J is for Journals
Journaling can release stress, reduce pain, and save lives. Sound like an exaggeration? Research on the topic suggests such a relationship, especially in those that share their writings. I intended exploring this topic for my dissertation. I’ve never been faithful to journaling, actually. However, writing…I often worked out my stresses and traumas, my complaints, and desires in stories. I still do on some levels. Back when I began writing stories, I explored the subject of my PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) through characters. I made them experience my trauma then helped write alternate endings, or helped by writing them getting past it. I can honestly tell you, if I hadn’t discovered writing then, I am unsure how I may have turned out, probably worse for it. After all, my particular trauma often results in suicidal tendencies, self-abuse, drug abuse, and more.
Research suggests emotional journaling on topic makes participants feel a bit worse during the study, but afterward they report far better health and make far fewer visits to health care professionals. One study even called in a doctor for physicals and found those who journaled about their trauma (especially if they shared) made significant improvement in health months after the study concluded. The non-writing control groups (some did nothing, others read, or wrote factual-based without emotion, such as lists) showed little, if any change. Studies found writing helps alleviate pain from arthritis as well, so long as it helps the patient explore and vent their frustrations. The only people not helped by emotional writing in a study were family caretakers of the elderly. They fared worse for it. Know helped them significantly? Writing time-management lists. Writing, again.
I firmly believe writing saved me. I discovered something new about writing. Every negative memory I share with you…I can let go. I think that might be the active explanation behind these studies. Our brains are active learning machines and really bad things need remembering (even if they don’t) to avoid them in the future. When we write them down…for me, it’s like storing the memory in a filing cabinet in the garage. It’s written somewhere and I no longer need to hold on, lest I forget. That piece of paper will always remember. Writing helps me let go…I only wish I could dump all my memories this way, but I don’t want to make readers too uncomfortable, nor do I want my blog flagged adult.
I’ve become far less sentimental in what I keep. I once considered movie tickets a keepsake. A lot of what I pack-ratted was ruined in damp basement storage before I moved. Once I learned how and accepted the loss, I felt free. I stopped keeping useless odds and ends. Movie tickets represent memories, fun times out with friends and family…they are such an unbelievably poor representation now. They’re flat pieces of paper with writing that eventually fades. They aren’t even interesting reads.
Sharing such memories in here, or in personal journals make better keepsakes. The memory comes alive. The tickets end up buried and ignored. I love keepsakes, but these days I’m far more selective about what makes something a keepsake, especially since my husband, much as I love him, still likes keeping those things I let go of. Clutter and stuff carries a visible weight, and since my husband maintains those attachments, I’ve learned to let go of things I never knew I could. For example, I recently donated over twenty books I kept for years and either never read, or likely will not read again. It felt awesome!
L is for Librarian
One of those negative memories I spoke of. When I lived in Danville, Illinois, I ended up making enemies with a librarian at the local library. How this happened, I will never know, I suspect. I think her name was Marge. Every time I encountered her, way before I ever opened my mouth, she wore the unhappiest of grimaces. I simply thought she was grouchy or maybe her life sucked that much. I never took it personally until I began noticing she smiled at other people. My sister confirmed it with surprise over my description. “Marge is always so nice to me!”
At this point, as a reader, I’d begin wondering what sort of manners the story-teller displays. Well…I almost always thank people for their help and mean it, even if I’m paying money for that help. I ask for things, rather than command them, and I nearly always attach a please. I’m tempted to claim I always say please and thank you, but that’s a lot of interactions, I may have dropped the ball a few times. I make no exceptions for people who look grumpy. I like cheering people up.
Back to Marge. I never found out what issue she took with me, but I ended up with a $20 charge on my card for a book I swore I returned months ago. I took the bill in and found Marge with her ever-present frown and short, tightly-curled grey hair. She refused to even listen to my questions or claims while I calmly asked if perhaps someone misplaced the book at the library or perhaps someone accidentally placed it on the wrong moving shelf in the back and it was then put away before being checked in. She argued with me and told me to just pay the fine, mistakes like that are impossible and I already owed and returned a few books late before (I suppose that’s what made her grumpy except my sister does the same thing and I was paying those fines off a handful of change at a time, slowly but surely).
I stopped being polite after she turned my polite inquiries into arguments. I looked her straight in the eyes and said, “Look. I KNOW I returned this book. Yes, I owed before, but that doesn’t make me a liar. That book is upstairs somewhere and I am going to find it. WHEN I find it, I’m going to bring it downstairs, you are going to check it in, and then you are going to take all these fees for it off my account.”
