What’s Your Story?

Do you keep journals? Write in a diary?

What is a journal? Business people will tell you that it’s a “record that keeps accounting transactions in chronological order, i.e. as they occur. ”

Writers use journals to come up with story ideas or to make memory lists for memoir. Journals help us tap into our creativity.

Mental health professionals often suggest keeping a journal as a means to discover your inner self and identify issues you may have hidden from yourself.

Journals can be very private or shared with individuals or groups.

Journals and diaries are a way to:

  • leave your legacy for your children
  • sort out your feelings about the past
  • communicate with yourself and others
  • unleash the right side of your brain (creativity)
  • figure out day-to-day issues and time management
  • understand your life story
  • keep track of a specific event as it is happening in your life

I tend to use random spiral notebooks for my journals, but there are many more formal journals you can purchase. They may have “prompts” in case you aren’t sure what to write about.

Years ago, after the birth of my first grandchild, my son and daughter-in-law gave me a journal called “Grandma, Tell Me Your Story.” Each page had a prompt for each day of the year. There were blank pages at the end where I could write whatever came to mind. The topics were something like:

  • January 1 – How did your family celebrate the New Year?
  • January 2 – What were your favorite activities in the winter?

Most months had holiday-specific prompts (if there was a holiday that month) as well as general topics like “Did you ever get in trouble at school? What did you do?” or “What was your favorite Halloween costume? Describe it.” One particularly poignant page in September asked “Where were you on 9/11?”

I wrote in the journal each day and by the end of the year, I returned it to my son for my granddaughter to read in the future.

Recently, I found another “Grandmother” journal that I plan to write WITH my granddaughter. It’s a “back and forth” journal where one of us writes and tJounral grandmahe other responds.

I am scheduled for a major surgical procedure next week and have been journaling about it. It will require major lifestyle changes so I am ambivalent and a little scared. Will I be able to do what is needed to stay healthy? I’d planned to grab a regular notebook to write in, but my friend said I should buy a special journal since this will be a major change in my life. She thought it would be wise to write down the process as well as my anxiety and feelings of anticipation. Why am I having the procedure? How will it improve my life? What will I be able to do afterwards that I can’t do now? What is the doctor telling me day-to-day?

I saw some journals at the card store while I was looking for Father’s Day and birthday cards. One caught my eye. It was beautifully bound and combined adult coloring designs and lined pages. But, it cost $25 so I put it down. A spiral notebook would only cost $2 or so. I told my friend, an adult coloring book fan, about it and she said I needed to go back and get the journal. “You deserve it.”

While out shopping, I was near another card store, same company. I decided to stop in rather than driving across town to the one where I originally saw the journal. Disappointed, no journals like it were to be seen. I asked the cashier as I was leaving the store and she pointed, saying, “Check out the clearance table.”

I walked over and laying on the table among scented candles, stuffed Easter bunnies, and small Mother’s Day plaques sat a lone coloring journal. Spiral and paper instead of leather bound, the coloring areas were on the outer margins of each page instead of the top. Price: $5. I couldn’t pass it up. I took it to the cashier and she rang it up at $2.50. Even better. “Clearance” proved true. Being a spiral, it’s easier to open up flat and write.

journals2

With a price like that, I couldn’t resist buying a second one listed for $8. It was more elaborate with pale green binding and sayings inside as well as coloring at the top.

I should be set for awhile.

I’ve discovered that writing in the coloring journal isn’t as tiring if I write awhile and then color awhile. Different hand muscles are in use for each activity.

journal inside

I have other journals that I will leave for my children as legacy. There is one about Family Traditions. Each major holiday has page where I wrote about typical ways we celebrated when our sons were small or still living at home. Each page has a pocket side where I store mementos such as cards, place-mats or small items.

There are so many journals out there that are fun and useful. I hope you can find one or two you like. To paraphrase the beginning definition of a journal by accountants –” A journal is a record that keeps personal and family history in chronological order, i.e. as they occur. ” Or not.

Journal mothers

 

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Writing Class

An opportunity presented itself to me this winter. I found out about a program at the local university called the “Senior Passport.”

I hate to admit that I celebrated my “Medicare Birthday” this year but being 65 has given me some new opportunities. I signed up to audit a class on writing short stories. It has been a wonderful experience.

Each Monday, we meet and discuss short stories and present short stories we have written since the previous class. The professor packs the classes full of information and activities. Fortunately, we are a small group so there is time to get most of it in.

Each week, one of the students presents a short story to the class. The story I chose was “Train” by Alice Munro. With the stories, we discuss the author’s background, the story plot and twists, the characters and the setting.

Then we critique short stories we have written. This is my favorite part. It is fun to read what other people have written and to offer suggestions to one another. The other students are all fairly young but they offer many good suggestions on how I can improve my stories and in turn, I offer my opinions on their stories.

Writing in a group has a way of bringing people together, of bonding with one another. Being the “old lady” of the class, when we first met, the others were more interested in looking at their i-Phones than chatting during break. But as we began to share our stories, we talked to each other more. We got to know one another through our writing.

