Journal Fever: Enough Already, or Go with the Flow?

January 3, 2011

This post discusses a bout of journal fever.

Above: Journals I kept during the last six weeks of 2010. (Back left Volume 0, back right Volume P; stack bottom to top Volumes Q, R, S.) Read below for comments. (All journals were handbound by me, various art papers for text pages. Sizes range from 8 x 10 inches (Volume P) to 5.75 x 7 inches (Volume S).

Note: while I am going to write about an experience of journal fever feel free to apply it to any creative activity you let overwhelm you.

Enough already, or go with the flow? It's an essential question we need to ask ourselves whenever we are involved in an activity we really love. That activity could be cooking, baking, sewing quilts or clothes, knitting, painting, weaving, biking, blogging, tweeting (I hope not)— you name it. Sometimes for me it's binding and I schedule my days to make scads of books. But always in my life there is journaling. Typically it takes place along with the many other activities of my days, but sometimes it bursts forth and seems to overshadow everything else.

When something like that happens, I think it is important to look at the activity and consider adjusting its time commitment. I'm bringing up an example in my own life so you can see my thinking around this, and understand why I don't always believe excess is, well excessive (at least not in the early stages).

The image above shows the journals I filled with sketches, plans, ideas, and notes, during the last six weeks of 2010. The two standing journals were actually kept concurrently—something I rarely do. This is sort of where the problem started (if you think of it as a problem). I was teaching a Journal Practice class and decided that before the mid-December session I really should do several examples in my class demo book, to show students how the flow in a current journal with odd pages sizes might look. Since the book was 8 x 10 inches and larger than I typically carry around during my day, I elected to continue in my 8 x 8 inch daily journal (Volume O in the image). Volume O went with me everywhere. Volume P became an in-studio journal in which I experimented with design and layout and materials.

It soon became evident to me that I was blowing through Volume P very quickly. It does contain some journaling about daily activities (most notably the encounter with an opposum), so the use of it meant that my "journal" would not be chronological—always a problem when you keep concurrent journals. I don't keep concurrent journals very often because I love chronolgical order. However, for me the best approach was to go with the flow on letting go of chronolgical order here. There was a positive aspect to be gained.

Believe me it's something I sat down and thought about though, and I've been at this a long time. I realized that it was important for me to keep going with both journals. Often when I teach a class that lasts over several months every day brings up an issue or idea I want to share with the students. Many of these are communicated through an email list, but many are better worked out in the journal and discussed at the next session. That's what happened with this journal. I wanted to show them different ways of using materials and in the process I got out of my own patterns of using my regular materials.

Those too are all good reasons for going with the flow.

But the process left me a little exhausted. When I finished the two journals around December 10, I thought that selecting a thinner journal with a smaller page size would be a good choice to round out the year. I chose Volume Q which is at the base of the stack. I thought that having a page spread a day for the rest of the month would be plenty. I worked on really filling the pages up with multiple sketches. But I missed the larger page size of Volume P and somehow filled Volume Q in five days.

This is another instance of go with the flow. I obviously wasn't happy in that journal (though it contains a paper I typically love to use, but I was working with a particular pen for a non-journal project and that pen didn't work well in the journal—I didn't like the constant change. (Sometimes I find that refreshing.) The fact that I got through this journal quickly is a good thing. Putting on the breaks and saying "enough already" would have left me hankering to journal, but unhappy about the book.

What happened next was a bit out of control and the level of enough already—it can only be called Journal Fever.

I selected Volume R thinking it would last me the rest of the month. You can see from its spine that it didn't. By this point I was on a tear to get various gifts ready for people, get a book designed and organized, finalize my volunteer commitments for 2011, and generally deal with being somewhat housebound for the rest of the year—I refuse to go into retail establishments during the end of year craziness. It makes for some productive, uninterrupted days at home, but it also means I have to preplan so that all the supplies and items I need are in my possession early enough—now you begin to understand why I use odd packing materials when wrapping things! See another odd wrapping here, some fun reuse of containers for wrapper here, and some really devious wrapping here.

As you can imagine staying home except for essentials means you have a lot of time to work, and then also a lot of time to, well work in your journal. And so it was that I sped through Volume R.

