I know people who never write in journals or keep notebooks but I don’t understand how they do life without them. My rustic Georgian bookcase, the only item of furniture not chopped up for firewood in my reclusive uncle’s house, holds my recent journals. The older and therefore more valuable ones are in the tin trunk at the bottom of my bed (in case of fire). I know that these books will be of no interest to anyone after my days, so conclude that their importance in my life is psychologically interesting only to me. I am an archivist of my life, I know that. What I do not quite understand is why.
Is it I wonder because I am incomplete in some way? Are the journals and notebooks evidence of the presentiment of loss that dogs my days? After all I collect old buttons too and get a really strong connection with the past when I run them through my fingers. Also I go to charity shops (increasingly less often but more of that in future post) for the same reason. For some reason it is imperative that I remember the route I have travelled and mark it in some way. But back to the notebooks.
I know that compulsion is in the mix somewhere. Dr Henck told me that I leave a trail of words so that I can find my way back. But why would I want to go back when I’m committed to moving on? Joan Didion says that notebook makers are “lonely and resistent rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.” Well, that’s something settled. We are a tribe. If you are not a member of this tribe, stop reading now as you will not understand what I am talking about. You will never have felt that need to fix the moment to time, as an emotional anchor.
The point of my journals has always been to identify with greater clarity what it is to be me. It’s soothing to the head to know where I am and where I’ve been. It gives me a shape. It bolsters me from the fear that I might lose my identity. I can hear Lala’s voice saying, “but it’s not all about you Mumsie,” followed by the echo of Kitty’s,” You, Allie, are a narcissist.” So I look at the notebooks carefully numbered 1-19 and think that’s a hell of a lot of puddle gazing.
As well as journals, there are dozens of commonplace books. These are handbag sized and filled with curious unconnected jottings; recipes, half-worked poems, facts and curios picked up en passant. These have nothing to do with the implacable ‘I’ and everything to do with a writer’s resource. Often the entries are meaningless but the gems shine and are then carefully decanted into a larger, more permanent notebook. I try to throw the original handbag-sized book away at this point but don’t always succeed.
To give you a taste of my process a commonplace book that waits to be decanted offers up the following; a recipe for stumping (mashed swede and potato served with yesterday’s joint and lots of onion gravy), my weight (10 and a half stone), the fact that hair grows a half an inch a month and the embryo poem-
Blood berries and guelder rosehearts
Red willow sleeps
The stillness of the earth drawing in.
The rooks. Autumn
Lines on their way to haiku perhaps, followed by a note to organise a green funeral. And on the next page the observation that when in the presence of old porcelain I get a dopamine charge. Oh yes and the recipe for marigold buns; 4ozs each of butter and caster sugar creamed. Beat in 2 eggs and add 4 ozs of SR flour &1tsp baking powder &2tbs of marigold petals(fresh). Get the picture?
Together with the journals the commonplace books and the decanted commonplace gems there is a neat row of notebooks for quotations, for science, for sacred geometry and for interesting numbers.
Sometimes I think that when I have reached a significant point on my spiritual journey I will be able to make a bonfire of my past but at the moment that thought makes me queasy. I have to make my own world instead of just accepting the one that presses on me. I guess that this in its way is something heroic.