I began keeping a journal when I was eighteen. I had dreams of writing novels--of "being a writer," but there was always something else I had to do. Something I had to experience, to learn, to do... to do.
I remember, the summer I began keeping the journals. I spent hours sitting at the kitchen table in my grandmother's kitchen--our summer house on a lake in Western Michigan.. Hours typing on a portable Royal I'd gotten for a graduation present. Pages and pages that went nowhere. The problem, I realized... was that I had nothing to write!
The journals were my way of remembering, reminding myself, of gathering material until the time would come--and I would know when it came--know when I was ready.
In 1970, and again in 1978, I burned what I had written. All the notebooks I used for my journals. Entries were sporadic after that until 1988--when it happened. It came to me, just as I knew it would. That from now to the end, I would have to write--poetry and fiction. I could no longer put it off. A late start, yes--but I told myself, probability was on my side--that (as much as anyone can count on anything), I could count on having twenty years, and with luck, half that again... with maybe another five thrown in for good measure. Time to leave a body of work.
Those journals were my companions. I carried a volume... usually, one of those marble composition books, everywhere. I wrote. Sitting on park benches. In my years working for temp agencies, on lunch and coffee breaks. I wrote on the el, I wrote in bars at night. Forty-three notebooks--writing with a small hand, two lines each space. Five-thousand three-hundred pages to date. Well over a million words.
I still do this, but entries have become much more infrequent of late. I go weeks now without a new word. I've been thinking about why this is so.
The novel I'm working on is one reason. It takes up all my time and imaginative energy. But I recognize in typing old entries of those journals that something has changed in my sense of relation to self and world. I don't quite know how to put it. The novel, and my poetry--which has undergone a radical change in the last year or so, are forms that involve a dissolution of self. Making myself disappear in the words. There was an aspect of that in the journal writing--the practice of attentive observation, turning into words what I saw--as though from a consciousness not my own--but the journal, as psychological and emotional mirror, has come to feel alien to that effort, more like a wall than an opening. The recording of the days events, of wishes and disappointments--nowhere to go with that.
Very little new to observe in my life on that level. What presses to be shaped into words demands a vehicle more open, more multifaceted, multileveled... more about memory than the moment at hand.
In the Goonan article referenced two posts back, she calls literature, "consciousness made portable and transferable." I like that. I've come to feel like the journals have become too narrow, or my consciousness too elusive. When I write in them, I'm not in them--my conscious life (and I mean more than waking consciousness), remains outside them,. I keep them now largely because I still want to keep track of time. Locating myself in place and time.
Maybe it's not so complicated as all that. I wrote more pages in the week I went to visit my sister in Portland... she was recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer... than I have in the three months since. Maybe it's become a kind of travel journal. Maybe it always was. And I'm not making entries now because I'm not going anywhere--that where I am going, demands a fiction deeper and more expansive than the journals.
I need to work over what I write, over and over. It takes many readings and revisions before I see clearly what is there.
The journals--remain on the level of the initial entry. They record the first impression, which is always, it seems, governed more by self-deception than insight.
Then ... there is at this moment, no object of desire to lead me into those labyrinths of deception. Ah Pinker, you idiot. You think any of us are so stupid that we believe for an instant we are not driven by our animal heritage? That we have not listened to what science has taught us? That we can forget for a moment--that it is the double helix at the heart that makes the cricket sing, the dancer dance... who weaves for us, the tangled calculus of love?