23rd July, 2016
This is an experiment, this idea of writing a journal as I travel to London to attend my daughter’s graduation and then continue on with my holiday from London to The Netherlands, to Yverdon-les-Bains in Switzerland where my husband’s twin brother and his family live, and finally there will be two nights and one day in beautiful Rome before flying home.
I haven’t written a journal in awhile and I have missed the regular practice and the space it offers to tune in and find out what is really going on in my head. All year I have been busy teaching, mentoring, presenting, interviewing and researching my new book ‘The Writing Life’ based on the oral histories of twelve elder New Zealand authors, all of which I find stimulating and engrossing, but there hasn’t been a minute to do the writing that I love — writing in the moment about what engages and delights me and also because I don’t think it’s possible when you attend to your inner world, to avoid writing about the things that perplex and haunt as well.
The North American author and great journal writer, May Sarton, referred to her journal technique as ‘writing on the pulse,’ capturing whatever she was able to write down, about what was happening on a given day. She also added she didn’t allow herself to go back and change things afterwards, except for style and she didn’t expand on the writing either. Although later in that same interview in the Paris Review she remarked she could go on ‘revising forever.’
When I write in my journal I like to capture my thoughts in a quick burst of creativity. I think of this process as writing on the wing because that’s how it feels, it has a soaring and swooping kind of an energy. Each writing surge can last from five minutes to thirty minutes or longer when there is more to write and the muse is sitting gracefully on my shoulder. For this project though I will contain the practise to five minutes, only, on most days, writing rapidly, on each alternate line of my A4 journal and when the timer goes I will spend three more minutes, using those spare lines of the journal to edit the material. Lightly. No more than that. I absolutely must resist my ingrained editorial impulse to refine, to check facts in books, or on Google, because if this experiment is to work it will need firm parameters to ensure the writing project doesn’t interfere with the holiday. I want the writing to feel more like play and not a burden. It will be something I can do for relaxation while my husband anagrams. If he enquires about what I’m doing, I will say that I’m companioning him, in the down times, playing with words.
I don’t yet know what will fall into my writing except that I will be following my interests in nature, gardening, art, architecture, photography and children. When I am in nature and when I am with little children I feel very happy. When I observe children at play, their curiosity and enthusiasms, when I listen to the piercing perceptions that only a child can see and state I feel reassured. There is hope for us all in the confusing maelstrom that is our world today. I remember studying Russian Art a long time ago at Canterbury University and learning about the very great fears that gripped people at the turn of the 20th century. The pace of change through the industrial revolution had excited but also frightened people and they imagined the end of the world was nigh. I think we’re living through another time of great fear and flux. There is more to think about than ever before. The volume of information flooding the digital highways and media channels on a daily basis, some of it so very negative and alarming, can leave us struggling to comprehend fully and keep up. We have more to feel panicked about than any other generation – the very real impact of global warming, species extinction, contamination of the waterways and the atmosphere, housing markets out of control, examples of greed and excess and madness screened to us daily. We are witnessing, through first hand reportage, increasing human suffering everywhere through famines and plagues, through violence and continuing wars. There is a refugee crisis of terrible proportions with millions of fellow human beings now dislocated from their families and communities and countries and detained in inhumane conditions on overheated islands in the middle of the Pacific. There is an increase in the random acts of global terrorism that are impossible to address and suppress if we can’t get to the root of the mental disorders afflicting the people intent on destruction and offer them help.
It is easy in the face of so much turbulence to feel helpless, to want to turn away, curl up and give in. But I think it is possible to remain grounded and even hopeful in the midst of the challenges and that the act of journalling can offer relief in the same way that meditation and mindfulness techniques help a person settle a whirring mind because writing down your thoughts and assembling the words in a way that is pleasing on the page is reflective and contemplative and the process itself is wholly absorbing. So I really do believe that attending to what is happening in the moment, in close up and putting it into words can enhance our experience of living. And that is what I’m planning on doing for this trip. I want to be receptive to all the good things that come my way, to the enchanting and soporific power of Nature, to the small moments of meaningful connection with people, encounters that illustrate our common humanity. I want to be alert to possibility and to acts of human kindness and tenderness that always remind me I’m not alone and that it is good it is to be alive.
When the writing of my pain journal, Giving Yourself to Life, was drawing to an end, I paused to consider the year of journalling and what I had discovered. I wrote that initially I hadn’t known where I was going but as I settled into the act of self-reflection I realised there had to be a commitment to speaking honestly from my personal experience. I thought that if I started with my intimate thoughts and observations I might facilitate a flow of ideas that might be relevant to my reader. And then I wrote,
Perhaps the primary task of a journal writer is to observe the world passing before her, to record the beauty of the planet she inhabits, to share something of her inner struggles, to be like a medium through whom the experiences pass and are noted, recorded and passed on.
I still believe in that function of the writer as recorder and will proceed in that spirit although at times I might also have to record the funny and downright odd. I won’t be able to stop that aspect of living from creeping in. And I have to admit to one other motive for writing. A week ago I stopped working and tidied away my books and papers. I was giving myself a week to prepare the house, the garden and the cats for my departure, to organise my clothes and pack my bags, to check and check again that all the documents were in order, to be ready without any fuss at the last minute to head away overseas. But what I found was that the jobs were performed very quickly and efficiently. Halted in my tracks I wondered what do I do now? I went into my study and began tidying the books on the shelves. I went through some drawers, made a trip to the Hospice shop. And then I looked around and wondered what to do next? I wasn’t prepared for the feeling of emptiness. My footsteps on the wooden stairs sounded hollow through the quiet house. The nest, now that both my chicks have flown, felt bare and forlorn. By day four I couldn’t stand the sound of my footsteps and found myself hatching this plan to write a journal. It seemed that even one day without writing, in some form, felt like a day not worth living through. So that’s the other reason why I’m writing this journal because I can’t not. WRITE.