Friday, March 23, 2012

On journals and diaries

In her first book about Tuscany, Frances Mayes writes:

I bought an oversized blank book with Florentine paper covers and blue leather binding. On the first page I wrote ITALY.  The book looked as though it should have immortal poetry in it, but I began with lists of wildflowers, lists of projects, new words, sketches of tile in Pompeii. I described rooms, trees, bird calls. I added planting advice: 'Plant sunflowers when the moon crosses Libra,' although I had no clue myself as to when that might be. I wrote about the people we met and the food we cooked. The book became a chronicle of the first four years here. Today it is stuffed with menus, postcards of paintings, a drawing of a floor plan of an abbey, Italian poems, and diagrams of the garden.

Her image of the book stuffed with her life is so very appealing to me. I am a fool for notebooks, journals, stationery. Just recently I bought for a dollar one of those tablets with the wire binding at the top and the faint red line running down the middle of each page. They were stenographers notebooks in my day. I doubt if anyone under 30 even knows what a stenographer is.

I have a cabinet filled with journals - 25 years' worth. Most of them are the sturdy black and white composition notebooks. Lines and pages filled with the thoughts that were swimming around in my head. Witnesses to the celebrations, broken hearts, weather, journeys, and random happenings that make up one's days.

One year I kept a nature journal and recorded, with photos, the ever-changing weather, the first daffodils of spring, summer's hummingbirds, the honking of geese overhead in autumn, and the wet snows of winter. I have travel journals, Books Read journals, journals filled with notes from writing seminars, poetry readings, and lectures. I have journals begun and abandoned.

A couple of years ago, when my mother's health began to decline, I made the decision to stop keeping a journal. The time was stressful enough living it without reliving it through a journal. I haven't regretted that decision. It is almost a relief not to be bound by my habit.

But that doesn't stop me from buying journals. Oh, no. I must have 10 blank ones waiting for me to open to the first page and put pen to paper. I have a small, green leather one with handmade pages that I bought in a tiny shop in Pienza, Italy. I had the son of the man who made the book write his father's name on the paper wrapping so I would always know who had made this lovely piece of art.

I also have a journal with gilt-edged pages, and just like Mayes's, it has Florentine papers and leather binding. I bought it in Savannah, Georgia. There are an assortment of moleskin notebooks - different sizes and colors - in my desk.

Right now, as a concession to the fact that I do have so many blank books that are sitting around not earning their keep, I started a journal this year on January 1. In it I just list the activities of the day. No complete sentences. No deep philosophical thoughts. No drama.

The book is made by Graphique de France and the cover is its Cityscape design (here). It has blue end papers, lined pages, and a gold ribbon bookmark. It is about 8 inches by 6 inches. I keep it by my reading chair and write in it every evening. I bought it from Borders when it was closing its stores. I have started to keep lists in it as well...names of cities in Italy, flowers I want planted in the garden this year.

So I guess I am back to journal keeping after all.

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