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Kim Culbertson

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Song Journal
by Kim Culbertson   
Not "rated" by the Author.
Last edited: Monday, March 03, 2008
Posted: Monday, March 03, 2008

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What is the soundtrack of your life?

 When I was in eighth grade, I went to a school dance.  It was your typical middle school dance – some snacks, construction paper decorations, dim lighting, but this dance was special because I knew a certain boy would be there.  He had a locker near mine and we’d been exchanging glances for days, meaningful glances.  I wanted to make sure we crossed paths that night.  Walking into the gym, my insides felt like slush.  I wore a lime green mini-skirt (in my defense, it was the late 80’s) and I had somehow managed to apply my eye shadow the way my friend’s big sister had taught me the day before in the girl’s locker room after volleyball practice.  I was ready to see him.

The stars were aligned that night for me – the boy asked me to dance.  Today, I don’t recall much about him, but I do remember that dance – the way his arms felt warm around me, the way his shirt smelled like cinnamon and laundry detergent.  Mostly, I remember the song we danced to -  “If You Leave” by OMD -  and I remember that lime green mini-skirt.  Now anytime I hear that song, I’m vaulted back to that dimly-lit gym and that terrific dance.

Many people have songs that make them think of a place or experience in their lives.  Perhaps the song reminds them of a trip they took, or of a sport they played, or of a friend or parent who is important to them.  Music is an significant part of our culture, and one that is also deeply personal.  Each of us walk around with our own sound track.

            In my novel, Songs for a Teenage Nomad, my main character Calle keeps a song journal.  She titles each entry (and each chapter of the novel) with a song title, and in the entry records the memory the song gives her.  In the first chapter, she tells her high school guidance counselor, Mr. Hyatt, that:  “Last year, I started writing down memories I get from songs.  I hear one, mostly older songs, and I write down the memory it brings.  Like glimpses of my life as I remember it.  Snapshots.”

The pieces of Calle’s journal entries that begin each chapter center around her mother, some of them are arguments or places, and some of them are small details that help paint a picture of their relationship.  For example, chapter two begins with the  following journal entry:


             SMALL TOWN

…my mother turns the radio up because she has always been in love with John Cougar Mellencamp, insists on the Cougar part of his name, even if the singer has dropped it.  We sprawl on the sloping lawn of the park, my mother letting her lunch break run way long.  Light glints off her silver rimmed sunglasses as she  hands me half a tuna sandwich with extra pickles…


Calle’s journal centers around the music in her life that has shaped her, has brought her to where she is when the novel begins.  Here are some tips for keeping a song journal of your own, but remember, a song journal, like the songs that shape it, is unique to the person crafting it, so give it your own spin, your own angle – these are just some ideas to get you started:

·      Select songs that have significance to you somehow, the type of song that always sparks a memory for you when you hear it and use the title of the song as the entry in your journal.

·      In your entry, describe a scene/memory in your life that this song brings to you.  Focus on using specific detail and sensory description to “show”  memory rather than just tell the memory (you can look closely at what Calle does in her journals if that would help you) but think about it as writing out all the details that make the memory special (the smells, the sights, the tastes, etc.).

·      Design a creative cover for your song journal, something that makes it special to you.


I would love to hear what you’re coming up with.  If you want, email me at to share your journal ideas with me that are working for you!



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