I’m slowly re-reading my hand-written journals, starting with one I began in August, 2002: nearly ten years ago, when I began journaling in large, lined Moleskine notebooks that now fill a shelf of their own.
It’s strange and surreal to have a day-to-day chronicle of one’s own life, an account that’s infinitely more raw and personal than anything I’d share on my blog. I’ve always enjoyed reading writers’ journals: my fondness for May Sarton, for instance, comes from her prose journals, not her poetry, and I love reading the mundane thoughts of essayists such as Virginia Woolf and Henry David Thoreau. I’ve intermittently kept a journal since high school, but I destroyed most of my scattered and self-absorbed notebooks from high school, college, and even the early days of graduate school. Only in 2002 did I start keeping the journals I kept.
It’s interesting to eavesdrop on another’s mind; it’s interesting to see how the rhythms of thought get patterned into prose. When you read the journal of a writer you’re familiar with, you can recognize in embryonic form the ideas and images that appear in later published pieces. One fascinating aspect of reading excerpts from Thoreau’s 1851 journal with my former writing students, for instance, is the way bits of Thoreau’s later essays appear there: for instance, scattered passages that ultimately appeared in the essay “Walking,” which was published in its present form only after Thoreau’s death.
When you read your own journal, you can trace the foreshadowing of a story whose outcome you know, having lived it. In 2002, my father was diagnosed with a cancer I now know he survived; in 2002, I applied and began training for an online teaching job I still have. In 2002, I knew my first marriage was doomed but didn’t have the courage to end it: that wouldn’t happen until two years later. In 2002, I lived with, tended, and had as my constant companion a dog in the prime of life who I couldn’t envision ever growing old, much less dying.
When literary scholars read the journals, letters, and other ephemera of published authors, they are looking for the seeds of greatness: how did this artist take the thoughts in her or his head and commit them to paper? When I read my own journals, I’m similarly looking for suggestive patterns, but only as they provide insight into personality: who was I then, and what happened in the interim to make me who I am now?
I think it’s significant, somehow, that it took me ten years to complete my PhD; I taught for just over ten years at Keene State; and now I’m revisiting nearly ten years of journal entries that offer their own partial slice of both experiences. Now that Reggie’s dead and I’ve left Keene State, it feels like it’s time to move onto something new–something Next. When I finished my dissertation, colleagues warned me of the let-down graduates often feel in the absence of a Big Project…but when I finished my dissertation, I quickly moved onto the big transitions of divorce, life as a single woman, marriage to J, and ultimately moving from Keene. Only now do I feel like the emotional aftermath–Buddhists would say the karma–of so many changes is starting to clear, providing an opportunity for me to discern my next step. What better way to figure out what to do with the next ten years of my life than by re-visiting my journals with their day-to-day account of the past ten years?