Long ago, back in my restaurant service-supervisor days (yes, I was such a thing), I had a boss named Stan who had been a Marine, and never really recovered. I forget what in the Marines. But he still had the haircut and the posture, if not the physique. He was a district manager and he dropped in a couple times a month. I opened 2 or 3 restaurants with him. If he asked you how things were going and you said, “Fine,” he said, “Fine! That’s when we roll up our sleeves and get to work.”
Fine, a fine word with lots of meanings. I went to Merriam Webster on-line to check and found the following:
Free from impurity; very thin in gauge or texture–not coarse–very small (fine print)–keen (a knife with a fine edge)–very precise or accurate; physically trained or hardened to efficiency (said of an athlete or an animal); delicate, subtle or sensitive in perception (a fine taste in art); superior in kind, quality, or appearance; ornate (as in writing); very well, more than okay (often ironic–Stan was right!).
Then there’s a fine as in a penalty (a traffic fine), and fine as an intensifier, like very, and all of these deriving from the same root as words like fin (as in fish fin). Think finish, the end.
Not quite sure where I’m going with this, except it’s something that I’ve been thinking about. A friend confided that she can’t stand to keep a journal. She asked what I do, “lists?” Sometimes I write lists. I usually include a paragraph on “what happened yesterday.” But I keep going, past that, into what’s happening in my brain, in my — well, for lack of a better word, in my heart.
When I’m stuck, I write questions. Sometimes I ask myself questions, and sometimes “I” answer. I sometimes write prayers. I write down quotations from things I’m reading. Sometimes I write snippets of poems or character sketches or short scenes.
I reread my journal every so often (especially the current one, but sometimes older ones) and I try to pick out topics that recur so I can write about them again. I’m sure that anyone else would find my pages mind-numbingly repetitive, boring! But when I worked in restaurants, back in the day, writing in a spiral bound notebook (in 100s of spiral bound notebooks, morning after morning and week and month and year after year), kept me alive. It kept the essential, moody, dreaming, creative me alive. Eventually, writing was what helped me reach what Julia Cameron calls “escape velocity.”
Writing 3 pages in a notebook every morning–even now, when writing is my job–drops me beneath the surface of my life. I can’t lie to myself when I write in my journal. (Later, I might ignore or willfully forget what I wrote, but it’s all there.)
You can’t write “I’m fine” for 3 pages. (Not unless you want to bore even yourself silly.) Certainly you can’t write “I’m fine” for 3 pages multiplied over 12 weeks of writing.
“But even if you never share a sentence of your diary with anyone else, you will share it through your life. Its existence will touch other people by the way it changes you and permits you to develop in self-awareness, directness, and honesty. As you acquire and refine the talent for helping yourself in the diary, you will grow in your ability to understand and nourish others. While it permits you to take responsibility for your own emotional well-being, it also opens the way for a deep understanding of human nature.” -Tristine Rainer, The New Diary
Keeping a journal is kind of like my own, portable Stan, that bossy, buzz-cut ex-Marine who won’t let me get away with bullshit. It’s a fine practice and it gets me past “fine.” It gets me through the nitty-gritty of everyday stuff. It gets me down to the finer stuff. Over and over.