Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Writing Inside Out

I rose late this morning, since one of my hormonally triggered bouts of consciousness at a less slackerly hour had informed me that “bright and early” was not going to be a concept congruent to the weather.  Tousled blankets and a lumpy pillow won out over greeting the gray and drippy dawn.

Robbed of the outdoor adventures on which I had hoped to focus this day, I climbed out of bed and conducted a dejected surveillance of my immediate indoor surroundings.  I sat down on the floor in front of the fireplace to admire my newly-waxed hearth stones (the project at last looks as good as it’s going to, though not nearly as wonderful as I had envisioned.)  Sighing, I thought, “Well, this is done.  What am I going to do with myself today?”  and I glanced disinterestedly around the room.  My eyes lit on the tattered stack of old spiral notebooks and sketch pads relegated to the scary bottom shelf of my bookcase.  Hand-written journals.  Some going back thirty or forty years. 

On a whim, I grabbed the top one—a dark blue Mead composition book that I instantly recognized as the notebook I had purchased out of lonely desperation back in Illinois in 1995.  A place to record my anguish during the final days of my sister’s life, and the 365 days after her death.

Though I do revisit my old writings from time to time, I have not had the (questionable) luxury of doing so for at least five years.  My struggles with the café kept me well stocked with more immediate traumas and dramas.  I didn’t have to go searching through pages of ancient history to find something to be depressed about.   It is an unfortunate fact that most of my old journals—and this one, in particular—were litanies of my heartaches-du-jour.  I wrote when things were awful.  It was therapy. 

Two things immediately struck me as I leafed through the pages of my old blue journal.  First, I came upon some details of an event about which I had completely forgotten, and it frightened me a little.  “Oh, yeah,” I thought.  “I kind of remember that…  How could I forget?”  At my age, the first thing that comes into your mind in a situation like this is, “Oh, no!  I’m losing it!”  I have always had an incredible memory, and I am not at all used to brushing up against an aspect of my past about which I have totally forgotten.  I had to remind myself that this was a minor detail of a very traumatic time seventeen years ago.  It boggles my mind to think about the piles of years that comprise my past.  Seventeen years since my sister’s death; thirteen since my dad’s.  Married thirty-five years.  Forty-year-old journals moldering in my bookcase.  How can I possibly be that old?

The second thing that demanded my notice was how absolutely abysmal the writing is.  I thought, “Good lord, I wrote crap this bad and insisted upon identifying myself as a writer?”  Not a word of it has any value beyond the purely therapeutic.  It was good for that; it did the trick.  But if I thought I was leaving any kind of legacy behind in the form of these pages upon pages of whining, nit-picking and neurotically repetitive self-analysis, I was out of my mind. 

Honestly, if I had children, I would burn this stuff before I let it get into their hands.  As it is, whoever comes into possession of it upon my demise will not be inspired to great admiration of either my character or my prose, to say the least.  But since my family is singularly uninterested in my chicken scratching, I’m sure the notebooks will end up in the landfill when I’m gone, if any of my relations should still be around by then.  So I’ll keep them safe from the torch, for the time being…though I’m not entirely sure why.

It was impossible not to notice how much my writing has changed since I began writing here, on this ethereal page.  Looking back on those stacks of real paper pages—letters written inside my head, intended for no other audience than myself—I’m shocked that I was ever able to progress beyond that to real writing.  Writing for an audience (however small.)  Writing as a connection to other people rather than a refuge from them.  Telling the stories, rather than secretly inscribing the stories I could never tell. 

It’s hard to believe I can go back three or five or eight years, here.  But I do, fairly often in fact.   I read, and I don’t cringe and think, “Oh, my god…did I actually write that?”  More often than not, I sit up a little straighter, puff out my chest just a bit and think, “Oh, my god…I actually wrote that!”  For the most part, “Coming to Terms…” is a body of work of which I am inordinately proud.  It is a legacy I would be proud to pass down.  Which is sad, really, because I have no one to whom to pass it. 

And it will be relegated to some ethereal junkyard when I’m no longer around.  Or simply erased.

I’m not sure how to think about that… 

1 comment:

  1. I often wonder what will happen to all my hand written journals. My daughter perhaps. I'm certain she will keep them but I doubt she will even thumb thru them. After that, the dump! Unless........I have a larhe print out of a diary I kept on line from 1991-92. I cringe reading it and yesterday was on the cusp of running it thru the shredded but something stopped me. So much of us is on those pages, hey? Maybe terrible dribble, but it's us.