getting past the gatekeeper

Light-bulb1Journal THAT

Cynthia Gregory

Resistance is a funny thing. You may have heard the adage: what you resist persists. In the same way you know that if you resist writing in your journal ­for maybe one of a million reasons -it doesn’t simply go away. Oh, no. It sits on your desk all poised and proper, waiting patiently for your return. It sits there all quiet and nonjudgmental, not saying anything but oh what it is not saying. Its cover is so beautiful, its pages so crisp. It haunts you. It mocks you. It’s no use, the journal cannot be ignored. The journal will have its way. You may avoid it for a day or two, or even a week. Sometimes a month will go by, but if you are attuned to your inner journalista, you will return to the journal, you will write. As the Borg insist, “Resistance is futile.” So go ahead, surrender.

Resistance is the gatekeeper in your mind, the lonely id, the unpopular kid in kickball, who doesn’t want you to enter into the place where all the creative ideas, fond memories, and vivid dreams are stored. Because if you did that, then what would happen? Contentment? Bliss? What on earth would you do with all that? On that side: big ideas, big dreams, gumdrop and fudge ripple pleasure domes. This side: a steady diet of leafy greens. That side: Ferris wheels of ingenuity, zipper rides of imagination. This side: a rope swing. The gatekeeper lives between this side and that side. The gatekeeper occupies the margins of can’t do and done. The only thing wedged between you and your untamed imagination is the gatekeeper. You must devise ways to slip past the gatekeeper and get to the fecund spaces of your vast interior.

There are so many ways to give in to journaling if the inspiration is temporarily MIA. The simplest way is to make it jolly and fun. You infuse your journal time with a sense of whimsy, of literary whipped cream and frosting. Write each entry with a different color of pen. Doodle. Treat yourself to a cupcake for each ten pages you complete. This is the easy way to slip past the gatekeeper. Essentially, its bribery, but we’re not above enticements, and besides: yum.

Another way to get past the gatekeeper is by accident. Say for instance that in order to fulfill your journaling goals, you need to write four journal entries per week, but on the third day you meet up with resistance, and don’t feel like spilling your guts. You have the sniffles or had trouble sleeping last night or your favorite song hasn’t played on the radio all day, whatever. So you pick up your journal and sigh. You look out the window. You tap the pen against your teeth, make up snappy little rhythms.

So just when you’re ready to give in, cajole yourself by telling yourself something like this: Okay, just one page. Write one dumb page and get it over with. Write about the funny thing the dog did with your slipper. Or write about how when the neighbor went out to retrieve the morning paper, he leaned over to pick it up and unintentionally mooned you. Start with something small and maybe it will lead to something bigger, and before you know it, you will have written a full blown journal entry by accident. You didn’t mean for it to be so big and so interesting and so conversationally spellbinding, but you did it. You started out with mediocre intentions and wound up at the intersection of Genius Ideas and Good for You. You can now give yourself permission to feel superior.

Then of course, the most aggressive way to get by the gatekeeper is to straight-out push your way through. I personally endorse this method because it is energizing, and empowering. It’s also the most fun, in case that matters, because it yields the most surprising results.

To establishing ‘the push’ for your journaling exercise, you need to set up a goal that is challenging enough, but that somewhere in the back of your mind you don’t think you can accomplish. Maybe it’s something you haven’t done before; something you suspect may be beyond your skill level. Give yourself a goal of: write ten pages on why I like blue cheese. Or list seventy five things to do with popcorn. Or: the one hundred qualities I most appreciate in my mate. You see where I’m going with this. It’s easy to make a short list of just about anything. But a little longer list is tougher, and this is where the magic comes in. Maybe you’re rolling merrily along and just when you get to the point where the gatekeeper steps in and says, ‘oh, I think you’re done here. That’s quite enough out of you, madam.’ And you begin to think that maybe you’ve run out of gas, that maybe that’s all the ideas you’re capable of.

Hint: this is the exact place where you should not give up. This is place where you’ve almost reached what I call the stage of the absurd. This is where you just start writing any old bald idea down, just slap it down to fulfill your goal. You stop trying to be clever, you stop trying to be brilliant, you’re just dropping ideas on the page like hot rocks one after another after another. You stop trying.

At this point in the process, you blow out all the carbon residue in your creative engine and enter into a whole new creative zone. And then you’re off like a hotrod. It’s an exhilarating, thrilling, goose-pimple-y ride, because you’ve just shot past the point where you suspected you might stop, where you feared you’d fail, where you couldn’t see your way out of that fix, and then the ideas just bubbled up into your head and flowed out through your pen like a pure stream of imagination, and it is better than good; it is delish.

You slipped past the gatekeeper like a superstar. And you know what? You’re dazzling, darling. You’re a journalista.

high drama indie



The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is the movie I longed for all year without even knowing it.  It may be my favorite movie of 2013, not because of the high drama, indie chic, nail-biting tension, or classic one-liners, but for unraveling that tight knot inside my heart that I’d been carrying so long I no longer noticed its existence.  Directed by Ben Stiller and based on a short story by James Thurber, the movie tells the story of Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller), an average guy doing a more than average job at Life Magazine, sadly on the verge of putting out its last issue.  Downsizing sucks, but that’s not Walter’s real problem.  His real problem is all those unrealized dreams that have been poking at him for years, adamant and demanding as they push to the surface, forcing him into a mini coma of a daydream.  Walter’s boss, Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), a know-it-all nothing of a man laughs at him, not behind his back, but square in the face when this occurs.  Walter cares, but beyond daydreams of smashing Ted’s face in, does nothing.  It’s not that Walter’s a loser.  He’s any one of us who caught a bad break and once there, couldn’t make his way to a good one.

Walter’s bad break happened at 17 when his father died, forcing the former mohawk-wearing Walter had to stash his dreams to become the Man of the House for his mom and sister.  Years later, in his job as a “negative assets manager” Walter’s put out some of the greatest magazine covers the world has seen, thanks to the work of colleague and photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), without ever leaving the dark room.  O’Connell sends Walter what he calls possibly the best picture he’s ever taken for the final cover of Life as a gesture of their long productive working years together, along with a wallet engraved with Life’s motto: “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life.” Walter is touched, but at a loss since the best picture ever, negative #25, is missing upon arrival.

When Walter’s mother, Edna (Shirley MacLaine) moves, and Walter’s sister, Odessa (Kathryn Hahn) finds Walter’s long-forgotten backpack along with a new travel journal, a long-lost present from Walter’s father, something infinitesimal shakes loose in Walter and he sets out in search of O’Connell to find what was lost — ostensibly negative #25, but we all know what Walter’s really looking for.  O’Connell proves a tough guy to find; he shoots photos of snow leopards in the Himalayas and straps himself to the tops of biplanes to get the volcano shot, all heady stuff for the risk averse Walter.  Thankfully, Walter is spurred in sideways fashion by co-worker and possible love interest, Cheryl Melhoff (Kristin Wiig), who gives Walter lift just being in the same room as he.  Soon, Walter is traversing some of the world’s most satisfyingly brilliant places while Life’s motto is displayed in snippets across the backdrop.  When Walter does find O’Connell, it’s worth the wait. “Beautiful things don’t seek attention,” O’Connell says as he watches the snow leopard.

In today’s world of reality T.V. and endless soundbites where everyone jockeys for attention, I need to believe O’Connell.  See this movie if you feel stuck.  See this movie if you have been toying with the idea of stepping outside preconceived notions of yourself.  See this movie if you want the world as your backdrop to expanding horizons, or if you just want to revel in the wonder of an ordinary person doing extraordinary things even if no one sees him doing them.  See this movie.

–Pam Lazos