Posted in Writing

How to Write a Journal Entry When You Have “Nothing” to Write About

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Thinking small now will have a big impact later.

A couple of years ago, I shared my 10 Tips for Keeping a Journal, and today I want to elaborate on Tip #3: Think Small.

As I said in my previous post, “If you wait until you have ‘good stuff’ to write about, your journal may stay closed for months. The truth is, there’s good stuff happening all around us almost every day. Consider this—who’s this journal for? You, right? What will YOU want to look back on in ten years? What you’ll crave are the little things. The tiny little slices of life that you’ve forgotten about. So your job when journaling is to master the mundane.”

It’s true. I’ve been rereading some of my old journals (a favorite summer habit) and want to scream at my college-age self, “Stop babbling about boy troubles, and tell me what’s in your pockets!” (Somewhere, in another universe, college-age me just had a very strange dream.) Really though, there are plenty of pages about my feelings (which are important, yes) but not enough about my world. When I look back on that time, I’m not interested in reliving all my relationship angst. I’d much rather see my former surroundings—where I spent my Thursday afternoons and which t-shirt was my favorite and what I ate for breakfast. Even after college, I still sometimes went through phases of vague melancholy or (worse) vague bliss where I described my deep feelings of unease or contentment without ever really pinpointing where they came from. That’s why I’m thrilled when I stumble upon entries like this one from February 18, 2007:

I am sitting in my purple chair wearing the new jeans I got at Buffalo Exchange tonight (that I love) with the green sweater that I rescued from the Goodwill bag (that I now really like) and the flip flops from Kelley’s wedding and a black head band wrap. I look totally funky stylin’ (in my not so fashionable opinion).

Note #1: Sweater and flip flops in Austin in February sounds about right.
Note #2: I am such a hoarder of clothes. I used to be SO BAD about putting things in a bag to take to Goodwill and then “rescuing” them a couple of days later, only to wear them once and then send them back to my closet for another year. I’ve learned my lesson. Now I take the bag to Goodwill immediately. Usually.
Note #3: I feel like I was quoting a friend when I used the phrase “funky stylin'” but I don’t remember who. Also, I hope I was being sarcastic.

Or this one from January 31, 2011:

I am sitting in my backyard writing by the light of the campfire I just made for myself (with the help of a firestarter log from HEB). My plan is to sit here and write in my journal and drink some High Life and read Lolita and enjoy the evening for as long as I like, no matter the time. I hear something barking off in the distance– maybe a coyote. Oh, and now I hear the muted but unmistakable caterwauling of Gink…

Note #1: High Life? Seriously? My guess is someone left them at my house.
Note #2: High Life and Lolita is a classy combination.
Note #3: I just Googled January 31, 2011, and it was a Monday, so I was enjoying this late-night campfire on a school night. How scandalous!
Note #4: You have no idea how loud my cat’s caterwauling can be. Someday, when he’s gone, this journal entry will remind me of the crazy sounds he used to make, and it will make me smile.

Those are the kinds of journal entries I can sink my nostalgic teeth into.

So if you’re keeping a journal, and you’re worried that nothing you write is exciting enough, fret not. Some of the most mundane tidbits today may be the lines that give you the biggest smiles ten years from now.

When in doubt, follow these simple instructions:

HOW TO WRITE A JOURNAL ENTRYDownload a PDF of this diagram here:
HOW TO WRITE A JOURNAL ENTRY.

Here’s an entry I wrote based on this format, without taking any of the optional tangents:

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See? Until the robot swung the baseball bat and uncovered the hidden scorpion, there was nothing earth-shattering about this entry, but someday I’ll be glad I mentioned how Gabby used to insist on laying in my lap, and I’ll probably laugh about how excited I was over my first Roomba when I see what the robots of the future can do.

So give it a try. Grab a favorite pen and find a comfy spot and write something that future you will enjoy reading. Most importantly, have fun.

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One last thing: Don’t ever feel like you have to fill up a whole page. Even short entries can have a lasting effect.

