I discovered “Hey Chookooloonks,” a blog written by Karen Walrond, many, many years ago. How many years, I do not know. 15, 18, 20? I’m not sure, but even 20 years ago would be feasible, and yet it seems impossible. Where does time go and how does it slip by us so mysteriously?
I don’t remember how I found her blog. How did we find things back then, long before the social media that we know today? Perhaps I found her through some other website or blog or maybe even via a magazine article. My memory does not contain and cannot retrieve this information, no matter how long I ponder it, and I have for quite some time because the fact that we are connected today fascinates me. It fascinates me because she is so amazing and so fascinating.
One day, maybe it was months ago, or maybe even years, I saw that Karen Walrond was following me on Instagram. ME! We’d both been guests for a class that was given by Susannah Conway and that is how she found me. Once I realized that she was the same Karen Walrond from “Hey Chookooloonks,” I immediately followed her back. Over time, we would exchange messages in our DMs, a bond developed between us, and here we are.
If you don’t know Karen Walrond, you should. She is many things besides being an incredibly cool and badass human being. On her website, www.chookooloonks.com, she describes herself as an author, coach, speaker, and attorney. She has written three books of her own and contributed to others. The Beauty of Different: Observations of a Confident Misfit, was her first book, followed by The Lightmaker’s Manifesto: How to Work for Change Without Losing Your Joy, and her soon to be released/available for preorder book, Radiant Rebellion: Reclaim Aging, Practice Joy, and Raise a Little Hell. In addition to writing books, she’s a popular keynote and Tedx speaker, and has appeared on local and national TV shows and podcasts. You might have seen her on The Oprah Winfrey Show, or heard her on a podcast with her good friend, Brené Brown. I can go on and on, BUT in addition to all of her achievements, accomplishments, and accolades, she is also one of my people, Notebook People.
According to Karen, even though she has been keeping planners, organizers, and journals for a long time, since around the age of 14, she really didn’t start keeping an intentional journal/notebook until 2009. These days, Karen keeps three different “notebooks.” She writes her thoughts in a Hobonichi Techo and for her hand lettering, ephemera, and brainstorming ideas or plans, she uses a Stalogy notebook. And for planning, she uses a dated Papier planner, in which she uses the weekly spread to keep her on track, her to-do list is there with color-coding for the really important things. If she sees something in color, then she knows she has to get that done on that day.
When she started explaining her process to me, I asked her if she was very organized, already knowing what the answer would be. Karen is organized. She said that might have something to do with having gone to engineering school and not being a natural mathematician. Because of that, she needed to get help from her father, who has a Ph.D. in engineering. He taught her a way of attacking math that required her to do everything step by step. Karen, who’d always loved handwriting, would happily write out all the logical steps. Not only did she learn how to do the math, her “math notebooks were always beautiful.” But even though Karen’s math notebooks were beautiful and her handwriting was as well, she never thought of herself as being artistic. In fact, she thought just the opposite.
Like many of us, we heard something as a child that labeled us, and it stuck with us, in some defined us. When Karen was in kindergarten, her teacher told her parents that she was great in English and math, but that she wasn’t artistic. So, even though she had always been drawn to art, from an early age, she was guided away from art. Later in life, she would admire art journals and “wish” that she could do something like that.
Luckily, Karen met a friend, who, as she explains, “opened my mind to the idea that a journal did not have to be pristine and perfect, even if it was art…. the idea of it being a repository for thought and ideas and even imagery just sort of blew my mind that that’s what you could do.” So, it was in 2016 that she was free to play in her notebooks. She shared some of those notebooks with me. In them, she would write, draw, doodle, and tuck things in the notebook. She pulled out a Super Bowl ticket, while she was showing it to me. As the years went on, she continued to play freely and express herself on paper.
Then in 2020, Karen’s husband, who is an artist, put a sketchbook in her Christmas stocking because even though she’d been told she wasn’t artistic when she was a little girl, she still had the desire to draw. She opened that sketchbook and showed me her first sketch of an apple. It was, well, not the most realistic drawing of an apple, and much less refined than her drawing today because after drawing that apple, her sketching and drawing became a daily practice. She also incorporated her handwriting as art and began playing with calligraphy and color, something about which she felt more confident. Her current art journals are filled with beautiful, colorful handwritten quotes and words, and are not about being perfect, they are about being playful and being creative.
These days, Karen writes or does something in her notebook or sketchbook every day. She usually does morning pages, which she learned about from reading The Artist’s Way by Julie Cameron. (Did we ALL read that book? I think so!) She will write freely and if she can’t think of anything to write, then she writes that she can’t think of anything to write, and then eventually something comes out. Other times, because she loves handwriting and has developed her own amazing style of calligraphy, she’ll find a quote that she really likes and writes that. And then there are times when she doesn’t even do that if she’s had an especially busy day and she may just take a photo of whatever is around her, print it out, and as she put it, “slap it in the journal,” and that’s all she will do for that day.
One of the most important things that Karen had discovered and shared with me was that she thought that only “creative people” did what she wanted to do and that she wasn’t creative. She was an engineer lawyer. That was the soundtrack that played in her head. Like many people, she was only limited by her thoughts and not by what was actually possible. And then she said something that blew MY mind.
“Play is way more important than discipline when it comes to a notebook.”
When Karen is not sketching or writing quotes or doing morning pages, she’s actually writing books. As I stated earlier, she’s written and contributed to several books, one of which is The Lightmaker’s Manifesto: How to Work for Change Without Losing Your Joy, which I read just last summer and highly recommend. It is extremely inspiring, especially for those of us who are actively trying to be agents of change. It really shifted my way of thinking about my self-care and how I was being limited in my own thinking, often focusing on very serious issues, without taking the time to find joy and play. I’ve changed my behavior a lot since reading her book.
At the end of her book, in a section titled, “The Lightmaker’s Manual: Journal Prompts, Templates, and Exercises for Cultivating a Joyful, Light-FIlled Advocacy Practice,” she shared three questions that are great writing prompts. These questions, as she explains in the book, were inspired by Mallika Chopra, and they are as follows:
- What will make me feel healthy today?
- What will make me feel connected today?
- What will give me a sense of purpose today?
These are powerful questions, but just a crumb from this great book. Read it. You won’t be sorry. As Brené Brown is quoted as saying, on the front cover of the book, “Karen Walrond shines her light so we can find our own.” And it’s true. She is so inspiring, and I am so grateful that I got the opportunity to interview her and share her with you.
For more of Karen’s insight and wisdom, you can find her website at www.chookooloonks.com. On Instagram she can be found at @heychookooloonks.
An aside: Hey Chookooloonks was the name of Karen’s website, when I found it years and years ago, long before Instagram. I was curious to know what “chookooloonks” meant, so I asked her at the start of our time together. Karen is Trinidadian, and in Trinidad “chookooloonks” is an idiomatic expression that means “sweetheart or darling,” especially in reference to children. When they were waiting for their adopted daughter to be born, she wanted to share the adoption process with her family in Trinidad and her husband's family in England, who felt very disconnected from the process. Long story short, she started a blog called Hey Chookooloonks, which has since developed into the business website that she has today.