to return and contemplate my day and relax myself.

While many of McNIff’s articles are written with the therapist in mind, many in this book are not. If you are an art therapy student this is a great book for filling out those papers where you need a few extra lines to get  you up to the page requirement. He’s got a quote or thought for every art therapy need.

Next week I’m going to reflect on the book “Wabi-Sabi” by Leonard Koren.

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SSS: Shut Your Monkey

This week’s SSS is the amazingly fun book “Shut Your Monkey” by the entertaining Danny Gregory. If you aren’t familiar with Danny Gregory, quickly run over here and check out his blog. He’s the guy behind the book Everyday Matters  and The Creative License, and Sketchbook Skool. This 160 page volume is designed in a wonderfully fun way. Much like Gregory’s other books it’s filled with art, but this includes images of crudely drawn monkeys and a great deal of Gregory’s lettering. In short it is a quick and fun read.SYM

Gregory breaks down the inner critic/monkey in a way which many therapists will recognize as the ubiquitous “negative self talk” he also explores some of the classic methods of combating negative self talk- but with a fresh perspective. His perspective is purely pointed at creatives. Rather than telling people “You are an artist, “or “I give you permission to create,“ He explores real and creative manners for the artist to scoot past their inner monkey/critic/demon and start making art. He avoids all that paternalistic bull shit so many in the art journaling community* perpetuate onto one another and gives real working tools for creativity and getting work done.
SYMI’ve long railed against the garbage spewed by so many in the AJ community that rather than empowering others to create, ties their fan base to them in a never ending cycle of enabling rather than empowering. I’ve struggled to put a name to this phenomenon for years- boiled down it is a mix of enmeshed enabling and a need for encouragement of the fans… I digress on that topic, I could rant forever and this is about Shut Your Monkey not my issues with art journaling teachers who perpetuate enmeshment rather than empowerment.

Next week I’ll rant and write about Shaun McNiff’s “Art Heals.”

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SSS: Rising Strong, Brene Brown

Brown is best known for her TED talk on vulnerability, which is very very good. I’ve now read all 3 of her books, and if I’m going to compare the 3, Rising Strong is my least favorite. That said, I picked it because it links in really well with what I’ve been working on with folks in therapy groups lately- that as people have begun to recover from their mental health problem- depression, substance abuse, anxiety or some other problem and the question of how to cope with the change between illness and wellness is occasionally overwhelming.BrownRS

What Brown does in RS is explore how as a culture we sanitize our stories of healing- “I fell down, but I got up again, and I’m okay.” When the real story is, “I fell down, skinned my knee, got bloody and bruised, rolled around in the mud for a bit crying, then got up, cleaned up the blood and mud, applied some ointment and band-aids, healed, and not I’m doing okay.” The former is easy to hear, but people get uncomfortable when friends and family talk about the blood, bruises, and ointments used in healing. We don’t tell the necessary stories because they hurt to tell, it’s easier to gloss over that info and move on with out lives. (This is where therapy comes into play, and hopefully if you need to talk about the blood and ointment of the healing process you have a therapist or group where you can share your stories. Of course, there is always your JOURNAL…)

Pages 5- 11 details Brown’s “rising strong” process. Much of this deals with how to heal, how to look at the process, the use of creativity, and honoring the struggle. Page 10 begins my struggle with this book. In her past books, I never notice a mention of any spiritual practice or religion anywhere, however on page 10 Brown states, “Rising strong is a spiritual practice.” In my mind, spiritual is a loaded term, one that implies religion or religiosity. As a therapist I have ethical qualms around bringing spirituality into practice, unless the client does so first. The topic is explored in a non denominational manner and more of a earthy crunchy hippie manner, which makes it much more tolerable. The aspect of spirituality runs through the book- as it is part of the 10 point process of rising strong this is to be expected. Religion is much more closely connected to the process later in the book, and I think detracts from the effectiveness as well as ability to generalize the book in it’s usefulness to more people.*

On page 19, Brown explores the amazingly useful phrase, “The story I’m making up….”  She does this with a personal anecdote, but the story perfectly explains how people miss connections with one another and make up stories in their head to explain the missed connection. This is, I think possibly the most important page in the whole book. It has vast possible uses with clients and in our own lives. If we stop to think to ourselves, “The story I’m making up is…” How would that change how we interact with people? I suspect it has vast consequences for relationships.

