Category Archives: Journaling

A Global Search for Stationery: Taiwan

This post and images was graciously created by the wonderful Tiffany Babb. She is a New York based poet, comic creator, and academic.  You can find more of her work at

Taipei is a stationery lover’s paradise. No matter where you are, you won’t have to go far to get some shopping done in the city. Even in the most residential areas, you’ll find yourself walking by some form of school supply shop or stepping into a convenience store with a decent assortment of mechanical pencils, erasers, rulers, and pencil pouches.

During my time in Taiwan, I was able to visit most of the stores recommended to me. My first stop was Kuangnan, a brightly lit two-floor store (the upper floor is where you can find stationery). The stationery section of the store focused on pens, notebooks, and binders, but I did find a pencil section which featured a selection of labelled and unlabeled dime pencils. I also grabbed a cool pencil pouch for about 3 US dollars.


The second store I visited was the large Eslite location near City Hall. Visiting Eslite was quite an experience. It felt like a glossy shopping mall with a strong literary bent. I found everything from a Powerpuff Girls café to an organic olive oil shop. In my mad rush to find some pencils, I first stumbled across the “Writing Center” (pictured below) which mostly carried fountain pens and fountain pen related ephemera. They had these gorgeous Caran D’ache pencils—a set of four for $30 USD, which I had to pass on, but a quick trip upstairs landed me with some well-priced single Caran D’ache pencils, a cool store brand notebook, and an Agatha Christie novel I hadn’t read yet.The store is a must for lovers of washi tape, as I felt like I couldn’t walk ten feet without bumping into another selection of (admittedly not cheap) beautifully designed tape. I also found this huge table of Rhodia products, half of which I hadn’t seen before. The store also carried Leuchturrm, Midori, and Moleskine products. The day I set out to hit the rest of my stops, it was pouring rain (yikes!) I’m pretty sure I ruined by shoes, but my love for stationery won out, and I found some real gems!


The Daiso I visited (in the Living Mall) carried Golden Swords, only the B cores, but they also carried a host of other Japanese pencils that I had never seen at Daiso before, including the Kitaboshi red/blue pencils, Kitaboshi HIT 4Bs and 6Bs, and even some pretty Mitsubishi pencils. They also had the newer triangular natural wood pencils. Apart from the much better pencil selection, I didn’t see much difference from the actual store in Taipei and those visited in Southern California.PINMO PURE

I only stopped by the Pinmo Pure store for a few minutes, but it was a really cool little DIY notebook place. If I had more time, I could imagine spending hours there picking through the various grades of paper, stamps, covers, and binding options before coming out of the store with an awesome personalized notebook. Like a lot of boutique stationery stores in Taipei, the store’s aesthetic very trendy and the employees seemed friendly.


When I first got to the Kinokuniya, I was a little disappointed. Don’t get me wrong—the store is big and beautiful and carried a bunch of amazing stationery options, but I just didn’t see much that was  different from what I could find in the branch in New York or LA—at  least not in the single pencil category. There were a few more more Japanese pencil options, but most were in box sets and a little pricey for me. I did note that they had a few really cool displays of both ballpoint and fountain pens, but due to my lack of knowledge about pens, I couldn’t tell how special or rare they were.I was about to leave when a jar of pencils caught my eye. In this magical jar I found some loose Palomino Blackwing 602s, a couple of Pearls, an older MMX with the gold stripe (which I snapped up), a vol. 1138 (!), and three vol. 24s (!!!) I rushed to pay for my purchase, constantly glancing around me making sure that no one was going to take my treasures away from me.TOOLS TO LIVE BY

Tools to Live By was the kind of stationery store you wish you had down the street from your apartment. It’s meticulously kept and curated and carries a strong assortment of pretty much anything you’d ever want. It was also the store I visited which carried the most American made pencils and notebooks. They also had a nice selection of fountain pens and ink.  They had a myriad of Japanese pencils as well as American pencils including loose Field Notes pencils (both the round ones and carpenter), Rhodia pencils, Palomino HBs, and a couple of loose Guy Clark editions too (which I happily picked up). They had some individually wrapped (!) Pitch Black Field Notes. They also had a really amazing selection of high quality (and priced) “Tools to Live By” branded items from delicate and surprisingly heavy scissors to beautifully thin metal rulers.CONCLUSIONS!

Taipei is a really great place to check out if you’re a fan of stationery. The city is wonderful (lots of tree covered mountains in the distance), with a very clean and easy to use subway system. High quality stationery including Faber Castell and Staedtler as well as (surprisingly) Wopex pencils can be found pretty much in any stationery store as well as Taiwanese brands like Liberty and Rabbit. If you’re not picky about brands, you’ll be able to find plenty of pencils and cute notebooks of varying size and quality for fifty cents to a couple of dollars.


