(Painting: Reclining Lady, Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
Yesterday, I put a prompt up for July is Journaling Month (for me a “month” starts on the fifth, apparently). My prompt was to describe where you are and your surroundings and how you feel right now. I was very, very, VERY happy to get a quick dispatch from my friend Joan. That is because she was a great friend and a great inspiration to me when we were at boarding school together. I started journaling as a class assignment for English. We had to do some lame exercises like making a feeling wheel with four emotions in it (I never understood the point of that, because do you really have four emotions going on at one time?) and describing a tree changing over the course of a week. Oh. My. god. Next time can we just do a rock instead? I understand that New England has glorious trees that magically change color over time. But it’s not like, “holy Hermes, that oak tree has ¼ more yellow leaves today than it did yesterday.” That was pretty painful. Still, it got me into the habit. What also got me into the habit over the course of my freshman year was Joan, a girl who lived on the same floor as I did in our dorm. We weren’t friends at first—we traveled in different circles (hers higher than mine). But I admired her as a fellow reader and as a journal writer. She was intensely creative and I loved how curious she was, how hungry she was to read and write. And eventually, we began to understand that we were part of the same tribe, and in fact, grew to be best friends. I remember her writing in my journal a famous little poem by Charles Edwin Markham (of course she knew these things)–
“He drew a circle that shut me out
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win
We drew a circle that took him in”
When I look back at many of those journals, I see how we would scribble away at our own journals in the morning, pass them to each other at lunch or dinner or whenever we could see each other, and write responses. Her handwriting is liberally represented in my journals and I’m sure mine is in hers. Sometimes our friendship was tempestuous, other times serene, and being her friend changed me for the better. WELLL, the reason I’m writing is because she shared her moment of where she was just at that moment. And with her permission, I hope, because it is a perfect example of an experience of just being and observing. Here is her experience on June 5, 2013, in the afternoon:
“I am lying on my couch, knees bent up, laptop resting against them. The bottom of the computer is warm which is not very pleasant because it is 96 degrees outside and the AC, which struggles to fill this space anyway, is on low. (Or as it would have it, “LO.”) It’s not a comfortable position, either, because the stupid couch that we bought with the intention of having a comfortable place to snuggle while watching movies is too deep, canted oddly, and therefore bends the body lying on it asymmetrically. So yeah, I am deeply annoyed with this couch because it is good for nothing and we never watch movies on it.
The AC fan cycles on and off. Someone is using a leaf blower (It is July, mate!) which is noisy even through the closed windows and the white noise of the compressor. There is a load of laundry in the dryer and every other revolution a zipper clanks against the drum. I am trying not to see that there is way too much stuff in this room – all of it useful – most of it wishing we had a basement or a real attic – or garage! – in which to store it.
I am annoyed with my stuff.
My hip kind of aches from the couch.
I don’t smell anything because I have no sense of smell – but fortunately I am not cooking anything at the moment so I don’t have to jump up (read: slowly, awkwardly, clamber off too-deep couch, over coffee table) and go inspect something on the stove.
Though now I see that it is past 4:30 so I should get started with my dinner plans – otherwise we won’t eat until… Boy, am I a grump. Perhaps this is why I have stopped keeping journals.
That and I don’t know how to punctuate my random thoughts. Maybe I should just limit myself to dashes and full stops.”
Okay, why is that good? Because she doesn’t just write about the couch, she writes about what it means to her (it annoys her, it was supposed be good for snuggling and movies, but it doesn’t really work right for either, it’s too deeply canted—good word–it makes her hips ache, etc.) Is there anybody who hasn’t bought something they wish they hadn’t? Something expensive? And then you have to live with the pain-in-the-neckness of it, at least long enough to retain your dignity? Also, I can understand the annoyance of it just being a little too hot, a lot too loud (I hate leaf blowers, too—and the fact that she has the wit to point out that it is July and what the hell is anyone leafblowing in July shows her personality), and 4:30, which means that she’s going to have to get OFF the couch at sometime and cook something, which is sadly a very common experience—families want to eat and somebody has to make some damn thing. Grumpiness is a highly appropriate response in my opinion. She reported later that she made a virtuous meal of “cleaning out the fridge lasagna,” and said, “So not only is dinner in the oven, but the fridge is under control. And because it will be a mediocre dinner, perhaps my love will take me out for ice cream when the sun goes down…” I have not yet heard if she got the well-deserved ice cream, but even though she’s describing subjective objects, she’s describing them through her experience of them, and her observant personality and her emotions come shining through. You know she is a person who has other people in her life that she loves and cares for, that she knows how to look, to sense, to put meaning to what she describes.
This kind of writing can ground a writer. It’s also a great place to start, because even if you don’t go on, even if you never write another pageyou’ve got something that’s worth having in a journal. It evokes a human moment. And that’s how we live, moment by moment.
Not everyone has such experience at using writing the way Joan does, so today I am going to go to a harder exercise to one that is easier. Especially if you “grounded” yourself yesterday. Today I will challenge you with a list. Sometimes people find this easier, and yet it can also be evocative. Joan said in her journal section/note that “I am annoyed with my stuff.”
Writing Prompt: Write a list about your stuff. Name 25 things you own. Or, if you’re up for it, list 50. Or 100! What do your things say about you?