She sits and stares and thinks at a desk in her fourth grade class, holding a journal she made from yellow rag paper. When she tries to write, the pages tear like tissue as she painstakingly erases her spelling errors or entire sentences that she realizes with her nine-year-old eyes are too personal. Later, she takes this same journal home for Thanksgiving vacation knowing she no longer needs to turn it in to her teacher to correct. On December 1, 1979, she finds a fine red pen at home (the kind and color a teacher would delight in using) and she writes (errors and all): "This is the second Journal I have ever made in my whole life. Journal writing sometimes gets really boring If you can’t think of anything to write. When I am about ten years old I might bye myself a diary. Journal writing in school is not at all like having your own journal at home. The reason it isn’t is because your teacher cheaks it. Right now I am not writing in my Journal for my teacher to correct it. I’m just writing for fun. [sic]"
Reading that journal entry from fourth grade, I can relive the moment I became aware of the power and satisfaction of writing for myself alone. The difference between writing for school and writing for myself seemed huge at the time. Writing with an erasable pencil was nothing less than a slavery of second-guessing myself compared to the freedom of permanence a pen gave me. The fact that my teacher wouldn’t be correcting what I wrote allowed me to get past the paranoia of being too personal. I was very private as a child, and writing for school automatically meant that I couldn’t share anything that really mattered to me. The biggest difference, however, was I knew that because I was not required to write this particular December journal entry for school, I had stepped into the realm of what “real” writers do: they write because they want to.
By Christmas Day of that same year, I had an official diary that I began to fill with my embarrassments and ecstasies, my burdens and bedtime stories. This process proved to be a necessary coping and organizing strategy throughout my life. I have learned to allow the mysterious electricity from my thoughts to flow from my brain, past my vocal chords, down my strong arm, and out through the magic minute movements my hand makes as I grip the pen. I find my rhythm and the space between my mind and the page disappears. Poetry happens. I am fulfilled. After completing countless diaries, journals and notebooks, I better understand crisis and joy.
This fourth grade journal is one of eight that remain after my late husband, Mike, purposefully burned most of my possessions. Inexplicably, he overlooked these journals and a few precious books on the shelf under my bedside table. I am grateful they survived. I like to imagine they had a power of their own to somehow become invisible while Mike demolished the rest of my belongings.
My journals hold my history like heirloom quilts, hand woven with the thread of my thoughts. By the time Mike burned my things, I was 27 years old, in my second year of graduate school, and had accumulated 17 years worth of journals. Initially, those eight remaining journals seemed like a trifle compared to volumes of journals, college papers, and poetry I’d lost. When he stole my writing, Mike stole my history. He made inaccessible to me, in concrete form, the sequence of my thoughts and my development as a writer.
I wasn’t able to articulate any of this until I began cranking the arm of my phonographic memory and listening to the loud crackling and muffled music of my muse. She’s old and scratched but she still plays.
Give me a pen and paper and I'll give you my passion. I write with my body. I write without my body. I remember and forget who I am. I become new women. I become new men. I become a tree. I am the wind. I am a spontaneous, passionate, disorganized and often confused person. I explain myself best with poetry:
I Keep My Dead Trees
I write in landslides Keeping pace with Rearranged roots And shifting piles Of wet pages
My word winds Blow and blend Bow and bend My tender twigs And sprout a springtime simile Like pencils budding words
I’m always in seasons Writing like fast growth On the dead and dried Moving my acorn eyes Toward the bottom Of an endangered white I sacrifice to write
Moving through forests I hold a stick loaded with lead And I fill them with it And they fall
And that’s how I find myself In woods or words (Not as heavy as you think) I write with ease If I keep my dead trees
For me, this poem is about becoming a better writer because I keep and continue to contemplate everything I’ve written. I didn’t realize when I wrote it that Mike would take much of my writing away from me. It is ironic to me now that this poem survived Mike’s fire like an acorn, a dropping from a larger tree, now destroyed. Like seeds deep inside acorns, I incubate my thoughts for weeks or even years before I commit them to paper. I'm fearful of judgments, of people deciding who I am based on a fragment, but the more I write, the more I know how to grow.
This journal is an effort to reclaim my voice and, in so doing, reclaim myself. I sit at my writing desk thinking of that fourth grade girl, wanting to reclaim her red pen desire — the desire to write for myself — reasserting my voice and becoming I rather than remaining she.
My husband and daughter finding time to write Writing and video production
My Vision for the Future
A surge of women world leaders promote peace and put an end to war