The Little Red Notebook ~ How It All Began…

 It all began at 9 years old behind a huge stand of very old forsythia bushes. There was a little hillock behind the bushes with a rounded, carved out place in the dirt that was perfect to curl up in to write. I had an inexpensive red spiral notebook and what was then called the Bic “stick” pen. It was 1963.

I was a frightened little girl. In the first four years of my life I had two mothers and three fathers. I was now being sexually abused. I was lost and I didn’t know how to live or be. After school I would run outside with my little red notebook, hunker down behind the forsythia bushes, and write like my life depended on it. I wrote poems, stories, I drew little pictures in the margins, I doodled. I kept a diary of sorts, it was all fantasy about the mother who was out there somewhere who really loved me and would one day find me, would save me, and we would live together happily ever after. I wrote what I needed to believe to survive. As it turned out I didn’t find my mother until I was 26 and it was a nightmare. The one thing I did find out that amazed me was that she was a writer. Perhaps she did give me something after all. I like to believe that she did. I believe she gave me the impetus to write, it was in my blood, and in those lonely years when I was so afraid my instinct to pick up a pen and write, no matter what, saved me.

I kept writing, filling notebooks, from 9 on. Most of them were lost but I somehow still had that first little red notebook until my house burned down in 2014 just before my 60th birthday. It was a terrible loss. It was how it all began, it was as if a talisman for me, the thing that gave me power, the thing that reminded me that I had found a way to save myself when I was just a little girl and that as long as I kept writing I would be okay.

As a little girl I taught myself that to write, and keep on writing, no matter what, and it didn’t matter what, was all that mattered. Stories, poems, a diary, fantasy, nightmares, they were all there. I had no inclination that I might someday be “a writer.” I just knew that I had to write, and write I did. I continued to write my way through my childhood, marriage, through having my three children. I started teaching writing in my early 20’s, a kind of writing I called “Journal Writing,” but I have realized that it wasn’t journal writing it was writing for writing’s sake, it wasn’t teaching students to be professional writers either. By my 20’s I was publishing in magazines and newspapers but this was separate from the writing I did every day, just like I did when I was 9 years old. I was teaching my students to use writing as a tool for life, how to use writing to protect themselves, to save themselves, to heal themselves. Writing would be like both a Samurai sword and a garden hoe. Writing would cut down all obstacles and prepare the ground for the garden they would plant in their heart. Writing, everyday, always and ever and everywhere, this is what I taught my students.

Some of my students were artists or already published authors. Some were business men or women, doctors, lawyers, nurses, housewives (… who would often come into class saying “I probably won’t have much to say, I’m just a housewife.” and then she would proceed to blow us all away with her writing!). We are all amazing beings with incredible stories to tell. Our lives are holy and deserve recording. You can write about how you make a cup of coffee, how it feels to be present, really present, in that moment, awake and alive, and you have written about a universal experience we all have, and once you’ve written your way through making the coffee, through the first exquisite sip, about how you couldn’t get through the day without it, you find yourself writing your way into all that follows, a record of a human life, and you will realize as you keep writing that you are no longer lost, you are found, and you find yourself again every time you sit down to write, and the longer you write the more you learn, the more awake you become.

Writing every day will change your life. There’s no turning back. Today I am writing in my studio with my little pugs sleeping and snoring in their beds under my big pine farmer’s table. Canela, the amazon parrot who is spending the weekend with me, is here on the table beside me. It is good, this place that I am now, but part of me can still feel the cool earth that I sat on behind those forsythia bushes, when I crawled out I had yellow flowers in my hair, and I remember scribbling fast and furious with my Bic pen in my little red spiral notebook, and nothing has been as sweet since as those beginning days of writing, when writing was the only peace I knew, and my haven behind the forsythia bushes was paradise.


I would like to invite you to join me on my Facebook page, Across The Vast Expanse Of The Notebook Page, where I share writings and teachings from my daily writing practice, where I share inspiration, encouragement, resources, and ideas for establishing a daily writing practice, and living as a writer. I taught writing for 40 years and will begin to teach again but for now I am writing everyday and working on my book that will be the basis for the classes I will be teaching, both a memoir and a guide to the writing life.