I’m resurrecting the Curiosity Journal I began years ago. An autodidact’s journal. A lifelong learner’s exploration. A commonplace book. The monthly Curiosity Journal will document six areas that ignite a curious mind: learn, read, write, play, try, listen.
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I love learning new things, whether knowledge, trivia, insight, or skills. This month’s learning included advice from Andy Anderson, a centenarian highlighted in an article written by his great-granddaughter who interviewed him for the piece (though, actually, I’ve already learned these things and he merely articulated them).
1. Always maintain a good sense of humor.
8. Eat around the mold; don’t go wasting food.
9. Your family is the most precious thing you will ever have in life.
12. Don’t ever be afraid to be your true self.
14. You must be able to forgive, even if it’s difficult to do.
20. Education is important, but not necessary. Life can be an education in itself.
21. Explore your world and stay curious.
24. Have common sense. Think about the most reasonable answer to every situation. If you don’t have common sense, you’re a bust.
In addition to insights from Mr. Anderson, I’m learning how to use MailChimp, which is how you receive this when you sign up to receive blog posts and updates via email.
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“Scenes in a life are merely portals for understanding the greater thing, the invisible.” This line from Amber Haines‘ recently released Wild in the Hollow seems to capture her philosophy of memoir: use the scenes to understand the greater thing.
Multi-sensory description and metaphor invite the reader to observe intimate experiences—scenes—and their internal impact. Desire, loss, despair…she shares it straight, and she shares it slant.
I went out to see my oldest floating in brittle vines three stories over my head. I shook all over and felt the pressure build as I acclimated again to life with four sons. I talked him down. The suckle was parched in drought. Fear of the break knotted into my memory. I feared they would fall. I feared they would slip through my hands like undrunk water. I feared what I would make of the time I had.
She blends tangible and intangible, literal and metaphorical. The act of preserving through story this moment and so many others freezes them in time. She models a literary way to fight that fear of squandering the time we have, of living parched and brittle: Remember. Reflect. Write.
Themes wind through her stories like those brittle vines, reminders of the entangling of desire.
This is what I know of desire. Desire affects the whole person, mind, body, and soul. Desire is a drive. It is a hunger that opens its mouth. It is a dissatisfaction, a longing, a wintered beast of prey. It is the hand of Potipher’s wife for Joseph’s coat. It is madness for the harp of David.
Her pacing, her allusions, and her confessional approach lure us into the text, the story, the scenes. The work of memoir leads her to understanding the greater thing and she yearns for us to understand her, to join her—she beckons us to embrace the greater thing.
Like the heart prone to wander admitted in the hymn “Come Thou Fount,” Amber reveals her own wandering heart and that of her husband in aching lines:
Deeper into the bottle and deeper into my to-do lists and imaginary occasions to wear beautiful clothes, we engaged ourselves in an undoing, and with every undoing…I entered deeper inside myself, desire so muddy I didn’t know I wasn’t whole. I didn’t know I oozed with rage and isolated myself because of it. I didn’t know believers could live in a constant, shirking retreat of the soul.
She faces her soul that’s devolved into despair and finds the gift of living with sorrow.
[I] see that my striving against sadness had driven me to despair. In those days of gaining traction and remembering my gifts, I remembered the gift of suffering, of sharing in it with Christ, and how I was actually made to live close to sadness, to bear up under the yoke, because that yoke is with my Jesus, the man of sorrows. To reject the shared suffering and sorrow with our Lord is to invite despair, and to walk as a burden bearer with him is to oppose despair.
There is joy, too, and hilarity. She describes an early morning flight.
[T]he attendant offered me a drink, and with every intense ounce of my being, I asked for coffee. I may have grunted it, because she and the woman on my left bent their bodies in a knee-slapping laugh right to my face. I laughed, too, and then had to explain that I was a decade tired in the mother way. I said, “I have four sons!
The decade-weary mother of sons presents herself both strong and struggling, sinner and prophet, acquainted with sorrow and filled with laughter. Amber has unlatched a portal to her soul through this lyrical, vulnerable memoir.
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I love providing people with resources to be more curious, creative, and productive, so I enjoyed putting together a post packed with ways to generate writing ideas. My hope is that writers will tap into some of these and always have material to work with.
One of those methods has changed the way I close out my days. I now practice an evening reflection—an idea I got from professional storyteller Matthew Dicks. At bedtime, I think of the one story from the day that had the greatest meaning—something that made that particular day different from all the rest. Then I take just one to five minutes to write that story down. Dicks says if you write too much, you’ll start to feel overwhelmed and probably stop this valuable practice. If you keep it concise, though, with just enough detail to expand on later, you’ll collect rich material to work with when you want to say more.
He uses a spreadsheet with the dates down the side and a wide column for the stories. I like that method of logging them, and I’ve been reflecting daily—capturing “scenes,” to borrow Amber Haines’ word—and realize how days that seem to vary little actually offer unique stories I want to preserve. Not only do I have ideas to write about—I chronicle my days in a simple, sustainable way.
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It’s been a hard year. Play seems silly when dealing with heavy, draining, chaotic issues.
And yet play can breathe life and laughter into those heavy, draining, chaotic moments, making them bearable.
Last week some of the Tweetspeak Poetry team came to visit, and Charity Singleton Craig arranged for several delightful outings, including a walk through the design district of a nearby town, where we snapped photos with the lifelike statues, and a stop at the art museum, where our group spread out and toured the museum, discovering texture, color, and several surprises.
