be a tourist in your own life

Journal THAT

A Guide to Writing

cynthia gregory

One way to journal is to forget everything you know about the place where you live. You learn to look at the world as if you just popped through a worm hole from some other verdant, vividly lush and distant planet. Instead of going about your regular routines, I bet you would begin to really see the world you inhabit.

How many times do you go about your business and then suddenly realize that you can’t remember the last ten minutes? That you had been on autopilot, with your body operating the family car, stopping at lights and pausing for pedestrians while your mind had zipped off to distant canyons and gullies of memory and illusion? You’ve arrived safely and no one was hurt, thank goodness, but what would happen if you were fully embodied, fully present, each day of your life? Would you see the world differently? My vote is yes.

It’s a fact that we do not cultivate the practice of notice very well. We are bombarded by television, radio, the Internet, literally thousands of messages a day and so it’s natural that we begin to shut down. In many cases, shutting down is a natural mechanism of survival. The trouble is, once you begin to shut out the ugly of the world, you inevitably begin to shut out the beautiful and remarkable and miraculous, too.

In Eastern traditions people are taught to breathe mindfully. They are taught to sit quietly and focus on their breath for five, ten, fifteen minutes or more. They are taught to let their thoughts go, like confetti in a balloon, to just float away. If minutes pass and you realize that you have got caught up in your thoughts again you simply put those thoughts in a balloon, release them, and return to focusing on your breath. This is a powerful practice, one I heartily advocate not only because it inevitably brings you to a state of poise and charm, but because when you then turn your attention to the world around you again, it looks fresh and clean and lit from within. This is an excellent perspective to bring to your journaling.

So instead of tuning the world out, set the dial on high and tune it in. Begin to notice things like what is the sound of your breath entering and exiting your body? Is it a soft hush or is it a turgid gasp? Listen to your breath for five minutes and then begin to notice the other sounds you’ve been filtering out. Do you hear the sound of warm air blowing through the vents to heat the room? The ticking of the mantle clock in the den? Can you distinguish between the sound of a car going by outside and a truck? Does the lamp you’re writing under emit a faint buzzing noise?

Put yourself on a notice diet: but notice more, not less. Go for a walk and pay attention. How many varieties of garden sculpture do your neighbor’s exhibit? What kinds of flowers are in bloom just now? Have you noticed the faces of the people waiting at the bus stop just as someone who has a story that is probably quite interesting if you had a chance to ask?

Almost no one I’ve ever talked to about it thought their story was interesting. But I’m telling you, their story is remarkable. They just stopped noticing the details. They forgot that their life was miraculous in about a million ways.

So where’s an idea: write about your life like you don’t own it. Write about last Christmas like you’re a staff writer at a big agency and you’re creating a storyboard for a movie that will be seen around the world and sent into space by powerful satellites and viewed by people who have no idea what Santa is about, and why people decorate trees with shiny glass orbs. Explain what your house looks like as if you were describing it to a blind person. Paint a picture with words to describe your dog to a boy who has never seen a dog in his life. Illustrate a journal entry about last night’s dinner with words so smoky and succulent that your nostrils twitch and your stomach yowls. Visit your local grocery store like you’re a tourist from Hungary. Have you ever noticed, really noticed how many different brands of bread there are? How many varieties of potato chips are sold? Go to your local Chamber of Commerce and ask for a directory of its members and marvel that people do the kinds of jobs they do. Lick the inside of your wrist and then sniff it to see what your breath smells like.

Stop living on auto-pilot. Cultivate an appreciation for each Now that shows up. Now, I reach for my water bottle and the cool liquid slides down my throat. Now, my fingers pull away the skin of an orange. Now, I call on inspiration and she takes my hand and we walk.

the night was about to get long

copyright2011/all rights reserved


a novel by


Chapter Ten(a)

There were few people that gave Bicky Coleman pause, but William Graighton was one of them.  A large man in all respects, Graighton was also the most powerful man in the oil industry and had the last word on a host of things that the oil companies did together.  If OPEC could have their little coalition, so could the giants of U.S. oil, and William Graighton was the glue that held them all together.  Bicky thought he had a slightly unorthodox way of dealing with things, but Akanabi had made a ton of money since Graighton took over, leaving Bicky to assume the man was prescient.  Given the state of things, having a cocktail with Graighton this evening was downright unnerving.