When I presented my story about growing up in small town America in the 1950’s, many of the other students came up to me afterwards with comments. One young man asked me about Roger Maris. He lived in Fargo, SD, for awhile and told me about a museum dedicated to Roger Maris in that town. We talked about the excerpt from my story (below) and shared some laughs.

Leaving their dogs to roam the streets, they’d head to the theater four blocks away.  Once inside, they bounced on the padded flip-down seats and waited for the lights to dim. “I hope they show Bugs Bunny today.” Gloria grabbed a handful of popcorn from the bag.

“I like Woody Woodpecker best,” Bob said.  They both made the classic “Hahaha-ha-ha” laugh of the cartoon character.

            The bouncing stopped as they heard the whirl of the reels begin. A black and white circle with a grid appeared on the screen, “Please Stand By.” They clapped their hands. A countdown flashed with numbers and they chanted, “Five, four, three, two, one.” Then the newsreel announcing “News of the Day.” Black and white pictures appeared on the big screen. Large white letters announced that Queen Elizabeth christened a ship somewhere. Roger Maris hit another home run.

            “I love Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle,” she whispered to Bob.

Another student talked to me about anorexia, a topic I breach in my story.

Flipping to the next page, she found several greeting cards. “Happy 6th Birthday” in big red letters.  A chubby cheeked girl in pink drawn holding a bunny on the front of another said, “You’re Turning Six!” One caught her eyes in particular. It was from her big sister, Barbara. She recognized the exact loops, uniform and clear, marking her signature. Always perfect. Her sister was ten years older than she and the oldest, making her the boss of the family. Whatever Barbara wanted, she got. She was talented, smart and pretty. But she was also a tyrant.

Gloria thought she probably had anorexia. Back in 1957, no one knew about anorexia nervosa. Mental illness was considered a character flaw. Barbara hid her problem from adults, but the siblings knew something was amiss.  She ate a lot of celery.

Others talked to me about my story in general and commented on what they liked about it as well as some pitfalls in my writing. It was interesting to see how the story brought us together.

Writing is a powerful tool. We are reading “Fortune Smiles” a book by Adam Johnson, a Pulitzer prize winner. His short stories are very intriguing. Our professor asked if we thought writing was just for entertainment or was there a deeper purpose? Most of us agreed that writing can change minds and promote social justice. Why else would tyrannical governments burn books if the words inside didn’t offer threat?

Books like “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” brought the plight of slavery to the forefront. Dozens of books including “To Kill a Mockingbird” shed light on the law and people’s prejudices. The short stories in Johnson’s book touch on topics such as cancer/death and dying, living with a disabled wife, pedophilia, and the Cold War attitude of an East German prison warden.

The class has given further proof that “The pen is mightier than the sword.” The most exhilarating feeling for me is when my writing touches a soul. I may curse the Muses and wonder why I were given this “need to write” but then, once in a while, something magical happens and people are influenced by something I’ve written.

Have you ever had that happen? Tell me about it.

 

 

Lamenting Summer’s End

As the kids go back to school, I am introspective.  Memories of past summers pop into my head like the whack-o-doodle games at the county fairs.

I grew up in a small town in central Nebraska, population around 3650 in the 1950’s. The summer before entering junior high, my family moved to Broken Bow, similar in size but located out in “the middle of nowhere.”  At least, my previous home town was on a main highway and had several other small towns nearby. It was a farming community and I was a “town” girl whose dad was the hospital administrator.

harvest time Cozad 1958

grain elevator 1958 Cozad

Broken Bow was called the “Foothills of the Sandhills” with many canyons and ravines surrounding it, more conducive for cattle ranching. Cowboy country. People rode horses into town. I went from large combines and farm equipment blocking the highways to cattle in the road. From smelly alfalfa mills to  stinky feedlots.

Stars and Sputnik

My early summer memories were filled with picnics at the park, going to the city swimming pool, helping Mom with the garden, picking cherries from the tree in our backyard, playing with the neighbor-kids and sleeping out in the backyard with my friends, sometimes in a tent, but oftentimes just in sleeping bags, “under the stars.”

The stars in both small towns were amazing. I remember Mom taking me outside on a warm summer evening and gazing at the stars. She was an expert in the constellations and pointed out several. I learned about Cassiopeia, Orion’s belt, the North Star and of course, the Big and Little Dippers. All were so clear on summer nights in towns where very few street lights pierced the darkness.

I remember when the Russians launched Sputnik. Mom and I went out to look at the night sky and see if we could spot Sputnik traveling across the darkness, shining among the billions of stars that twinkled above. I had a hard time imagining a little dog inside that bright light as it passed overhead.

