“Most diaries begin all at once, with a rolling up of sleeves, and intake of breath — and a here goes.” from Thomas Mallon’s A Book of One’s Own: People and Their Diaries
Day 4 of the Moments in May 2015 Challenge is to post a writing about or a photo of a diary entry.
I’ve kept a diary for as long as I can remember. The earliest diary I have is from 1971, the year I was a seventh grader in Pat Fatchett’s English class at Portland Junior High School in Bloomington, Minnesota. Pat made us keep a year-long journal in a wide-lined spiral notebook. I truly believe that because she created the discipline of diary-writing in me, I continue to do so today.
Today I revisited an outtake of the shape of my life as I’ve lived it thus far. I reread a diary entry from July 20, 1988. Rick and I had been married eight-and-a-half-years and lived in a lovely home in Burnsville on a block packed with young families. Two of my three sons were born. Sammy was two-and-a-half and Joey was nine months old.
Here’s my entry:
Just got back from breakfast with Cindy Merrifield at Pannekokken Huis. She encouraged me to journal my feelings, not just my activities. This is going to be real hard for me to do. I’m terrified to reveal my thoughts on paper – to explore myself. Yet I know by exploring my thoughts, speaking to myself, reflection & devotion to God, I will learn self-trust.
One thing I learned today and I must keep insisting on is time. Time for just myself, time to be with friends and acquaintances, time to be with Rick alone, and time to be with my family, with just Sam, just with Joseph. I’m learning if I wait for something to happen which allows me to have time alone, it won’t come about. I must take the time. If I must pay for a sitter to have time then that’s what I’ll do…
I don’t keep a daily diary though as I look back now, I wished I would have for I know there were pivotal life moments that didn’t get written down and are now buried in my brain’s time capsule, never to be found again.
In January 2015, we visited friends Tim and Terry Sullivan in Queen Valley, Arizona. They took us in their Jeep on a trail designed more for ATVers than Jeeps. We ascended and descended Montana Mountain, where every hairpin turn I heard tires crushing rock, the powerful downshift to first gear, the thunk of an axle. I grew used to the turns and for hours marveled at the beauty around me. When we reached the top, Terry pointed to a tan blip the size of a typewriter-sized slash mark and said, “That’s where we started out on the trail.”
The road we’d traversed was barely visible. The mountains, rock formations interrupted my view and the desert terrain was so similar to the road, I could not trace the path we’d ascended.
Later, at the end of our journey, all I had for proof that I’d sojourned Montana Mountain was what my camera revealed: the landscape, the rare crested saguaro cactus, the elephant-trunk shaped rock, a deer, a mineshaft, and a road runner. My camera made a #daytale.
Each day in our Moments of May 2015 Challenge we are shaping, even if it’s only a #hashtagmoment, our #daytales. Here in the U.S., each moment carries with it a choice to make it a “What-do-I-want-to-put-in-it?” day. Some of us will experience or give a #fairytale.
I love the word “shape.” Whether reading Old Norse (“skap”), Old English (“gesceap”), or just “shape,” its very definition means to make something “with the hands.”
We shape each day with our hands. We prepare food, we toil, pray, write, clean, play, explore. From shape we get other beautiful words such as ship, friendship, worship. According to Wilfred Funk, the definition of worship means “worthy shape.” There’s a journal entry in and of itself.
I’ve always been one, as Walt Whitman put it, to take “a backward look o’er travelled roads.” I like to see where I’ve been. Journaling gives an account of my #daytale, where I:
The fictitious, crime-solving heroine Nancy Drew knew the power of journaling. In The Clue in the Diary, Nancy discovered Joe Swenson’s diary written in Swedish. She took the journal to Mr. Peterson, who knew Swedish. She learned from him that famous people kept journals. He told her Queen Victoria seemed to outsiders to be a severe woman but her journals revealed a happy person who loved her children, loved to dance, and to host elegant dinner parties. Nancy learned George Washington kept a journal. So did Christopher Columbus, which is why historians know when he landed on Cuba that he thought he was on Japan. And when Mr. Peterson translated the diary from Swedish to English, Nancy found the clues she needed to solve her mystery.
Whether I reread a diary entry or write a new one, journaling has provided me a place to:
Recount my days
Revisit people long forgotten
Explore my feelings
Listen to myself
Check my attitudes
When I reread my July ’88 entry and then read past it, I see a different kind of shaping. The beginning of my #writinglife shaping. I see an entry, shortly after my breakfast with Cindy, where I took my first creative writing class, taught by the marvelous Kate Dayton. Our first assignment? Write about something we had never told anyone.
I made time to write down something in the cool dark basement office, on a computer with a program called Multi-Mate. In the summer night hours I shaped a tale of a tall tale I’d told when I was 13.
The only way I could bring myself to write that story down? I started the essay with “Dear Diary.” When I’d finished, something transformational happened. The lie stopped droning over my life. And when I read my story aloud, when people laughed at my innocent lie, the shame and embarrassment that had had an 18-year hold on me disintegrated. The class’s reaction to that story when I read it gave me the confidence to take more writing classes and explore the various genres of writing.
“Shaping” is creating something with my hands. But oftentimes, that shaping has a back story, or as I lift pen to paper, I’m mentally, and sometimes physically, carrying things. The paper and pen will, by entry’s end, as it always does, gift me something, whether it’s release, relief, or rejoicing.
If you are a diary writer, how has keeping one helped you? What kinds of life lessons have you learned from the practice? When you look back over your written words, where it is evident that a lifeshaping occurred? Where details after the slash starting point of your life’s journey show purposed steps, show shaping?
If you’re not a diary-writer and yearn to be one, I’d like to offer you a dare. I dare you to
Buy a spiral notebook.
Make time today to write in it.
And do as Thomas Mallon suggests. Roll up your sleeves and all-at-once your words. If you can’t think of a way to start, just begin like I did, with salutations to a newfound and trustable friend.