Tuesday, February 26, 2013

You Are Here

My first journal -- a bright red cloth-covered hardbound affair bespeckled with small white forget-me-nots -- was given to me for my ninth birthday.  I don't remember who gave it to me; it must have been my parents, unlikely as that seems, given what my father thought about the pasttimes of reading and writing.  I remember feeling excited but also a little overwhelmed by all of the blank pages, wondering how I would fill it, whether I should document my days, record the facts, or tell my deepest secrets.  I also remember feeling vaguely disappointed that it didn't come with a lock and key, like the pink and purple ones I'd seen in shrink wrap at B.Dalton.

At first, diligent student that I was, I wrote every day as if it were another homework assignment, mostly about minutiae that seems laughable now: how my piano lesson went, what boys I liked, what I ate for dinner (hm, maybe I'm still writing about the minutiae).  Sometimes I would draw in it.  Gradually, I became less faithful.  There were too many other things to do, or maybe I just didn't feel moved to write.

And yet, I continued to journal sporadically over the years, collecting a few books, and a few volumes of poetry, most of the latter the angsty adolescent sort of work that makes real poets cringe.  Those books have moved with me clear across the continent and back, never exactly displayed in a place of prominence, but never exactly hidden away, either.

Until the other day.  When I was trying to remember something about my childhood, and wished that I had the same ability to do research on myself as I could on any other subject.  And then realized that I had my past -- in snippets, anyway, from the perspective of an unreliable narrator -- at my fingertips.  I took a deep breath, and prepared myself to go back in time.

They were all there, on the shelf where I'd placed them, not even terribly dusty.  I took them to the living room and sat down on the couch, stacking them next to me, wondering what I'd find.  As I opened the first book, revealing a clumsy, loopy handwriting I hardly recognized as my own, a scrap of paper fell from the inside front coverWritten in a more mature hand, it read:
" 'I keep going on with this sad and hungry and sordid, this limping and mutilated story, because I want you to hear it, as I will hear yours too ... By telling you anything at all I'm at least believing in you, I believe you're there, I believe you into being. Because I'm telling you this story, I will your existence. I tell therefore you are.' -Margaret Atwood, _The Handmaid's Tale"
I stopped breathing for a minute, imagining that.  The past-me, unknowingly believing the future-me into beingAn adolescent me, imagining a future reader of the child-me diary.  Not validating her own existence in the telling, but mine.  I tell, therefore you are.

photo courtesy of flickr user St_A_Sh,
via Creative Commons license
And of course, I thought of you.

I am a blogger.  One of hundreds of thousands of bloggers, telling our stories, whatever form they take, willing our readers into existence.  Conjuring communities of witness.  Choosing to write here, in this now, believing you into being.  You, J.  And you, A.  And you, R.  And L.  And C.  And M.  You know who you are.  Not just the ones who comment, but also the ones who read in silence.  Without all of you, the spoken and unspoken witnesses, the words are just electrons.  You are the ones who make the words live, and they, in turn, create you, too.  You exist in remarkable symbiosis.


I understand the work of willing, the power of naming. We speak the names of our dead children, and they live on, loved by a community: Molly. Micah. Thomas. Lillian. Blobby. (and so many others).  We speak the name of our cancers, so the enemy we fight has a shape and a face, and we raise our armies of support, the loved ones who rally around us as we stand at the front lines.  We even set virtual tables, willing our guests to break real bread, thousands of miles, and possibly many years, away.

Maybe the stories are not always beautiful.  Maybe sometimes they are difficult to hear.  Maybe sometimes we can speak only in half-truths.  But the telling is a powerful thing.  Because it means that you, yes you, are here.  You are witness.  And for that, we are grateful.

Have you ever kept a journal?  When was the last time you went back to read it, and what did you discover?
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  1. Absolutely beyond gorgeous. Yes, I look back at my paper journals (as well as my electronic ones) all the time. I love going back to a moment, even a bad one, mostly because I know that when I stop looking at the page, I'm back in the present moment.

  2. This is a beautiful post. Thanks for sharing.

    I probably have over a dozen partially filled journals in my old closet at my parents' house. Every once in a while I take them down and reread them and the general theme seems to be: angst with a healthy side of depression. The funny thing is that even then I realized I would be happier as "an adult" (I guess that I considered that to be my 30s) and I was absolutely right. I'm much more at peace now that I ever was in my teens or twenties. I hope that trend keeps up.