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Terrible handwriting aside, that’s quite a nice little nugget. 🙂

 

Posted in Writing

Two Stories and a Poem

It’s been a while since I’ve had any publication news to share, but when it rains, it pours. (Or, as we say here in Texas, when it rains… we run outside and spin around in it, because it feels a little like magic.)

If you’re looking for something to read on a rainy day or on a day too hot to go outside, consider choosing something that includes one of my stories or poems.

Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things

Ember_3.1_Cover_a8cd13ad-4eda-41c5-8153-9a3dfb9111cf_1024x1024Volume 3, Issue 1 of Ember is now available, and inside you’ll find “Teardrops and Watermelon Seeds.” This magical realism story was first published a few years ago in Spark: A Creative Anthology. It’s about a fourteen-year-old girl who goes through a summer of changes and is holding on to her memories in a unique way. I’m thrilled that E&GJ Little Press decided to publish it again because it’s one of my favorite stories. Plus, this time it’s paired with a beautiful illustration the talented Casey Robin and can be read alongside other stories for YA readers, including a few written by teenagers.

You can order a copy of Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things for yourself, your classroom, or a friend here. There are two print versions, one for $20 and one for $30. This journal is a little pricey, but it’s worth it. (Psst! If you plan on buying one, email me and I’ll give you a discount code for 35% off!)

Texas Poetry Calendar

TPC-Cover-PossI have been honored to have poems in the Texas Poetry Calendar eight times since 2009. These useful desk calendars, which have a weekly planner on one side of the page and a poem or two on the other, used to be published by Dos Gatos Press, but are now available through Kallisto Gaia Press. The 2019 volume includes my poem “Yellow,” which is about oak pollen. You can purchase one here. (Psst! I also have a poem in the 2018 calendar, and Dos Gatos Press has a few left. Get one here before the year is over!)

Entropy

goose-3190744_1280-1170x771If you don’t need a planner or are low on cash, you can still read one of my recent stories for free! “The Mayor” was published a couple of weeks ago in Entropy’s series titled “The Birds.” “The Mayor” is fiction, but is based on a true story. Read it here.

Coming Soon:

tales-to-terrify-logoI have one more story coming out soon. My clown horror story “Makeup,” which was a finalist in a Wattpad contest a couple of years ago, will be available for your listening pleasure on the Tales to Terrify podcast sometime in the next few months. I’ll keep you posted with the details when I know more.

I hope you enjoy perusing my work. Now, it’s time for me to get back to it…

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(To see a list of all of my published writing, click here.)

Posted in Life

“We Want Fireworks!”

I posted this memory on my previous blog five years ago and wanted to share it here again. I’m missing being with my family this 4th of July, but looking forward to seeing fireworks with the hubby.

fireworks1When I was a kid, there was a street in Plano, Texas, where my family and I used to go watch fireworks on the 4th of July.  It was a deserted road next to a big empty field, which is now probably the site of a trendy housing development or maybe a strip mall.  But back then it was empty except for weeds and wildflowers, giving us a perfect view of the stadium a couple hundred yards away where the show took place.  Every year, we caravanned over in two or three cars (Dad’s 1980 Checker Cab of course and maybe my aunt’s Toyota), arriving well before the sun went down in order to get a good spot.  The street was somewhat out-of-the-way but was not unknown—others used it as well and by nightfall it was always full of cars, people, and kids running around.

The years were so much the same that they blend together in my mind as one jumbled memory. We hung around on car bumpers and blankets listening to the radio, fighting off mosquitoes, playing frisbee, and drinking Dr. Peppers in our red, white, and blue garb.  (I remember one particularly gaudy year when I was wearing a red tank top, blue jean shorts, a white belt, red socks, and white Keds.  At the time, I was quite proud of my patriotic fashion statement, but looking back at the pictures makes me cringe.) There was even an ice cream truck whose driver wised up to the idea of serving the crowded little street, so every year he appeared and we enjoyed rocket pops and fudge bars while staring in the direction of the stadium.

