Pros: Very cool cards; some neat journal-writing ideas
Cons: Card suggestions could have more depth; some writing too clinical
Rating: 4 out of 5
First published 8/27/2002
In the course of getting over a bout of writer’s burnout, I was forced to admit something I had staunchly avoided for years: journaling (diary-writing) can be useful. It can help you to pick apart your life and figure out how it works. It can help you analyze your feelings, uncover your motivations, and work through problems. It isn’t a cure-all for the problems of life, but it’s a handy adjunct to your explorations.
Over the course of all this I stumbled across a product that looked interesting and fun, so I decided to pick it up. Enter the “Book of Exploration: Using the Inner Outings Method and Diarist’s Deck of 33 Cards,” by Charlene Geiss and Claudia Jessup. Charlene teaches classes that help people to get in touch with diary-writing. The impression I got from the book that comes with this product is that Claudia wrote most of the actual book, since parts of it differ vastly in tone from Charlene’s nice introduction. But I’ll come back to this in a minute…
Variety and Fun – the Cards
Charlene advocates the use of all sorts of fun things when journaling. Make collages out of photos and glue them into your journal. Use rubber stamps. Tape feathers or leaves onto the pages. Get creative! Along this line, 33 cards come with this book. Each one is colorful and decorative, and each one has a phrase on it. The idea is that you mix the cards up, pick one, and use it to spark your journal-writing for that day.
The cards are huge – if you’re familiar with oversized tarot cards, these are definitely larger than any tarot deck I’ve seen! This means they’re nigh-impossible to shuffle. On the other hand, the cards really are incredibly beautiful. They layer images of leaves, puzzle pieces, and so on with unusual papers, paintings, and scenes. Bright colors and patterns adorn some of the cards. These are truly artistic and stunning pieces of work.
The words and phrases are interesting, with such examples as “Choices,” “Crossroads,” “Doorways,” “My greatest fear,” and “Explore the Possibility.” For the most part they’re a bit on the abstract and generic side, but if you haven’t journaled before and aren’t sure how to start, then I think they’ll give you a nice push. Their abstract nature also makes them easy to apply to almost anything in your life.
Shallow and Clinical – the Book
While the cards are gorgeous and inspiring, the book is less so. The introduction by Charlene is warm and friendly, but other parts of the book devolve into clinical seminar-speak:
Once you become acquainted with the deck and begin to use this method, we can guarantee that you, too, will write with greater clarity and confidence.
That sentence would feel at home in a sterile $19.95 video tape for sale on an infomercial, not in a book that started out with warmth and presents such lush cards as inspiration.
The book briefly addresses why it can be helpful to keep a journal, and what you can get out of the experience. It points out that there’s no one to grade or judge a journal – you can write anything you want, as badly as you want, and no one will care. I like this particular phrase that Charlene uses in her classes: “It’s all perfect, always.” The brief sections and thoughts provided to go with each card (a bit like a tarot deck’s accompanying book) are nice, but they don’t delve very deep. They stick to the shallows for the most part, with a few easy suggestions and minor thoughts on how to go about journaling with the card.
The best section in this book is the one on writing techniques. I hadn’t thought much about the variety of ways in which one can approach journaling, and this section definitely inspired a few ideas. The authors discuss 23 different techniques for writing in your journal, from listing to letter-writing, free-writing (they call it “rapid writing”) to poetry. I found at least half of the techniques to be useful and interesting to me.
Finally the book ends up with a thorough listing of resources. You’ll find plenty of web sites listed here; most of them actually still exist (at the time of this review, anyway), although a few no longer provide the material the authors ascribe to them (or at least I couldn’t find it). There are a handful of suppliers listed – web sites where you can purchase blank journals and other writing materials. I found this particularly helpful, as I’ve had trouble finding nice blank books and occasionally have need of them. Finally a bibliography is included, with an interesting spread of other books you might find useful.
I’d say this book-and-card set has several useful applications. It would be wonderful for someone who wants to journal but isn’t sure where to start. It would be nice for a writing teacher, who wants to use the beautiful cards as writing prompts for her students. And lastly, it makes an incredible collector item for someone with a taste for beautiful tarot-like cards.
For the experienced journaler, however, this set doesn’t offer all that much beyond the writing techniques, the pretty pictures, and the lists of resources. Depending on the price, you might find that worthwhile enough to merit the cost of the set – or you might not.
I’d give the cards five out of five and the book three; in the balance I’ll average it out to four.