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  • Writer's pictureLiz Gardner

5 Things + 1

1. The Power of Notebooking My students and I have been notebooking every day. This is an essential tool for building self-awareness, for processing, making sense of things, exploring one’s inner world, capturing the small details of the day, and sharpening your ability to think like a camera, your capacity for noticing — for seeing, for knowing yourself. Why does it matter?

“Many of us have made our world so familiar that we do not see it recognize how you see things can bring you self-knowledge and enable you to glimpse the wonderful treasures your life secretly holds.” ~ John O’Donohue

2. Sharing Stories. My students are developing the first draft of their college essays and getting started on the Common App. I’ve been helping them unearth their stories and find themselves — and greater meaning — there for weeks now. Getting their story down as a first go takes some time—and trust. Trust in the process, trust in themselves. They have such brave hearts! Amidst all the ongoing change and uncertainty, they’ve established daily practices of solitude in the form of notebooking — a combination of free writing, mapping, and guided exercises to help them capture and celebrate their own small details, explore their stories, cultivate and practice their own unique, authentic voice — and stay grounded.

I remind them that their own memory is a unique source for their writing, and the foundation of what only they can write. A strong college essay should be in large part about their awareness of their own growth through their stories, told in their unique voice, and shown through small details that are truly their own and that convey how they see the world. Finding meaning — and themselves — in their stories, however, takes work, and my students have nobly taken on this work with grit and gumption.

We often do a spiral meditation exercise that I’ve adapted from cartoonist, writer, creative guru Lynda Barry. It works well to relax and focus students so they can better access the memories and images that relate to something that they’ve been thinking about, and then write up an opening scene as a start to deeper exploration towards finding meaning, or a “reason” for that memory.

The brilliant Lynda Barry writes,Your memory is not the truth of then; it’s the story--your b.s., your fiction, your drama--of who you are now. The writer’s confidence is this: My memory selects for a reason, and I write to discover, or b.s. my way toward that reason.”

It works so beautifully and brilliantly, so efficiently, that it has become one of the most powerful tools in the FlipSwitch toolbox. I'm working on creating audio and video companion materials to accompany the many FlipSwitch workbook exercises and am so excited to share those soon.

3. Just Write — by hand! The combination of mining memory and notebooking can be pretty powerful. Why handwrite? The benefits are huge. My students almost instantly notice the often unexpected magic that comes from writing things down by hand, enabling them to get to the deeper, meatier stuff — the just-right voice that sounds like them, the details that often elude the a keyboarding attempt, the way to insight and meaning — with greater ease. Many students worry that their first drafts aren’t up to par, too long, all over the map, or or simply not where they should be. But here’s the thing: Most first drafts are crappy. And they’re meant to be. That’s what editing and reworking are for. This is where trusting in the process comes into play. Here’s some more inspiration—Spike Lee’s handwritten first draft of Do the Right Thing.

When I write," Kurt Vonnegut said, "I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth." HA, love this.

4. Bliss Station Creating space and time for creative work and notebooking can make it sacred and transformative, enabling us to do the deeper work that we so often can’t access. Austin Kleon writes about creating a Joseph Campbell-inspired Bliss Station and inviting disconnection as a way to greater creativity. And — since we're all for the most part working and schooling from home these days, creating space for ourselves to take full flight has become so essential.

What have you created for yourself? What are the challenges? The joys?

5. Weekly Notebooking Prompt So much of who we are and how we think of ourselves is in large part shaped by our many identities and the tiny little boxes we try to fit in — often based on how others see us, rather than how we give ourselves the necessary space to be able to unfold into our essential, most authentic selves. Engaging in the art of becoming as a perpetual journey is a bold embrace.

Austin Kleon and Brain Pickings introduced me to this R. Buckminster Fuller quote about personal growth and transformation:

“I live on Earth at present, and I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing — a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process – an integral function of the universe.”

What nouns have you been tagged with in the past, and how do you think they’ve restricted you? How might you transmute them into verbs instead?

+1. Perpetual Dance Party Dancing to this playlist a lot recently. Michael Kiwanuka, the Black Pumas, Leon Bridges, Brittany Howard, Charles Bradley, Aretha, and a whole bunch more. 10 hours and 28 minutes of listening pleasure. My recommendation: dancing in the kitchen first thing in the morning to set your day off on the right foot, and help give yourself a bit of a break from the constant, chronic keyboarding and blue-lighting. Dancing, whether in the kitchen or on my deck or along the roadways when I'm walking (the cows love it), has become my carry-within-me go-to Bliss Station.

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