Writing is hard. But not doing it is even harder for me. I’ve been spending the past several days going through writing notebooks, a project that coincided with the beginning of the new year. Cleaning, organizing, throwing out and re-stacking what is kept is food a Virgo’s soul, and if it falls on the beginning of a new year, it’s as good as an all you can eat buffet. There’s actually a name for being inspired by the new year, Mondays, new notebooks, the first page of a book etc. I don’t remember what it is called, but would have better luck recalling it on a Monday or the first day of the month. From desk drawers, large baskets and a trunk, I unearthed stacks upon stacks of journals, notebooks and file folders with hand written pages, typed pages, half filled pages and scraps of paper with words on them that made no sense. The scraps, I threw away. Filled journals, journals that I barely started, almost complete essays, starts on ideas to write about — so many starts, and notebooks from the many writing classes I’ve taken, are now in stacks that cover a big part of the floor in my small office. In looking at the notebooks, some with beautiful artwork on the front but the majority more utilitarian, I wondered, is this normal? Is it normal that the first item I gravitate towards in a books store or stationary store are the empty notebooks? Something I clearly don’t need but love to buy. Is it normal to want to start a fresh new notebook for every class or big idea I have because putting it into a slightly used notebook doesn’t seem fair to the new words — it feels like having to go to the flat tipped crayons with half the paper peeled off for a new project. I stepped away from the mess and went out to walk because walking is head clearing for me and it seemed to be a necessary step in my clearing out process.
While walking up towards the mountains that anchor the end of my street, I thought back to my beginnings on writing and why I picked up the pen in the first place. The random, but maybe not so random, thought about my sister, Robin’s imaginary friends came to mind. When she was 5 and I was 4, or maybe she was 4 and I was 3, she had 3 imaginary friends who lived in the window well at our home in Memphis, Missouri. They were her invisible friends, who she would tell secrets to and have conversations with, probably when she got tired of talking to me, or listening to me as the case may have been. I was jealous of the three girls so decided to join her in her imaginary fun and told her I could see them too. She let me play along but I’m sure she knew the girls couldn’t be real to me as they in her imagination, not mine. The girls names were Cathy, China and Jana. In my mind, I singled out China because she was the more exotic and interesting one whereas Cathy was bossy and Jana babyish. Apologies to your trio, Robin, if I’ve misidentified them. I thought a lot about those three girls while I approached the mountain path, wondering why Robin needed to create them in the first place. Again, apologies Robin for my conclusions here if they are far from the truth and I’m simply making stuff up. I started thinking about those window well girls and saw them as Robin’s diary. She confided in them, talked to them, and likely shared frustrations about her little sister with them. They were the listeners to her 4 or 5 year old words. The keepers that she entrusted with her secrets. All things that would have been entries in a diary if she had had a diary and knew how to write. That diary would come, in 4th grade as a Christmas gift one year. I didn’t get a diary with a tiny gold lock on the front and key that dangled from the lock. I got a watch. A Cinderella watch. I loved the watch (it was stolen off my desk a few weeks later after taking it off for recess), but I would have loved the diary even more. I was jealous that she had a place to write down her thoughts and lock them up when she was done. Since I didn’t have a diary, I did the next best thing and broke into her’s one day out of curiosity. A pulled apart bobby pin and a bit of patience and I was in. I found pages of disappointing recollections of the day such as who she played with at recess, Peggy’s new outfit and the grade she got on a spelling test. My enthusiasm for the red diary waned until sandwiched in-between the mundane I found the gold. In between sentences of day to day events I found the sentence “I like …..” (name withheld to protect what remains of Robin’s privacy). Bingo. That was all I needed to know that my life was not complete without a diary. The thought of writing my thoughts onto the pages of my Big Chief tablet instead of squeezing my words onto the small pages of the diary, never occurred to me. There was just something about that small book with the lock on the front and the tiny key that felt inspiring and magical. Diaries were a place to store all those thoughts and feelings that you weren’t ready to tell anyone else but wanted to get out. Several years later, Dad gave me a small diary with an embossed leather cover. It. didn’t have a key but didn’t need one. It was beautiful in its non-keyed cover and looked old and exotic to me. He had brought it back from Italy when he was in the war and found it, probably when going through boxes of old treasures. I’m not sure why he bought it in the first place, maybe a gift for someone that he forgot to give it to or he just thought it was pretty. I loved it and because it was so precious, I was afraid to write in it because I didn’t want to mess it up with scratched out words and ink smears. I kept it empty until 9th grade, when I started filling the pages with poetry. It was my first in a long line of emotion-keeping vessels.
If I had to give my writing a name, I’d say “friend.” It’s my other person in the room, my roommate, my person sitting next to me that I can nudge and say “did you see that/hear that/feel that?” It’s my container for my memories, my thoughts and my emotions because juggling them around in my brain becomes difficult after a while. It’s my filing system, my keepsake box and my creative outlet.
I’ve lived by myself for the past 15 years and putting pen to journal or fingers to keyboard is my communication to others, but mostly to myself. When I go back and read pieces I wrote 20 years ago or last week, one of two things can happen. I cringe with embarrassment and want to delete or throw it away, but I never do because even though the words may be awful, the feelings still reverberate when I reread them later, terrible as they may be. Or, I’m brought to tears. Not because the words are beautiful, but because they take me back to the exact time and place I was in when I wrote them. It’s like thumbing through a photo album of emotions —the good, the bad and the blurry. All those emotions that I needed to put somewhere because leaving them inside didn’t feel right.
When I got back to my house and my messy stacks of journals and notebooks, I realized that journals may not be what other people covet, but they probably have other items that hold their emotions and memories. Those stacks of dog-eared paged notebooks are my friends. They’ve seen the best of me and the worst of me. Their pages are the essence of who I am. They are me in every sentence, paragraph and page. I’ve lost myself in those pages and if I’m lucky, I’ve found myself too. Behind my desk I have a string attached to the wall that looks like a clothesline with tiny clothes pins where I attach phrases that mean something to me —they are my inspiration as I sit at my desk and type or write in one of my many notebooks. They make me realize that my process of putting words onto the page is a necessary part of my process. Although the completion of words on a page gives me great satisfaction, the real gold for me is in the process of retrieving those words from experiences and organizing them onto the page. It’s the process for me, not the end result, at least not yet. When people hear I write, their first question is often “where can I find your book?” To which I say, I’ve not published a book, yet, which pretty much ends the talk of writing. Full stop. To me, it feels similar to telling someone you run every day and having them ask when you’re going to be in the Olympics because if you run every day, you’ve got to be good. Publishing a book is a goal for me, and a lofty one at that, but before I start eyeing the prize of a book in print, I’ve got to honor the process of getting there and for me, the rewards are in the process.
Every day I look at my pinned words above my desk and every day I have a new favorite. Today’s is “Kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.” Bruce Cockburn.
I kick with my words and find glimpses of daylight then nightfalls and I start all over again. (Me)
Thanks for reading. Again.