I highly recommend Brown’s first 2 books, this one is okay, but not my favorite. It’s worth a read and has many useful passages that can be used in therapy or for self care.

Next week I’ll comment on Danny Gregory’s “Shut Your Monkey.”

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SSS: What it Is, Lynda Barry

With school starting I decided to pick the Barry book “What it Is” as my Secular Sunday Study. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Lynda Barry, she’s an award winning cartoonist and a professor. I want to say “of art” but her class is soooo much more than just art. You can follow her class, and even participate by following her Tumblr or Twitter account. She utilizes social media in a very interesting way. Anyway, everyone should follow her tumblr and buy a BUNCH of her books.

This book in particular is a facsimile of pages of her journals and sketchbooks along with her writings on art, creativity, and the nature of images. The whole package is a delight in both images, Barry’s voice, as well as her writing. If you took this book and wrote and made art around the main topics or questions she’s posed for herself, you could spend years thinking about art and life. BarryPG38I chose to muse on pages 38 and 39. I’ve included a few image of these pages so you can think on them too. I think page 38’s quote, “But paper and ink have conjuring abilities of their own. Arrangements of lines and shapes, of letters and words on a series of pages make a world we can dwell and travel in.” Is there a better description for journaling ever written? As a child I drew and wrote in my journal as way to escape the boring reality of rural life, and liven up my mind with things I thought great. I wrote poetry (bad) and stories (better) and drew. I wrote letters to friends that I never sent and glued them into the pages of my journal. I lived in my journal but I also had impossible adventures. In a way, I continue these adventures to this day by adding more lines, shapes and words to the pages of my journal and envisioning new adventure.
barryPG39The quote I’ve included from page 39, which is too long for me to copy over, includes the phrase that comments on adults dealing with children who are sensitive, “ when these two come together you get a fairy tale, a kind of story with hopelessness in it.” This is just such a wonderful commentary on our (US centrism here) cultural obsession with making kids hard, less sensitive, and =able to deal with the realities of this world. Rather than teach kids that their sensitive emotions are useful, we smash it out of them, make ‘em tough enough, hard enough to make their way in the world. Not realizing that allowing a child/person to be sensitive to the world around them allows them to experience the world in a full and meaningful manner. No one needs to be hard to live, but in fact by learning to feel we can learn to live fully.

I had more musings but I’ll leave it be, ‘cause it’s up to you to read through this book (and you really must) and have your own musings. The final 72 pages are devised as a workbook that works quite nicely with Barry’s book Syllabus or it could be used on it’s own. Either way, it’s a good book. You should get it.

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Open Letter to the AJ Ning Community

Hi Everyone,

Change is inevitable but we are a fortunate group. Ning, the company we use to host Art Journaling has raised it’s prices but we are paid for the next year so we are good on Ning until June 2017.  another group I am a member of cannot afford the price hike and is shuttering at the end of October.

This is the second major price hike, where the group went from free to a reasonable price, to expensive (and why we run a yearly fundraiser) to now absolutely outrageous. The price went from $239/year to $588/year, more than doubling for next year. My frustration with this price hike has much to do with the fact that Ning has made little to no improvements in the years since the last price hike, so we are getting double the cost with zero improvements. Ning made plenty of promises after the last price hike, and lost many groups, particularly those like AJ Ning, but we persevered.
While we have a year to decide the fate of Art Journaling, right now I feel that the best choice is to move the site to a new host and using a new software. I’m leaning toward WordPress social media site but I’m open to other ideas, so long as it is less expensive than $588/year. I do not want to make a HUGE change like this without your input, as always because this is a community site, movement matters little if it is not done without YOUR thoughts, ideas, and feelings taken into account.

Please head to the site and join the group “Movement and Change” to discuss the option and feelings around this potential change.

I have a  little heart ache over the idea of moving from Ning, but I also feel like together we can make AJ Ning continue to be amazing and a resource for all the new and old art journalers alike. Again, even if you decide not to head over to AJ Ning (I really hope you do) I appreciate all the input, ideas, and art we’ve shared over the years. Please join in on the discussion and share your thoughts.


Leslie aka ComfortableShoes

SSS: Privilege, Power, and Difference

Last week we saw the brouhaha over the University of Chicago’s anti-trigger warning letter, the Tattooed Professor’s response, and generally a great deal of posting that miss the point about trigger warnings.

