Paper Dolls

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?

Love, love me do.

11 responses

  1. You know I don’t journal. I don’t want to record my many mistakes in this life. It takes more courage than I have to be reminded of them. But I admire your writing talent and I think that introspection can be a positive thing to put down on beautiful paper in beautiful books to read and learn from for yourself and for your children. You are unique. There’s only one you. It’s OK to love yourself as much as others love you.

    • The mistakes are many in all our lives. I was watching a video by this lovely English lady who does art journaling, and she showed how you can write down all the ugly or secret things in your journal and then paint or collage over them, or even glue two pages together so you never have to see them again. The writing itself is cathartic.


        • I’m going to give it a try. The worst that could happen is that I keel over mid-collage, before the words are all covered.

  2. I don’t journal anymore. Or blog. Or write. I tweet pointlessly. I went through a tossing out old stuff spree a couple of years ago and very little writing was kept.

    I recently had the opportunity to hear how my oldest (now nearly 30) characterized her past as my daughter during a crisis period of our lives. Interesting. Kind. More than I deserved. It made me want to reread what I wrote in those days to see what exactly I was thinking as I created a little life drama that turned out to be quite the lesson for my kid.

    • I loved your blog, it was so funny and warm. Could you put your toe back into writing, maybe journal a little bit? You’ve had a rough year and it might do you good.

      I handled some of my divorce drama very badly, back in the day, and hurt my kids in the process. I’m embarrassed but also curious about it now. What was I thinking?

  3. As a nostalgic person, I’ve always thought that I should commit to journaling. In recent years, I have also considered that the practice might help me to rein in my neuroses. My problem, as always, is that I lack the commitment and motivation to stick to routines when there is no external pressure or accountability to keep me on track. And what’s hard about it for me is, as you say, the feeling that I have nothing interesting to write. Looking through Jonah’s old journals, though, it struck me that some of the most interesting things to read are the mundane details that create a rough sketch of a day-in-the-life. I wish now that I had journaled in middle or high school, if only because I want now to look back now on a daily existence I only vaguely remember.

    • WordPress is driving me crazy. It trapped your comment in the spam folder because… WHY WordPress??

      Anyhoo. I think sometimes we get stuck in the idea of what a journal should be. But if you only want to journal occasionally or in spurts when the mood strikes, why not do that? Junk journals are perfect for that kind of thing because you don’t have to use them chronologically, you can just flip through and add to it over time.

  4. I keep a notebook. Sometimes I journal, but usually I don’t. I’m in my head so much. Why write it down? (I just wrote a caustic poem that could have been a journal entry, but wasn’t.)

    • I think I caught the bug after looking at old pictures and letters while living through all the shit of the past few years. Everything is so off-kilter and outside the scope of my experience that I feel this urge to record it all and report my findings to Future Me, in case she forgets the details.