Kate grew up in the U.S. and moved to New Zealand 14 years ago with her then-
husband and son who is now 18 and a kiwi. She is a volcanologist who left university teaching two years ago and now works for Auckland Council defending geological features from development. She has fought internal resistance to writing memoir and now embraces it as her way to sort out the past and connect with other memoir readers and writers in an honest way. She learns and grows from reading others’ work and hopes that others may benefit from reading hers.
I have kept a journal all my life, sometimes regularly, sometimes erratically. Of course, I regret the gaps, but that’s how it’s gone.
When I was a little girl, I hid a tiny diary up in the unused chimney in my bedroom.
When I lived in Hungary at eighteen, I used the same style of notebook for a year, due to a limited choice of office supplies behind the Iron Curtain, a series of pale purple books, maybe half A5 size, which I filled with tiny handwriting.
I’ve searched for the perfect notebooks for journaling and for work. For work I’ve had books for: meeting notes; diaries; sometimes books for each project; sometimes tried to merge all notes into the same book.
Big books, small books. Colorful books. Lined, dotted, blank pages.
Books from Trade Aid that I thought were obscenely expensive, paper handmade by Indians and Tibetans from pulverized weeds, with bright, cheerful woven cloth covers. Books from the stationery store in Devonport that ARE obscenely expensive, German and French. Books from art galleries and museums. I’ve sought beauty in the cover, the right texture and size of paper. I noted that the doctor and poet William Carlos Williams wrote short skinny poetry on prescription pads while at work; the shape of the paper can determine the shape and length of the sentences, long and rambling or short and concise.
There was much angst. Is this the right one in which to pour out my heart? How do I use a notebook most efficiently at work? How do I keep track of my scattered thinking? I rarely used the same style twice.
My journal writing picked up through the end of my marriage, a failed romance and loss of a dear friend, my mother dying, one of my best friends getting brain cancer, and another romantic disaster. I left my job, timing just a coincidence in between lockdowns, in what felt like the most catastrophic failure of my life. This happened simultaneously with yet another relationship breakup, one that left me paralyzed with grief. I wrote and wrote and wrote, smudged ink with my tears. Fell asleep with the fountain pen in my hand and woke to find ink blots that had permeated a dozen pages or left sloppy trails across my bed sheets.
The grief of those years accumulated; each new loss opens the wounds for all that has gone before. It brings me to my knees again and again. A wise friend who works with dying people and their families gave me an analogy of a hole, a deep hole in the earth that is our grief. We can cover the hole with plywood, create a surface to walk on, go along with our lives as if the hole isn’t there. Sometimes something will happen that forces us to remember, but if we want to badly enough, we can cover it up. It will take a toll, alcoholism, anxiety, abuse, insomnia, but those are easier to bear than grief that rips us apart like lions’ sharp teeth shredding its prey.
If we can bear it, if we can be brave, we can fill the hole with dirt, shovelful by shovelful. It is painful, it cannot be fast-tracked, cannot be rushed. If we can do it, we can fill in the hole and have solid ground, be somewhere safe.
I have tried to fill in the hole by shoveling dirt. I have tried to look loss and despair in the eye, to figure out who Kate is and what she wants and needs. Not Mom, not the ex-husband, not lovers or partners or bosses or friends. It is hard and painful and imperfect.
And now a new place to live. A new job that I hope makes sense for me. In any case I have chosen it, not gone with what I thought would be all I could do, trying to make things work when they were the wrong fit and hoping things would work out.
I found a therapist who helped me so much that I wanted to sit afterwards and write down my thoughts and his words to process it more. For this I needed a therapy notebook that was portable, also with nice paper for the fountain pen. It needed to be small enough to fit in my bag with my ink pot in case I ran out of ink at a café.
I have found notebooks that make me happy, the one for this class, which was a gift from my aunt and uncle in the U.S., which is grey and not one which I would have chosen, but which I treasure because it was one of the last gifts from my aunt who died last year.
For work I’ve settled on the ugly and practical, working through Peter’s leftovers from his school years, so they say “Peter K. French” and “Peter Kenedi, Science.” I’ve added “Kate Lewis, Science.” In that one I left the pages he used, so his notes of the scientific method and the solar system introduce my notes on geothermal geophysics.
Finally I have settled just a bit. For my journal I found a large, blank, hard-backed notebook and for therapy and travel a smaller, soft-covered notebook in a brand whose richly colored covers made me ache with joy. I have spent lavishly for them even when I have been most worried about money over the last years. I peel the plastic wrapping off them and caress them, open them and stroke the pages. I write.
Kate grew up in the U.S. and moved to New Zealand thirteen years ago with her then-husband and son who is now seventeen and a kiwi. She is a volcanologist who left university teaching a year ago and is figuring out what to do next. She feels drawn to write memoir, looking to the past to help work out a fulfilling, wholehearted future.
When I was fourteen I spent much of my family’s European summer vacation boiling under the surface. We visited friends and toured for almost two months. I loved seeing the world; I hated my parents.
On a cliff path in southern England we stumbled on a pub called the Blue Ball Inn, a tiny building with a thatched roof and a big blue ball hanging in front. Mom had read that it was a local gem; she gasped and grinned, overjoyed at our luck. Dad said no.
Mom rarely said what she wanted; she said she didn’t care, and we found out the truth when she sulked and made cutting remarks to punish us for not reading her mind. In this case she begged to go, anguished pleading followed by teeth-gritting rage. Dad went quiet, his face tight and stubborn. We kept walking, all the way into town.
We ate at a cheaper place, which Mom said wasn’t cheap enough to justify sacrificing something glorious for greasy tourist nothing. She ordered the cheapest thing on the menu and after several minutes of not eating started to cry and left. My brother and I choked down a few bites of fried fish. I glared at my father, realizing the meaning of that phrase I had read in novels, impotent rage.
Two days later I got my period for the first time and felt relieved, hormones not insanity, thank God. My mother quietly cheered me on, conscious not to embarrass me in front of the others, and we went shopping for fun, one of the only times I did that with her. She bought me leather slippers that I sank my feet into, lined with deep, warm fleece. I had never had anything so wonderful; loved her for this luxurious splurge.
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