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Travels with My Visual Journals -
A Personal Experience
by Lou Ann: 

In years past, my travel journals at best consisted of some writing in a lined notebook like the one here, plus some pictures which might get printed out and stuck in the notebook (or maybe not).  Or maybe just a scrapbook with lots of photos, plus some ticket stubs and such.  I considered myself a mindful traveler, and tried to be aware of my surroundings, but never quite connected words and images in the same place. 

More recently, I discovered art journals and mixed media. And I was pretty happy for a while to record some of my thoughts and feelings in a fairly simple art journal. 

These simple travel journal pages recorded some surface impressions from travel on the French Riviera several years ago.

Visual Journaling with Juliana Coles

 Lou Ann:  My real breakthrough came in a retreat I attended with Juliana Coles in Ojo Caliente New Mexico in September 2005.  I was so nervous about going, but somehow I knew I needed to go anyway.   I was absolutely amazed at some of the personal symbols, interrelationships, connections, and meaning I found on the pages I created.  I was continually surprised at the multiple layers and depth on many of these pages, couldn't quite believe that it was ME who had made them

In that workshop, I wrestled with my regrets about some of the choices I had made in my life, had the courage to place the long-ago-forsaken dreams upon the page, and to let them go.  And only then, upon really digging into the deep layers of the pages, did I realize that I HAD been true to this younger self all along.  And that I had accomplished far more in my life than I had ever really dreamed about. 

On the last day at the Ojo 2005 retreat, I put on my favorite 'explorer hat' and hiked up to the ruins of the Posi village above the hot springs, hoping to feel the presence of ancient peoples.  Instead, I turned and suddenly saw my shadow.  And I stopped and took a moment to make a rudimentary sketch and take a photo.  And there it was that I really captured at least the shadow of my inner explorer soul.  Instead of seeing what I thought I would see, I saw what was really there. 

(I find this explorer symbol emerging in other journal pages I have done since then, and welcome this explorer self when she emerges.)

And that is the true beauty of the Visual Journaling that I have learned from working with Juliana.  That you have to work past those first few steps, get past seeing what you think you'll see, and dig deeper to see what is REALLY there.  And, it's scary and uncomfortable at first, but only if you're brave and persistent, and willing to dig through the layers, will you reap the rewards of self-discovery. 

Visual Journal as a Travel Journal  Lou Ann:  I took these lessons with me to Greece this past summer (2006), when I spent two weeks there with my sister Connie.  I used many of the concepts from Juliana's Extreme Visual JournalingTM to create a visual travel journal of the trip, to help me be more aware of my experiences and surroundings.

In many ways, it became one of the best trips of my life.

I really loved working in a travel journal handmade out of lots of different colorful and funky papers all sewn together.  I learned to make this book in one of Kelly Kilmer's Avant Garde Journal classes.  (I've learned so much MORE than that in Kelly's other classes, too! Check her website at www.kellykilmer.blogspot.com).  I love having colorful pages to start with, and the challenge of turning the page and solving the problem of how to relate it to my daily travels and my visual journaling intent.  Especially fun was the challenge of expressing myself with a few limited art materials, plus a few ticket stubs, bits of ephemera, postcards, and other little things acquired along the way.

I created this two-page spread soon after arrival in Greece.  I loved the small little brass and clay figurines in the National Museum in Athens.   I wondered about ancient travelers carefully wrapping and carrying these precious beautiful things for many miles before arriving at a sacred place.  What prayers and questions were whispered to the ancient gods and goddess when these offerings were left behind?

I remember arriving in the harbor on the beautiful and rugged island of Milos, and was suddenly struck with strong feelings about the Venus de Milo statue being forcibly removed from this island to France after her rediscovery in the late 1800's.  She is in the Louvre now, and she is loved, but ... she is so far away from home ... and I feel for her.

