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writing monday: creating a personal zen space

how to journal

how to journal

Happy Monday People! I want to meet you here, at the beginning of your week, to offer journaling ideas and inspiration to lift your spirit. My hope is to inspire reflection, power, and soul in your work and life through the art of longhand writing. 


Sometimes I feel like I live in a pinball machine of incessant demands. I can barely finish a thought let alone listen to myself and my life. This is why I use a blank page and markers–it gives me space to harness my thoughts, ideas, and heart.  After I write, I can better see, think, and act powerfully in my life.

With a journal and markers, you can create a personal zen space, wherever you are.

We cannot stop or slow life.  There will not be a space in the future to catch our breath and finally reflect on things.  The time is now. We humans need a space, a bubble, a hole in the bottom of a huge tree to think about life as it moves through us.  A space to listen to the heart of matters.  To ourselves.

This week, I encourage you to spend ten minutes each day–whenever– phone out of site, with pen, markers, or pencil and journal.  Just you and the space.  Begin each entry with the date at the top of the page and the words, Right now…  At the end of the week, look back to see how life is flowing through you and you are flowing through life. You will be rewarded with self-insight.

Enjoy the art and soul of it!



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beginner’s mind

When I first came to writing in 1992, I was falling through the universe, trying to grab anything I could hold onto, flailing, failing, spinning.  I had left a chaotic home and came to chaos in my mind as an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted to make of this life.


my very first journal

One day–maybe in a coffee shop or browsing the bookstore–I found Natalie Goldberg’s seminal book, Writing Down the Bones, and it inspired me to buy my first official journal. Dressed tight in its hideous fabric, this journal was the first to introduce me to the power of reflection and intention.  It also taught me the immense power of my own words in lifting me out of my darkness.

Sometimes things and people come to us when we need a lifeline.  Ever since, writing has been mine.

first words

first words

Twenty-six years later, I am still writing.  I have a bookshelf crammed with journals housing a lifetime of big and small moments.  It has become a massive unedited memoir.  The thing is, I rarely reread what I have written.  It is the practice of writing–of pausing Time for a moment to take a good look at the life I am living and the person I want to be–that inspires me to write.

a creative life in writing

a creative life in writing

A common theme I hear from people who want to write is that they do not know how to begin.  There is so much they want to write about, so many thoughts and so much to say, they are overwhelmed by the gravity of placing those first words.

I think the most profound things are also the simplest.  And this belief has inspired these instructions for beginning:

1. Buy a journal you love. I like blank pages so I can be as free as possible as I create the page.  My daughter Lucy prefers lines.  Go with one that resonates with your soul.

2. Write the date and where you are at the beginning of every entry. 

3. Enter the page with the words, “Right now…” Begin with this moment, where you are now.  What is going on around you? What do you see/feel/hear? How old are you? What are you thinking/worrying/dreaming about? Begin with everything about your life right now–your age, your job, your relationships, your obligations and your frustrations–everything that is going on in your life and mind.

As you write, you will hit a vein, and you will find yourself writing about the things you need to write about.  Eventually, you will uncover the song beneath the words, the heart of your dilemmas and the spaces of your growth. Your attention to your present circumstances will empower you by giving you a solid ground on which to stand and look deeply at your life.

Life is an art.  Writing is the dance of mindful engagement.

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learning how to unicycle

learning how to unicycle


I signed my daughter Lucy up for a unicycle class on Thursdays through November.  When we got to the gym on the first day, I found out that the class was open to adults, so I joined.  I am so excited! This photo is from last night, our second class.  Lucy and I both started going short distances with no hands.  I cannot wait to go down our street, which just got newly blacktopped last summer, and roll around the neighborhood with Lucy on our unicycles.

I love learning new things, filling my creative well with little adventures along my way. It keeps my brain fresh, my body awake. Unicycling makes me sweat with the effort of moving my body a new way. I love it.

Life has taught me that I can’t dwell in a routine too long or I feel like I’m on a hamster wheel and I get depressed.  I guess this speaks to the dance of balance–knowing when the dance is stale and needs new breath.



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filling the creative well


A few days ago, I wrote myself a prescription for November.  I wrote it because I need some creative medicine.

For the past few months, I have been running along the edge of an empty tank. My time is spliced between too many things, things that feed my soul and enrich my life, but that require a lot of physical, mental, emotional, and social energy.  At the end of the day, I am left with little for myself.  My kids get the last fumes, and that’s a wrap.  Paul and I hang out, but since we are in the same boat, we are bogged down together.

By nature (and identity), I am a writer and a creator.  But life has been so immersive, I have not been able to try new things with my writing. The last extensive project I engaged in was a full revision of my second novel. I finished that project in May, and haven’t written a word of fiction or posted a blog since.

And in the meantime, I grew comfortable.  And fearful about sharing my writing.

