The Morning Write

Because a friend asked me to tell her about my morning journal habit, I’ve been thinking about what exactly it is that I do.

Complain. List things-to-do. List things done. Check off things done. Kvetch. Write letters to myself (Dear Wise Self: …). Record dreams. Groan. Write metaphors. List words (windy words, horse words, words pertaining to knots, synonyms for complain). Transcribe passages from books I’m reading. List titles and authors of books I have read (I keep this on an index page). Transcribe poems. Scribble new poems, or baldly terrible lines that might become new poems. Moan. List mean thoughts. List uplifting thoughts. Whine.

I have kept a journal since I was a teenager. There were earlier abortive attempts, for instance, a Christmas-gift diary with a key when I was eleven or so. Then, in 10th grade, Miss Caughey (pronounced Coy) assigned her students to keep a journal. We may have been reading Anne Frank.

I can still picture the image on my notebook (and tried but didn’t find it online). It was sort of a tree, sort of a kaleidoscopic blot with a yellow background. Miss Caughey required that we turn in our journal once a month. She would sometimes write a note to me, responding to a passage, but rarely. She taught five or six sections of English every day. I was confident that what I confided to the journal was more private than not.

My journals are not publishable, not earth-shattering, not gravity-defying. They are a hodge-podge, a mess. I sometimes remind myself that complaining in my journal is counter-productive, and that I should write what I want, not what I don’t want.

I used to write in spiral-bound notebooks, cheap ones, but in 2001 I bought my first Lee Valley journal, and I have filled 35 of them. Just this morning, I began the 36th, the last one I have on hand. I checked the online catalog and though they used to cost a reasonable $18.95, they are now priced $31.90. All paper supplies have gone up lately, my friend reminded me. These are handsome books with lined pages, 400 pages, plus index pages.The quality of their paper allows for double-sided writing (cheaper notebooks, not so much), so they are probably still worth it.

From the first page of my 2001 notebook:

I feel as though I am breaking and entering. I’ve resisted keeping my journal in a beautiful book — it demands too much. That I not scribble. That I avoid nonsense. That I write beautifully. This book will have to accept whatever I lay down, just as the cheap notebooks have. So I am writing in this book.

In this notebook I also found a dream about a friend who had died one year earlier, and this line:

I can believe that he, like George Harrison, was a spirit with a body on loan. Even so, I’d like him to CALL me.

I also found a two-page entry about trying to force one of my daughters to clean up a mess she had willfully made. It did not work out as I wished, and I ended up saying terrible things to her. (She was ten.) When I finally returned to her and apologized for losing it, she said, “Apology not accepted!” and stamped off to her room. (My husband cleaned up the mess.) Nineteen years later, she is still messy, by the way. Recently when I was helping her do some cleaning, she said, “If you had made us do chores, I would have better habits now.” Should I share this entry with her? (Probably not.)

At the end of the two pages, I reached an insight: my daughter was like the balky little mare I had when I was fifteen. One option (I wrote), was to let her have her head.

On 20 March, 2002, I wrote:

The washing machine, full of clothes and water, is broken, frozen, stuck, kaput. Damn!

And I wrote:

So I am writing in this notebook, 15 minutes each day in the goal.  “Writing every day is the key to becoming a writer.”

Reading Around

I read a number of book- or writing-related blogs, including CrimeReads and LitHub, not in any orderly way (you understand) but sort of when they hit my email at the right time and when I’m of the right mind.

Just now I am between big deadlines. (What does that mean?) Last week I turned in my portfolio for my Creative Nonfiction Class, and, inspired by 1) a haircut (long story there) and 2)  this quote from an interview at LitHub, I decided to go back to my mystery novel and finish it. For real. If nothing else, I will give a copy to the woman who cuts my hair.

I decided to share the LitHub quote with you because I want to make sure I can find it again.

If you want to read the entire feature (“5 Writers, 7 Questions, No Wrong Answers”), follow this link:

Talia Lakshmi Kolluri is the author of What We Fed to the Manticore, a collection of 9 stories. This is her response to the last question:

How do you contend with the hubris of thinking anyone has or should have any interest in what you have to say about anything?”

Talia Lakshmi Kolluri: I think I contend with it by assuming that nobody has any interest in what I have to say about anything which is why it’s always a nice surprise when people do! I wrote this book because I needed to write it. That’s the only reason I ever write anything, because the words must leave me through some avenue. Nobody is required to be interested in them at all. But if they are, I hope it’s because they needed to read them, and that they were helpful in some way.

photo by pixabay

In Your Previous Life

In a previous life, I was a waitress…before that, a farm girl. I spent a lot of my farm-girl childhood pretending to be a horse named Stormy. I think somewhere in time I was a tree.

In my next life, I’d like to teach a class called “Writing YOUR Memorable Poem,” and this is one of the poems I plan to use.

It’s a weird poem, really, more a surreal little short story. But from the time I first came across it (almost 20 years ago, in The New Yorker), it has stayed with me. Maybe the spell James Tate (1943-2015) weaves has something to do with the repetition. (Dog, for the most startling instance, is repeated  9 times.)

Tate’s Poetry Foundation profile quotes from his interview with The Paris Review: “There is nothing better than [to move the reader deeply]. I love my funny poems, but I’d rather break your heart. And if I can do both in the same poem, that’s the best. If you laughed earlier in the poem, and I bring you close to tears in the end, that’s the best.” That’s exactly what this poem does for me.

The Promotion

I was a dog in my former life, a very good
dog, and, thus, I was promoted to a human being.
I liked being a dog. I worked for a poor farmer
guarding and herding his sheep. Wolves and coyotes
tried to get past me almost every night, and not
once did I lose a sheep. The farmer rewarded me
with good food, food from his table. He may have
been poor, but he ate well. And his children
played with me, when they weren’t in school or
working in the field. I had all the love any dog
could hope for. When I got old, they got a new
dog, and I trained him in the tricks of the trade.
He quickly learned, and the farmer brought me into
the house to live with them. I brought the farmer
his slippers in the morning, as he was getting
old, too. I was dying slowly, a little bit at a
time. The farmer knew this and would bring the
new dog in to visit me from time to time. The
new dog would entertain me with his flips and
flops and nuzzles. And then one morning I just
didn’t get up. They gave me a fine burial down
by the stream under a shade tree. That was the
end of my being a dog. Sometimes I miss it so
I sit by the window and cry. I live in a high-rise
that looks out at a bunch of other high-rises.
At my job I work in a cubicle and barely speak
to anyone all day. This is my reward for being
a good dog. The human wolves don’t even see me.
They fear me not.

—James Tate, Return to the City of White Donkeys (HarperCollins, 2004)

So here’s your assignment: who or what were you in a previous life? Was there something you accomplished in that life that landed you here?