What’s Your Answer to the Bead Journal Question?
Look up ‘bead journal’ online and you will find images of journals adorned with seed beads. Or references to a yearly bead journal project where, apparently, you keep track of what you make with seed beads.
Neither of these interest me. Rather, I have benefitted, as I hope you might, from learning of famed psychoanalyst Marion Milner’s use of beads.
Eternity’s Sunrise as Bead Journal
Entries I’ve made in journals while travelling are often daily versions of, “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Paris.” I’ve listed sights seen, meals eaten, money spent. There has been some descriptive detail, but not much. I hoped that my jot notes would serve as gateways to entire memories when I revisited the journal years later, and they have but not in a very satisfying way.
Marion Milner faced the same dilemma when she travelled, and felt the same sense of bored indifference when she revisited old journal entries. But, unlike me, Milner got creative. In her (mostly) travel journal, Eternity’s Sunrise, Milner wrote daily beads.
Imagine your daily thoughts, feelings and insights as beads on a necklace. But this isn’t a cheap costume jewelry necklace where each bead is the same as every other.
No, every bead in your necklace has been carefully chosen in response to Milner’s single bead journal question.
The Bead Journal Question
Each morning, Milner would reflect on experiences of the day before and would ask herself, What was the most important thing that happened yesterday?
Milner deemed an experience important if it:
- shifted her in some way;
- led to a physical response,
- or brought about a warm feeling
She referred to each important thing as a bead, and wrote descriptively about each day’s bead in her journal.
My First Bead Journal Entry
In May of 2015, Gerri (mom) and I spent ten days in northern California celebrating my retirement. I was exhausted, had just finished reading Eternity’s Sunrise, and was travelling with a very small carry-on bag. It was the perfect confluence of circumstances for trying out bead journalling in this tiny 4″ x 6″ journal.
Here’s the bead journal entry I wrote at the end of our first day:
Walking along Beach Street, stopping in at galleries enroute to the shops in Ghiradelli Square, I expected to see some nice paintings. I didn’t expect magnificence–examples from the Barbizon School (France in the 1800s); LeRoy Neiman’s stunning work, especially the horse Khemosabi in gorgeous reds and oranges; Salvador Dali prints from the Divine Comedy.
But my favourite, far and away, is the gallery that housed originals by Dr. Seuss/Theodor Geisel. Just inside the gallery there is an enormous, larger-than-life sculpture of the cat from The Cat in the Hat. The cat is mid-stride with an umbrella in his hand and a twinkle in his eye. And then, on the walls, paintings from Green Eggs and Ham, Horton Hears a Who and others.
The paintings took my breath away, partly because I didn’t expect to see them in an area of San Francisco best known for cheap, garish t-shirts and plastic models of cable cars. Mostly because the colours were so rich, the paintings so full of life.
What imagination Dr. Seuss had, and how essential that imagination has been to my life. I’ve always known that I loved his stories. But I didn’t realize until today that those stories have shaped me. I didn’t just grow up with Dr. Seuss books, I grew around them like the flesh of an apple forming around its seeds.
I also loved the couple of draft pieces that were there–scenes from The Cat in the Hat sketched on newsprint with marks in the margins and arrows pointing to a small section, giving directions to the printer like ‘100 red’ by the stripes in the cat’s hat.
Those printers’ marks take Giesel’s imagination and makes it, not less significant, but more possible. The creative action of a mere mortal. Suddenly I can be part of his club, certainly not because I have anything like his talent but because his work is a human being’s act of creation and we all can do that. I have done that.
What I Learned from my Bead Journal
I didn’t miss a single day of writing in my bead journal. That in itself was unusual.
Journal writing is a voyage to the interior.Christina Baldwin
I like new days to be blank slates so prefer to write at the end of each day. My question became, What’s the most important thing that happened today?
More significantly, I revised Milner’s question to read, What’s the most important thing that happened to me today? Given how Milner defined importance, she certainly intended a personal response but her wording always made me feel guilty of navel gazing. I kept thinking that the most important thing of the day should surely be some item of international news, not my warm feeling about The Cat in the Hat.
Sometimes it was surprisingly difficult to identify my most important thing. I often had to remind myself to pay attention; to notice what was really affecting me, rather than what I thought should be affecting me.
For example, one day we went on a guided tour of Carmel with a professional storyteller. I’m fascinated by people who are great storytellers and was sure I’d write about Monica, or at least about some of the interesting architectural art we saw on the tour. Instead, my bead was about a public washroom that Clint Eastwood had built when he was Carmel’s mayor. Yes, really.
A Bead Journal Isn’t Just for Travel
Looking back, my California bead journal is a favourite of my many journals. It’s not just because we had such a good time, although there is that, but also because, like Milner, rereading my beads helps me to know myself. In selecting and writing about the most important thing that happened to me each day, I find clues as to what makes me happy, grateful, enthusiastic or, occasionally, anxious, worried, or fearful.
The journal I’m keeping for the month of November is meant to be a microcosm of my first month living RAW NEWS. I’m journaling incessantly, as evidenced by the 61 handwritten pages I’ve piled up in just the first 14 days. At the end of the month, I’ll write a post summarizing my RAW NEWS reflections and talking a bit about what I’ve learned about nonstop journalling.
December’s journal will be a bead journal. Each evening I will answer Milner’s question, What is the most important thing that happened to me today? I’m looking forward to seeing how the two months of reflections are similar and how they are different.