Archive for the ‘journal writing’ Tag

Object 7: Notebook Journal, 2007 – Present   2 comments

One a a few hundred notebooks/journals kicking around my apartment.

One a a few hundred notebooks/journals kicking around my apartment.

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

are broken

unspoken desires die

on bruised lips

little wind eddies

scraps of paper scattering

setting a new order

of random.

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:

"because I forgot my glasses, I look perhaps like this . . ."

“because I forgot my glasses, I look perhaps like this . . .”

The halo is slipping . . .

The halo is slipping . . .





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!

Posted July 8, 2013 by Eugene Stickland in Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,

More Thoughts on Journaling (With a Little Help from my Friends)   5 comments

A few of my journals.

Those who know me either through this blog and my other writings, or from real life (whatever that is – I hear it’s overrated!) will know that I am an inveterate diarist.  One of my favourite and habitual activities is writing in my journal, an activity I carry out in various coffee shops around the world, most often in Calgary’s Caffe Beano off of 17th Avenue South West.

I have been doing this since the mid 1970’s and now I think of my journals and diaries as one huge amorphous oeuvre, comprised of, by conservative estimate, two to three million words.

After perhaps a million or so of these words had been recorded in my various notebooks, I had managed to achieve a sufficient amount of fame or notoriety to warrant the creation of my archival collection at the University of Regina. This collection, which I believe anyone is welcome to view in the library of the U of R, contains, for now at least, early drafts of some of my plays along with letters and laundry lists and other pieces of paper from the day-to-day of my ever so fascinating life.

But coming down the road, that long dusty road that plies its way through the prairies of my home province, is this flood of words and the books they are written in, destined to end up with all my other writings in the archival collection.  (This is a horrible metaphor, as if a flood would travel on a road. Perhaps it’s more of a caravan or convoy. Or maybe there is no road. But you get the picture, muddled as it may be!)

The point remains, the journals are destined to repose of the shelves of the library of the University of Regina as part of my archival collection.

Here’s the thing: how does the fact that one knows that one’s journals will be open for public scrutiny some day alter the writing? Can one continue to be as honest with one’s innermost thoughts that are, essentially, private in nature but that obviously find their way onto the page, when one is aware that someday in the future (near or distant, who can know?) others will be able to read them?

I’m forever telling people whom I get involved with on many levels, from business to romance, (though there hasn’t been much of either, lately, alas) that they will be written about and the books they are written in will be around for some time to come. And that I don’t pull my punches. And that little bit of information should make a few people reading this at least slightly nervous.

My thinking on this is that by the time they hit the shelves, I’ll be dead and people and events I write about will be insubstantial shadows, so what will it really matter, anyway? Well, it might still matter to you, dear reader, so I suggest you govern yourself accordingly. (You know who you are, even if I don’t, exactly . . .)

The other alternative I suppose would be to do as many writers do and burn the journals before I shuffle off to sing with the choir invisible. Or if I’m too feeble and deranged at the end to do it myself,  leave instructions for someone else to do it should my passing be sudden and unexpected, which I am sorely hoping it will be. But burn those two or three million words? It doesn’t seem to me to be an option.  In many ways, I think of this gigantic sprawling work as the greatest artistic statement I cam capable of making. Burn it? It just seems too self-negating, and those who know me will know self-negation is not something I’m exactly known for.

The trick is to remain honest and true, not censoring your thoughts or opinions, yet being mindful that at some point in the distant reaches of time, someone will surely read those words, and in your absence, and they will be all they have, really, from which to form an opinion of you and the people and events of your life. I find that prospect both scary and exciting at the same time.

Now, this was all meant to serve as a prologue for a lovely letter (via Facebook) I received a while back from my friend, who for now I shall call R,  which you will discover as you read was prompted by other of my musings (or ramblings) about journal writing.

It’s seldom that we take the time anymore to write a well-reasoned letter, and I was so touched by this one that I decided to share it here.

It’s a good reminder that a well thought-out letter, written with care and attention, may be rare these days, but it is perhaps more than ever a worth-while endeavor.  In fact, it’s downright precious Here it is . . . .


Hi Eugene,
I read your note about your journals yesterday morning. For some reason it stuck with me and I kept thinking about it all day, a day, when for some reason, and no reason in particular, I was feeling generally sad and out of sorts. Then, on the c-train, I read this and felt maybe I was meant to share it with you. Not sure what it means, if it means anything…but I am compelled to share it here, so here it is, quoted by Margaret Atwood in Negotiating with the Dead, from Hjalmar Soderberg’s Doctor Glas:

Now I sit at my open window, writing – for whom? Not for any friend or mistress. Scarcely for myself, even. I do not read today what I wrote yesterday; nor shall I read this tomorrow. I write simply so my hand can move, my thoughts move of their own accord. I write to kill a sleepless hour.

And this, also quoted in the Atwood, from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four:

For whom, it suddenly occurred to him to wonder, was he writing this diary? For the future, for the unborn…For the first time the magnitude of what he had undertaken came home to him. How could you communicate with the future? It was of its nature impossible. Either the future would resemble the present, in which case it would not listen to him: or it would be different from it, and his predicament would be meaningless.

Then, she says:

For whom was Samuel Pepys writing? Or Saint-Simon? Or Anne Frank? There is something magical about such real-life documents. The fact that they have survived, have reached our hands, seems like the delivery of an unexpected treasure; or else like a resurrection…The older one gets, the more relevant Beckett’s play Krapp’s Last Tape comes to be.

Happy Day to you :o)

And happy day to you, dear reader. Thanks for the visit . . . .

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