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Scribing the Soul
November 2001

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Kathleen's Current Column

by Kathleen Adams, LPC, RPT
Director of The Center for Journal Therapy

In ancient times, scribes were devotees of the Word. They were the bridges between worlds, charged with the sacred task of painstakingly transcribing the Mysteries into a form that could be referenced by holy men and women. Many centuries later, our modern journals give us unlimited access to the Mysteries of our souls. Through this column, I hope to offer ways that we can approach our own lives with the love and devotion of the scribes of old.

Families Writing

November is a cozy month to start a family journal. Whether you write scrapbook-style, with each community member’s offerings gathered in a three-ring notebook, or in a special blank book, you’re creating precious family history. Here are eight ideas. The first two are adapted from Peter Stillman’s excellent book Families Writing.

Families Writing

  1. Start a family newsletter. An 8-year-old in Illinois began a hand-written newsletter, "The Family News," originally for distribution to her immediate family, but which quickly became renowned among extended family. Her mother reports that far-flung relatives and family friends communicate with this entrepreneurial journalist with considerably more frequency than anyone else in the family! Some typical entries from a June/July edition:
  2. Julie’s Graduation. Julie graduated on June 13 from North Central College. Her degree is in Speech Communications and Theatre. Almost the whole family went to see her. Everybody cheered! The next day, Julie had her party. The whole family came! A disc jockey came! It was great!!

    Matt News. Matthew has a new bed! He is out of the crib and in a twin bed that has a safty (sic) rail. When he gets up from his nap he goes over and knocks on the door and waits for Sue to come and get him! Matt grew 3 inches in 3 months! He loves riding in wagons!

  3. Gather up your stories. According to Stillman, "(Family writing) has obvious and inestimable value in strengthening essential bonds." Consider a home-published collection of Captured Moments, poetry, and stories about one particular family member. One such booklet, My Sister and I, was written by an Idaho schoolteacher who created it for her sibling’s 40th birthday. It contains moments and memories known only to the two of them – childhood adventures, pranks, secrets; sibling rivalries and jealousies; shared intimacies as adults. "Nothing extraordinary, heart-rending, grand," Stillman says. "Just the homely incidents of life, the unremarkable details, the commonplace. Which is the raw material of all good writing and which is also why anyone, no matter how apparently uneventful his or her life, can’t possibly ever run out of things to write about."

  4. Scribe your family legends. My younger sister has created an intricate mythology for her children about the Tooth Fairy. Each child has her or his own assigned Tooth Fairy, with individual personalities, communication styles, and distinctive handwriting. When I was a kid, my dad created an imaginary character, Yahootie, who always got blamed when one of us wouldn’t fess up: "So who ate the last of the ice cream? Yahootie?" Write stories about your family myths and legends – the ones you grew up with, the ones you create for your own children. Along the same line are stories about the most colorful characters in your family and their odd ways. My grandfather, an actual working cowboy in his youth, had a bawdy sense of humor and was legendary for his extensive collection of outhouse miniatures. When he died, we inventoried his entire stash before carting it off to Goodwill – a "list poem" that always bring down the house. This category of community writing would also include favorite holiday customs, traditions, stories and lore.

  5. Start a writing tradition. One year for Christmas, a broke grandson offered his grandma a weekly letter from college – and then followed through. Their correspondence, and intimacy, continues. Start a tradition of tucking silly notes in lunchpails, love notes in pockets, goodnight notes under pillows. When I find an inspirational quote or message, I write it down, date it, and slip it into whatever book I’m currently reading. My original thought was to startle myself at some future point, but since many of those books have now found themselves in my lending resource library, I’m constantly being told by students and clients how the quote or thought prompted them into a writing session.

  6. Create a travelogue. My friend Marta is the consummate travel postcard writer. They’re funny and informative, with interesting, well-chosen photos. My collection of "Marta" postcards is an illustrated history of a 30-year friendship. (My favorite came from her 1973 trip through the Southwest. Her postcard showed a certain small town’s Main Street, with this note: "Dear Kay, I’m standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona. I’m such a fine sight to see. There’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford, slowing down to take a look at me. Take it easy, Marta.") When you travel, even if it’s only for the weekend, send a postcard to someone in the family.

  7. Circle the distance. Far-flung families or communities can stay in touch with a circle journal or round-robin letter. Caveat: Put someone with strong organizational and follow-up skills in charge! During a women’s writing retreat last summer, Shari suggested we circulate a "circle journal" to keep the connection. She mapped out the pathway, figured that it could make two complete circuits from Connecticut to Hawaii in a year, if everyone kept it no longer than two weeks. We collectively created a collage for the journal cover during the last day of the retreat. Shari created easy-to-follow instructions, including the timeline and addresses, which she taped to the inside cover, and she made the first entry. Four months later, it has circled around to me, and I am delighting in both receiving and giving news.

  8. Storyboard your scrapbook. As you gather photos and memorabilia for your albums or scrapbooks, jot one- or two-sentence captions. Occasionally devote a scrapbook page to a longer story. The streamlined version: Pester each family member to jot notes on the backs of fresh photos.

  9. Just the "write" gift. Write a poem, a character sketch, a captured moment for a loved one. Typeset and illustrate it on the computer. Or write it out in your own hand on elegant or decorated paper. Frame it and give it as a gift.

© Kathleen Adams.  All Rights Reserved

Kathleen Adams LPC, RPT is a Registered Poetry/Journal Therapist and Director of The Center for Journal Therapy in Lakewood, Colorado. She is one of the leading voices on the power of writing to heal and is the author of four books, including Journal to the Self and The Write Way to Wellness. Her upcoming seminars include the annual 5-day women’s writing retreat in Colorado July 8-13, and a one-day Journal to the Self workshop in Denver in late July. She would love your feedback on this column; please e-mail kay@journaltherapy.com or stop by her website, www.journaltherapy.com.


Read Kathleen's Past "Scribing the Soul" Columns:

October 2001 "Coping Strategies for Times of Crisis"

September 2001 "Journal of a Synchronicity"

August 2001 "Rituals for Soulful Writing"

July 2001 "A Baker’s Dozen Ways to Journal Your Dreams"

April 2001 "Journals to Go"

March 2001 "Healing Words, Healing Touch: Jihan's Letters"

February 2001 "Love Letters"

January 2001 "Scribing the Authentic Self"

December 2000 "Riding the Inky Wave"

November 2000 "The Good News"

October 2000 "Soul Food: Exploring Affirmations in Writing"

September 2000 "Diary of a Headache"

August 2000 "Making Up the Truth"

July 2000 "Pockets of Joy"

June 2000 "Five Ways to Scribe Your Intuition"


Read Kathleen's Feature Article on Dream Journals:

Writing in the Dark: Cracking the Soul's Code Through Dream Journals



Visit Kathleen at her Website:



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