Below my house and across the road down by the railroad, a dog barks. I wonder if that squatter who camped down there in the abandoned old railroad hotel has decided to come back with his malnourished hound. I write in my journal that if this yipping continues, I will have to investigate. I’m a little leery to do this. Shall I untie or cut the dog’s rope where he is tied to the rotting steps? What if I run into the person who tied up the dog?
It has only been in the last year that I write in the journal to the very last page. I have a box full of journals whose last pages are blank. Before the last pages I would stop and buy a new journal. I wonder if there is a psychological equivalent to this habit. I suppose so—a kind of T.S. Eliot’s objective correlative. Because I now write to the last page should, I hope, mean something’s improved in my character. Maybe.
Out in the barn are boxes and boxes of my mother’s journals–boxes bulging with her spiral notebooks. I check periodically to make sure that the rats have not torn into the boxes and made nests of her words.
Joan Didion in her essay, “On Keeping a Notebook” writes, “The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.”
A therapist commented that as long as I write in my journal, I’m not writing what I should be writing–the novel. A writer friend, not long ago, confessed to me that a celebrated author (who just happened to have been a colleague of hers in their MFA program years earlier), chided her, told her that keeping a journal was a waste of time. After this, my friend told me that for several years she dared not write in her journal, but then like a repentant lover lusting for the abandoned self, returned to her journal. We write not just to remember, but to suture self back together, to perform an act of self-redemption.
John Cheever’s son said about his father’s ritual of writing in his journal,“My father had to create himself each new day.” And Didion writes: “Remember what it was to be me: this is always the point.”
This morning I sit with my first cup of coffee and green leather journal and remember when I first moved to Nelson County. At night I lay in bed in one of the upstairs rooms under a wallpaper of demented pink ferns and gray feathers in this 1854 farmhouse, wondering what was I doing with my life. Why had I moved from California to this rural outpost in Virginia? When I heard the dog bark, it was very late and it wasn’t the first night that the dog had awakened me. This time I called the sheriff. He told me that a deputy would call me back. At midnight the deputy called. (I’m reading all this from a journal.) He knew about the abandoned hotel on the railroad tracks. He asked me where I lived. I gave him the address.
“Do you live in that house on the hill with the two big porches?”
“I used to come up with my grandfather when I was a little boy and paint those porches every summer.”
I wrote in my journal that I tried to make a joke. “Do you want to come up and paint them now?” (They were in pretty bad shape when I moved into the house.)
But he went on. “Have you noticed the color of your porch ceilings?
“No, I don’t think so.”
“They’re blue. And I always wondered why we painted those ceilings blue. I asked my grandfather. And he told me, ‘Blue ceilings mean welcome.’”
And now on this May morning, I sit on the porch and want to remember what it meant, then, to be me. I want to remember myself and that midnight barking hound tied to the steps of the abandoned hotel. I want to remember the deputy’s call and the porch ceilings’ blue welcome. That was the moment. And I wrote it in my journal.
-Trudy Hale, co-editor-in-chiefShare this post with your friends.