The blank page
(If you're new here, a warning is in order. Linearity is not one of my strengths. This bounces around a bit.)
Notebooks, journals, diaries. The siren's song of creative potential. They beckon. Many of us are incapable of walking by a shelf of Moleskines without dreaming of plays, scripts, short stories, and sketches. A vast universe of creative potential.
For many of us (me), they become messy, disorganized, hard to decipher paperweights that we shuffle from one apartment to the next. I envy the people who flip through old journals with joy. When I flip through mine, it's akin to driving by a catastrophic roadkill scene. Was that once a bear, a moose, or a skunk that grew up in the basement of a nuclear reactor?
Pages and pages of banal observations interrupted by pathetic woe is me imitations of The Sorrows of Young Werther.
And yet hope springs eternal. A journal can be a place for reflection, writing, and meditation. A journal can also offer challenges. Write with honesty? Or write with the knowledge that someone will eventually flip through the pages? There isn't any value in making a journal an analog version of Instagram, where you reveal the life you want people to see.
I want to strike a balance. I'm not interested in laying everything out on the table, but I would like to figure out how to keep a meaningful journal. I'm not exactly sure why. I can see six of my notebooks now. Filled with short story and project ideas that are so disorganized that I'd never be able to piece them together, and I'm not methodical about going back through them. I don't think that's a reason to give up on them.
I've mentioned Daniel Milnor a few times on this site. He's a documentary photographer turned creative evangelist for Blurb. Life-long journaler. His journals feed into his projects, observations, and living. I think he's onto something. If you're a journaler, you might want to have a look at this. He's got several other posts on the topic, too.
For years now I've been dreaming of leaving America. No, I don't hate America, I've just felt increasingly disconnected. Endless wars, a just don't be poor approach to health care, a strange gun obsession, intense anger over a black QB peacefully expressing his concern over racial injustice, climate change denial, etc. Despite all that, America's an incredible place. Still, I started thinking a lot about a life on the west coast of Ireland, in a Scandinavian fishing village, or a modest apartment in Berlin.
But as an aspiring, flailing documentary photographer, I knew the story I could tell (access, familiarity) was America in 2020. Initially I was drawn to our great divide, and then COVID hit. The great divide remained a compelling story, but I became more interested in how people were navigating the political divisions while also grappling with social injustice and basic survival.
I hardly did anything. When the dust settles, we're going to look back on some driven, talented writers and photographers who spent time in hospitals, restaurants, bars, farms, fishing boats, and minority communities and see some amazing work that helps us understand this period of uncertainty and isolation, interspersed with outpourings of community and activism.
One of my innumerable faults is that I dwell on what I should have been doing. I've still got some time to work on that in this arbitrary calendar year. To that end I've fired up Blurb's software to create a custom journal for December 2020. I hope I can crank it out in time to actually get my hands on it by December. If not, I have a Moleskine at hand.
I typed out a quote from Paul Bowles to include in the journal. I think it's from The Sheltering Sky, but it might be a quote of his explaining The Sheltering Sky.
It's perhaps a coincidence that I revisited a photo from a certain afternoon of my childhood. It's a photo of my friend Chris. It's probably from the early 90s, shortly before he died. You would never have guessed that Chris had a rare ticking time bomb. Even after they discovered it, it was hard to imagine it was serious. He was a whirlwind of activity and the picture of health.
One of my mom's heroes is Roy Rogers. My memory might be faulty here, but I vaguely recall reading that Rogers's humor and wit had a way of including people, building them up, and acknowledging them, rather than being a cutting humor that tore down and excluded. That was Chris's humor. It never hurt to be a target of one of his jokes. I think every group of friends has someone who brings out the best in those around them. That was Chris.
Try to close this out on a lighter note. Life gets messy. This failed virgo craves order and simplicity. Some dark matter virgo-hating comet must have flown by my hospital window shrieking maniacally.
PS - Typical. Forgot to include a great article about the value of journals. It's a New York Times article about the importance of Dutch journals and letters in WWII. I've posted it before, and it's making me think I may have to re-subscribe to the NYT. I cancelled my subscription and went to the LA Times and the Washington Post. Both excellent, but there are stories that only the NYT has the resources for.