Lined up on a shelf in the back of a closet in the middle bedroom, which is basically the ironing-cum-meditation room, you will see my journals—at least the ones that happen to be roughly the same size. I prefer the oversized journals, 8.5 x 11; they give my left-handed scrawl some room to operate. I've also got quite a few of those smaller moleskin journals, which are easier to take on a trip. And there are also a few oddball volumes, either leather-bound or cloth-bound and covered with little white dots. I even have a green alligator-skin journal, though I have no recollection of where that came from.
Perhaps that's the point of "journaling"—to improve our recollections. If so, then it doesn't work all that well. But I suspect most people who write in journals do so not to remember things later, but to process things now. There is something about writing things down that solidifies experience, and especially those inconsequential moments when nothing is really happening.
A few days ago I came to the end of a journal that I started in February of 2014. The final entry reads, in part:
"It's been beautiful all day and I really don't know what to do about it. I was worried about the tomatoes I bought. They seemed a little soft when I pulled them out of the bag. In fact, they're the best tomatoes I ever ate..."
Yesterday I felt the urge several times to note some such state of being, vacuous emotion, or idle thought, but could not. I didn't have anything to write in. It was an odd feeling of hopelessness, as if I were about the drift off to some netherworld where absolutely nothing ever gets done.
Don't get me wrong. "Journaling" is not something I do. The word connotes a determined and regular practice, like jogging or butterfly collecting. I would even hesitate to say that I "keep" a journal. It just happens that I write in a journal sometimes. They can be painful and embarrassing books to look back on. Sometimes unbearable.
Just now I took a look at a journal from 1989, hit upon some rocky and emotional passages, and was on the verge of tossing the volume in the trash. Flipping to another page, I came upon a reference to a book called The Four Continents by Osbert Sitwell, where he refers to the ancient Cambodian habit of exporting kingfisher wings, and how that industry necessitated the construction of canals for which the country became famous. Osbert comments that the Khmer themselves are long gone, though the kingfishers continue to thrive.
This morning I ran some errands out near Ridgedale, one of which was to pick up a new journal. There are perhaps a hundred types on sale at Barnes and Noble but nothing works better for me than a black Canson Art Book sketchpad with unlined white paper.
I never go into a bookstore without feeling a pang of nostalgia for my years in the book industry. I like book people, though I don't really fit in to that world. It's driven by an idealistic sense, which I share, that books are intrinsically inspiring, noble, and illuminating—not only what's written in them, but the books themselves, in a strange, almost fetishistic way. Unfortunately, undercurrents of disappointment and frustration are seldom far from the surface of the book world, because there's little money to made in it.
Perhaps that will be the first thing I write in my new journal: "Books are cool." Somehow, I don't think so. More likely it will be something about vegetables, or the glorious weather we're having, or the strange sensation of wandering the aisles of Penney's looking for light-weight pajamas and saying to myself: So this is what shopping is like. Some people do this all the time.