Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Filling the Page

I'm nearly to the end of the current journal I'm keeping and already I'm excited by the prospect of the first blank pages of a new journal. All those possibilities and space and I feel anxious about starting something new with pages and pages of space waiting for me to put words to the paper, cover it in inky words and sketches.

Why isn't it that way with the blank computer screen waiting for words -- or for me to continue where I left off? I don't know.

There is something more daunting about a blank computer screen, cursor blinking, waiting for something, anything to fill up the space, preferably words that form sentences and paragraphs and end in stories. The computer screen, even what you can see, feels endless. A journal is finite, so many pages bound and waiting.

Writing in my journals is fairly easy and few days over the past several decades have gone by without me writing something. There are times when I am pressed to fill a whole page and other when fifty pages is not enough, yet there is always something for me to write. It's often incoherent to the casual observer because I use a kind of shorthand when writing, a combination of short cuts I use for the day job and shorthand symbols I remember from years ago. It's my way for my hand to keep up with the churning thoughts that spill onto the page. There are blots and words crossed out when my mind went too fast for the pen, but mostly it's legible, and a handwriting expert, or anyone who knows me well, can tell my mood by the slant of the letters and how neat they are. When I'm on a roll and the words are flowing, the letters are uniform and very legible. When it's coming rough, not so much, but they're there on the page in mostly black, although sometimes other colors, purple being the favorite. Pages and pages and shelves full of journals of all types and sizes, filled with words and ideas, bits of stories, ruminations on what I've been reading or some question that popped into my mind at random. An idea peeks around the corner while I'm writing and before long I've grabbed it and taken it for a spin.

I work out plot points and character details in the journals. Those are marked with metal clips, a trick I learned because I didn't want to go back through nearly a hundred journals. Dates don't really mean anything except for a way to put the journals in order; they certainly don't pertain to a specific book or character or story because I don't put them by dates. A story may germinate and grow over ten years or ten minutes. There's no way to tell. I do know when the story is ready to commit to paper and I often have to hold back and finish a book or story I've already started. Not so with the journals. I can pick them up at any time and go for hours or jot down a few lines that take an hour or so.

No matter how hard it is to write some days, I always come back and write some more. The journals are my truest voice and my proving ground, my place to discuss things and pour out my anger. In those pages, I am naked and angry, hopeless and hopeful, full of rage and full of joy. Sadness, pain, curiosity, philosophizing, ranting, and wonder are on all those pages.

I watched Any Human Heart, a Masterpiece Theater series based on William Boyd's book of the same name and realized that Logan Mountstuart, despite being blocked in writing another novel, Octet I think he called it, considered himself unsuccesful because his books hasn't sold tens of thousands of copies and he wasn't rich. He even had a few years of living on dog food and wrote about how it was edible with the right condiments -- a lot of the right condiments.

All the while, Logan wrote in his journals, stacks and stacks of journals. He even managed to keep a journal during the year he was imprisoned in Switzerland during World War II, hiding his pages in a hole he dug in the wall and making ink out of what was available, writing with the pointed end of a stick. But he wrote and he continued to write, keeping an account of his musings and trials and tribulations on those blank pages, beginning when he was at university and continuing to the end of his days.

Those journals, the account of his life, was published posthumously as a novel, a best selling novel, though there was no heir to collect the royalties, all of them having died long before he did. He never realized how important his journals were and how successful he was as an author and a writer who chronicled the decades through which he lived.

I have no such delusions of grandeur and it isn't why I keep journals. They are for me, although there have been times I have shared one or two journals with someone so they would know me better, be able to see the real me collected on those pages.

No, I doubt my journals will be published when I die, especially since I have left orders to have them all burned -- or buried -- when I'm gone. I don't keep journals to be published. I keep them because the blank pages beg to be filled and covered with my variable scrawl and because they are my truest self, the one I know the best, the one that changes and evolves, the one I look back on to see how far I've come.

Now, if only I can translate that to the blank screen with its blinking cursor waiting for brilliance -- or even mediocrity -- waiting for me to get busy and be as faithful in writing books as I am in keeping journals. The journals are my life's blood poured out in organized inky scrawl, my yawp and howl that I am here, that I existed, that I write.



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