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.”

7 replies
  1. Janet Hamilton
    Janet Hamilton says:

    Yes, I do all those things in my journal too! Sometimes the complaining evolves into problem solving, sometimes not…. but it’s all very therapeutic. I still use cheap spiral notebooks (I’m cheap). Good paper is reserved for pastels or watercolors because they must be on archival surfaces. (Guy Anderson sometimes painted on cardboard and newspaper – ugh, they’re deteriorating). But words are beyond the material world! The beautiful journals they have out now are SO tempting…hmm…maybe I would write better words if I used better paper?

    • Bethany
      Bethany says:

      Janet, love this — and I think you’re entitled to both! (good paper for your art, and…)

      The LV journals stay at home, but I am also addicted to buying pretty notebooks to pack around (to writer’s group, for instance). When she was about 15, my youngest daughter said to me: “Some of my friends buy drugs; I just want you to buy me this book.” (Hardback, of course, but I think I got it for her.) I often remember her words as I stand in a bookstore line, trying to make up my mind about a purchase.

  2. Rita
    Rita says:

    Ah, I’ve never been able to get myself to write in any pretty blank books I’ve had–so I stopped buying them. It’s been many years since I kept journals regularly. What I like now are the speckly black and white composition books. They are still pretty cheap.

    I enjoyed these snippets from your journals, and they make me wish I’d kept up the habit. I do wonder what to do with all my angsty teen-age ones that are moldering in my attic. Can’t quite bring myself to destroy them (feels like discarding the girl who wrote them), but I certainly don’t want to burden my children with them or have anyone else read them. I was no Anne Frank, much as I wished I could write words of such importance.

    • Bethany
      Bethany says:

      Rita, I would NEVER have guessed this about you. Of course one’s process is one’s process. My recommendation is always to continue doing what works for you. I know a lot of people who have destroyed their journals, to save their family from having to do so, but I just don’t know… I get what you’re saying — “feels like discarding the girl who wrote them.” There may be stories / essay topics hidden in them.


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