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Art of the Journal: Follow Your Senses to Memories (Or How I Followed Lilacs to Flat Feet …)

Updated: May 18, 2021

Each morning, I gaze out my window, coffee at hand, and begin a journal entry. I just jot what I see, weatherwise. This exercise is a holdover from my 20s when I challenged myself to describe the sunset from the Anderson Memorial Bridge in Cambridge, MA. Daily word painting forced me to grow beyond “egg yolk gold” because what’s an egg got to do with the dusk in a college town? Wrong tone… So, I start with something visible like the morning sky, then allow abstract thoughts to seep through my subconscious into my conscious mind. And I begin to journal.

Today I see e.e. cummings’ “leaping greenly spirits of trees” against Wedgewood blue sky. I notice purple lilacs along the driveway. Lilacs so fragrant, so redolent of my childhood that I am catapulted back to my pony tail years in Auburn Village, NH.

Suddenly it’s 1959, a crystalline May morning and my fifth-grade class at the Auburn Village School circles the flagpole. Sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders fill in behind us in the warm sunshine. The principal, rigid as the white pole he stands beside, booms that we are about to witness history! We are about to hoist the new flag of the United States of America! The new flag that includes the new states of Hawaii and Alaska! Last winter hadn’t our teacher invited us to submit our own design for a 50-star flag to replace the old one with only 48? President Eisenhower himself had issued the challenge! I think I traced a cookie cutter to draw “U S A” in white on a blue ground, but my design hadn’t won.

Now some big eighth-grade boys clip the red, white, and blue cotton fabric to the ropes. A pulley creaks and the flag jerks upward. A breeze catches it and flings it open! “All join in the Pledge of Allegiance!” shouts the principal. Then the teachers and girls warble “My Country Tis of Thee” while the boys look at their Keds® and scuff the ground.

That’s all I remember of the simple ceremony, but my bloodhound mind has caught the scent of grade school and I’m off! Schoolyard games. Red rover! Come over! Jump rope chants.

Apples, peaches, pears, and plums.

What is the month your birthday comes?

January. February…

We girls played double Dutch jump rope as soon as the snow melted, but the muddy rope often slapped our legs and knee socks. Jumping splashed our socks. That’s when Mom decided I was old enough to scrub my own socks by hand. Knee socks, even in argyle patterns weren’t as embarrassing as those sturdy gray oxfords I had to wear. “Good for your feet,” said Mom, but hopelessly ugly. Decades later I would recognize the flat feet Mom had worked diligently to correct.


Isn’t this blog supposed to be about writing? About looking out windows and seeing lilacs? How did we get to lace-up shoes and flat feet?

Such is the unpredictable journey of journaling. Of free writing. Of spontaneous associations. Perhaps those gray oxfords will guide me toward memories of Mom and her diligent care of my health. Perhaps the shoes will remind me of other shoes: ballet slippers, Easter shoes, galoshes with buckles and the events where I wore them.

Do you remember the first-grade Dick and Jane reader? The first words? Page one: “Look.” Page two: “Look. Look.” Sixty-five years later, I’m still looking.

Are you?

Writing is an extension of seeing. Remember to look. Trust your senses to make not-so-random connections. Daily journal writing – just ten minutes -- simply primes you to be alert, to record your observations. We won’t publish these yet. Now is a time for discovery.

Look out the window.

Invitation - Your Turn:

  • Look out the window and describe what you see. Write for 10 minutes. Allow uninvited, spontaneous images to intrude. Follow wherever the memory takes you. And jot it down. Set aside. Do this again tomorrow. And the day after that. Don’t worry about neatness, grammar, or spelling! The beauty treatment comes later. Much later!

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