The monasteries of Meteora are in a remote region where they could be safe from invaders.  They were outposts of civilization during barbaric times.  I turned the page in my travel journal, only to be staring at the 'problem' of figuring out how in the world the randomly sewn-in music flash card in my book could possibly 'fit' into this theme.  That evening, I realized, that I had actually been humming Loreena McKennitt's song, Full Circle, all day.  The lyrics include the poignant words "In your heart, in your soul, did you find peace there".  I wondered about the monks who had left the other world behind and had gone to live here, and whether they had found peace in these remote mountaintop monasteries.

While standing in the aisle on a crowded bus in Milos, a man behind me said "And now we dance".  The bus drove up some winding roads to the Kastro at the top of the hill, and we were indeed dancing just to keep our balance.  In the next few days, dancing and circles kept appearing as themes in my travels.  Suddenly, in Delos, in the very center of Cyclades, in the very center of the ancient world, I opened the tour brochure to these magical words describing this island:  "It is situated in the heart of the Aegean, in the centre of the Cyclades that form a dance circle around it."    The Dance Circle indeed became the theme of my journey.

"Words overheard by chance, have been known to change lives." - Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage.

I was struck by the sacred pathways in Delos, the lions carved by ancient sculptors who most likely never saw a real lion, and yet felt compelled to carve these guardians for the pilgrims arriving at this sacred island.  The marble steps have been worn away in places by the footsteps of thousands of pilgrims throughout the centuries.  I felt very centered in this special place.

A particularly difficult moment in this trip, and one I'm not proud of.  Driving back into Athens traffic, getting lost, not being able to turn, and only finally reaching the hotel after making many ever-smaller circles.  It was indeed the dreaded labyrinth, and I felt the presence of the monstrous Minotaur within myself.  Later that day, relief all around as my sister and I were whisked away to our beautiful ship, where we could let someone else worry about piloting and navigation.  But, oh the anxiety, before we were able to follow the precious thread, the precious clewe, to escape.

A special moment after swimming off Cape Sounion, below Poseidon's Temple.  On our way to Sifnos later, we saw dolphins.  These beautiful creatures followed our boat for several magical minutes, and then disappeared.  Inside a seaside church in Sifnos, the sky was represented by gold stars against a background of blue, and the earth was represented by red crosses against a background of white.

Here on the island of Aegina, we found a beautiful temple built long before the Parthenon.  Surviving bits of color on some of the friezes preserved from the temple have let us know that that they were not originally just white marble, but included blues at the top for the sky, and reds at the bottom for the earth.  This was a sacred place many years before the Greeks built their temple to Aphaia here.   How strange, that we do not even know the name of the goddess who was first worshipped in this ancient place.

Our last few days in Athens, and we had a wonderful view of the Acropolis from our hotel balcony.  I turned the page in my travel journal, only to be confronted with the paper on the right-hand side with very un-Greek-like images of birdcages and birds.  Only to finally see how they did indeed represent the temples on the Acropolis and at Cape Sounion.  I sketched them both, along with a television antenna that seemed to be a directional sign and a call to action.  A poem came to mind, and I did indeed see "A Temple of Eternity".  On our last morning, right before leaving, we were visited by a morning dove on our balcony.  This moment of peaceful contemplation of the bird with the temples of the Acropolis in the background, turned into a very precious memory of Greece.

I long for a return to this magical place....

And so, for me, the Visual Journal as a Travel Journal became the key to unlocking the potential of this journey,.  And through the Visual Journal my travel was greatly enhanced, and the senses were heightened.  I was so much more aware of my surroundings and my feelings, and of the places and people I encountered.

I love how the pages capture so many thoughts and impressions and memories.  When I look back at them, there is so much more than just a logical written record guiding me in a linear path to record my memories in a linear fixed progression.  I find that my eyes alight upon the images and the words and the page elements in a different order each time, and I surface different impressions and thoughts each time.  The pages have many layers, and I do not yet know everything they contain, and have not yet explored all the memories and possibilities that they have captured.  There is much left to discover, and more to be learned from them in the future.  And so my journey has not ended with my return home, but continues well into the future.

-- Lou Ann Granger, November 2006

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