Try something new during these strange times.
Consider journaling -- writing down your thoughts and emotions as well as jotting down your activities. This writing can be good for body and soul, whether one is already adept at the written word or uses it only to compile grocery lists.
Not only does keeping a journal help the writer, it creates a record during historic events, noted Jim Ott, professor of English at Las Positas College.
"Imagine how sad it would be if during the Civil War we didn't get as many people writing about what was happening at that time," Ott said. "This is history we are writing for the future."
He said not to worry about grammar and punctuation. Just write.
"It's a great way to record what is happening, and to make sense of it," he said.
Ott teaches writing classes for veterans, and he has seen the difference it makes for them to remember and write about their experiences.
"Somehow there's magic in such sharing, even if it is just sharing with the journal," Ott said. "It helps make sense with your world, and it puts things in context."
(Watch his 12-minute TEDxLivermore talk on the subject, "Bearing Witness to One's Truth” on YouTube.)
Deborah Grossman, a writer who travels the world for wine and food experiences, said she has journaled all her life. Now she enjoys reading what she recorded about her life when she worked as a librarian in England as a young woman and then in Delaware and Mississippi in the '80s before she moved to Pleasanton.
"Over the years I've given journals as gifts to kids, middle school and high school, and friends going through tough times," Grossman said. "Everybody gives you a blank look – they think journaling is something you have to do every day."
She emphasizes that this is not so.
"I don't journal every day but I do when something I need to pay attention to pops into my head," she said. "Maybe something that needs to be remembered -- good things, rough spots, the coronavirus."
Grossman kept special journals for the final illness of each of her parents and added photos.
"Most years I will bring them out around the anniversary of their deaths," she said. "They have been very calming."
Grossman also noted that letters are a type of journaling. Her mother saved letters Deborah wrote home when she lived in England, and they are now a detailed record of that time in her life.
She said journaling also has taught her to be mindful of gratitude and often helps her to see the silver lining at a difficult time.
The mechanics of journaling are interesting, Grossman noted.
"I like the right book, the right paper, the right pen," she said, adding with a laugh, "My husband will pick up a scrap of anything."
About 10 years ago, Grossman began to carry tiny booklets, around 3 by 5 inches, on her travels because they are easy to put into a purse and pull out on a bus or an airplane. She prefers unlined papers so she can add a doodle or a photo. She now has dozens of these little journals lined up in a bookcase.
Grossman recalled as a girl keeping a diary with a flimsy little key. These days, young people often keep their diaries/journals in a locked box opened by voice command.
Author B. Lynn Goodman, who lives in Danville, also teaches writing.
"I think everybody should journal," she said. "Journaling is simply the same as 'free writing,' making up your own sentence. Then write the next sentence and go wherever the writing takes you. Be open to whatever happens."
Anybody can keep a journal, she said, explaining that such writing is foolproof – nobody is going to grade it, and nobody is even going to read it until you want them to.
"I recommend people start with 10 minutes a day," Goodman said. "Set the timer. You can always reset the timer if you are on a roll."
She thinks these days of isolation, fear and uncertainty is a good time to journal instead of letting thoughts and emotions spin in your head.
"There is something about the commitment that helps you process," Goodman explained. "Certainly, everybody in the world needs to be processing as well as isolating right now. We have stories to tell and questions to ask."
Another idea she presented was journaling with another person, including asking each other questions.
"This expands your ideas and the processing as you are figuring out where you fit in this potentially dystopian world that is evolving right now," Goodman said.
"I think we all need to process what we are observing in our families," she added. "If a person has a concern, this is a way to express that concern. We may not want to share it immediately."
Goodman journals on her computer these days but says notebooks work fine for many people and makes them write more slowly.
"It is 100% individual," she said. "You make up your own rules."
She has developed a list of 50 "prompts" to get people started writing, including:
* Today I want…
* It's hard to accept…
* With luck…
Contact Goodman via her website at www.writeradvice.com to request the entire list of prompts and tips for journaling.
Writers have long kept journals to help them develop their skills, reflect, put their thoughts on paper, play with ideas and keep the words flowing.
William Shakespeare wrote "King Lear" during a time of plague, although researchers say there is no evidence he was being quarantined at the time.
But as we are sheltering in place, we can process our thoughts and use our imaginations by keeping a journal. It does not have to be a masterpiece.