I was at the dentist’s office last week. While awaiting my turn I scoped out the surroundings for readable periodicals. Not that I wanted to steal one (see True Confessions post), I just wanted something to take my mind of my itchy gums as I passed the time. My eyes landed on something that looked fairly interesting stuck in between the well-read Family Fun and fishing magazines. It wasn’t exactly new as its publication date was Spring ’07; both the calendar and the outside temperatures told me we were beyond Spring and well into summer. However, this particular magazine’s cover was still in tact and it appeared to have escaped the ravages of rip and run coupon thieves.
As pristine as the magazine was, it was the title alone that piqued my interest. Garden & Gun. How's that for a combination? I'm having a hard time deciding what target audience the publishers are going for. Would it be those steel magnolias who serve up Paula Dean creations in gardens they've planted themselves or Jeff Foxworthy characters who not only know what makes them rednecks but wear the indictment on the ball caps they neglect to take off at the table? My guess is this is a fairly small demographic. Obviously magazine moguls possess a certain degree of pluck and/or strange sense of humor.
The other thing that intrigued me about this magazine was the fact that one of my favorite authors was G&G’s premier cover person. To my amazement, Pat Conroy (The Great Santini, ThePrince of Tides) was standing in a fountain trying to look (but not really pulling it off) like a cross between someone who would handle his 9mm pistol as delicately as he would to his antique roses. His khaki pants were rolled up to his knees, as if he had just happened upon the fountain and felt like jumping in. His Navy blazer, however, was a dead giveaway that this was a posed photo. Still, it worked. I picked up the magazine and began reading.
Testing my resolve to relinquish the life of a periodical poacher, I carried the magazine with me into the examining room instead of sticking it in my purse to read at a later date. As it turned out this was a wise decision because I had plenty of time to read Conroy's whole article before the dentist popped in and out of my cubicle with the news that my gum distress could be calmed but not cured. Although it was a little distracting to read with the sound of a high speed pneumatic drill whirring in the background, I was sincere in my desire to finish the article and leave the magazine where it belonged. Not to mention the article’s subject was one I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.
Conroy wrote about using his old journals to get ideas for new novels. In the first paragraph, he said, "Whenever I begin to write a new novel, I take an unhurried walk through the various journals I have kept over the years. It grieves me that I have not kept a thousand promises to myself to become a more avid and obsessional journal keeper, but my record is haphazard at best, dispiriting at worst."
Then he added, "over the years I have met a disciplined battalion of writers who would not think about starting a day without making careful notations of their thoughts, joys, passions, and observations of the day before."
I'm not bold enough to put myself in the same company of people Conroy calls writers, but I have been an off and on journaler since high school. My 11th grade English teacher required that we turn in a composition book every six weeks. She didn't care what we wrote about, but she wanted us to get into the habit of putting words on paper on a regular basis. Suffice it to say those days were longer ago than I care to admit, but I suspect the only habits I developed were chugging beer and smoking cigarettes. Most of what happened back then I have a hard time recalling to memory. However, I can distinctly remember the night before the journal was due, going back and filling in all the blank pages. Obviously, self-discipline has never been one of my strong suits.
There were other guides along my life's path who encouraged me to keep a journal. During my years in therapy for clinical depression, my doctors opined the therapeutic value of writing about feelings I couldn't give a clear voice to.
So I wrote and re-wrote. I filled page after page with memories of childhood angst. I spewed out long suppressed and self-destructive anger. I tried to describe a soul-eating misery. I wrote sullen poetry and suicide notes. (For the record, my journals would probably not be the meaty stuff novels are made of.)
Yet, as I read Conroy's article I was reminded of those spiral bound notebooks and wondered what, if any, insight they might give me today, as I try to hone my writing skills. The more I thought about them, the louder their siren song called. Nudged by a new friend, the universe, and a healthy dose of morbid curiosity, I rummaged through an upstairs closet until I found the box I was looking for waaaaay in the back, under some old sleeping bags and a rusty Christmas tree stand. I shudder to think how many cockroaches have feasted on that cardboard smorgasbord.
I spent some time looking through the box of memories. It was filled with photographs, saved birthday cards, and elementary school report cards - the kind of stuff you wonder why you keep, but when you go through it, the memories make the keeping worthwhile. After spending some time in a nostalgic haze, I carried the journals, the objects of my search, downstairs to read at my leisure.
I crawled into my bed and got myself settled in not knowing on what kind of emotional roller coaster ride I was about to embark. As it turned out, what I hoped was going to be meaty, detailed prose that I could turn into a that-was-then-but-this-is-now-autobiography that would get me on the Oprah Book List was really nothing more than a window into a very sad time in my life.
The good news is this. I think I’m done with those particular journals. I think that period of time in my life can be laid to rest. Modern medicine has regulated my brain chemistry. I know where to go and what to do when I feel the blues coming on. I no longer live my life waiting for the worst to happen; and if it does, I’m somehow able to cope with it. Light has penetrated those dark days long enough, and sure enough, for me to know there is another more to life than depression – most of the time!
As for Conroy he says, “The journal is the place I turn to when I feel the pilot light of my imagination turned off.” For me, this blog seems serves the same purpose. I’m not as faithful with my entries as I thought I would be, as I’d like to be, but I think Mrs. Schumann would be proud!