Thinking of what to write in my journal can be as soporific as thinking about how to get the main character out the door in the novel I’ve put her in.

When the brain cells, the spirit, and the heart can’t get the writer in me to engage, I turn to a trick I used in teaching journal writing. The assignment probes both sides of writing -- the observable and the introspective. It’s fun, it’s revealing, and it’s not bad for filling up a lonesome evening or playing with friends with wine.

Following, are the questions and one session of answers to mine:

Things I don’t understand but am waiting for answers:

  • Playing “Chicken” with nuclear warheads.
  • Fat cells.
  • A billionaire not sharing a smidgin of his wealth.

Things I can’t believe I did:

  • Become a mother.
  • Build a house.
  • Play the piano on a stage in front of people.
  • Introduce myself onstage like this: “Hi, my name is Coween O’Bwien.”

Things I dream of doing but probably won’t:

  • Refuse to pay my taxes.
  • Tell one person to take a flying leap.
  • Ride a horse in the Kentucky Derby.
  • Take off alone for parts unknown.

Things that save me:

  • Pretending I’m happy when I’m not [trite, but it works].
  • Trees.
  • Sleeping.
  • Reading.
  • Old “Mash” shows.
  • The Inks Spots.
  • Milky Way candy bars.

Things I do understand, but it doesn’t help:

  • Cruelty.
  • Zits.
  • Flat souffles.
  • People who perform in public who aren’t good.
  • Insurance companies.
  • Politicians.

Words I can’t spell without looking them up:

  • Occasional.
  • Perennial.
  • Hors d’oeuvres.

Things I can never see myself doing:

  • Parachuting.
  • Playing with snakes.
  • Doing a double-gainer off the high dive.

Things I’d like to see myself doing:

  • Remembering a punch line.
  • Recalling names.
  • Rappelling.
  • Visiting Shakespeare and Sappho.
  • Living in St. Andrews.
  • Dancing on tables.

Things I’d do if I had unlimited money:

  • Spread the wealth.
  • Eat out always.
  • Who knows?

Things that don’t scare me but frighten other people:

  • Spiders.
  • Wild weather.
  • Teenagers.

Things that frighten me but do not bother other people:

  • Babies.
  • Walking into a room full of people.

Things that frighten me now that didn’t use to:

  • Old age.

Things I used to do but don’t do now:

  • Waterski.
  • Cross-country skiing.
  • Ride my bike.
  • Climb trees.
  • Run.
  • Bake chocolate chip cookies.
  • Hold my tongue.
  • Wish I were short and cute.

Things I don’t understand and don’t care if I never do:

  • James Joyce’s “Ulysses.
  • Survival shows on TV.

Things I pretend not to understand:

  • Basic cooking.

Things I do best:

  • Read.
  • Listen.
  • Walk anywhere.

Things I suppose I should do instead of just thinking about them:

  • Write a book.
  • Household chores.
  • Quit pretending I don’t know how to cook.

Things I always do that mean absolutely nothing:

  • Paint my toenails.
  • Make my bed.
  • Worry.
  • Return unerringly to the paragraph where I quit reading, no matter the time-lapse.

That’s enough of that because one can continue endlessly – just think about it, and ideas and answers will dump in your lap . . . unlike the puzzle of how to get my main character out the door. The drill, or the game, is a form of time-wasting, a trivial pursuit that will define you and tell on you all in one session. And the next time you need to employ it to get off the dime, your answers will be different because you will have changed. Or you will have added to the questions. Such as the old chestnut What book [or person] for you as you’re shipwrecked on a deserted island?

There is no end to learning who you are; writing about yourself is a novel [intended] practice for a novelist or journal keeper.