As you may know, I am an inveterate diarist. Each and every day, give or take a few lapses, I write down my thoughts of the day in a journal.
Why do I do this? Dunno. Just do, that’s all.
In telling the story of my life (thus far) through ten objects that can be found in my apartment, it would be impossible to ignore my completed journals. There are so many of them, sometimes I feel quite overwhelmed.
If we would think of my journals as one lengthy oeuvre, it would fill up over 100 notebooks going back to a notebook that I filled up with musings while still in high school, circa 1974. This work is simply the story of my life and how I lived it, filled with reflections not so much about the things that went right as on the things that went wrong.
I often tell my writing students that we don’t tend to sit down and write because our favourite baseball team won a close game. But a phone call that never came, well, that’s another matter entirely, probably good for at least a couple hundred (or thousand) words.
Doing a rough calculation – which I am absolutely useless at, given that I was not blessed with any mathematical skills whatsoever – this great document must be between two and three million words long, and growing a little longer each and every day.
That’s a lot of words. That’s a lot of anything!
Obviously, there are a lot of journals to choose from for an exercise of this nature, many different ways to go. For true stationery nerds like myself, I know that examining my shift from lined to graph paper that happened twenty years ago or so would be fascinating reading. But perhaps it’s best to say that it happened for reasons I don’t really understand, and move on.
I did find one journal that is quite unlike all the others in a few ways, and that’s the one you see pictured above. It’s quite an unusual size: 6” x 4” and 1” thick. I bought it at a Borders store in New York in 2007. (I wish now I’d bought ten of them because they are hard to find in this size, especially with graph paper.)
Two things in particular make this journal unique.
The first is that the entries aren’t dated, and so unlike every other journal I have ever written, the entries aren’t chronologically organized. I write quite randomly in it, so it is impossible to tell when exactly the entries were made.
For example, here’s a happy little poem I wrote one day. I’m not sure when. I’m not sure what great emotional blow I had sustained that prompted me to write it, nor do I know whom that blow was delivered by, but obviously my heart had taken another pounding, prompting this:
the heart bleeds out
connections tenuous anyway
unspoken desires die
on bruised lips
little wind eddies
scraps of paper scattering
setting a new order
don’t you ever
fold your hand
and walk away
from the table?
Happy happy! You can see why most things that one writes in a journal never see the light of day. (Until now, it would seem.) In this sense, I guess one could say that the journal is used for practice. (Check out Franz Kafka’s Diaries some time for a great example of this, published by Schocken. He’ll write the same sentence over and over, just to try to make it as clear and economical as possible.)
Most of the time, the writing is not all that good, and not even meant to be shared. But every now and then, something works, and can become the basis for a poem or a play or even a novel.
They say in photography you’re doing well to get one good shot in a hundred. I’d say in writing that ratio is even greater.
The other unique aspect of this little journal is that it contains twenty or so self-portraits. I know, I know, you’re thinking is there no end to this giant ego? But it’s not like that, honest, it was part of an exercise to begin each writing session with a quick self-portrait, just a quick line drawing by way of preparation. I heard that Leonard Cohen did this for a while and I thought that’s good enough for me.
I can’t really describe these properly in words so here are a few examples. I don’t normally share them so don’t be too critical, I have no illusions about my drawing skills. I’m posting them as thumbnails so they can be enlarged:
Well, you can see for yourself, they are good fun and not meant to be taken all that seriously. I’m not sure that going through the exercise of drawing the self-portrait changed the quality of my writing or not. It perhaps led to a little more abstraction and freedom, I suppose, from the tyranny of the written word.
And so, I will keep on writing in my various journals. When cellist Pablo Casals was in his ’90’s and still practicing for four hours a day, someone asked him why he bothered. “I think it’s started to help,” he said. And I guess I feel the same way.
Here’s a cool little number I found on YouTube to leave you with.
Thanks for reading!