    Also, did you find what you were looking for?

  3. What a beautiful post.

    I don't have any journals from the past, except maybe a very small, hardly-filled in something that might be at my parents' house or might be lost in the mists, and no great loss.

    I have some bad poetry on scraps of paper, though.

  4. B Dalton. Boys, lessons, the stop and start of journaling. This post really takes me back.

    Very powerful quote by Ms Atwood. I tell therefore you are. It's pretty remarkable what we do here, when you think of it in these terms.

    You've inspired me. Watch out.

  5. Stunning. Just stunning. And yes, our readers help makes the words live. They are my witness. I came to the blogosphere a writer but blogging has shifted my writing to something different - because it's interactive in this way. Well said.

  6. This gave me the chills. Inspiring. Beautiful. Marrow chilling. One of the best explanations of why we blog.

  7. well, you've reduced me to tears. It seems to be the theme for the day.

    I am coming up on 8 years of blogging and no further really than I was that May day in 2005, except to know myself better now. That is what you and all the people who read me now and then, have done for me. Filled my heart and my life with a VILLAGE that sustains me.

    I am so glad your voice is here. that you are a part of my village and I am a part of yours.

  8. I love this J. I guess it shouldn't surprise me that so many bloggers, including me, also kept journals back in the day. I have a box filled with them. They used to reside in a drawer in my bedside table. I wrote often and inconsistently over the years and it has been a long time since I have looked at most of them.

    But one of them in particular I opened a few months ago. It was a spiral notebook that I wrote in when I was in my early teens. What I found most fascinating is that I recounted the details of a story that I find myself thinking about now and then. I thought my version of past events that I held in my memory is how it happened. But when I read my account from way back when it was different than I remembered.

    I have been working on a post about "selective memory" that goes a long with this, which I will share one of these days. Because these windows and insights into who we used to be and how we saw our world then vs. now is just awesome.

    One thing I do recall from going back and reading my journal entries in the past is that I often would repeat the same themes and thoughts and found it interesting that I seemed to keep having to learn certain lessons over and over again. Such is life.

    I also recall, and maybe this was a precursor to my openness to blogging/sharing some of my personal thoughts publicly, writing my journal as if someone *might* read it someday, as if I almost wanted another person, maybe a future daughter or granddaughter to find it?! Go figure...

    Thanks again for another truly wonderful post. When I have time (not sure when that will be these days), I would like to find my journal box and dig in. If and when I do that, I promise to blog about it or at least let you know how it goes.

    Finally, thank you for saying her name in your post and honoring how much that means to bereaved mothers and loved ones. I was at my annual OB/GYN appt. yesterday (which is another post I am working on writing about) and was so moved that two of the nurses made a point to acknowledge that they remember me and her and to say Molly's name. Of course I cried and they felt bad and I assured them they were bittersweet tears of appreciation for them helping me to honor her memory, not so much sadness.

    Okay, thank you for letting me ramble on here. Your posts seem to have a way with me, so I guess you are one of my muses. xoxo

  9. I, too, wrote sporadic journals as a tween and teen that now live in our basement, but your post made me think of the journal that I couldn't keep. I got a journal with my first pregnancy and found that all the rushing, whirling thoughts, the intensity, the ambivalence, the terror that I was feeling just felt too dangerous to commit to paper. What, I thought, if I write candidly about this time and my son reads it later and can't see how desperately I wanted him beneath the emotional upheaval of the change? I never did write in it (though I do write now about my children) and it's part of why I'm always in awe of the honesty of your writing. Thanks for posting.

  10. Weirdly enough, I never kept a journal when I was younger. My blog is my first journal of note and, even within the posts there, I can see growth. Thank you for this beautiful post.

  11. Beautiful! I love this story, it gave me chills, also. I found some of my more recent journals but haven't found my earliest (junior high)---I need to hunt through my old closet in my parents' house.

  12. U've kept journals on & off since I was about 7, although they have mostly been superceded by my blog and other online forums these past 10 years or so.

    There is a box full of my old journals in the closet of my old room at my parents' house that I must retrieve someday. I haven't looked at them in years, but I know there is stuff in there that will make me laugh, cringe and weep.


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