The mountains here are a force of nature,

oceans of stone roiling beneath a vibrant forest

that shivers as warm winds pass through.

The boundaries between air and earth are indistinguishable

As the tallest peaks disappear into the sky

It seems as if they’ve been there forever

Waiting to split open the earth

And swallow the sky.


An Updated PigPog PDA

This post is written by Lenore, one third of the 3 woman team that makes up the awesome RSVP Stationery Podcast. You can listen to Lenore talk stationery to you over here. You could also enroll at the University where she teaches chemistry if you really want to know more about the elements that make up the world around us. You can hang out in the RSVP stationery podcast Facebook group and learn even more about stationery!

My history with to-do lists and pocket notebooks has been a messy one. Like most of us, I often have lots of little personal tasks that need doing, some on a timeline, some not, along with tasks for my work including big jobs, small jobs, and big jobs that are made up of lots of small jobs. I’ve dabbled with various organization and productivity systems in the past, but have usually fallen back on some combination of a desk pad, a stack of index cards, a pocket notebook, or random scraps of paper, none of them organized in any intentional way.

So when I read Less’s post last week about her planner setup, [ed note this is from 2006 and unearthed when we were talking about OLD school GTD methods on RSVP.} there were three main components of it that leapt out at me and made the difference:

(1)    The 4-page arrangement: two facing pages for lists, and the next two pages for random whatever. I needed this. One of my problems has always been the fact that there’s a combination of action items and random thoughts needing to be corralled, and like siblings in the back of a station wagon on a 13-hour road trip, these don’t play well together unless some thought is put into making space for them.

(2)    The concept of marking things off *or moving them forward.* I don’t know why this had never occurred to me before as a formal part of a system; it always felt like cheating to mark something off one list and move it to another, but of course, it’s brilliant, because it keeps everything where you only have to look at one display, rather than checking back.

(3)    Dropping in one vertical line for the margin, to check things off as they’re dealt with.

Of course, her setup, and the PigPog planner setup from which it’s adapted offer so much more than this. I was going to go the whole way, setting up my new notebook with sticky flags in the front, dedicated pages for various tasks, etc etc, but then it was four days after I had initially read her description and I still had no place to write down the first action item, which was, “Go back to Less’s blog post and set up planner.” So I realized that I needed to just take the very minimum components and get it going.

My setup is as basic as it gets: a dot grid No-Brand pocket notebook with a date in the front and my name and phone number in the back; 

the first set of facing pages marked with margins and separated into four to-do lists;

and the second set of facing pages marked as “idea pages”. 

Because of the weird way my first day went, the “idea pages” didn’t get any play, while the to-do list pages were nearly full. But that’s ok because I just leapfrogged over to the third set of pages for my next set of lists. It was fine.

Less’s setup has dates in the margins for when jobs need to be completed; I rarely need this feature, since I have a sense of the necessary timeline for most of my tasks, and can naturally prioritize them in an appropriate way when I have them all laid out in front of me. And since the number of tasks I’m recording is small enough for me to have an idea where most of them are in terms of progress, I don’t need the dot-slash-X-circle kinds of codes a lot of systems use. For me, a check mark indicating completion is usually plenty. Similarly, I don’t need color-coded inks (and indeed this would be an impediment to my using the system, since I don’t normally carry a variety of writing materials.) For me, it was really critical to give myself permission to write—and check off—with literally whatever is handy to write with.  (This is another point in favor of the pocket notebook, since I often feel pressure to match the ink and use good handwriting in a “nice” journal.) In my initial setup, I was thinking of three categories of jobs, but of course I didn’t allocate exactly the right amount of space for them so I ended up with some messiness when the longest list slopped into the next available space. Also, four lists is a more appropriate breakdown for me, if I’m going to use a single notebook for work and personal lists together. On my second set of to-do lists, I fixed that by starting two lists on the same page, one from the top line down, the other from the bottom line up. I left a space between them when they approached in the middle, and I still had to slop one list over to another area, but at least it was only one. Oh, and here’s one of my revlations: when the pages started filling up with jobs, and then the margins started filling up with check marks, and I found myself staring down the barrel of opening a new page of to-do lists…I was reluctant to copy some of those jobs over. They were such little things, it really seemed like I should just do them instead of carrying them to the next list. I should just…do them…oh. I should just do them. Oh, yeah. I don’t know why it took me that long to catch on, I mean the point of a to-do list is to remind me to do things, but before starting this system, I was perfectly happy to let those jobs just sort of languish on an old list. I mean, I knew I needed to do them sometime, but…well, they were on my list, weren’t they? But now I have to put up or shut up. The day this dawned on me, I completed several small tasks that would normally have just fallen off the end of the day, again and again.