The big problem that I had with UC’s letter was that it was based on a fallacious understanding of what trigger warnings are, and follows that bad understanding to a rather silly conclusion that amounts to the dean stomping his big toddler foot and shouting, “We don’t support trigger warnings, you big babies!’

The Tattooed Professor explains what trigger warnings are in perhaps the most understandable analogy possible- they are the academic version of movie ratings. To which no one seems to argue anymore, though I must admit that I remember a time when ratings were argued against.

Here’s the thing, what is so wrong or even bad about putting content information into a syllabus? The professors should know the content of the readings (and other materials) they are assigning students to read, so adding a blurb at the start of the assignment for the day that states, “This reading contains the following: graphic descriptions of domestic violence/suicide/homicide/rape/assault/etc. PLease see the professor, privately, if this is a problem.” Or some such explanation. In some cases simply having the warning is enough for someone to prepare themselves to be reading about their particular trauma and be able to complete the assignment.

This links really well into the SSS reading I chose last week. Johnson writes specifically about dominant groups (in this case professors) being able to dictate what is considered normal in their sphere of influence and power (Ivory Tower BS/College Campus) and that when this power dynamic is shaken, the dominating group will fight back (UC Dean). Watching this play out on facebook has been interesting. I have friends who are professors and friends who could care less about college, and some of both groups have been calling the recent groups of college students “cry babies” and “wimps” due to the desire for trigger warnings and safe places.  Interestingly, most of those who respond in such a way seem to think that the desire for trigger warnings is a way for students to get out of work, but in the cases where I’ve seen trigger warnings offered there was always an alternative text or option for reading. Kids aren’t getting out of work by requesting trigger warnings, in some cases they are making more work for themselves. All that is beside the point. The point is that trigger warnings are a cultural shake up in an area that has seen a lot of destabilization in recent years (adjunct unionization, fewer faculty positions, and lower pay all around weeee) so those who are in power want to keep their precious power.

I see this as a good thing for students and universities. Anyone else miss the 90s, when politically correctness meant being kind to your fellow humans, and not the BS that has been assigned to it today?

Sunday Study

Many of the stationery groups I belong to end up with a great deal of religiously based Sunday Study posts. Most of the time these posts are less evangelising and more about the stationery used in the study. I realized that I’d spent the last 3 years of my life engaging in secular study every day of the week. Now that I’ve graduated I’m missing that aspect of school, I know that is a tad bit nerdy but, frankly I enjoy studying. I began to institute a Sunday Study of my own which I named “Secular Sunday Study.”(SSS)

Each week I pick a book off my shelf, one I’ve read before, and chose a passage to deeply read, chew on, and write about in my journal. I typically pick one paragraph or page to really wrap my mind around. If you think this resembles something out of the church, you’d be right. Many churches/pastors chose a section of the bible and a few passages of the week for the congregation to study. Often this forms the basis for the following week’s service. In my case, I’m using these passages to explore myself, without the direction of a minister or pastor.

Thus far I’ve engaged with the following texts: “Poetry is not a Luxury” Audre Lorde, “How to be an Explorer of the World,” Kerri Smith, and “The Portable Atheist,” Christopher HItchens, and “Everyday Matters” by Danny Gregory. This week I’m engaging in “Privilege, Power and Difference,” by Alan Johnson. I realized in each of these texts that I’m exploring the same overarching topic- a way of looking at the world that is slooowed way down. The Lorde, Smith, and Gregory texts are all about being creative even when the world doesn’t want you to be. They are all about looking at the world, slowly and creatively, and changing your perspective on life. The Lorde, Johnson, and Hitchens texts are academic while the Smith and Gregory books are in the realm of self help.

A little reading this afternoon while waiting for the promised thunder storms. #secularsundaystudy #sundaystudy

A photo posted by LC Harper (@originallcharper) on

Anyway, I hope to ease back into this blog thing with some monthly posts about SSS. Feel free to join in by posting a pic of a book you’ve enjoyed and are reviewing on a sunday with the hashtag #SecularSundayStudy or #sundayStudy. If you follow any of the linked pictures over to instagram you can follow the project there by following me. You will also get images about my garden, Pokemon Go, and stationery images.

All links in this are Amazon Affiliate links. I get a small amount of change if you purchase through the links and it doesn’t affect your price at all. If you don’t mind making the purchase via my links, I appreciate it very much and it helps to keep the site running.