Unveiling The Story

This next series of my blogs will be on Spiritual Journaling and Creative Writing to accompany my class–  Spiritual Journaling: Writing Your Way to Enlightenment. The practice of journal writing for me has always strengthened my spiritual practice and improved my writing practice. For me the two paths are synonymous, hence, Spiritual Journaling.

“Writing above all, is seeing clearly.”  Peter Mathiessen, Letters from the Wild

You are welcome to join me and take your own pilgrimage using your journaling as a means to travel.

Let’s begin with searching for a story. How willing are you to pay attention until the plot of the moment or day unfolds and you understand something new? For the writer and the spiritual traveler, every moment offers up something for us to work with. It seems to me our days are not filled with moments or hours but with story. Stories are everywhere for the writer or spiritual traveler to uncover for insight, or simply to enjoy. Even though there are an infinite amount of stories one can select from, we still have to take risks to capture a good story, the full story. These risks are mostly internal, like moving through the fear of exposure or some layer of resistance. But many are external, like going into a war torn country to retrieve a story. Or in my case below, picking up a hitchhiker.

 A few years ago I decided to be less afraid of strangers and to take risks to increase my compassion for others and to simply open up more to the world. Certainly this too would bring forth a good story or two –

 Twenty-five Dollars for Her Ego

 On my way into Madison one day I picked up Tribly.

On the edge of one small town stood a hitchhiker holding a sign in one hand and with the other a thumb stuck out to catch my attention and a potential ride. I thought, “If this is a woman I could pick her up . . .”

 The sign she held announced her destination: “Madison.”

I pulled over. As she walked quickly to the car the thought crossed my mind that she could be dangerous, that she could be a He.  A flash of an alarm went off in my mind like how a piano plays louder but not necessarily better in a B-horror movie. She or he could be carrying a gun.

 She got in the car, “Hello, I’m Tribly.” A soft sent of washed hair and incense entered with her. I noticed a woman with large black eyeglasses, gray hair, and a three string beaded necklace of turquoise and black beads hanging over loose fitting clothes. She tucked the sign in to one of her two large purses.

 I turned to see her putting down one purse on my crowded car seat as she dug in the other large purse on her lap. She extended out her hand and again said her name, “Tribly.”

I shook it and said, “Julie.”

 She handed me a slip of paper the size of a business card with her name and address on it, “I live in town here near the bakery.”

“You must be crazy.” The moment that came out of my mouth I realized the possible truth in it. “I mean, a woman hitchhiking.”

 “No, mentally ill. I have epilepsy,” she lifts up her bangs to reveal a scar. 

“Put on your seat belt please.” 

“I make necklaces.” She continues.

I take advantage of the gap in traffic and get back on the highway.

She holds one necklace up in the air in front of her,  “This one is Morse code, spells the word ‘hope.’” She hands it to me as I drive off. “Kids can learn the Morse code with it.”

“Wow.” I take a peek by means of the rearview mirror. 

“I sell necklaces and am licensed as a street vendor. I report anything over $20. I have a twenty-five page poem for sale for $25 to feed my ego.”

 “Except cash. You don’t report cash.” I assumed.

 “My accident makes it impossible for me to lie. I report everything.”

“Oh. Where in Madison are you going?”

 “I’ve been denied services by the government so I need to hitch hike. I ‘m blacklisted. I’m going to Walgreen’s to get my medication.” She names some social worker she says won’t help her anymore. 

“I’m going to Westtown.” I say

 “That’s good. I can take a bus from there. I have plastic necklaces and expensive ones and the twenty-five page poem for $25.00. A dollar a page to feed my ego”

“Twenty-five pages?”


“Read me the first page.”


“Yes. Really.”

 Digging around in her bag she lifts out the poem and begins to read.


“Ballad for Jim Magruder: Old Writers Showdown at Okay Corral.”

 “Trust. Butt if!

 I met Jim Magruder

 in a local biker bar first, I would sign

 a simple document under

 a sign that says

‘Enter at own risk.’”


She stops as requested.

 “Read on.” I say.


 “Yes. Really. But who’s Jim Magruder?” I ask.

 “My creative writing teacher at MATC.”

 She reads another page and then another as I ask her to read the next page, until finally I ask for the entire poem. She reads it to me emphasizing certain words and stanzas. I respond with sounds of a good listener.

“This line means the best Teacher shows you ways to figure it out for yourself.” She tells me.

 “What? Read that line again.”

 And she does.

“Wow. Brilliant.” I think outloud.

 “You like it?”

“Yes.  Which Walgreen’s?” I ask.

“The one on Whitney.”