“Have a seat,” Graighton said.

Bicky slid into the plush velvet armchair.  Two drinks were already on the table.  Bicky raised his glass.  The ice clanked against the sides in his shaking hands.  He took a sip.

“Nervous?” Graighton asked.  “You think I’d poison you?”

A corner of Bicky’s mouth quirked up in response; he coughed.

Graighton laughed out loud and grabbed Bicky’s arm, applying pressure with a firm grip.  “Lighten up.  It was a joke.”  Graighton flashed a half-smile and took a slow slip of his whiskey.  When he spoke again, it sounded gravelly and harsh, like the bottom of the barrel.

“Where’s the report?”

Bicky pushed it across the table toward Graighton who laid a gentle hand on it.

“How’d you know?”

Graighton laughed again.  “I have to know.”  He pushed the report back toward Bicky.  “Next time…” he flashed Bicky a wry smile punctuated by the beep of his cell phone.  Graighton looked at the number, waving away the rest of his words.

“Yeah,” he said into the tiny mouthpiece, all but dwarfed by his beefy hands.

Bicky tried to gauge the substance of the call, pretending to sip his drink.  He watched Graighton’s large hand, resting on the envelope.  Surely, he couldn’t have guessed.  Graighton had his back to Bicky and was speaking in hushed tones.  Despite their proximity, Bicky couldn’t hear what Graighton was saying.  Well, to heck with him.

He tapped Graigthon on the arm and the big man stiffened.  An electric shock ran  through Bicky’s fingertips and he yanked his arm back.  He mouthed the word bathroom to Graighton and rose, laying a hand across his lower abdomen.  Graighton gave him a disgusted look, waving him away as one would a gnat.  Bicky left the alcove and headed for the front door.


He stood on the front steps of the Union Club, waiting for his car.  The valet arrived and held the door open.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to call your driver, Sir?”

“Yes.”  The response was curt and conclusive.  Bicky handed the valet three $100 dollar bills.  “As far as you know, I never left.”

The valet nodded and shut the door as Bicky pulled away.

It was only after Bicky was out of sight that he looked down at the bills in his hand.  He smiled and pocketed the money, turning up his collar against the cool night air, then turned and walked back into the foyer.  A second car crept out of the parking lot, following Bicky’s car at a safe distance.  The valet never saw the second car leave.


Forty-five minutes later, Bicky was at the bar, Chivas in hand, his full attention on Hart.

“So.  Tell me,” Bicky said.  Despite the central air conditioning, Bicky pulled out a handkerchief and wiped at the beads of sweat forming on his brow.

“Well, it’s hot. And sandy.  No humidity though.  Which just goes to prove that those people who say it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity, have never been to the desert.”

“What else?”  Bicky arched an eyebrow and waited.

“It’s state of the art stuff.  Really.  Those guys didn’t skimp when it came to installation.  The problem is all the sand.  The finest equipment in the world doesn’t hold up with all that stuff blowing around.  And it can get windy as hell there.”

“Can we make money?”

“We can always make money.  You just gotta keep somebody on the job is all.  But a couple hundred thousand in salaries is nothing compared to what you can pull out of the ground there.  It’s like a geyser.”

“Like our wells used to be before we pumped the crap out of them?”  Bicky said with a trace of melancholy.  He sipped his whiskey and stared off into the alcove across the room for so long that Hart finally turned around to see what in the hell his father-in-law was looking at: empty space.

“You alright?” Hart asked.

“Yeah.  Sure,” Bicky said.

Hart eyed his father-in-law with mild curiosity.  “We can finish this tomorrow.”

