When I think about it, I have always been a writer. When I was little, I scribbled in all kinds of notebooks and got really excited to start new journals on January 1. I had those tiny ones with actual locks and keys, and that added to the mystique for me, even if I was only writing about how excited I was that I got to pick out my own candy bar at the grocery store. As I grew up, I kept writing, really picking up steam around middle school, when I really had Things To Say. And although this sounds odd, my greatest pride in my high school years is the cache of journals I kept. I read through those books, lined with tiny writing in purple ink, and there is no way to describe the thrill of recognizing myself, of thinking, “Yes, all these years ago, that is still me.” It’s less about the events I’m capturing (though there are certainly a fair share of teenage heartbreaks and petty annoyances) than about the voice I am claiming as my own. It’s almost frightening to see it so crystal clear, a whole decade later.
The draw of this type of writing for me is that this is the one place where I am completely honest. Honest about everything that is going on in my life, yes, but more importantly, honest with myself. I stopped writing for a long time when I was in college, busy conjugating Russian verbs and writing papers about Faulkner and daydreaming about being a grown up someday. But when I went to grad school, a miraculous thing happened. I started writing again, for me. I found my voice again, buried under a lot of postmodern jargon and literary terminology. It was there all along. I will never forget the thrill of buying my first little notebook and putting an image of the roofs of St. Petersburg on the cover. I was me again.
And I was starting a new tradition. Everyone has their preferred method of writing, and for me, there is nothing better than a small notebook. I like the lined pages, I like that the spiral allows it to lay flat, and, most of all, I love that they have these little pockets for all my ephemera. I have been through ten of them since 2005. And I love every single one of them. As soon as I am nearing the end of one journal, I start the hunt for a new cover image. I find them all over the place. This one is from a grocery ad, I think.
There is still something magical for me in writing things out by hand, maybe because my work is almost all done on computers. I like the feel of a pen in my hand, the smooth glide of ink, and the gorgeous curl of pages so filled with writing that they transform into rustling waves of paper.
This is the last journal I made before Eric and I got married. The image is of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, and it’s especially sweet to me now because we are going to Istanbul in October! It feels like a dream come true to me, and I have the transition from dream to reality preserved right there in my journal.
Although these are my favorite journals to write in, I also have a respectable collection of other ones. Some are little guys I took on trips abroad for easy scribbling, and some are bigger ones I chose because they were beautiful. There are about ten of these too, dating from about 2005. The striped one came with me to Berlin, the map one to Russia, and the yellow one to Brazil.
I love paging through these books from time to time, encountering myself on every page. I like seeing the rhythms my writing goes through. When I write, I write every day. Sometimes there are gaps of six months or so, but I find that when I get away from it like that, I eventually miss it and come back. That feels like a comfort to me, and it helps keep me from being too hard on myself about it. Not writing for me is almost like a wheel out of alignment that eventually rights itself. That makes me happy.
For years I wrote first thing in the morning: me, my coffee, my journal. These days mornings are pretty hectic, so I write in the afternoons. No matter what’s going on, and even if I don’t feel like writing, it always makes me feel better. I am so grateful for that. We all have rituals that are important to us, and this is the most precious one to me. My life is in these pages. They are my greatest treasure.