quaking aspen, previously

on journal keeping

Posted on: August 1, 2003

on journal keeping

On the one hand is the urge for consistency, regularity. The same time, every day, with the same pen in the same notebook and/or type of notebook. But then again, I also value flexibility.

I think my first journal was in Berlin, 8 or 9 years old, softcover, purple with a watercolor-dreamy picture of a girl in a hat and flowing dress on the front, basket of flowers in hand. I think. (I never, that I remember, had a locking diary, though I remember wanting one. Why not?) Where IS it? Maybe my trunk with all the rest. At some point I lost or misplaced that one and started keeping it in a green paged stenographers notebook, later I pulled those out and stuck them in the other notebook once I found it again. Thinking of this journal makes me think of my cramped fifth grade handwriting, uneven, and the grayish room in Berlin – was it mine? Did I share it with my Sis? Can’t remember offhand. Many of my childhood houses sort of run together. Maybe if I’m lucky I did a rough sketch of the place in that journal.

That first journal was given to me by either my mom, or my Merrie Miss or Valiant leader in Primary. I’m leaning toward the teacher, but really I don’t know. Another thing that’s probably recorded in it, if I can just dig it out of obscurity. I really need to rescue my photos out of my eighth and ninth grade journals too, replace them with color copies. It would be so cool if I could teach my kids about scrapbooking and so forth young. We could all sit around and select pictures and so forth, write in our journals at the same time. Mmmm. Family history as a family.

Why was I given this journal? Well, you know about Mormons and journals. In a sense it was because of that, the emphasis we have as a culture on journal keeping, family history, genealogy and the like. It seems like I began every childhood journal with a list, me, my family, our ages, all the places we had lived. It was always pretty much the first entry. (Talk about dominating identity.) I suppose that was a primary focus, keeping records for posterity. The idea still fascinates me, but in some ways, at least at the time, it was limiting — made me feel like I had to explain every little detail, microscopically. Then of course, I wouldn’t have time to include all the details I wanted, so I would leave a space to come back to it later, and of course, I never did, 9 times out of 10. Sigh. Of course, I’m a better writer now, better at being concise and so forth, which is certainly good, but also I feel more like I write for myself now and I don’t fret as much about putting in every detail. I just try to record the things that are important to me, and details that will help me remember later, even just lists and so forth, so that if I want to I can come back later and look at them and have a memory jog, be able to reconstruct things and write a more complete, perhaps more objective account.

What single good thing did this spark? It gave me a place to vent, another outlet besides the escapism of reading. It started me being a writer, since I never really wrote letters. It also gave me a feeling of continuity, in my mobile youth, moving from place to place and somewhere to work things out on paper, describe them, explain them to myself or others, but with patient paper. Now keeping a journal does many of the same things for me, but it also helps me to feel much more present and aware, it gives me an outlet for creativity and the possibility of composting, of turning material over and working through it without the pressure of actually having to “be good” or worry about plot and so on. Just getting things out, recording stuff I notice. In many ways I have been influenced by the “morning pages” idea of Julia Cameron (Artist’s Way) and so I just don’t even try to censor myself at all, I just essentially think on paper.

In some ways that’s easier on the computer or here on my little handy folding keyboard and the PDA, because I can type fairly fast and it’s not like it’s some fabulous beautiful notebook, full of thick creamy acid-free paper and with a lovely leather hard cover or some such, just glaring at me with an elegant eyebrow cocked and daring me to insult it by writing “crap” in its pages.

Sometimes of course I feel like I should make a bit more effort in my journals (here, electronically, or in my spiral notebooks, or wherever) to cut through, not ramble on QUITE so much, not whine and complain and so on quite so much. Sometimes I can’t help but think, gosh, I would probably be ashamed for my children to read this, to have them see all my weakness and whining and character flaws that I’m sure really shine in here. Or the opposite of shine, suck in light like a black hole. I like to think some of the good things come out too, but I fear not nearly so much. Then again, I’m also very harsh on myself sometimes. Maybe in all the wrong ways.

I never used to be jealous, or at least I didn’t admit it to myself, suppressed it very effectively. But lately I feel it more, in different situations, towards different people. People with houses, people prettier or thinner than me, or with better fashion sense, who know how to wear makeup, who don’t have unwanted facial hair; people who exercise, people who publish books, who have more money, who are older with all their children grown up, people who are students, sometimes (only a little) people who are single or childless, who have so much less responsibility.

Then again, they don’t get to watch their golden-red haired daughter leaf through books, all kinds of books, board books, children’s books, mom’s books when she can get her hands on them, and stare fascinated at the pictures, pointing at them (only 11 months old) and see her delight and concentration on her face. Then see her face light up looking at her mom, the killer grin, the hooting of delight.

Of course, then she comes over and tries to type on my keyboard. But y’know.

Parenthood is truly a training ground, a way to learn charity and patience and all other virtues faster than you thought possible. Or can be that way, if you let yourself learn. “I was not willing to give up my life of shame and failure without a fight.” (Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies) Ah, so sadly true.

Meanwhile, cuteness is truly the key to the survival of the species.

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