Friday, November 19, 2004

What lies beneath...

I recently joined an online forum related to journaling. I receive thought-provoking prompts every morning that I dutifully consider and work through during the course of the day. I do a fair amount of surfing the web for ideas, questions, and discussions on how to keep a journal, collage, write creative non-fiction, and otherwise feed this incessant habit of writing and pouring myself onto paper. Often as the hours pass, I find myself trying to come up with ways to make something poetic out of choosing the right onions for the pasta sauce. I boil water, pour it over my tea bag, and try to come up with some clever metaphor for boiling water and my dry and thirsty soul. When I sit down here to work on this blog, I am constantly pushing myself to be creative, humorous, witty, and unforgettable all in less than 750 words. But sometimes, as I meander through my life looking for metaphors under every rock, behind every conversation, and between every line I read, I wonder if I’m a little too serious. Perhaps I should put the books away for a while, put down the pen, step away from the keyboard and just lighten up. Forget all the analysis and just live a little. Watch “Fear Factor,” “Meet Your New Mommy,” and David Letterman. Sleep in as late as possible; forego the hour of quiet reading, writing, and reflection every morning. No more solitary walks in the morning for prayer and planning. Enough of the alone time that draws me away from Steve and the kids. Learn how to be renewed and rejuvenated in front of the television, reading pulp fiction, and talking about soap operas on the telephone. Who needs all this mindfulness and contemplation? Get a life, Gail. A few days ago, I gave some serious thought to giving up reading and writing completely for two weeks and seeing what happened. The first thing I did was open my journal to write down the idea and try to flesh it out. Mid-page it occurred to me that I was writing about not writing. That plan had already failed. One of the journaling prompts from earlier this week included this quote by George Simons: “To keep a journal brings about a certain intensity of life, and I do not always wish to be that intense.” I felt my heart change its rhythm as I read that statement. I shook my head in absolute and profound disagreement. The intensity of life that he alludes to is exactly why I journal. It’s what I want from journaling. It’s what I want from life: intensity. If I’m not going to live and love intensely, deeply, and passionately, then why bother? The idea of living a mindless, unconsidered, blasé life is not attractive to me in the least. When I write, I think. When I think, I write. When I live, think, and write, I live more fully, completely, and colorfully. With every page, every question, every resolution, I feel like I know myself better. I hear more. I feel more. I grow. I ask questions. I find answers. Questions morph into answers. Answers into questions. My nerves are calmed and my anger is dissipated. Laughter is remembered and joy is multiplied. I simply cannot imagine not living this intensely, experiencing life this openly, and wandering around less alertly than I do now. When fear and loneliness and uncertainly attack, I let them flow right through me onto the pages of my journal. When joy and love and new friendships bloom, I record my enthusiasm on the pages of my journal. When life feels monotonous and boring, I flip back and have a physical record of not only all that I have overcome, but also all that I have be blessed with in my life. When I am feeling land-locked, I pull out the travel journals and recall the freedom I enjoyed, the wonders, the wandering, and the lessons learned on the road. My favorite emails grace these pages. My tears stain them as well. I have affixed the labels from my favorite candles, cards from restaurants, and even programs from the funerals of people I have known, loved, and bid farewell to. I clip articles from magazines and newspapers, save airline boarding passes, and receipts from mementoes of my journeys and glue them in. So when I open my journal, I find page after page of stories, memories, events that prove to me just how intense my life is. It also shows me the areas of my life where I need to work harder to bring out the luster, those areas that I have neglected in the rush and routine. I have found that keeping a record of the ups and downs magnifies the ups and diminishes the downs. Some people say that they could never keep a journal because all they would write about is the bad stuff. Perhaps it’s necessary to get all the “bad stuff” out of the way in order to get down to the good stuff. Rake off the fallen leaves, the old mulch, the dead pine needles, and find the rich soil underneath that needs to be raked, fertilized, and sown with new seeds. On the day that we moved into the home we last owned in Connecticut, we found a horrible red shag carpet. Well, we knew the carpet was there but we hadn’t really looked carefully at it until all the previous owners’ stuff was gone and ours was in. Years of dog fur, cigarette ashes, and filth of all kinds was packed down into that carpet. It was so bad that when a stuffed animal I’d had for years, my favorite brown bear of all time fell onto that rug, I had to throw it away. My allergies kicked in very soon thereafter and I started sneezing. That was it; we decided that very night that we would get rid of that carpet as soon as possible. Three days later, one of our good friends came over to help us rip up the carpet. No matter what was underneath, it couldn’t be any worse that what we were already dealing with. The carpet was so old and tattered that Steve and Kevin were able to rip it up by hand without any tools at all. They pulled up the pad underneath, and there was the finest wood floor beneath that we had ever seen. All I had to do what damp mop it. No need to refinish it, polyurethane it, or anything else. The shine was amazing. We could have made a different choice: we could have had the carpet cleaned and lived with it as it was. But if we hadn’t been willing to take our chances and rip it up we would never have found what lay beneath. For me, journaling is a way to rip up the years of dirt, dust, bad memories, bad habits, and let the shine come through. I’ve had to peel back layers of padding and cut through many cleverly laid booby traps of fear, selfishness, and self-righteousness. I’ve learned to maintain the shine through collage, through writing, and through recording not only my prayers, but also the answers to them. No, I most certainly do not shy away from the intensity of life that journaling brings. I say, “Bring it on.”

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