Since I was in my early twenties, I kept careful journals. I must have close to fifty of them now. They began mainly as places to express angst and misery, but soon evolved into descriptions of places, where I'd been, what I saw in the world. After a while I started using them the way a visual artist uses a sketchbook.
I wrote my first drafts of stories, poems, novels, whatever in them, and devised a rather complicated indexing system that I use to this day (more on this another time...). Then a number of years ago my relationship to my journals began to change. I started to draw and paint in them. I wasn't very good and didn't know much (and still don't), but they gave me a lot of pleasure. And the truth was, and is, that I had very little ego investment in them. I just enjoyed it and I was capable of spending all day in a cafe anywhere in the world, doing nothing but writing and painting what I saw.
A few years ago in Italy I bought a very nice journal that had strong paper pages and no lines (until then all the journals were lined). So I began doing some simple watercolors in the journals. This has evolved into a more elaborate hobby. Now I travel with a small watercolor kit, paper, journal, glue, scissors (if customs will allow), double-sided tape, and a stapler - all in a rather compact kit/ziplock bag. And a Polaroid camera (alas the film is no longer being made).
I spend large portions of my journeys just working on and in these journals. I can think of nothing, actually, that I'd rather do. For whatever reason, and I still am not clear why this is, I never am able to do this kind of work at home or in New York where I live. From time to time I will post some pages/paintings from the journal. I have lost many things during my life on the road. Cameras, film, articles of clothing, friends, lovers, money, passports, but I have never lost one of my journals.
Once I did leave one on a train in France, but a young man raced off to hand it to me and I kissed him. Once I used my journal as collateral to rent a paddleboat. The vendor, after I showed him what I had, felt it was safe that I would return for my book. In Florence I spilled espresso all over one journal, but everyone agreed it only looked better with the brown stains. And at the Russian-Polish border I risked arrest as I hid my journals under a mattress as the border patrol searched my cabin.
Perhaps I have just been lucky, but certainly it must mean something, given all I have lost in my life, to have held on to all of these.