Lately I’ve been reading Samuel Pepys’s diary. He was an interesting, learned, curious, and often naughty fellow (by our standards, not by the standards of his day) who lived from 1633 to 1703. His diary provides one of the most important records of London life in the 1660s. Lest you think this was a dull time, Charles II had just been recalled from exile to re-establish the English monarchy after Cromwell’s “Protectorate” decade. Theaters for the first time had women playing female parts, literature and music flowered, and fun was back in fashion.
Though all was not frivolity. London was visited by a plague epidemic in 1665 (the last major one before the rats became immune to the disease), and endured the Great London Fire of 1666. Then there was the Second Anglo-Dutch War, which Pepys, as an administrator of the Royal Navy, watched with keen interest.
What strikes me about this guy’s life is his great energy and enthusiasm for everything around him. Pretty women, good food, interesting politics, companions boring and delightful, pleasant gardens… he writes about it all honestly and energetically. He was not a well man, being plagued with painful kidney stones throughout his life, and losing significant eyesight before age forty. And yet, his diary is full of energy and optimism.
Turns out old Mr. Pepys might have been onto something profound. Expressing ourselves through writing is powerfully good for us. Regular self-expressive writing, even in small doses, can reduce stress, reduce symptoms of depression, improve our immune functioning, and–this really got my attention–help us heal wounds more quickly.
To quote the article linked above: “People with asthma who write have fewer attacks than people who don’t; AIDS patients who write have higher T-cell counts. Cancer patients who write have more optimistic perspectives and improved quality of life.”
You might think, “But I’m not much of a writer, words aren’t my thing.” Doesn’t matter. What matters is getting down on paper (or screen) what’s going on with you, especially the tough stuff. When we write about it, we take a minute to see the picture instead of feeling trapped inside of it. A few moments of scribbling about our perspective, and we’re reaping big benefits.
So as we come up to the winter holidays, with the New Year right behind them, would you consider getting yourself a journal, or creating a journal document on your computer? Your life is interesting, and worth ruminating on. You will enjoy reading those reflections in years to come (well, mostly), and you’ll be healthier and happier for your jottings.
This will be my last blog post for the year, and I’ll resume posting on January 4. With that in mind, the give away will be a $100 Amex gift card. The question is… if you had to write about one incident from your life for people to read about 350 years from now, what would it be and why?
I would write about when I had a serious injury and had to learn to walk again. I would share that because it shows me in the light I would like to be remembered – tenacious and striving to be better.
I posted my comment before reading yours! It’s amazing how life changing recovery from serious illness or injury is. I’m so happy for you that you succeeded. 🙂
I came across some statistics on depression, which is increasingly serious among the elderly. One group who does NOT suffer from depression are cancer survivors. You get knocked down that hard, you let go of a lot of a baloney. I imagine the same is true with a serious injury.
Good on you, Make Kay!
I used to keep a blog, but when I got really sick and couldn’t work any more, I didn’t have access to a computer and it stopped. I’ve been thinking for about five weeks that I need to start again. Hopefully your challenge will be a strong push in that direction!
I have so many things I’d want to write for posterity’s sake… My journey as a child of divorce, my challenges and triumphs with depression, and my love of theatre to name a few.
But if I had to choose one, it would be the story of how I broke my right ankle two days before my 26th birthday – then broke the left exactly ten years later to the day. The story would be about how different each experience was, and yet how similar. Both required surgery and long convalescence and were physically brutal to go through. But the maturity and perspective I gained in the intervening ten years just by living my life, made the second one so much more bearable (for me and those around me!) – despite the fact that the second one required two surgeries and twice the recovery time!
Grace, thank you for an amazing year of reading your witty and wonderful words. I read The Heir one year ago this Wednesday and it has been a privilege and a joy to devour all your humor, wisdom and kindness in the guise of many novels. May your holiday season be as blessed as you have made my year of reading.
Thanks, Catherine. I’m a very lucky person. The books you enjoy reading, I love to write. Then I get paid for it.
You always ask such thought provoking questions Grace. I guess I would write about what life was like as a poor child in the 1950s. It shaped my life in many ways. No food stamps back then folks. I have always found it difficult to write about personal things though, so I cannot imagine doing so.
However, I think I do agree with your remarks about writing being therapeutic. Maybe that is why I enjoy responding to these blogs. I always thought it was just because I want the freebies that are being given away. But I don’t know – maybe there’s more to it. Have to think about that.
I want to wish you a very merry Christmas and a blessed New Year. You have a gift for writing wonderful stories. Thank you for sharing them.
Mary T, the science is pretty clear. If you write about what’s going on with YOU, even if it’s twenty minutes, three times a week, you see benefits. You’re healthier, you’re happier, you sleep better.
So keep those comments and observations coming, at least!
The death of my fiancé and the myriad of ways it changed every aspect of my life and all those folks in his life; how different it was from helping my dad die in hospice a decade before. Because even in 350 years humans will be loving, dying, and trying to coexist.