In hindsight I see now that I could have spent more time working on some paintings not in my journals. In fact that would have been the healthy thing to do. I can see that now that I'm out of the stream of things—and that's why I'm sharing this with you, to encourage to you look at how you're spending your time.

Once I got into Volume R there was also the thought of whether or not I would finish and need to start a new journal before the new year. While I like to start a new journal on January 1 each year I've never made this a requirement for myself. Or so I thought.

After recent events I'm thinking that my subconscious really was insisting on starting a new journal January one. I believe that if I had started a new journal on December 31 I would have made every effort to fill it up before midnight! That is definitely enough already territory. That's Journal Fever!

So how do I learn from this and reestablish some balance? First I look at my painting schedule and make sure that even in disruptive periods painting time is locked solid into the schedule. Next I look at my enthusiasm for teaching. Are multi-session classes that last over almost a year a good use of my creative time—if they focus me into one area of thought to the exclusion of others? The reality is, as people who know me know, I enjoy talking endlessly about journaling and all aspects of it. I need to make sure that I only schedule multi-session classes over months where such an expenditure of time can be managed with other activities. For instance I'm realizing that having this on-going class overlap with International Fake Journal Month was not a good idea at all, forget the end-of-year craziness, that was just the warm-up.

But it's OK because I've given myself a heads up about it. That's how we learn and grow.

It is also clear to me that keeping two journals concurrently is not a good idea for me. Instead of splitting my journaling output between the two journals I seem to double my journaling output. When I look at the pages produced during this period (272) I see that my usual page production of 3 pages a day more than doubled. (Keeping statistics can be a useful tool in helping you work out "norms" and reblance.)

So the point of all this is that I don't regret one page in those journals. I didn't blow off friends to isolate myself, I didn't shirk my work. But I also didn't pause for any breath. I also know, in part this particular bout of journal fever was brought on by my continuing push to recover from the conk on the head. You can put it down to decreased resistence if you want, but it was also inevitable that a person like me in a situation like this (end-of-year), with other prevailing factors (recovery from conk on the head), should fall into Journal Fever.

There's a big difference between enough already and going with the flow—and yet they overlap. We need to keep in mind what the difference is for us as individuals. (Journal Fever, or Quilting Fever, or Painting Fever, etc. all present with symptoms that are specific to each individual.) Once we clearly recognize the difference between the two modes of response we have another tool for working towards balance. We are also in a position to harness the enthusiasm we have for certain projects or activities and use that enthusiasm to fuel our energy for other aspects of our lives.

That's certainly when journaling works best.

I wish all of you a very balanced year! I'm working on my plan right now!

  1. Reply

    My goodness, Roz. Last year, I felt I was doing really good at filling a journal in 6 months. I know that artistically I cannot compare myself to any other person and I do see filling a book in 6 months as an accomplishment, but wowwie! You are workin’ it baby. Can we see a video telling?

    • Debbie L
    • January 3, 2011

    Roz, I am sooooo excited!! I have been wondering when you’ll be teaching an on-line class and I just saw that you are over at Strathmore!!! See you there. Happy New Year.

    Back to drawing my dog!

  2. Your discussion of running concurrent journals really created a vibration in me. When I take internet classes, I prefer to keep a separate journal for class work, so I can easily refer back to the lessons and what I learned. While I was still working, that meant my journal was totally neglected, and it also meant that I did not see much accumulated work. Discouraging. However, I recently retired, and I hope that will no longer be a problem….though I did find that I wasn’t journalling much when I took a drawing class. Yes, I know I should curb the desire to see an accumulation of work. But I’m only human! 🙂

  3. Reply

    jeanette I like your plan of keeping your class work journals separate—that creates a series of “workbooks” that will help you remember them over time. And it’s sort of like keeping a travel journal—you’re traveling through someone else’s artistic space with that person as a guide.

    But I rant on and on about production and it can be discouraging not to see accumulated work. Keep the workbook journals on the same shelf of table top so that you see them all the while and widen your view to include them all. That will be a good visual tonic to the disappointment of downturn in productivity! You are only human, we all are. So let’s stack the deck in a way that we can see a larger picture and still get the uplift!

  4. Reply

    Debbie, thanks. I hope you’ll enjoy the class. Now get back to drawing that dog again!!!! Have a great 2011.

  5. Great idea! In fact, I have put all my completed journals into a basket…I think they’re all coming out onto the shelves – stat!

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