As I write this at my desk, there are two crates next to me with a sheet thrown over the top. This curious structure is an occasional lie-down place for Senator the Cat, who grudgingly concedes that he can’t share desk-space. But it’s not the makeshift construction that gives me twinges of guilt — doesn’t everyone’s house have at least one odd thing in it? It’s what’s IN the crates — journals. I used to try to find shelf space for them but I ran out. I used to have them in a closet, but they outgrew that as well. Two crates full of journals, and I am writing pages more every day. I really have some guilt about that — how much can I possibly have to say about my moods, thoughts, speculations, theories, plans, dreams? Isn’t it just ridiculous to need to journal every morning before you can start the day?
I felt a lot better after reading author Madeleine L’Engle on the subject. The book is “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art.” I loved her book “A Wrinkle in Time” when I was a kid, and was very excited to find that she is Orthodox. But more to the point, re: journaling — she’s a REAL writer, an honest-to-goodness writer, whereas I am only a writer in the most generous sense of the word. So when she writes that she has to journal, it carries some weight.
A help to me in working things out has been to keep an honest — as honest as the human being can be — unpublishable journal. Granted, much of my non-fiction work is lifted directly from my journals, but what I use is only a small fraction of these numerous, bulky volumes. If I can write things out, I can see them, and they are not trapped within my own subjectivity. I have been keeping these notebooks of thoughts and questions and sometimes just garbage (which needs to be dumped somewhere) since I was about nine, and they are, I think, my free psychiatrist’s couch.
The problem of my percentages
That is just how it feels. I have told Greg before, I am fairly certain that 80% of what I’m writing is nonsense – just drivel that sounded profound over a morning pot of tea, or stuff that was bursting to come out even though I knew it was pointless. About another 15% are things that are immediately useful; 3% turn out to be useful later. And 2% is some Pure Truth, or as close to it as I can stand. The point is, if I knew what part of the total morning entry was that perfect 2%, I would just jot that down and have more time in my day. But somehow, I have to go through the other 98% to get to the 2%.
And similarly, I can make a case to myself that journaling is narcissistic, self-important time-wasting (a lot like blogging, now that I come to think of it). But it’s not just that — there is some benefit to its self-analysis and the ordering of thoughts and impressions. It turns out that my oldest sister Joan finds that to be true for her as well, which surprised me because she is an accomplished research scientist and incredibly self-disciplined. I knew that all three sisters in my family journal every day, but I assumed that hers would be hard, lean things bereft of any wasted words. But she says that she will take many, many pages going over some personal problem, feel at great length that she may have solved it, and then find out to her chagrin that it’s the same problem with the same solution that she might have solved one or two journals ago.
So why spend so much time on a process that has so little efficiency in it. For me, it’s just a grim matter of pragmatism. I really need this activity, even if it is a crutch, and an inefficient one at that. Like Madeleine L’Engle, I feel like it’s one of the things that keeps me off medications and out of rubber rooms. I should be able to maintain equilibrium without it. But why lie to myself? I don’t seem to be able to do that work without the action of writing, and after trying unsuccessfully, I have just given up and gotten used to the idea of filling up crates until I die.
I think I just mention it in case anyone ever reads a story in the paper of a woman in Las Vegas who suffocated when her cat jumped off a stack of crates and pushed them over onto her. That will probably be me.