Sunday, October 20, 2013

My Journals and Diaries The Book of Me Prompt # 6

Three of my many journals kept over the years

From the beginning, I loved writing, and from childhood onward, somehow the art of picking up a pen, putting it to paper, and watching thoughts transform magically into words on a cream colored tapestry was like magic. From the time I learned to write, I loved the feeling and smell of a new tablet, and would write my name, and random words, and sentences--ah, the art of writing!  

This love of new tablets and simply writing continued as I progressed through school. I loved any and all subjects in school that required me to write---from spelling, to English grammar, to book reports! There was something about retreating and having a private relationship between me, my pen, and paper. But at that time I was not journaling---I was simply enjoying the mechanics of writing.

I remember how thrilled I was when Scheaffer made the ink cartridge pens. This was real writing---with ink! No rolling ball point for me---I had ink! My parents had ink pens, but those required dipping and pulling a lever to suck the ink into the rubbery balloon compartment. But when the ink cartridges came--life was simple. One could have the beautifully smooth lines in either blue or black, and no levers to pull. The process of writing with ink was simpler and neater.

The old Scheaffer Pens

But I wanted a reason to write---but sadly, no poems lay inside of my soul, and I had no stories to write about that I knew of at that time. So I doodled with no direction. And when I was not doodling, I was reading. It was eventually through reading that I got my inspiration! It was a sobering story written by a young girl about my own age. She wrote about a trying time when she and her family had to living in hiding, and she wrote about her life living upstairs in a secret apartment in Amsterdam. It was the Diary of Anne Frank!! 

Actual Anne Frank Diary Image

She told a story of tragic times. And like all young people who read it, I was mesmerized by her story. But for me there were two things---the story of her family living in refuge, during during the years when Jewish people were persecuted. And also for me there was another story or rather another lesson that I learned from Anne. It was a simple one, but I got it---she told her own story! And I wanted to tell mine.

Now for me, as a young adolescent I wasn't sure that I had such a story to tell in my small Arkansas town. But the act of telling one's story, and writing it down captivated me. So, at 15, I tried my hand---and I began with a small pink diary, the kind that came with a key. I did not have a lot to talk about, but I had the space to write my own thoughts in my own special place. Quickly I was frustrated as I tried to record things every day, finding myself without words and incidents that I felt were noteworthy. So I quickly abandoned this desire to write for some time. I didn't keep that journal and dismissed those small musings, but yet I still wanted to write.

I didn't write regularly during my college years, but took it up again during my graduate school years. During those times as I was exploring life and trying to define myself, I found that without a real confidante, I would simply try to work things out on my own---and thus began my real journaling journey. I found that during times of stress, the relief that I sought would come when I found the time to settle down and write.

Journaling took me through the career choices that I made and the many friendships formed and lost over the years.  I was able to map my directions in life and sometimes during major milestone events, the journals were there to simply give me a chance to pause, record and reflect.  

Sample pages from some of my journals

There are many gaps in time---some gaps span months and some gaps span years. I have gone from the beautiful expensive leather bound books, to colorful spiral blank books, to simple academic composition books, and back to bound books with gold leaf edges. In some journals I ran out of space, and in some I simply got tired of the binding and switched to another, leaving the previous one half-filled.

I told very few people that I kept a journal and I rarely met anyone else who did. I often wondered if there were other women of color who kept diaries and had any of them ever been published? I would not have that question answered till the mid 1980s when Gloria Hull published a journal kept by Alice Dunbar Nelson. And what a journal it was! Alice Dunbar Nelson, was at one time the wife of one of my favorite writers--the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. The book was called Give Us Each Day, and this was her journal that spanned many years of her life.

The Journal of Alice Dunbar-Nelson

Reading her journal was the breath of air that I needed. This woman was amazing--she was an activist, a lecturer, a teacher, and an advocate for the vote, and for women's rights. And she kept a diary! I knew that my journaling was a good thing and this was the inspiration, that encouraged me to continue to make my journal over the years the companion that sometimes became a good launching pad for some of my projects and ideas.

Now as a mature adult, I am of course no longer enthralled by pretty lines artfully made on nice paper. The magic now comes from the outlet of emotion and thought that journaling has provided for me over the years. And also, at times the journal was what got me through difficult times. 

I am often surprised when I find one of my journals in odd places throughout the house---wondering why I last left that particular volume in that particular place or room.

I also wonder someday what future generations may think should they ever endeavor to read them and should I ever choose to leave them where they can be found and linked back to me. It's funny that I have never thought about that before sitting down to write this piece about the journaling experience. 

But, I often wish that my own ancestors had left journals and diaries for me to read, so perhaps in a sense of obligation to the future descendants, I shall label each one with some basic genealogical data so that they will know from whom those words in multiple journals come.

I guess I journal because I can, and because I have a story to tell.

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1 comment:

Cassmob (Pauleen) said...

Isn't it interesting how other's diaries/journals have struck such a chord with you and that you've used yours to work through many issues.