My project for December, which I’ve begun already, is to spend the time needed to go through old notebooks. Right now I’m tackling 2005 and 2006. I took a stack of 12 with me to the cafe this morning. I thought, Well, I’ve got a couple of hours, and, sure, I won’t get through all of these, but I can at least get through a bunch of them. After those two hours, I was just barely through one notebook — these are mostly single-subject, spiral-bound notebooks, of 70 or 100 pages. Oh right — it takes time to read that much.
These notebooks are mostly journaling, not workshop notebooks. It’s like revisiting myself, 6 years ago, re-meeting my obsessions from then, my fears and panics, and what I was doing or attempting in my writing. I took a hilighter with me, sticky notes, and a manila folder.
I’m making some changes after talking with my friend Chris DeLorenzo, of Laguna Writers, about what he does with the writing from his notebooks — he tears out the stuff he wants to work with, and puts the pages in separate folders for each topic or project. Historically, I just mark up the pages, highlight or underline, label a sticky note with general topics or themes, and then I re-pile the now-gone-through notebook with all the rest of my hundreds of notebooks — and never get back to it. Today I tore out the stuff I want to work with, and that felt good — look, they’re not sacred tomes! You can mark up and answer back and even rip out for later use.
I can write later about what the notebooks have meant for me, how they’ve been history and an external memory, how this writing has helped me learn and remember how to remember. But for now, I’m just living into this change, that it’s ok for the sacred space of the notebooks to be different.
Here are a few fragments from the two notebooks I’ve managed to get through — these are lines I might use for new writing, places to begin, prompts:
I make every gate a pantry
How we have to be home in order to make something new
when I wake up late I feel like I’ve missed myself
How you wanted me to be is so much tar paper charisma
We’re more beautiful and then less and the truth is that I don’t know who I am if I’m not sexually engaged
When do you add anything to your life that you’re afraid of losing?
How we unhook from our pasts like we are so many trains, like it was nothing more than some external bolt that held us together
it’s time to fill up with new stories and in the meantime I keep on coming home like I’ll never be different
Something is crowing in me — something is open. I need to shower, decide on clothes, ease into the ache of today
This is the long stepping off of troubles, the star-spangled banner of my lips and thighs
The dusk is gaining old winds up for slaughter
Take back your body from the faces of time
Can you see the faggot dances of your glassine desire?
What we hope for and how long we go without it
A shoulder rub in the time of the rubble
We all have the things we’re willing to whore for
Dont’ you see? It’s a constant flux of semblance and self
The hard body of wrong knowledge
Write an erotic ‘I believe’
It is true that very often I am in love with my own body
I walk around on the flat side of crazy every day
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So, the prompt I’d like to offer today has nothing to do with any of these. Do you have a stack of old notebooks, or a file on your computer filled with journal entries? Give yourself an hour during this coming weekend, and go through that old work. Meet that old you. If you have paper notebooks, or a laptop, consider taking yourself to a cafe, getting a good cup of tea, settling in for a read. Underline the phrases or lines or paragraphs that especially call to you; mark them somehow for later reference. Let yourself meet the unexpected beauty, let yourself discover your obsessions, your curiosities, the questions that keep coming back up. Pull out the stuff you want to work with later.
(However, if you want to write, feel welcome to pull one of those fragments above, or one that you find in your own notebook, as a place to begin!)
Thanks for the space you make for your creativity, for all that you desire and deserve. Thanks, every day, for your words.