For as long as I’ve lived here, our museum has always been free. A few months ago, however, the museum announced it was switching to a membership model. I boycotted it, frustrated.
On the day Tweetspeak came to tour the grounds and museum, though, I caved. At the counter, I voiced my complaint. The woman said, “We couldn’t afford to continue.” I said, “Well, I used to come all the time, but I’ve been boycotting the place.” Then she pointed to a sale sign and said the premium membership has never been so low. I plunked down my credit card, investing in a membership that allows me to come back any time and bring friends.
I’ll be back.
Because friends remind me to play.
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I encourage my writing coach clients to try new things. Experiment. They’ve tried systems that frustrate them (so they try something else) and others that right away fit well. By trying something new, they find themselves a little more organized and productive. Curious people are willing to try new things.
In the past, while experimenting with productivity, organizational and time management systems and philosophies, I tried the Getting Things Done® or GTD approach. I integrated many of David Allen’s ideas, including this simple question: “What’s the next action?” That question helps me break big writing projects into manageable chunks, prioritizing and ordering them as I go.
I’m trying another question these days. It complements David Allen’s question. It’s this: “What’s the best use of my time?” An equally simple question, but it reminds me to log off Facebook and stay on task with projects that lead me toward my goals.
While I’m on the subject of trying various productivity apps and systems…
- I tried Trello and left it behind.
- I tried Evernote, but it never clicked.
- I tried to try OneNote, but my phone didn’t have enough memory.
- I tried Google Keep, and it’s fine for quick and simple notes. I use it still.
- I tried Wunderlist for simple to-do lists. It served me for a year or two, but I outgrew it.
- So I tried Todoist, which I love.
- Google Calendar: yes.
- Google Drive Docs: yes.
- Google Drive Sheets: yes.
- Scrivener: Trying it now. Haven’t loved it, but haven’t given up yet. I’m really trying.
- Square: yes.
- MailChimp: yes.
- Hiveage: yes. It’s simple and for now, that’s all I need.
I also tried a high-tech standing desk. I wouldn’t want to use it all day every day, but maybe in the mornings it will help my brain get going and stay alert.
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I’m trying to listen to conversations in the news, in the world, in social media. In this section, I might share some responses to those big topics, but more likely I’ll share music or podcasts I’ve enjoyed, or a conversation that captured my imagination. I’m going to practice listening and share what I hear, because curious people learn to be attentive listeners.
I followed along with Problogger’s 31 Days to Build a Better Blog podcast and recommend it to anyone who blogs. The 31 Days challenge ended, but you can find those episodes in the archives through iTunes and Stitcher. Not every idea will work for every blogger, but many of the challenges are worth trying.
Speaking of podcasts, I’m thrilled to share that you can subscribe to my podcast, “The Writing Life with Ann Kroeker,” with iTunes and Stitcher.
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I’ve always valued, even nurtured, a healthy, holy curiosity that tends to stretch me, surprise me, and lead me to a more creative and productive life. Tracking the month’s curiosity journal entries reminds me to stay open, ask questions, try new things, play, and pass along my discoveries to others.
Photos of policeman statue taken by Sandra Heska King. Used with permission. Images with words created by Isabelle Kroeker.
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Charity Singleton Craig says
Couldn’t be happier that you’ve resurrected the curiosity journals. I LOVE them! I like the practice of capturing one story from the day. That seems like something I should try. I also need to do more playing in my life. I can get so serious … grrrr.
And I need to finish the Problogger series. I loved the few I’ve listened to.
Ann Kroeker says
I’m so glad you enjoy these–they are such a jumble of unrelated things until you realize it all fits under that one idea of being curious! I like that I can write a little about several things, none of which necessitate an entire blog post all their own. It was fun to bring it back. Thank you for encouraging me in so many ways, and being a part of my priority to play!!
Monica Sharman says
I enlarged the “Write” image so I could read what’s written in that notebook. Love it.
Ann Kroeker says
My daughter took the photos and created the images. I don’t even know what the journal says…it’s something she might have been copying out or writing. That’s her handwriting. Mine’s illegible. 🙂
Gilllian Marchenko says
This is great! I just ordered a copy of Wild in the Hallow. Excited to read it!
Ann Kroeker says
Gillian, as a memoirist, you’ll appreciate her style…and her openness about some really big events in her life.
Sandra Heska King says
So glad to see some of the ideas we talked about here in writing. I’ve always loved this journal, and I’m so glad to see it back. Makes me curious about what you’ll write about next. Say hi to the officer for me when you see him next. 🙂
Ann Kroeker says
Sandra, thank you for those excellent photos–what a fun evening and visit to the museum! I love hanging out with you!
Diana Trautwein says
Love this! But dang it, now I’ve got another one of yours to bookmark!
Ann Kroeker says
Ha! Glad to give you that problem!
This inspires me! I’m going to recommend that a writer’s group I’m joining at work try something like this… so great to continue to grow and challenge ourselves to new experiences and ideas. Thanks for modeling it so well, Ann.
Ann Kroeker says
I’m so glad! I think it’s fun to raise my awareness of what I’m learning and let a healthy sense of curiosity send me off to grow. Hope your writing groups gives it a go, and be sure to let me know how they respond. I’d love to hear!