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4th of July with my family – 1986

The people inside obviously had some sort of pre-firework entertainment.  Music and cheering could be heard, and one year sky-divers parachuted into the stadium—an unexpected treat for us.  Whatever went on inside that arena always was, and still is, a mystery to me.  I remember wondering what those people were seeing and coming up with my own versions of their entertainment, but never once do I remember feeling envious of them.  The 4th of July in the Kinder family meant parking on the side of a road and enjoying the colorful display from our lawn chairs and tail gates.  This wasn’t something you bought a ticket for.

There were no cell phones, no Kindles, no portable DVD players, not even a Game Boy to distract us from the snail-like pace of time.  The only way we even knew how slowly it ticked by was from our parents’ watches, and they got tired of us asking.  Sometimes we had sparklers to keep us busy for a few minutes, but for the most part we had to just wait it out, every excruciating second.

Waiting for the show to begin seemed to take forever.  The sky grew darker and darker, and with every star that came out, we kids grew more and more restless.  My brother Pat, five years older than me, remained a bit more composed than our cousin Kelley, three years my junior, and me.  He sat with the adults and attempted to restrain any anxious tendencies. Kelley and I, however, were shamelessly impatient, often inventing creative chants such as, “WE WANT FIREWORKS!” which we repeated over and over, much to the annoyance of everyone else.

firework2And then… just when our impatient cries had reached their whiniest levels, just when the adults were probably ready to throttle us, the first bright explosion lit up the sky.  You could sense the excitement of the moment—people standing up, turning their heads, leaning forward, the collective intake of breath as the first firecracker faded into a smoky outline and drifted off with the wind, carrying the smell of sulfur with it.  From that moment on, there was no bickering, no whining, just a symphony of Oo’s and Ah’s and interjections of “Wow!  That was cool!” and “That one was huge!”

The Kinders do not watch fireworks in reverent silence.  We comment.  Do we remember that one from last year?  Was that a new color?  I’ve never seen one like that.  Ooo, that looked like a flower. No, it looked like a balloon.  No, I saw a spider.  Did you see that one?  Of course I saw it, I’m right here.  That one was sparkly.  I like the ones you can see on the way up.  I like the ones that make the whistly noise.  I like the purple ones.  I like them all.  Forty minutes of non-stop descriptive chatter about something that we are all watching at the same time.  And afterwards… we rehash it all again in the past tense.  It is our way.

In addition to the color commentary of the explosions, my brother and I also had a game we liked to play.  Several airplanes circled the area repeatedly during the show.  (It was not until later that I realized they were there to watch as well; as a kid, I just thought that was a busy flight path for small planes.)  The game was simple—count how many planes got “killed” by the fireworks. Although of course they were completely safe and nowhere near the actual explosions, every time it appeared that one was blown up by a pink burst of sparks or a strobe-like flash of light, we cheered uproariously for its death.  All in good fun.

grandfinaleEvery firework display ends with, what is known in Texas as, the “grand finale”.  This finale consists of setting off dozens and dozens of rockets at the same time so that the eye is blinded by two or three minutes of simultaneous flashes of color, and yes, it is quite grand.  Therefore, toward the end of the show, it is traditional for the Kinder commentary to shift from the general Oo’s and Ah’s to the impulsive predictions. Oh my!  I think this is the grand finale!  Ooo, no THIS must be the grand finale!  Wow!  Look at all that!  Do you think it’s the grand finale?  This time I’m SURE, it MUST be the grand finale!  Eventually, inevitably, someone was right; it was the grand finale.  We whooped and cheered and said “Happy 4th of July!” We smiled and laughed and stared at the giant smoke cloud slowly drifting away from the stadium, knowing it was over, but secretly hoping for one last blue or green ball of flame to appear.  Once in awhile, we got our wish.

The ride home was always subdued.  We recapped the events of the evening, voted on our favorite parts, and finally drifted into a satisfied quiet.  Sometimes, out the car window, we caught glimpses of other firework shows finishing up in the distance and smiled at this unexpected bonus.  Often I was asleep, or at least pretending to be, by the time we pulled into the gravel driveway of home.

This is still my favorite way to enjoy the 4th of July.  Tonight, the hubby and I will grab some chairs and a cooler and drive out to some roadside or parking lot, where I will fidget and whine and chant, “WE WANT FIREWORKS!” until the the sky lights up with color.

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