Bicky looked to his watch. “Nonsense.  Too early.  Have a drink with me, boy.  Wash that road dirt away.”  He motioned to the waiter to bring two more whiskeys.  Hart checked his own watch.  The night was about to get long.

to be continued. . .

to read what came before, scroll down. . .

embrace the writing geek

copyright 2011/all rights reserved.

Journal THAT

A Guide to Writing

cynthia gregory

The practice of becoming a writing geek will show huge rewards almost immediately. If you have mastered the rock concert, the dinner in a five star eatery, the transcontinental journey – utterly and completely alone, there will be rewards, there just won’t be as much contrast because you already know what it’s like to push the far edge of discovery, to test your parts.

You can’t write a journal or anything else if you aren’t ready to go out on your own. It’s true that writing is a solitary act, but you must take your act on the road because there just ain’t enough material hidden away in the attic. You must get out, you must. If you need fortitude, and this is so delicious, grab a book. Going out alone is easy, if you carry a book with you.  With a book you can go anywhere. A book is a passport. You can go anywhere with any book and you will be assumed a) intelligent, or b) important. Once you begin to carry a journal and a novel around with you as backup for solo social adventures, you become a writing geek. You have earned your membership card, and are almost a candidate for the secret geek decoder ring.

As a writing geek, I am imminently qualified to offer the warning signs that you too, are becoming a writing geek. These traits are not listed in any particular order of importance; your characteristics may have a remarkable quality all their own.

  1. You carry your journal around with you everywhere, and when you don’t have it with you, your brain becomes stuffed to overflowing with provocative ideas.
  2. You have a favorite style of pen you like to use because you like the way it feels moving across the page. You actually write so much that you can tell the difference between different kinds of pens, and you have one kind that you highly favor.
  3. You will not, under any circumstances, let anyone ‘borrow’ your favorite pen. No sirree, no way.
  4. Sometimes your favorite pen leaks and gives a great, huge blotch of blue stain over to your fingers that no amount liquid detergent can erase. These distinguishing marks afford you great satisfaction.
  5. You take your journal everywhere. Did I already mention that? I mean seriously, everywhere.
  6. You take notes like a mental patient. Standing in line at the grocery, waiting for your double deluxe non-fat extra dry, no-foam latte, sitting on a stone bench at the car wash. Everywhere.
  7. You write in the morning, you write at night. You write fast and furiously, lazily and languidly; you write like you’re making your own life up as you record each savory verb, each tangy noun.
  8. You dream of writing and may actually be jealous that your dream writer is a more resolute wordie than you.
  9. You arrive early at the movies and sit in the semi-dark, jotting notes about the way the place smells, the distant sounds that penetrate the think walls between auditoriums, the ordinary quality of light.
  10. You sit in public places writing, and ignore the sideways glances of strangers who imagine that you’re a journalist, traveling through exotic locations to record the behavior of native dwellers in their habitat.
  11. You keep more than one journal at a time, separating journals by subject and/or reference to time, distinguished by a a shade of nuance that only you understand.
  12. You have a voracious appetite for fiction and non-fiction, in no apparent order.
  13. Words dance around your head like the little birds in the animated version of Snow White. They even dance on your fingers when bidden.
  14. You copy entire phrases out of books you love or by poets whose babies you would birth if only you could.
  15. Your journals are filled with your inspired works and the works of those who inspire you because imitation is the highest form of flattery and beside how else will you fake it until you make it, and it’s okay as long as credit is given where credit is due?
  16. You have journals so precious they never leave a particular room in your house, much less the house itself. You have traveling journals – so tattered from wear of the smashed in handbags, book bags, grocery bags, briefcases, that they have grown soft around the edges. But inside, they are clear and crisp as a mountain stream.
  17. You mercilessly shun bad writing of any kind, lest it taint your own art. You eschew bad television, bad movies, even bad music as a bummer influence on your writing vibe.
  18. You elevate your skills by seeking the company of other, equally intense writing geeks.
  19. You are bewitched by punctuation, even the magical, seductive, subtle nuance of the semi-colon.

