Thursday, September 23, 2010

The beauty of paper?

I wanted to write a post about the value of writing on paper—how it is preserved no matter the software system or hardware storage mechanism. So I started to browse some of my paper journals from 25+ years ago; I was going to boast about accessing them simply by opening a filing cabinet.

But opening this metal Pandora's box quickly led to the realization that most of what I wrote in my journal as a teenager and as a young adult is god-awful, self-absorbed slop.

I could have been capturing perfectly useful descriptions—of the houses I lived in, of the weather on a particular day, of my housemates'  voices, idiosyncrasies, physical appearances—but, no, I spent 90 percent of that space complaining about my boyfriend (or lack of a boyfriend), analyzing the particulars of why my life sucked, or writing myopically about my past.

If I had written more in the moment and about the moment, those entries might serve now as material for a short story or vivid memoir. But my old journals are full of dime-store philosophizing and repetitious ramblings.

Why didn't I write down names? What were the names of the people I worked and lived with, of the streets I walked, the songs I listened to? I want to shake them out of my younger self, but she has forgotten. Almost everything in these early journals is in non-specifics, so now I have to try to figure out which friend or crush I was talking about at any given time.

Perhaps when I was writing I thought I would always be able to clearly see that scene around me years later. More likely, though, I thought the feelings I was writing about were worthier of posterity.

If you are starting to keep a journal, learn from my disappointment—remember to occasionally look up from your notebook and describe the room you're sitting in, the texture of light outside the window, the smells emanating from the kitchen. Don't simply look up into a mirror and think you're describing the world.

The photo above was found pasted into my July 1979 journal.

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