Saturday, April 9, 2011
Thinking about Journals
Yesterday I took the G train - a train I'd never been on - and rode over to Pratt. I've lived in New York more than thirty years and here I was, having a new adventure. Two people asked me for directions. I'm a New Yorker now yet I knew nothing. Finally when I arrived, I found Pratt was beautiful. Wonderful old buildings, public art and sculptures, famous cats that roam and are cared for by the "CHIEF ENGINEER" of the boiler room (where a sign reads "Do Not Let The Cats Out."
I wanted to sit down and make some notes in my journal, but I didn't have time. Even as I approached what I believed to be a sculpture and turned out to be a pile of unmelted snow, I wanted to jot it down. Because if I don't jot it down I forget it. It's as simple as that. I began thinking about my journals and the roles they have played in my life life. The role of journals in general. I know I've written about this before, but it is a topic I keep returnign to.
I began keeping them in 1967 when I went to France (which is a whole lifetime ago, it seems). My father gave me a diary with me named embossed in gold. Inside he wrote, "This book with its blank pages if for you to bring to life during your Paris year. Your special thoughts, your precious experiences can be relieved in future years and shared with those close to you...At the year's end life will become more meaningful for you. If our prayers were answered, you will find the true beauty of life."
I did not have the year my father hoped I would have. It was fraught, filled with loneliness, some pointless love affairs, and tedious studies. I did take a cooking class which I enjoyed, though when I missed one class to go to Naples and visit my college roommate, I was dragged through the streets of Paris and made a spectacle of to my program. My dear friend, Mark, still refers to this as "L'Affaire Mary Morris."
Anyway I wrote about it. I wrote about all of it and have never stopped. When I go to my shelf of journals this one, perhaps the one in which I am the most unhappy, is always the first. I return to it from time to time. I return to them all.
My father set me off on a journey - one he didn't anticipate. He thought he was sending me to France. Instead he helped me find my voice. He was not always the easiest man, but I think somehow he knew something about me. It is he, afterall, and not my mother who dedicates this first journal of many.
For years these journals were really more like diaries, what I did, or didn't do, with my day. But as I began to write more and more they became the place where everything began. All my writing starts here. Well, it might get scribbled first on the tiny notebooks I always carry, or the napkin or placemat in front of me, or on my hand, but eventually it will make it into the journal. Perhaps the next day or so.
This is how and where ideas take hold.
Perhaps a decade ago or more I began to include visual materials - Polaroids, sketches, crayon drawings, collage. Whatever. Now I like them even more. They are fun to do, but, for whatever reason, I never work in them, not really when I am home.
It seems as if my journals only happen when I am on the road.
This journal shown above is my Vienna journal and the drawing was done in a cafe. I am proud of this picture because it was shown at a diary exhibit that included the only facsimili of Anne Frank's diary. Anne's diary is directly above mine. I cannot describe the feeling I had when I saw it there.
I have never lost a journal. I've lost many many things - cameras, sweaters, tickets, lovers - but a journal never. I've hidden them from Soviet border guards and used one as collateral to rent a paddleboat on the Vlatava River. I left one once on a train in France and a young man ran off, bringing it to me. I kissed him on the lips. I'm not sure if he got back on that train, but I can still see him, standing there.