Yesterday I received a new cover for my travelers notebooks. The cover is handmade of golden leather, and closes with a strong elastic band on which I hung a turquoise pendant. Inside is a bundle of notebooks on dot grid paper, with covers I decoupaged using the pages of a beautiful book about plants. One of the notebooks is my journal, another is for drafts, and the third is a commonplace book for when I want to make notes on something I’m reading, or record an eavesdropped conversation or joke or profundity. I also have a junk journal covered with leather I cut from my dad’s old jacket, stuffed with cleverly patterned pages I’ve stitched together and cut to size. The new cover has pockets, a pen loop, and round edges waxed smooth as glass, and it fits in my palm with a satisfying, curvy heft.
The journals are a recent obsession. I’ve never kept a diary or maintained a journaling practice. I thought I had nothing to say. After all, taken as a template, my days look mostly the same: Wake, coffee, read, coffee, write, work, lunch, work, home, bed, read, sleep, repeat. Not much to get your teeth into, beyond a PB&J at lunchtime. The action’s all in my head. But like everyone else, I’m the star of my Groundhog’s Day, so in theory I should have enough self-regard to make my life at least interesting to me.
So maybe it’s not a lack of excitement that’s kept me from journaling. Maybe it’s something more akin to shame. Not because of anything I’ve said or done—though there is that—but because it’s so hard to look back at something you set down years before when you were in a different frame of mind. When you were a different person, with embarrassing obsessions which may not have survived the gap in years. Reading about how I used to dig photography unnerves me, makes me suspect that every new interest, like a rogue lover, is bound to desert me in time. I hate the joy I expressed while in the throes of a book I was writing, which would turn out to be nothing after all. I hate the way I hoped and strove and did my best. The optimism makes me cringe.
The tenderness here probably means that I’ve located what Chelsea Handler would call a “growth point.” (I despise terms like this, by the way. Practice self-care, affirm your life, put your own needs first. There’s been too much caring for self, in my opinion. I’m in favor of chagrin. Maybe we could try to care for others first and see how that works out.) Though I’m always reluctant to engage in campaigns of self-acceptance, it could be that I’ve gone too far the other way and let the deprecation run amok. I’ve gotten rid of a lot of my writing, even some that was pretty good. Binders, index cards, blog posts, stacks of spiral notebooks without even looking inside them. Now that I’ve written this it kind of bums me out. I should have cared about my writing more. At least enough to read it, you know? I made my own slush pile and rejected me.
So now I’m on a mission to save my pages. I’m dressing my notebooks like paper dolls in bohemian frocks, festooned with stickers and washi tape, with the hope that their prettiness will impress Future Me enough to save them from the lethal blades of LeMay Recycling. I want to give myself the chance to grow up and read them someday without judgment. I want to stop trying to revise my past, which can only be done by perpetrating edits that rob it of the truth. I want to accept my fickle passions and the fact that they’ll come and go, and consider the possibility that optimism is not the character flaw I’ve imagined. Mainly, I guess, I want to stop this ruthless shredding and let my past be whole.
Tell me, do you journal? Do you keep old drafts and such—and more to the point, do you read them?