Leslie Hamp, the author of “Create the Life You Crave,” retired to Benzie County five years ago and now teaches journaling, seemingly effortlessly leading her students closer to themselves. She leaves her mark, makes an impact and brings about change. Sounds over the top, doesn’t it? But she’s left a trail of journaling pages in her wake that proves otherwise.

The Workshops

Born and raised in Michigan, Leslie, 65, is retired, living on Crystal Lake with her husband, Jim, and living the life she wants for herself. Having spent a professional career centered around writing, she now spends her days writing, paddling and leading journaling workshops at Oliver Art Center (OAC) in Frankfort, as well as Crooked Tree Arts Center in Petoskey (now via Zoom).

Pre-COVID-19, I am attending one of Leslie’s workshops with eight other women in a beautiful room overlooking Lake Michigan at OAC. She starts the workshop by handing each of us a spiral-bound blank book of heavy paper. Leslie tells us we will decorate the covers, and I blanch. I cannot deface this brand new book with my amateur artwork.

But there are glitter markers. It’s the first indicator that she’s good … very good.

Leslie puts out piles of magazines, and we all gather with scissors. We cut out images, glue them to our covers and then paint, stamp and blend them together with stenciling. Everyone’s cover turns out incredibly different. One has a horse on it, one has a bike on it (mine), and one is nearly blacked out—the cover painted with many colors all bleeding together, many ideas at once, a blitz. Everyone agrees, though, that there’s something perfect about it, too. Leslie has infused the room with a creative charge without any warning. Another indicator.

Photo by Dave Weidner

Next, she hands out journal prompt cards. There is a single word on each one, and we all get our own word. I get “Delight.” I think that’s totally lame and try to hand it back to her.

“No!” she says, holding up her hand to stop me. “You got the card you were supposed to get.” Twenty minutes later, she has me writing, of all things, a letter.

“Dear Delight…”

It’s preposterous! It’s weird! It’s … fun! I have a whole conversation with Delight (capital D). Next, she has me write Delight’s response to my letter. It’s getting weirder, but I have to admit, better.

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As I write, I get this tiny unexpected thought out of nowhere: I do not have enough delight in my life. I miss it. It’s time to have fun again.

This is why Leslie is so good at what she does.

“My workshops are all about unblocking, playing, connecting and experimenting with words and images and color,” she says. “I show participants how to add simple art elements to help access information you can’t find with words alone. It’s a safe space for exploration that leads to insights and personal transformations. It’s exciting to witness.”

Photo by Dave Weidner

Leslie’s Journey

Leslie and Jim lived in Ashland, Wisconsin, along the shores of Lake Superior, for 35 years, where they raised their two sons. Jim had an ear, nose and throat practice, and Leslie worked in public relations in education for 10 years before earning a master of arts in Mass Communication in 1997. She then struck out on her own, launching her public relations business.

“One of my favorite gigs was 10 years standing as the media director for the American Birkebeiner, an international cross-country ski race,” says Leslie. “The Vasa is a qualifier for the Birkie, another sweet tie to the area for me.”

Leslie also taught journaling workshops for the Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation, became a certified journal instructor through the Therapeutic Writing Institute and published her book, “Create the Life You Crave.”

Leslie and Jim moved to their beloved family cottage on Crystal Lake in 2015. She built her journaling workshops, welcomed grandsons into their family and has built the life she craved indeed.

“Now we have time for lots of hiking, biking, kayaking, paddle boarding, skiing and cooking nutritious food,” says Leslie. “My creative juices are flowing through my journaling workshops and producing feature stories on-air for Interlochen Public Radio. Life is very good!”

Photo by Dave Weidner

The Twist

The last thing that Leslie has us do is, well, unthinkable. “Take your pages and paint over them,” she says.

The writer in me revolts. This woman is a madman!

But everyone else is all for it. Words and confessions and fears disappear under glitter markers, paint and chalk.

It’s part of the process for some journalers, Leslie says. (I find that I can’t do it—I give my page a slight glaze of pale blue paint and call it good.)

“When I heard people say they were hesitant to journal because they worried someone would read their words, I added ‘visual journaling’ to my classes,” Leslie says. “I show them how to cover their journal pages with simple art elements that ensure privacy.” See? She is full of ideas. I told you she was a journaling queen.

Journaling Tip: The 5-Minute Sprint

Leslie offers advice on how to journal, but with her usual “twist” (see Step 3!). She says the “5-Minute Sprint” is a quick, easy technique when you’re feeling overwhelmed, resistant to journaling or don’t have much time. Open your laptop, the Notes program on your phone, or, best of all, grab paper and a favorite (colorful, glitter-ful or plain ol’) ink pen. Date your page, set your phone timer for five minutes and follow her three-step process:

Step 1: Start with an “entrance” meditation. Find a quiet place, close your eyes and inhale/exhale deeply for three rounds of breath. Relax into yourself, leaving all thoughts and worries behind. Sometimes this is the best part.

Step 2: When you’re ready, start your timer and begin writing using the prompt: What’s going on right now? Let the words flow without worrying about grammar, punctuation, spelling or sentence structure, and don’t go back to edit or rewrite. Keep writing until your timer sounds.

Step 3: Re-read what you’ve written, then give yourself feedback beginning with the phrase: As I read this, I notice … Often this is the most telling part of the experience. What appeared on the page, and how do you feel about it?

Leslie says, “The good news is that you don’t have to be a writer or devote a lot of time to reap the benefits of journaling. All you need is a pen, a journal and a small snippet of time that’s all about YOU. (JOY!)”

Check out Leslie’s website at lesliehamp.com.

Photo(s) by Dave Weidner