Merry Christmas Grace!
Larisa, I”m sorry that’s your most memorable material, but you’re exactly right: that’s the real stuff, the abiding human stuff, the love and loss and reality of our existence.
And I’d love to read it.
I’d write about surviving breast cancer.
My mother had breast cancer, survived and had a reoccurrence.
I lived in fear of cancer and was devastated when I was diagnosed.
My surgeon was a positive force throughout my surgery and treatment.. Friends visited me, brought meals, helped with my daughter and two friends came for weeks and helped with my corgis.
Re-reading my journal makes me grateful for my Brother and two friends who kept me going with funny stories, a phone call or a visit. When I felt better and wanted to walk the beach or in the woods, my dogs Bear and Irish were happy to go with me. The journal also contains pages of frustration with the medical process: carrying my own X-rays to appointments, making my own appointments and finding my own doctors and dealing with inconsiderate people along the way. Many of these things have changed as there is a new cancer center where everything is centralized.
I’d write about how I survived cancer put it behind me and lived.
Enjoy your holidays Grace!
Thank you for all of your wonderful stories this year and for keeping in touch with us each week on the blog!
There’s plenty of cancer in my family, too, Susan, enough that I know your support network heavily influences your outcomes. Enough to know that many things have not changed, and the patience still needs a vociferous advocate.
Wishing you in particular a healthy, happy New Year, and lots of lovely walks with the corgis.
I think I would write about what it is like being disabled in the country today. I wonder what it will be like being disabled 35 years from now hopefully all things that cause a disability will not be around then.
Interesting observation Gail. When Pepys wrote, plague was still very much a reality. We haven’t conquered plague, but the rats developed immunity to it, and thus we’re a lot safer through no wisdom of our own.
Small pox was an enormous problem in Pepys’ day, and we’ve wiped that out entirely (for now). But then there’s ebola…
Your perspective would be worth knowing, Gail. I hope you do write it for us.
I think I would write about my experiences as a congressional page in Washington, DC. It’s probably the most interesting thing that has happened to me and it was a lot of fun to experience and also to look back on.
OOOOH, the Hill! I’m close enough to DC, and I worked for federal contractors long enough to get a whiff of the Hill mystique. I wish more people had your experience, Moriah, because you were up close enough to see that all these names in the headlines are people, mostly tired people, flawed but trying hard to do a good job.
Would love to read this one, too!
I have to say it was such an interesting experience for a 17 year old to have. I was so sad when they eliminated the program for the House a few years ago because it was so life changing for me. I am still in touch with many of the people 15 years later. I was also lucky enough to spend a semester in college at the White House, but the office I worked for was not in the actually White House but still amazing.
I would write about my journey as the parent of a person autism. In fact, I have. I’ve written essays for local and national newsletters of autism support groups telling about my own experiences about whatever they want. Toilet training? Done! Dealing with extended family who don’t *get it*? Done and done and done! Holiday madness and management? Done! The prejudice that comes from ignorance? DONE! I’ve gathered them into a group of 26 essays and am trying to edit them down into a manageable number a publisher might be interested in…..in fact, that’s my New Years project.
And the unifying theme of the whole thing, much like many of the others who have posted here is…….tenacity and not willing to give up, despite adversity and lack of support. And love.
Why not publish them yourself? It’s easy-peasy, and a lot of fun. Email me. For serious. [email protected]. Same goes for anybody who’d like to investigate self publishing.
I would write about the sudden and unexpected death of my husband 2000. He was only 44 and I was 38. We married young and essentially grew up together. I would write about our own wonderful, but not so perfect love story. I would write about the times when I was ready to end our marriage, he was ready to fight for it and when he was done with, I was ready to fight for it. I would write about when I lost him, I lost me as well. I would write about the struggles to continue a life without the one person who knew my soul and left me with two teenage girls to guide through life’s tribulations with just my thoughts of what was best. I would continue to write about how proud I am of the women they have become and of how I see their dad in them and in my granddaughter; of how even after nearly fifteen years a day does not pass without me missing him, of how the dreams of him are so real that I wake almost as broken as the day he died. Yet, I have written a large portion of this, which one day my girls will read and know through it all, the ups and downs, their dad and I always knew we would come back to each other and how I know in my heart that there is life after death because we did not ever have enough of the other and our business together is not complete.
OK, now start at the beginning, the first time you met him, and the first instant when you realized he was gone. Then the first kiss and funeral arrangements. This would make a terrific book, and say a lot about loving and holding on.
Just a thought….
my grandma teaching me to cook because it was fun and there were a lot of fun recipes to try
I think it would be about my son and understanding how to raise a child on the Autism Spectrum who was also born missing his left hand. I feel like it has helped me grow as a person and a mother to have been blessed with this special child. We have had to learn how to do things without having both hands and how to handle situations that will not cause a meltdown or overwhelm him. It will be an ongoing challenge, but it is one that I accept fully and with my whole heart.
