There used to be a joke in our family. I told the kids that I would leave my journals to my eldest, my daughter Jenny, and the other kids could have access to them through her. I would leave my wedding rings to Rachel, my middle child, and Aaron would get my huge old roll top desk. Jenny once said to Rachel, “I’ll trade you the journals for the rings.” Inotherwords, inheriting my lifetime of journals — nearly 400 when they were destroyed in 2010 — was more than a bit daunting. And as it was poor Aaron had to help move that behemoth desk so many times after the marriage ended that he is kind of over it. I did not plan well. And the thing is I woke up one day and realized it was no joke. Those journals would be nothing but a burden, and even though I wrote like I breathed, and recorded every time my kids moved or breathed — I was always carrying my current journal with me, chronicling their childhoods in meticulous fashion, there was more than lost family history after those journals were gone. There was a childhood of abuse worked out in therapy for decades, there was angst, there were tears, there was so much more than any child should ever have to read, and I didn’t want them to read the journals and remember me that way, as a broken thing, abused, depressed, anxious, bipolar, and all the rest. I want them to remember good times, and love, lots of love. The journals had to go.
But here’s the thing, I realized, after they were gone, how centered I had been on keeping those journals for my children. I wanted them to have a detailed history of their childhoods, all of the gifts they got for all of their birthdays and Christmases, all of the places we went and the things that we did, their handprints, their little drawings, so much was recorded and cherished, but like I had recorded their lives I had also recorded my own. In detail. And there was just a whole lot I never wanted them to see or know. Such dark periods. No child should read that. They knew I was depressed, they didn’t have to read about the times that I was suicidal. And there was more, too much more. And it was all so intricately woven together, a very detailed story of a woman who struggled terribly while loving and cherishing her children more than anything, that there was no way to separate it out, it was all of a piece. But when those journals went so did the woman who wrote them. I kept them for my children, now I knew I could never journal again in the way that I had, and if I didn’t for them, if I was not writing to leave some kind of legacy, why would I do it at all? I couldn’t think of a single reason. Nearly 40 years of teaching journal classes and hundreds of volumes of journals behind me and suddenly I couldn’t write a single word. And when I wasn’t keeping a journal my other writing was affected too. I may not have sold a book but I didn’t have trouble writing them. Now the foundation of my writing process was gone. I have been simply lost without it.
From time to time I have felt, as I was going through another round of therapy, that it would be cathartic to keep a journal. Or when I started a new art project I thought about keeping an art journal. I have spent too much money buying all different types of blank books, sketchbooks, and notebooks and would start keeping a journal again only to fall away after a short time. The path is littered with half filled journals and it haunted me. I felt that it was an important thing to do but I didn’t know how. In days gone by I hadn’t really lived through a thing until I had written about it, then it became real. Now my life is being lived and is slipping away and disappearing, as fast as I live it it is gone. It is as though I don’t exist. I am invisible. When I die there will be no trace of me. That frightens me, and makes me very, very sad.
One day I was in the Dollar Store. I am always drawn to the aisle with pens and notebooks, a lifetime habit. And I needed notebooks for a course I was taking. I’ve always loved Composition notebooks so felt I would buy a couple of those, but when I found them they were not the usual type. These said “Composition Book” on the cover but the covers were brightly colored poly material in many colors. I picked one up. They were made in India and the paper inside had a soft feel to it, not a slick, cheap paper feel. And they were only $1 each. I bought 5 bright pink ones and couldn’t wait to get home and write in one. I started, as soon as I got home, working on my course material and filling pages and pages, loving the way it felt to write in this bright, beautiful $1 book. My current favorite pens, Pilot Razor Point, Extra Fine, felt like they were writing on velvet. I swooned. I wanted to keep writing just for the delicious feel of the pen on this paper. And then I looked at the little stack of notebooks I had just purchased. Would it be possible, I wondered, could I possibly… I stared at them but didn’t make a move. And I have stared at them for weeks, and more and more often I have wanted to pick one up and just start writing, anything at all, just to feel the tip of the pen glide across the vast expanse of the notebook page, just to write. I began to want to keep a journal again but I was scared. What would I write? And why? Who would care?
And then I realized that it didn’t matter if anyone cared, I would not be writing to leave a legacy for anyone, I would be writing just for me. I would be writing because I love the feel of pen on paper and because it is a time of great change in my life, finding my way, at near 63, into this last stage of my life, no matter how long that might be. And I have a book I want to write, there are things I want to say. It’s time.
I said 2 days ago that it was time. I picked a Composition Book up from the pile and looked at it closely. I felt the smooth pages. I smelled them. I clutched that bright pink notebook to my heart and it all came back, the joy of it all, why I had always loved keeping a journal, how it made me feel after I had lived my way through something and then written about it, making it all real, how I would come to the journal lost and find my way in its pages. I thought and felt so much, but I couldn’t make myself write. It is sitting here beside me now. I wanted to write in it before I wrote this blog post, but then, like finding the answers I needed in the journal I thought that if I wrote the blog post maybe I would find my way into the journal. I’m counting on that. I plan to publish this post and then open up this pink notebook that is sitting here beside me and if I have to write gibberish for 3 pages I will write gibberish. I have to get the courage to begin.
I think I see that pink cover quivering a little. I think my pen is humming beside me like a flute waiting to be played. My life is slipping away unrecorded and I want to weave the days and hours into these pages, once again knowing that I exist because a book full of writing sitting beside me says it’s so. I think I’m ready to do this, and in this moment I grieve the loss of those hundreds of volumes that held so much, but it is time to begin anew, I still have life left to live, it’s not too late. I will begin here. I opened the notebook, uncapped my pen and wrote, Thursday * 4/13/17 * In the studio… I have left the pen uncapped. I shall continue on.