Saturday, June 21, 2008

Old Journals

Before I became the laptop-toting wanderer that I am, I wrote as often as I do now—not daily, but regularly—in journals. I started writing in journals when I was twenty. I had no interest in keeping a diary, especially a daily diary of mundane circumstances and events that no-one, least of all me, would care to read about in future. I mean, who cares? It's just not that interesting. But when I was twenty, i started to realize that I needed to write down, as often as I felt like it, what I was feeling and thinking. A lot of that is unintersting, too; yet as I go through boxes after moving last month, as we sort through the bins and trunks of family photos and papers—and as I must shift gears regularly, because the emotional charge that develops from going through the family history becomes overwhelming in due time—I discover my old written journals, and leaf through them at random.

I started with spiral notebooks from Ulrich's Bookstore in Ann Arbor. These are books of manageable size, not too thick, not to tall and wide: not too daunting in which to write. When I lived in Java, in Indonesia, in 1985-86, on a Fulbright, I started to write in thicker, cheap, lined journals bought in office supply stores in downtown Surakarta. These books were thicker, much thicker, although the paper is basically thin newsprint pulp. I bought about a dozen of these cheap writing books to bring home with me from Java, and used them for my journals for close to twenty years. I have one or two empty volumes left, but these books are mostly full now.

In the past few years, I have begun to write directly onto the laptop with regularity; but when I am traveling off the grid—camping, driving across the Big Empty, or spending all day taking photos and writing from roadside stops along the Pacific coast—I now write in larger journals yet. Some years ago, my sister began to bind books, and she makes handmade bound journals for herself, and me, and others, every year or so. I have a set of these that I use for journals, but also for calligraphy and haiga, and one or two I can't bring myself to write in, because the book itself is a work of art. More and more I use a large, unlined, blank artist's sketchbook, because more and more I am drawing as well as writing in my journals. I continue to teach myself to draw with colored pencils. (I've also discovered, in going through the boxes during the move, that my mother had kept every painting or drawing I had ever made, back in the 1970s, when I was a teenager. I've found two boxed caches of this old, childhood work. Some of the acrylic paintings I did back then are better than I remembered.) More and more, too, I am using larger brush pens to write with, and using larger, broader strokes, that flow easily from words into pictures. That division between writing and visual art-making seems less and less firm, as time goes by.

Most of my poems have begun in my journals—either as sketches to be edited later, or the occasional fully-formed poem. Poems come to me, and more than a few have arrived complete, as though I was taking dictation, needing little revision later. I've gotten used to that; there's some part of my mind that does this work of writing, that only tells the conscious, personality-ego part of my mind what's going on later, when it's complete. It's like something hits the Print button in the back of my head, and a poem comes out.

Below are three haiku, dating from a journal from about ten years ago. The journal is one of those cheap Indonesian lined volumes. The haiku are what they are. At some point, I need to go back through these journals, and make sure I've extracted all the ideas, and poems, and project plans, that I mixed in with all my more mundane writings about what I was feeling and thinking. These were everyday books: everything went into them. Some of it is worth keeping, even as the most of it is unmemorable.

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

Your writing is almost legible! I've thought about posting a page out of one of my old notebooks but I couldn't find one that wasn't a mess. I opt for small hard backed notebooks, A6 size. I like to buy my own but well meaning people have bought me them as presents. My daughter used to do the whole journal things and I'd get her fancy ones which she used. Then she discovered blogging and all of that fell by the way.

Since most of my poetry is short it's pretty much totally formed when I put it on the page. Usually all I have to do is sort out the line structure (my brain doesn't think in lines) which usually means an odd word change and that's about it. It's been years since I sat and fretted over a poem for six months. I have novels for that.

9:49 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

My hand has always been pretty legible. And always far more legible than anyone else in my immediate family. It helps that I was a trained calligrapher and professional music copyist during and after my college years.

This snapshot is actually of my fastest scrawl, getting a few haiku down as fast as they come. It's me writing in a hurry.

12:50 AM  

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