I use a few other adaptations that I haven’t noticed in other places (apologies if I’ve appropriated ideas without credit):

  1. For tasks that include several small sub-tasks, I often combine them on a single line, with spaces for check marks after each sub-task. Then when the whole series is done I can mark it off in the margin. For example, for an exam that has to be scored, the line might have:

“E1: Score___ Total___  Alphabetize___ Scan____ Collate____ Record____.”

Then if I need to move part of this to a new list, it might become

“E1: Collate___ Record___”

or just “Record E1.” (b)  I do use the PigPog method of keeping a sticky flag on the first page that still has active jobs listed on it. However I also literally mark across a page with a slash mark when everything on that page has been completed or moved. It helps me get over the uneasy feeling that I might be missing something.

(c) For other needs that come up, I just start from the back of the book and use space as needed. Quotes, meeting notes, ink tests, drawings my daughter does when I’m trying to distract her at a restaurant, etc. Most of the things I might need to do in a pocket notebook are sporadic and unpredictable enough that I don’t need to invest mental capital in setting them up when I start a new book. The top consideration for me is low startup costs. The best planner is the one you’ll use, and my experience is that if I have to do a lot of organizational work before I can start my organizational work, I’ll close that loop by never doing any of it (and I’ll be back to a pile of index cards, a random scattering of pocket notebooks filling simultaneously, and a lot of dropped balls and missed deadlines.)  (d) When I have a task that really has to happen pretty quick, particularly if it’s a kind of task that is outside my normal workflow (I’m lookin’ at you, insurance open enrollment period), I put a circle in the margin (with or without a date) to draw my eye every time I open the book. [Pic 8]

So, the tl;dr: new notebook; margin lines slashed in on outside edges of first two pages and date at the top (total setup time <30 sec); four categories of tasks, one category at the top and one at the bottom of each page; markthrough of entry and check mark in margin on completion of a task. A set of dedicated pages immediately after list pages for whatever brain dump/ephemera/info that needs to be captured and transferred elsewhere. A plan to use pages starting from the back for anything I need to use them for. Permission to be messy.


Sunday Study: Writing Down the Bones

I’m not sure how Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones has escaped my attention. I was published back in 1986 and chapter 1 is a blueprint for every writing with a stationery affliction to delve deeper into that affliction.

For 32 years Goldberg has suggested to readers that they find a pen that lets them write fast on  cheap paper that they feel they can write garbage on. Interestingly, without ever reading this book this is advice I’ve given to journalers who have taken my classes- get journals that you will use- that you feel okay slopping paint into, spilling ink onto the pages, a journal where you won’t worry about making mistakes, one where you’ll feel okay simply turning the page. Goldberg adds a snippet at the end of chapter 1 about use of a voice recorder, something even more applicable today when most of us with smart (or even semi smart) phones carry in our pockets. The section about using a computer word processor is pretty cute in that it was written in ’86 when typewriters were the norm. I do wonder what she would say about talk-to-text? 

It’s interesting to think about the pens and pencils we like and why we like them. Goldberg mentions a pen being speedy and allowing her to record her thoughts quickly lest her mind out pace her hand. How many times have we had a thought about something we’d like to write or journal about only to forget it once we get pen to paper?

Goldberg encourages reader to really deeply think about which pen and paper combination allows them to write freely. I see this as a direct outcropping of her Zen meditation practice. For anyone who has practiced mindfulness writing can be a form, but also focusing on the feeling of pencil or pen on page can really bring about a sense of calm, and that can be channelled into the writing of the novel or into the journaling itself.

As a for instance. I’m a fan of rougher paper when writing with pencils. I love the feeling of pencil across the toothy page of a cheap composition notebook. In opposition, my friend Dee of The Weekly Pencil likes  smooth paper with her pencils, like Maruman. Alternatively, I like a smooth page for my fountain pens. I like the skating sensation of the nib across the page. Knowing these things about what we like can encourage us to delve deeper into our SABLE stash of materials and actually use them for their intended purpose- writing and arting.


Sunday Study: Journal Fodder Junkies Workshop

I’m going to start out by saying this is one of my favorite art journaling books. I enjoy the JFJ philosophy on visual journaling and their approach to art. I have a few criticisms of the book but we’ll save them for the end of the post.

For today’s study I’m looking in depth at Scott and Modler’s page on “Objectives.” It’s page 17 of the book and it details the JFJ philosophy of what a visual journal (VJ) is and can be. At it’s core the philosophy is that the VJ is an everything book. It transcends words and combines words and visual expression into one journal. It’s a place to reflect and explore emotions, ideas, and thoughts. It’s a record of everyday life as well as the inner life of the person who keeps it. It’s this everything goes philosophy that I so very much enjoy in this book about VJ.

