It is hard to imagine that I would ever come to this place. I taught journal classes for decades, a healing writing practice that I taught to hundreds of people. More, I kept a diary from the time I was nine years old, and it was the place I processed childhood abuse, my daily life and thoughts, I wrote through tears, through fear, and through joy. By the time I was in my 40’s I had hundreds of journals. I wrote like I breathed, carrying a journal with me wherever I went. I recorded my children’s births and our years as a family, everything, but mostly my deepest thoughts, and the journals held the record of decades of therapy to deal with childhood sexual abuse, depression, and what would one day hold the diagnosis of bipolar disorder and all of the subsequent difficulties connected to that diagnosis. Inotherwords it wasn’t all pretty. To that end the journals that I had always planned to will to my eldest daughter so that she and my other kids would have access to them, to really know their mother, became something that I wanted to shield them from. There were precious memories in those journals. There was also an awful lot about the abuse, the bipolar behavior and problems, the depression and suicidal thoughts, well, my children did not need to read all of that. In February 2010 my journals were destroyed. They no longer exist. It was the lifting of a burden but also a tremendous loss. But my children have had to live through my difficulties, they did not need a written document of them surviving me. Now they are gone.
But it is not that easy. I am a writer to my core. I started writing at nine years old not just to keep a journal but stories, poems, the diary itself were ways to express myself, to empty what was in my heart onto the page, to process life. The act of the destruction of the journals destroyed something in me too. For a long time I didn’t keep a journal at all after getting rid of them. Then I tried. I can’t tell you how many journals I bought and started and fizzled out with. I finally filled one in the year after the fire, I was thrilled, but then I trickled off again. I could not do it. And it was only very recently that I understood why.
All of my adult life I felt my journals were my legacy. I was recording my life so that my children would have a record of their mother’s life, would really know me. I said a lot of things, I shared a lot of things, that I wanted them to know. I had a purpose, it had meaning to me, it was deeply heartfelt. But finally it was weighed down by all the rest and I could not leave that with them. And afterwards, what was there to say? And why say it? And who was I saying it to? No one. If I were to keep a journal again it would not be with the intent of leaving them to anyone, of sharing my story, leaving a record of my wisdom, leaving anything at all. So why do it? It was the why that stopped me. I could not find a single reason that it was important for me to keep a journal. I write the weekly blog post for those who have followed me here for nearly a decade. Since 2007 I have kept this blog, Maitri’s Heart, and I have said what I had to say. What else do I have to say and why say it? I couldn’t come up with a single reason.
And then I remembered what I told my students. I told them that writing was the act of discovery, that in the act of writing we found out what we needed to know, we processed what was in our heart, we had a place to go with all we held inside. I told them that our lives matter and if they mattered they deserved recording in a beautiful book. I always bought beautiful journals, some very expensive hand-marbelled journals from Italy, journals from all over the world. My life mattered to me and I recorded it for posterity in books that would be beautiful to hold one day. Now those books are gone and I don’t have the money for beautiful, expensive books. Now everything in my life is simpler. Since my house burned down in 2014 the last remnants of my life in all kinds of ways are gone. What is there to say now, and why say it? Finally, I need to say it as much as I ever did. In simple little books, because my heart is calling out to me to do just that.
Recently I started a daily practice of drawing The 100 Ladies, one per day, and I started in a tiny sketchbook, 4×6″. It was the perfect size and I filled it in a little over a month. It is a Pentalic traveler’s sketchbook, has a bright blue cover in a very soft, silky feeling material, and feels good to hold. These little sketchbooks come in lots of colors and are not expensive. I am now using the next size up for my drawing and painting but that little one lingered in my mind. Such a sweet little size. Unobtrusive, not big and unwieldy as most of my journals have been, not oversized and daunting. This week I bought a purple one and today I started writing in it.
In business courses these days they ask you to discover the big Why? behind your business. Why do you want to do it? That is supposed to be the key to everything. If you know the why, the how you can figure out along the way. My why is this. I have just done a Reverse Mortgage so that I can stay in my home. I will be living on a very tight budget. I am afraid. I need to earn extra income and because I am bipolar with a handful of other diagnoses I cannot work outside the home. I have to figure out how to do this, how to live my life in a sustainable way, how to be alright. Sometimes people ask me what I have been doing. It is hard for me to answer that question because the truth is I have been working at maintaining my life. Living life with bipolar disorder is a full time job, just to get through the day. I have very exacting schedules and routines. There are stepping stones along the path and if I miss one I am almost unable to go on. It takes everything I have in me to maneuver my way through my days. Getting through the hours can be nearly impossible at times. My big why? To have a record of my days and times, to have something to hold onto. If I can do this I may find the way to help my Ladies help me. But first I have to have a stable life and the journal is a way to do that. The journal might just save my life.
So it is life-saving, this practice of writing down the days and the hours, the moments of my life. At the beginning of my classes I would have my students write down, “At this very moment…” I wanted them to enter the present moment. Not 15 minutes before when they were driving to class, not 3 hours earlier when they were at work, not the night before when they had a fight with their husband, no, now, this moment, this very moment, where are you, at this very moment?
At this very moment I am here, sitting at my work table, a big nine foot long farmer’s table that was discovered in an old barn. I am sitting in front of my computer writing these words down, these words that just might save my life, words that might make me feel less afraid, less lost. Not for anyone else, not for a legacy, not so that some day my children might know me, but so that I might know myself, so that I will feel rooted in this moment to this page where I am safe and whole and well, this place in time that might hold the answers that I need if I just keep writing them. At this very moment I am okay, I am not crying though admittedly I am a little teary. I am finding my way. I will keep writing my words down. I will find my way out to the other side.
Too 2017 will be an interesting year for me. I have been awarded scholarships to two different year long programs that are art journalling programs, wherein my art and my journalling will come together in a whole new way. At this time when I am looking for a way for my art and writing to tell the stories of these Ladies of mine in an effort to help others and to make the income that I sorely need I will be re-discovering the journal and pairing it with art in a way I never have, and it feels right, and it feels time, and at this very moment I feel a little lift in my heart. This just might be the way to help me find my way home, to the home inside myself that has been lost for years now, especially since the fire. It’s time to come home, to be able to feel at home in my own skin, in my house, and in my life.
Why we keep a journal will be different for everyone, and yet the same in the way of putting our words and our life in a book and finding a kind of wholeness there. I am seeking wholeness, and this is the way I am doing it now, with a little pocket sized book and a pen. It is time now, and I have begun. I pray that I might continue on…