 I exit to Walgreens as she gives me a synopsis of her life – – Her mother was a well-known writer. Tribly was a non-verbal autistic until her mother noticed she read books. She read beyond her level. Her mother saved her. She is going into Madison to visit a friend whose friend was recently murdered in Mexico. Her mother was raped. Her mother was blacklisted too. Tribly lived on the street for two years. Her mother showed her how to use the Writer’s Market to get published. She has yet to be published. She has written a series of children’s books she figures no one will read.

 “Clearly you’re a brilliant woman. A talented writer.” I say.

“I have an IQ of 130. Use to be a nurse up until 1989. I’m blacklisted now just like my mother. Too many laws and rules makes criminals of us all.”

 I realize to myself that the year I published my first book she began her life with the welfare system. I stopped the car in the parking lot of the Whitney Way Walgreens.

“Let me see your jewelry.”


“Yes. Really.”

 “I have plastic ones and the more expensive pieces.”

 “Show me the more expensive pieces.” They are bundled together in one large plastic bag. They are expensive, starting at $60. Each one labeled.

 “My apartment is full of my jewelry. I have a spider web made of beads.”


I image her apartment a cramped but orderly hideout. The beaded spider web hangs in her small efficient kitchen. Her kitchen table holds open and unopened letters from the government and a 1999 copy of The Writer’s Market. She is ready for visitors who don’t show. Either no TV or an old one that sits in a corner covered with beads, notes and journals. Lots of journals in spiral notebooks sit in various piles. Here and there a hardbound journal sits that some guilt ridden social worker or family member bestowed upon her at a given holiday. She doesn’t use them. She likes the colors red and blue.


“I forgot your name.”


‘What do you do?”

 I smile to myself. Can’t get away from that question even from a hitchhiking poet.

 “I’m a writer too.”

“Oh god. If I’d known that I wouldn’t have read my poem.” 

“What? It’s a wonderful piece.”

 “You can get it at the library.”

I hand her back the jewelry and let her stuff it back into the plastic bag.

 “I want to buy the poem,” and hand her a twenty and a five. She will have to report this.

“Really? To feed my ego?” She’s smiling and digs into the bag again and we make our trade. 

“Your writer’s ego,” I say.

 “Come and visit me okay? My apartment is smoky because I smoke but I burn incense.”

I held on to the poem.

 As she opens the door she says, “I don’t want to leave. I can’t contact you cuz I am the hitchhiker. You’d need to contact me. I meet too many people. Visit me. Oh this is good. I don’t want to leave you” but she gets out.

“This is so good. Contact me, okay?”

I look at her and smile. I don’t want to say no or yes because I don’t feel a strong yes or no. I could have given her a solid maybe. But didn’t. Maybes are promises too. Who knows? I may find myself sitting at her table listening to a children’s story. 

“Thank you,” I say instead.

 “Thank you. I don’t want to leave.” She says again. The last part of her farewell is said with her back to me. I drive off to find a place to write. The smell of incense not smoke lingers.

As I write about this encounter at a nearby Brugger’s Bagel shop in Madison an older man approaches me. He’s wearing a cacky colored fishing hat and pants to match. His clothes and body have the shared appearance of crispness. He asks me about my Apple computer. (I thought he was asking me about a “raffle.”) Says he likes the typewriter he grew up on. Likes the sound it makes. And how his hands rest on it with his elbows on the table. He used to write articles for the paper.

 He asks me what I’m writing. 

“I just picked up a hitchhiker and I’m writing about that.”

 “I never see hitchhiker’s any more.” He says.  “I tried hitch hiking the other day. No one picked me up. Guess they’re afraid everyone’s carrying a gun.” He smiled at me for a moment and then wished me a good day and I returned the kindness.

  Before packing up I opened to the $25 poem and read:


 See if it works for you.


They say it’s not quicksand.”


Practices for your journey:

1. I don’t suggest you go pick up a hitchhiker but I do recommend you go somewhere new. Say yes to something you would typically say no to. And take your journal with you. Find the story there.

2.  Write about the color red using the following words. You can first consider what the color red means to you and jot down quickly what comes to mind with this color — a memory? a deity? a favorite food? A place? Here are the words to include in your piece:  flash, unnoticed, reclaim, sense, reason.   Use the word prompts to guide your writing and open you up to travel cognitively where you might not otherwise.

3. You might want to start a new journal for this process. When journaling, date and title each entry. I put any writing prompts at the top of the page too. That way you can find the piece in your journal when you may need it for something.

4.  Collect favorite words and sentences in books you are reading. Record these in your journal.






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