She stammered in turn, repeated it’s not up there and even so, once fees are added they can’t be removed.
“They can’t be removed? No, you will get whomever is in charge and explain to them what happened when I find that book. They can remove it and they will because this is not my fault.” Then I unslung my backpack and left it in front of her at the counter. “Here’s my bookbag so you can’t claim I slipped it upstairs when I come back down with it.” I then patted myself down and turned, showing no way a hardback book was on my person.
She called after me that I couldn’t leave my bags down there, but I ignored her. My jaw firmly set and clenched. In hindsight, I realize she was just frantic enough over all this that I wonder if she didn’t misfile the book on purpose because of her mysterious vendetta against me. I marched upstairs, looked at the large number of bookcases and nearly lost heart. What if they *really* misfiled it? What if someone else stole the book or they lent it out and the records were incomplete?
No. It’s up here. I politely made sure the librarian upstairs knew I was looking for a book I returned that was misfiled. I wanted more than Marge to know I came up empty-handed. I started with the shelving unit I found it in, not in its correct place, so I began at the top and read the spine of each book before, got to the beginning of the book’s correct row and…wow, that was easy. Ta-da! Here’s my book. Vindicated, I went to the upstairs desk and brought that librarian over (when she had a moment), to specifically show her the shelf and point out the misplaced book before I removed it.
I marched back downstairs and slammed the book down on the counter in front of Marge. “Here’s your book, misplaced at the beginning of its row. Now get rid of the fees for it.”
At that point a man in a business suit stood behind her and nodded. “We can’t separate the fees from what you owe, so we’re clearing all the fees. Sorry about the mistake.” He smiled while Marge kept her head ducked and checked it in.
I blushed and said “Thank you. Mistakes happen, sorry I slammed the book.”
And Muggles. While I love the Harry Potter series, I started out my love of fantasy (once I knew it was a genre of its own) learning a different word for our muggle world. Mundania. I read fantasy before and loved it, but our school library was so poorly organized (or devoid of fantasy) that I never realized such books had a dedicated section. However, in the sixth grade, my very own He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named did me the one and only favour I appreciate today. He introduced me to fantasy as a genre via Piers Anthony’s Xanth series in particular.
I kept reading the series far past its prime (for me anyway), wishing as much then that I was Xanthian rather than a Mundane, as I wish I wasn’t a muggle after Harry Potter. In Xanth, everyone has a magic talent, but only one, and no talent may ever be repeated. However, in line with that, Lucy’s talent creates pink polka-dots on a wall, Ruth’s creates black ones instead. Some are more useful, with the most useful talents separating magicians from those with less powerful talents (weather control, plant control/growth, shapeshifting, invulnerability…real super powers in comic-book terms).
PA often listened to every letter and pun suggestion fans wrote him. In earlier stories they blended seamlessly. In later stories, however, he accumulated so many puns that he created a world orbiting Princess Ida’s head purely for fan pun dumps. Each new novel characters dreaded, but nonetheless journeyed through this pun dump. I love that PA’s dedication to fans, enough to make sure he used every suggestion…but I hated those sections of the newer books. In fact, I never really liked any of the worlds and areas orbiting Princess Ida’s head, though the idea was nifty. The idea being that each of these worlds has a Princess Ida to infinity with a different planet orbiting her head.
Regardless, I still love these books and want to leave Mundania behind as much as Muggledom. If I had a Xanth talent…it’d probably be empathy…I can’t recall a Xanth character with that particular talent. I’d travel to the Good Magician’s castle (once a book journey for each main character) and ask how to control it; tired of my emotions hitching a ride on those around me. Sometimes its good for sharing a friend’s high, others it sucks, especially around depressed people you can’t help, especially if you end up depressed as well…I kinda have this ability already. Shields please!
He’d send me on this round-about journey where I discover, on my own, how to control it, but perhaps also, how to wield it. If I can share empathy one way, perhaps I can spread desired emotions to others. I suppose that sounds like emotional manipulation, but I wouldn’t use it that way. I’d use it in healing and soothing ways. Then, after finding out in the journey on my own, I’d end up owing the Good Magician a favour, later worked off by providing visitor resistance against all but the most determined of questers seeking the Magician of Information’s wisdom.
What do you think your Xanthian talent would be? Would it take you on a quest for control or understanding? How might you optimize it in ways not readily apparent? Leave Mundania with me awhile!