So get out there you geek, you, and be a secret agent for journaling. Be a reporter, a spy, a great, groovy Kerouac of a rebel, and write publicly, proudly. People may think you’re important. People may think you’re sent by the government to record their covert movements. People may worship you as a pagan goddess sent to illuminate their meager lives. More likely, they will take no notice of you; being too preoccupied with their own epic lives. That’s okay. You’ve become one of the proud and prolific, you are: The Writing Geek.

jackets required

copyright 2011/all rights reserved


a novel by



Hart walked into the Union Club –  an oxymoron since union workers were the last people that this particular club would ever admit –  wearing a polo shirt and a pair of dockers and carrying his worn but stylish leather briefcase.  The maitre d’, a tall man, about fifty, with jet black hair and eyes as warm as the inside of a root cellar, scanned Hart’s periphery, a distasteful job if his twitching mouth was any indication.  He asked Hart between pinched lips whether he had a jacket, perhaps in the car.

Hart shook his head.  “No jacket.  Bicky Coleman, please.”  Hart scanned the room and spotted his father-in-law holding court at the far end of the room with four expertly-tailored gentlemen.  It was hard to tell one tanned face and Armani suit from the next.  Hart sidestepped the maitre d’ who protested until he saw Mr. Coleman coming toward them.

“About time,” Bicky said gripping Hart’s hand in a firm, as opposed to bone crushing, hand shake.  “Where the hell’ve you been?”

“I told you I was going to spend the day with…”

“Leave your Goddamn cell phone on next time.”  The corners of Bicky’s mouth quivered as he attempted a smile.  Hart struggled not to laugh.  Bicky wrapped what might be termed an affectionate arm around Hart’s shoulder and led him to a pair of leather arm chairs set in a private alcove.  A waiter materialized and asked if the gentlemen would prefer a cocktail.  Bicky ordered Chivas, Hart a Jamieson, both with rocks.  Hart noticed that some of the thick, brocade curtains were closed.  Apparently, the rooms could get pretty cozy.  Maybe I could take Sonia here sometime….

“Did your wife give you a package for me?” Bicky asked nonchalantly.

Hart opened his briefcase as the waiter set two whiskeys before them.  Bicky looked at his watch and took a sip.  He swirled the ice in his glass, transfixed by the beverage.

“Is this a bad time?” Hart asked.  Bicky took another drink, a swig this time.

“I’m scheduled to talk to Graighton at 7:30.”

“Bill Graighton?” Hart asked.  “About what?”  Hart followed Bicky’s glance at a shadowy figure sitting alone in an alcove across the room, talking on the phone.

Bicky snapped his fingers and held out his palm.  Hart’s remorse for Sonia’s hasty actions was replaced by a protective annoyance.  Hart pulled the report from his briefcase and slapped it into Bicky’s outstretched hand.  Bicky gazed at his daughter’s handwriting before opening the envelope.  He scanned the cover and shoved it back in the envelope.  Hart thought he caught a grimace on Bicky’s face, but the man couldn’t smile to save his life, so he wasn’t sure.  Bicky nodded once, an almost imperceptible nod, and the figure in the alcove rose, closing the curtain.

Bicky turned to Hart:  “I shouldn’t be more than half an hour.  Go have a drink.  Talk.  It’s time you started making these people your own.”

Hart was about to protest, but Bicky was already standing.  Hart grabbed his drink and briefcase and did the same.

“Just leave the briefcase.  I’ll be back in half an hour.”

Hart looked at his watch.  The image of crawling in bed next to Sonia was already dimming, but if the cloak and dagger stuff had something to do with the report, he’d better oblige Bicky for Sonia’s sake.  Hart waited until Bicky entered the alcove, and headed to the bar.

to be continued. . .

to read what came before, scroll down. . .