I still write daily, filling blank pages with thoughts using thin-tipped markers.  But I haven’t written anything for anyone outside of myself to see. And the longer I’ve been away, the more apprehensive I feel.

What am I going to write about? I wonder in a low-level writer’s despair.  I have a million ideas, but when it comes right down to it, I don’t sit down and risk bringing them to light.

My creative energy is flat, and I’ve been banging my head, feeling a like a fraud teaching leadership when I’m out of balance in my own life.

A week or so ago, I figured it out: I’m hiding in my comfort zone, in the pages of my journal, where my thoughts are safe from judgement or scrutiny. But in the comfort zone, there is no risk, no growth, no innovation, and after a while, stagnation.

I’m a writer, after all.  And part of being a writer is letting people read what you write.

So I wrote myself a prescription to push me out of my comfort zone to practice what I preach in class–to bravely and creatively express what is within.


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being 45

being 45

Last week my physical therapist asked me how old I am. I told her I was turning 45 on Thursday and she responded, “Oh, I’m sorry.”

Her reaction stunned me. It shouldn’t have considering the general view of aging, especially for women, in this country. But it did. And I’ve thought about it since: What does it mean to be 45?

Into my 30’s, I subconsciously cast 45 off as old, when dreams have been long realized and everything from there was on a downslope. But as pages of the calendar seem to be flipping off in a windstorm of years, I’ve gained a new perspective.

Let’s not sugarcoat–aging sucks. I’ve never met anyone who wants wrinkles, aches, pains, inevitable loss, new knees, gray hair, or saggy skin. Not once. And yet, that’s where we are all headed. Until our spirits rise, we are destined to live inside an aging body.

But if we are willing to say yes to life, we must be willing to say yes to it all.  And when I step into the light of grace, of what it means to be given 45 years of life on Earth, I realize I have needed every one of those years to get to where I am now, and there is not one year I would give back.

Forty-five to me means going to college and discovering how humungous the world is, breaking rules, boarding airplanes to lands unknown, walking barefoot on beaches and riding bikes through cities, wildflower meadows, and over canyons. It means being in classrooms and lecture halls, both as student and teacher, always learning and discovering. It means taking my time and following my curiosities, and it means getting lost, wandering, and finding my way back. It means breaking my heart and falling in love and making mistakes and saying I’m sorry and practicing bravery and working really hard and being really grateful. It means marrying my best friend and realizing it was worth the wait. It means growing children in my belly and watching them become who they are, spirits and journeys all their own. It means being the “fortune teller” at the school carnival and reading The Giving Tree before bed. It means letting Lucy destroy the kitchen to make “slime,” and watching Oliver disappear down the sidewalk on his bike, praying he arrives at Spencer’s house safely.

It means all of the experiences I’ve had and all of the people who’ve crossed my path and taught me about love and life.

I am 45 and there is no apology necessary. Instead, I want to tilt my head back and sing to the sky, thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you, God, for all of it.

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writing and creativity


I have created a life out of Sharpie markers and blank pages. When I was in college and hanging on to my sanity and life, I wrote first as a mental health reprieve, and then as a visionary tool. I deconstructed the life I knew and constructed a life that resonated with my soul. Within thousands of pages over more than 20 years, I wrote my way to the career and life I am living now.

For my work, I create and teach writing curricula for many different purposes and populations. I teach writing for empowerment to single mothers experiencing homelessness, and I teach writing for personal leadership to undergraduates at the University of Minnesota. I teach fiction writing to youth and writing as a therapeutic modality to social workers and psychologists. Meanwhile, early in the mornings, I write young adult novels and essays.

Because of this work variance, I am in a constant mode of creation. In order to keep it fresh and inspiring, I must enter the flow of creativity with regularity—it is as vital to my work as breathing is to my body.

Creativity is where innovation is born. It is messy, non-linear, and inspired, coming from a place deeper than the intellect. It is the song of the child within and therefore needs wild and open spaces where it can play and discover. Creativity hates stress and time-constraints. It cannot be called on a whim and expected to show up to the party on demand.

Writing is a powerful tool of entry into this flow. It is physical, visual, and spiritual. It slows the brain and enables me to take a range of ideas, thoughts, and intuition and synthesize them into a clear and powerful vision.

For example, this past February I pitched an idea for a feature article to Mpls.St.Paul Magazine on bike dates. When I got the go-ahead to write the article, I had no idea how I would begin or how the article would unfold. So I began this creative process like I do every other—by clearing my desk of everything except blank paper, Sharpies, and a space of time.

creating a feature article

creating a feature article


The random and messy thoughts on those blank pages evolved to became a six-page feature article in this June’s magazine.


It’s a mysterious process, this thing called Creativity. Maybe because it is evidence of the Divine within that we all share. But we each must find a way to make space in our lives for its magic to occur, to lift our ideas and thoughts from the confines of our beings to become full-color reality in the world.


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