February 09, 2007

A Non-Illustrated History of my 20th & 21st Century Journals.  [Orange Level for Self-Indulgent Posting]

My urge to compulsively quantify isn’t as severe as Thomas Jefferson’s, who I wouldn’t be surprised to learn weighed & recorded his bowel movements, but it is sufficiently strong to want to write a journal entry about my journal entries. (Though admittedly having a record of every day’s jog since 1978 probably gives Jefferson a run for his money. No wonder the Stats teacher took me aside and suggested I do grad school.)

After six months in '73 and three months in '75, steady journal entries began in earnest in January of 1984 - perhaps a New Year’s resolution of some sort. They continued through ’84 and into ’85. Post-college they dried up completely as if relics of an immature age, like the boy who gives up collecting baseball cards when he’s old enough to find his heroes have feet of clay.

From ’85 to May of ‘97 there was no apparent writing other than trip logs of bi-annual vacations. It’s a shame because there was a lot of other things going on those years I’d like to read about now but then I was living the “unexamined life”. Perhaps a life of action is by its nature unreflective and resists the passive activity of the recounting, and wrestling with, events. Sometimes to verbalize is to ruin. Western films often get it right with the cowboy’s laconic utterances.

From 1997 to the present there have been journal entries. The writing in ’84 and ’85 was just horrible, unbearably banal and whiney and full of cliches. At the time it all seemed to glitter, which of course was part of the reason I wrote the entries. It's like Christianity in the sense that you can practice it no matter how bad you suck. You don't really know the quality of your writing or your own soul but that ignorance is bliss. I’ve improved writing-wise but suspect that ten years from now I’ll look back and think it lame (though that does imply improvement). Journal writing is immediately pleasing no matter skill level in the same way that an unformed palate is as pleased by a cheeseburger as the more sophisticated's is a steak dinner.

Little of the Ireland trip log in ’96 was salvageable from the standpoint of lyrical writing, but by the summer of ’97 the Hilton Head log seemed a leap forward. Why that should be so is not obvious unless visiting the Olde Sod and the grave of Yeats improved the situation after a year of fermentation. Perhaps it was a delayed reaction to changes spiritual in nature since the “Great Awakening” appears to have begun in ’96. Looking over books read, ’95 was all secular. In ’96 “Cloister Walk” by Kathleen Norris and Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy” show up.

Many of the ’98 journal entries are still readable. There’s an entry listing discussions with Ham o’ Bone about
“the relative value of suffering for Christians, whether the Red Sox will ever win a World Series (speaking of suffering), whether the French film Ham rented was a ‘ship movie (short for relationship, i.e. chick flick), the best place to put one’s money during the coming global depression (metals vs cash), the best way to allocate one’s lunch money, whether the anti-Christ will come in the form of an S.U.V., how to get rich by checking friend’s couch cushions, the best way to drink a Guinness (four opposing fingers to thumb), the healthiness of watching too many X-files, Mr Boo’s last vowell movement, and whether either of us could come up with an oxymoron using the word ‘oxymoron’.”
The late ‘90s, early ’00s were peak in terms of creativity if not depth. That’s the funny thing – the window of opportunity for creativity shrinks as depth comes slowly, if at all. In 2002 blogging began in earnest and certainly prompted more exercise of the writing muscle though it's a medium that discourages poetry and fiction and vignettes while encouraging polemic and disputation. Which is to say it discourages creativity and beauty while encouraging logical thinking and/or ranting. That is not necessarily good for one's writing.

The blogger at "Nihil Obstat" highlighted my apostrophe hang up, especially where its was concerned. I was of the opinion that when in doubt add an apostrophe. In those heady early days of blogging, when you searched other blogs as if the presence of your link mattered, Nihil Obstat's attention was a fearsome thing.

The lyricism and creativity extant in '02 and '03 was sufficient enough to make me envious for the first time of a past self, Guinness-aided or not. From September of '03:
He was a born Materialist, though worse – a Materialist lacking imagination. Shortly after he turned ten, and his father sat down and informed him of the facts of life, he gave a lecture of his own: “No dad, only pee comes out of the penis! That’s why they call it a pee-nis!”

“Consider it a dual-use instrument,” his dad answered, “like a trumpet that becomes a trombone.”

“No, that just isn’t possible…how would it know when to pee and when to, when to…do what you said?”

“Well, you have a point there. It’s not exactly known as an organ of intelligence.”

And so the child went his way like Thomas the Apostle, not believing until he experienced it for his own, at which point he was surprised by how wrong he was, and of his reluctance to believe his father, but that soon passed.
We ought value things less for the intrinsic value of the thing - be it our health, hair, virility or creativity - than what we did with it. Did we use our (fill in the blank) to glorify God?

Fortunately, in 2004 we lost one of history's all-time great markers for things hopeless. The Red Sox won the World Series. And if the writing world was made poorer for the sudden lack of analogy, we're all made more hopeful by the occurrence of the impossible.

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