I would probably write about all my many pets that have been in my life. A subject I could go on and on about but don’t usually unless I know it’s another pet lover.
As to journals, I bought one when I was a teenager – not sure of the age. I think I only wrote in it a few days and ripped it up. The thought of anyone else maybe reading all my innermost thoughts scared me to death. That was the end of my writing career lol. But I do believe that reading has the same beneficial effect or at least in my case it does!
Have a wonderful holiday Grace. “See” you in January.
I journal every morning and have for more than twenty years with very few breaks. I’m not sure when it started but journal writing has become not only part of my routine but critical to my success and survival. I shred all my journals which makes it easier for me to be completely honest on the page… and means 350 years from now there will be no journal for anyone else to read… but if there was…
… I’d definitely write about the importance of writing and how it makes all aspects of life more manageable and…
… I’d write about how we humans have a tendency to make insurmountable mountains out of relatively minor issues once we see them in perspective and…
… about the importance of really realizing that life is about relationships and that on our relationships is a great place to focus our energy – our relationship with our faith, with ourselves, with our family and friends. Everything else is not nearly as important.
I had to think long and hard about this question – in part because I don’t think I’ve lived a terribly interesting life. 😉
I finally decided that my one thing to write about would be howy husband taught me that true love is possible and that everyone deserves to be loved and more importantly, that love should include respecting your partner. Before I met my better half, I was engaged to someone who didn’t treat me well. However, at the time I had a very cynical view of life and honestly believed that there wasn’t a better option for me. I’ll be forever grateful that I met my husband when I did.
I think writing with the future in mind I’d write an essay about choosing to live as a modern day homesteader and the trials and tribulations of that life; when the creek froze and we had to use an axe to break through so we could fill buckets with our water supply…
I am writing about living with a disabled child, and also just writing stories for my children to know me as a full person rather than just their parent. Writing is so much fun!
Hi Grace! Just pop up to say merry Christmas to you !:). What a thought-provoking question !. If I would like to write one I think it’s about The abuse that I suffered during senior high school. I was a nerd and quite a smart girl at that time . However , being smart when you are just poor kids meaning you won’t get any recognition from your fellow students especially if they are jealous of your achievement . So I have to endure the mental abuse from a fellow rich girl student , I have to learn how to stand up for myself . I would love to write a story where an abused kid would not back down and will keep fighting for her dreams :).
Being a twin, one of the most hilarious events was when my twin sister and I exchanged dates. We looked so much alike the guys were none the wiser. We went to the same party-had a good time. We never told the guys but I suspect they knew.
I wouldn’t write about one incident but three that happened within the space of four months back in 1978. The first was the death of my husband in a work accident in the Marshall Islands cleanup while we were in the Army, we’d been married just over 18 months when he was killed. The second would be the death of my only aunt’s husband, that I read about in a newspaper article, about a day or two before my birthday. He too suffered a violent work accident which was totally unexpected. The third was my mother’s passing on the Sunday after Thanksgiving that same year. The first two were totally unexpected and the third, while not as unexpected as she had been sick most of her life was still a shock because she was only 50 and I honestly thought she still had many years ahead of her. These deaths taught me that life doesn’t always work out as we expect it to nor can we predict how we will react to such things. I honestly felt, and still do today, that I needed counseling but for some reason since I could still function in my day to day life as an Army cook they saw no need for it. I now wish I had forced the decision as I made some stupid mistakes afterward and have inadvertently compounded some of them later down the road. Sorry to be so morbid.
What a thought provoking question. I, too, have read Pepys’s Diary and was struck by how much he managed to pack into everyday. Meetings, trysts, parties, breakfasts–he seemed to always manage a full docket without going crazy.
Like your other respondents, I would most likely write about a life-changing event. Growing up with an alcoholic father, losing a child, almost losing another one to anorexia–not a disorder you read much about in the past–all of these would be possible topics. But I’m fascinated by how society changes, yet remains the same. For e.g., in Pepys’s time, people were extremely social, yet daily interactions were so constrained by manners and protocols that husbands and wives could live together and barely know one another. Today, we have much looser manners and social rules, yet with social media, we now have people who connect with others more digitally than in daily life–and still don’t really know one another. Do we need barriers with one another? What do we lose and gain by the different kinds? How will these barriers continue to evolve? And what are the consequences when the barriers are broken?
One of the things I like about your books is that you often have characters exploring the barriers in their lives–both self and society imposed.
Thanks for all the great reads so far, and I look forward to your new ones in 2015!
Happy New Year Grace from Northern California. I just wanted to tell you that I love reading your blog and find so many of your thoughts so helpful! It’s a rather unusual way to keep up with extended family but it is the modern way and it works. I’m going to try your tip for writing about the tough stuff this year! Many blessings to you this year and keep up the good work, I’m proud of you!!