When I began to write each day about life in this new place – which led “Her Spirits Rose…” – I began another slightly embarrassing endeavor: rereading my old journals – from the beginning.
I wrote the first journal from the back to the front. I’m over that – also over the grown-crackly-with-bad-glue books I used then. I’m even past arguments with myself about my worthiness to write and draw in the handbound Watermark books I love.
Art making led to the record keeping initially – what I’d done, what inspired, figuring the next project. Entries tended toward the tedious and technical – the fixing times and recipes for fiber dye colors, kinds of watercolor brushes, transparent versus staining pigments, hot press or cold press paper: these notations which reinforced what I learned formed a reference to return to.
After reading a lot of years (just a bit in the early morning) work rhythms became clearer. Eventually I gave up griping at myself – fretting I allowed, but not belaboring failures. And I can see the power of tossed-off wishes, one of which – “I wish I would do something about all the flowers in my life…not just the wildflowers but flowers from grocery store and garden.” – led to a focus and a book.
At first I wrote briefly before getting children out of bed. Then growing children left more time and more references to them (happily to me now) – chicken pox and driver’s licenses, college acceptances and travel adventures.
Approaching the present, I encounter the house-building years and all my worries. Sitting on the second story floor here, with windows framed in but no sheeting or roof, wondering if I would ever really sit at a desk in that spot. I repeatedly query myself in the journals about whether the move would happen, and what I would think. This writing endeavor might attempt to answer questions I posed in the past.
For that is what journals do – allow time travel. I like best to read the details – not my feelings, but descriptions of actual events – welcome rain on the roof or a splendid rhubarb pie. Virginia Woolf wrote that we don’t know our feelings in the first moment. But she’d agree the details are only vivid at first.
The author with the challenging name, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, explored “optimal experience” in his popular book “Flow.” He writes: “The prodigiously detailed letters so many Victorians wrote are an example of how people created patterns of order out of the mainly random events impinging on their consciousness. The kind of material we write in diaries and letters does not exist before it is written down. It is the slow, organically growing process of thought involved in writing that lets the ideas emerge in the first place.”
Mostly the journals are a record of getting to work and a good source of encouragement, full of the intrinsic reasons for writing and drawing – to organize, to observe, to express, to have discipline, to gain knowledge. Keeping a journal rewards the doing.