Monday, December 18, 2006

On writing life down

Last night I decided to pick up a much-neglected habit, one that I've been putting off for the better part of a year: journal writing.

If you've ever tried to keep a regular journal or diary, you probably know how hard it can be - how long stretches of time can pass when you don't comment on anything, and much of what you do write is catch-up material.

I've always heard that the best writers keep a journal to put down their thoughts and experiences, a catalog of sorts for a life lived, day-by-day. They could then mine the journal for material. I've also heard that writing can help you to put down thoughts to ease the rambling in your head, and it's for this reason that I took up the practice.

I kept little notebooks - mostly the simple, ruled, spiral-bound kind - through high school, forgot about them through college, and picked up the practice again when I graduated. In fact, the one I found has the first entry marked "7-20-03," the summer after I left Adrian. Sometimes I would write often, sometimes I would go for months without putting anything down, but I dug it out last night just to see what I was thinking - Jesus! - three and a half years ago.

It's remarkable what changes in three years. I notice broad patterns of discussion, subjects that appear, then disappear, only to reappear months down the road. I write about Dayna a lot, because we were dating at the time. And I write about my then-new job (here's one, marked "8-3-03": "At least I have a steady, decent-paying job. My luck may have turned around. For once, things are going okay. A few goals left to achieve, and life will be good.") I write about issues I still struggle with today (at "8-19-03," I rant about my lack of self-discipline: "Usually writing things down helps me. Developing a habit helps even more...speaking of discipline, I need to exercise!").

A journal is kind of like a history for yourself, a written-down reminder of all the events and adventures you've been through. On "9-15-03," I write about first moving in with Don into Granada Apartments: "After having gone to 15 different schools until high school, the prospect of moving again, despite its inherent benefits, didn't seem fun...but I think I'm better now." I document grandma giving me her car, concerts Don and I went to (like coming back from KMFDM on "11-8-04": "On the way home, Don and I saw the Northern Lights. Beautiful! Subtle greens and pinks, and it looked like a quiet daylight at was perfect, a once-in-a-lifetime event!"), the 2004 election ("Bush won, Kerry lost. 'Nuff said."), Dayna and I splitting up (8-23-04, a single line before the split: "Wet eyes red no more.") - it all seems so long ago, but by reading through it last night it reminded me of a lot of things I haven't thought about.

Quite a bit reads like foreshadowing; me glimpsing into the future, or setting a path for myself that I've followed pretty well. On "10-4-04," after the split, I wonder what the heck I'm going to do with my new-found singleness: "Now I'm single again - for the first time in over three years. I must spend more time developing myself, really growing up and seeing what the world has to offer. It seems now is the time to take advantage of my youth, and do the things I've been wanting to do." Little did I know that following spring I would venture off to Chicago by myself, and the spring after that travel cross-country down a mythic highway. "Life's too short," I wrote. "Time to start enjoying it!"

I spot symptoms of behavior that I still feel today. On "12-28-04," I write: "My trip to Ann Arbor last weekend was a symptom of the deep wanderlust I have when life is in upheaval. My dad does it - guess I have some of that bug, too." Some things never change.

Life wasn't any simpler back then, either, such as on "1-27-05": "Between writing for the magazine, cleaning, reading, playing my new acoustic guitar, or other hobbies, I have a steady, always-filled 'to-do' list available." Hey, that sounds like a typical day today.

That summer brought a flurry of thoughts, emotions, reconnections and activities, until the fall when I found all the previous concerns I had written about "are no longer relavent," especially after "winding down a year of exploration."

Then it ends. A year and two months ago, "10-23-05" being my last entry.

After reading through three years of note-taking, I decided to start the practice up again. I struggled this spring and summer to kick-start the habit again (but kicked myself when I couldn't remember the password on the encrypted file on my iMac), but will now stick to pen and paper, and try to see what else I can accomplish in three year's time.

And maybe, years from now, I can look back and remember what life was like for a twenty-something Dave - a Dave probably still struggling with the same issues I face every year.

Maybe I've found life doesn't change all that much, just some of the characters, and some of the places.

No comments: