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I started writing my very first journal at eight years old, in a black and white composition book with a wide rule. I remember walking across the cool terrazzo floors of our house, trying to find a room to write in private. But in a family of four homeschooled girls, there was no such place. So I took my book outside, walking into our backyard in search of somewhere to write my first entry.

Our family lived in inner-city Miami, and our backyards butted up against those of our neighbors. Compared to their lush green lawns with thick tropical blades, ours looked like a war zone. There were a few patches of dry grass scattered about an otherwise brown plot of land. In the center of the yard was half of a metal boat hull laying face down, its white paint fading in the sun. I don’t remember where my Dad got it from, only that he saved it from a junkyard, thinking we might like to play house in it.

And we did. We put a few other rusty metal scraps inside, fashioning them into a small stove and countertop where we cooked “meals” of various plants and grasses. Next to it, we placed an old quilt to take pretend naps in the shade on hot afternoons. I sat there with my journal for a moment to write and quickly got up – it was too dark.

There was one tall tree in our backyard with large oval leaves, deep green and glossy. My Dad leaned a big square plywood slab against the trunk with a few 2×4’s nailed horizontally to climb up to our treehouse (except there were no walls, so it was more of a tree platform). I climbed up using a rope – made from an old gardening hose – and tried to write there. But the direct sunlight was far too imposing for my tender shoots of creativity, so I climbed back down.

Exasperated, I wandered over to the back left corner of our yard, which was partially obscured by the boat and the tree. I sat down on the only other even surface I could find. It was the cover of our in-earth compost, consisting of a giant piece of sheet metal with a ragged gray tarp across the top. The moment I sat down, I knew I had found “my spot.”

It was quiet, but not too quiet – I could still hear a dog barking and someone mowing their lawn in the distance. It was bright, but not blinding. The sunshine filtered peacefully through the branches of the tree, causing shadow shapes to dance across the white pages of my journal.

Words began to flow from my fresh paper mate ballpoint in the only giant uneven scrawl I was capable of, and soon I had completed my very first journal entry. It was a series of misspelled sentences, with almost every other word scribbled out – a haphazardly written stream of consciousness. But it began a precedent for me. I have kept a journal every year since, and in each season of life, I find a new writing spot.

My current spot is our kitchen table, directly in front of a huge bright window that frames our backyard like a picture. There is a calm sort of inspiration that comes from looking out across the kudzu-covered wall of trees lining the far end of our lawn. It gives me a sense of being alone while in the middle of the city.

When it comes to writing, I just start somewhere. I write about what I see around me. I try to describe what I observe in my own words – awkward as they may seem at first. I write out things I thought about during the course of my day when this or that happened. I open up my mind and let it breathe in a fresh perspective about the world around me – and the rest falls into place.