Vacations and camping

I recall several of our family vacations when I was preteen and younger. Our relatives lived back East, so every few years, Dad would rent a camper and we would take off for Pennsylvania, camping along the way. Campgrounds were pretty rustic back then. No KOAs until later. With six kids, Mom and Dad organized us. We each had our duties. My big brothers helped Dad set up the camper (we usually had a “roll-up” or  “pop-up” type camper like JayCo, Starcraft, Coleman brands.) Mom and I would start the food preparation while one of my other brothers looked for firewood and a water source. Usually the water source was a pump sticking out of the ground. Campgrounds used to cost around $2-5 dollars and some were even free! No plumbing, so my oldest brother always sought out the outhouse. If it was too rustic, he refused to use it. A less rustic outhouse would have a toilet seat over the hole instead of just a hole in a plank.

When KOA campgrounds came into vogue in the 1960’s, we were happy to finally be able to take showers and use “real bathrooms.” (I’m sure our awaiting relatives in Pennsylvania felt the same!)  Of course, the price of camping went up, but it was worth it!

Susan_on_vacation_1969

Camping was great fun for me. I loved the outdoors and meeting other campers. We didn’t seem to  worry about any “Deliverance” type people. I don’t know if Mom and Dad scouted for unsavory types or if they chose campgrounds that looked safer. The worst part of camping for me was tick bites. I hated having ticks burrow under my skin. Mosquitoes were bad, too, especially when we camped in Minnesota where mosquitoes are the “state bird.”

We tended to travel the “northern” route on the way to Pennsylvania, going through Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio and the “southern” route coming home–West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois. Before I went to college, I had visited every state east of the Mississippi with the exceptions of the New England states and Florida. My parents made sure we took a different route every time we traveled so we saw new places. When I was in 4th grade and got my first Brownie camera, we even drove up into Canada and came down through Niagara Falls.

School Starting Soon

The end of summer was marked by back-to-school plans and buying new clothes, shoes and supplies. School supplies didn’t show up on store shelves until late August back then. And school didn’t start until after Labor Day.

When we moved, my 12-year-old self lost interest in star-gazing and was more curious about my new surroundings and making friends. It was a difficult summer and beginning of school year as I had spent 10 years of my formative years in the farm community. I missed the friends I had grown up with. Everyone was concerned about my older brother who was being uprooted his Senior year of high school, but he adjusted much better than I did. After all, Broken Bow welcomed him because he was a big football player. I was a mere awkward pre-teen, very insecure and lonely.  At first… Then the kids found out that I was the sister of the big football player!

Summer fun

As a teenager in Broken Bow, there wasn’t much to do. Churches would have an occasional ice cream social or picnic and the merchants had “Crazy Daze” where there were sidewalk sales and merchants dressed in crazy outfits, sometimes a parade was held to encourage shoppers to dress up as well. One summer, my little brother went as a “doomsday” guy carrying a sign proclaiming that the world would end tomorrow. (Of course, he thought it was funny to say, “Tomorrow never comes. It’s always today!” Smart little guy.)

Charlie the end is near Crazy DaysCrazy Daze

“Driving around” was the preferred entertainment on summer evenings. Friends lucky enough to have their own cars would load up those of us who were car-less and we would drive around town and honk at each other. We could waste an entire tank of gas just driving up and down Main Street. We drove out to the drive-in theater area, turned around and drove to the Texaco station, turned around and made the loop over and over all evening. Of course, we listened to the radio.

In Broken Bow, very few radio signals could be picked up. And those we could get, we didn’t like. They played old-time country music, the twangy “uncool” kind, or polka music. In the evening we were able to pick up KOMA from Oklahoma City. They played “modern” music,  so that was our mainstay. Tape decks in cars came out in my late teen years. We thought we were in hog heaven if we were in a car with a tape deck! Most kids drove old “junkers” which added to the charm of driving around. (I will save the car details for another blog post.)

County Fairs

As summer wound down, county fairs popped up. In the farm community of my early years, I was in 4-H which meant we girls got ready for the fair by practicing singing for competition, creating items like decorative trays for demonstrations, baking cookies and sewing dresses. Our leaders took us to the county seat, 16 miles down the road from our town, to compete. If we were lucky, one of our projects would win a ribbon; purple and blue went to the State Fair in Lincoln. I made a tablecloth and matching cloth napkins that went to State one year. I was so proud!

4-H in Cowboy Country was much different. I didn’t get involved because it was about raising livestock. Some of my friends had lambs and calves that they raised for the fair. Living in town made it hard to do anything like that.

Broken Bow was/is the county seat, so the county fair and rodeos took place just outside of town at the fairgrounds. The fairgrounds were also the site for the Fourth of July fireworks. When fair-time arrived, a big carnival would move in, setting up rides and the arcade. There were always comments about how you would get cheated at the arcade games, but that didn’t stop people from trying to win the big stuffed animals. Many a guy spent well over the worth of the teddy bears they won for their girls at the fair.

The summer evenings at the fair were electric (figuratively and literally) as the colorful lights and musical sounds attracted us. Riding the ferris wheel or octopus seemed much more thrilling in the dark. Smells of cotton candy and popcorn also allured us. There was usually a street dance at the county fair, too.

Looking back, summers seemed so carefree, but that is probably just my mind reworking the events to fit my chosen memories.

“Time is a dressmaker specializing in alterations.” ~Faith Baldwin

Cowgirl Susan (2)