As you get further into the book the everything goes attitude is reflected via their suggestions of simple materials that don’t cost a lot and the suggestion to use things you have rather than amassing a trove of fancy overpriced art supplies. They also don’t suggest that pages must be pretty or finished- rather the whole book suggests that the VJ is done “your way.” They encourage the reader to create their own methods and style rather than mimicking or copying theirs.

My issues with the book are minor. First is the use of the term “junkies,” language matters and using a term that is used as a general disparagement for people struggling with addiction is a little… off putting. Obviously, this is a minor objection as I still love the book and highly recommend it. The last objection is the references to weapons and ammunition. Again, minor, and these are occasional and though they make sense as they are used, I tend to like to have my art, stationery, and weaponry stuff kept separated.

Anyway, this book is a must have for anyone interested in art/visual journaling and developing their own style. Continue reading


No Secular Sunday Study this week. I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year so I’ll type up a few observations which will sadly NOT be included in my word count.

First, while Nano says it’s all about “writing a novel in a month,” it’s really about gaining confidence in your writing ability and committing to writing everyday. If you can gain confidence in writing and start to do it MOST everyday you really Can write a novel, maybe not in a month but certainly over the course of several months. Commitment is key.Casemates

Second, writing a novel at the pace of a minimum of 1667 words by hand a day is brutal, IF you also write that much or more at your DayJob. My DayJob has me filling out 10 plus pages in forms every day i’m there. I had to buy a wrist brace for the first time since I left my previous job. My wrist is killing me. Breaks are key to hand and wrist happiness. (As are pain relievers.)Casemates

Third, picking one pencil and sharpening up a bunch of them is helpful to combat that whole, “Which pencil or pen do I use?” problem. I started out with 13 Casemates cheapo multi colored pencils from Wallyworld. At 1 cent each I wasn’t worried about blowing the bank or having a  lot of them sharpened. I know I like them enough to use- I’ve destroyed 3 of them already in my quest for journal filling. So I know I can use them for long periods of time with happiness. That said, when I take my Nano on the road I use pens, I used a blue Bic Cristal Xtra BOLD for around 10 pages. I also figured this was a good way to test out some new pencils so I sharpened up a Baron Fig Archer and used that for another 10 pages, and then I had the stub of a BWV 24 that I decided to finish up.Casemates

Fourth, it is NOT easy to do Nano. If you are competing, give yourself a nice hot cup of whatever you drink and a pat on the back for however far you’ve gotten. It’s amazing to just sit down and write every day. It is even more so  important in this time in history that we write our stories, and maybe later share our stories.Casemates

Some observations on the pencils that I’ve used thus far. The Wallyworld Casemate’s that have the multicolor paint job and sell for about a dollar for a 20 pack regularly are great pencils. They are NOT the same as the regular yellow Wallyworld caremates that are in a 10-pack for 50 cents or the Casemate’s Premium sold in an 8-pack tube for a buck. Not the multi colors are more like the Neons. It is important to note  I’m writing about the Casemates that are made in INdia, the made in Mexico and other places Casemates are crap. I’m using a rough paper- Roaring Springs and Norcom composition notebooks. More observations on those later. The casemates keep performing well. There is an occasional broken lead as would be expected from department store pencils that have been tossed from case to shelf to clearance rack.. I’ve given them a pretty decent workout and find them quite enjoyable. CasematesI’ve also used the Baron Fig Archer, which I have written a few dozen pages at this point. Though the paper in both my Composition notebooks is rough, the Archer really grips the page. I’d call it almost gritty, but that’s not the right description. My favorite pencils glide, more like an ice skate than a skateboard. The Archer is more like a skateboard. It takes effort to use. Even the Casemate is smoother and more enjoyable to me.Casemates

I also use the Blackwing Volumes 24, a favorite of mine, but it hasn’t been a favorite on this paper but it has been nice.

The notebooks have been great. Thus far I’ve like the Roaring Springs the best, but the Norcom is much much better than I expected. The big downsides of the Norcom is that the lines are a super bright blue, which I’m finding I like more and  more. The other negative is that the covers of the Norcom are super floppy. The the point of being useless for writing in hand, quite the opposite of the Roaring Spring. Interestingly the Norcom paper is smoother than the Roaring Spring not a lot but enough that I’m noticing it with all the pencils I’m using. Another thing, the Norcom is not stiched as tightly as the Roaring Spring, not even close.

I’m about 23500 words (as of this writing) into my novel. I’ve written every day for 13 days. That;s an accomplishment even if I don’t finish 50,000 words.

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.

Continue reading

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: 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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