I heard the call. It wasn’t a whisper or a delicate voice or loud words urging me to transcribe thoughts to paper. The call did sound like an alarm, telling me it was time to awaken a dormant spirit. I was ready to give voice to my ideas, the beginning of my storytelling.
When I was fifteen, a pink hardcover book invited me to fill its blank lined pages. A latch was glued to the back of the book and fit snugly into a lock glued to the top. I held my first journal in my hands, a gift from my mother. I think she thought every girl my age should keep a diary, especially a pink one.
I never felt I had to keep my journal locked. Under lock and key meant what was enclosed between the front and back covers was too private—that I had something to hide. It also seemed self-righteous, as if my words were sacred, only to be opened by a holy one. Such a book, shrouded in reverence, reminded me of the Holy Bible at church. When I was a child and Father Sullivan would say Catholic Mass on Sundays, the Holy Book traveled in the opening procession to the pulpit for the Gospel, then sat atop the altar in celebration of the Eucharist. Father would hold the Big Book up to the congregation, signaling the start of the Mass; the large golden clasp sparkled in the overhead lights, revealing an ornate design. The Book was unlatched and opened in ceremony. The holy words were set free as the pages were read aloud. I could almost see a spirit rise and travel from the altar to the congregation as a story was told.
Neither out of reach, nor out of mind, my pink journal rested on the middle shelf in the middle cubby atop my bedroom desk as if it was the center of attention where Nancy Drew mysteries, a black ceramic bank that was indeed a pig, and a small terrarium surrounded it. I lifted my book of words from its place, held it firmly in anticipation of forthcoming dialogue and carried it to a sequestered spot on the floor at the foot of my bed in ceremony, ready to commence writing upon release of the latch. The pages would be free and my words released. I didn’t want my written words to be cloistered. I wanted them to be open and available to me, to expand. I wanted them to breathe, evoking my spirit.
Journal writing fulfilled my need to organize my thoughts, to have a conversation
with . . . someone, to feel not alone, to learn about myself. I was a little girl growing up, eager for clarity in an adult world I found disorienting. I believed that my vision of the world was not just about me but about all else living. I began to think about having a place and that there must be a purpose. I yearned for inner guidance to navigate my world, to understand that there are other me’s and houses and Carlisle Streets worlds away.
I lifted my bowed head in contemplation about what to write, not only acknowledging my immediate surroundings but also tapping into the beyond. I sensed a presence I could not define—an indescribable intangible. I didn’t question it or its purpose. I believed my spirituality was born.
When I was a little girl, family photographs were taken in front of the picture window at our red brick house because it was the perfect suburban backdrop. Two-story homes sat like gems on their velvet green lawns set with oak and maple trees and manicured hedges. I remember my picture was taken there on my first day of kindergarten with my favorite tree in the center of circling hedges. The trees’ branches did not shade my eyes squinty from the sun’s high noon rays. My birch buddy stood aside to let the sun wrap me in warmth. I thought life could not have been any better. I believe this was the start of my creative life, feeling planted in the earth with all else living surrounding me. I took root in the ground, a solid base from which to grow.
There was something about trees, though. I wrote a poem when I was fifteen – an ode to a tree – claiming this as my mantra. The time has come for us to move on, / Let us nest that time in the Bottom of the tree, / To grow with each new branch, / Letting our leaves bud with Each new spring. / The nest is our home, the branches Our foundation. / It is the universal home of God, / For I am set in the ways of the tree, I am bound for eternity.
I referred to the nature of trees as a metaphor for living, a guiding symbol for finding home and the beginning for my stories. “The trees are deep-rooted, tender leaves seemingly suspended in stillness but knowingly growing and maturing,” I wrote in my journal.
Perhaps I could also owe part of my creative birth to a teacher I had in high school. I confessed to the pink book on December 25, 1978, “I guess I got into the habit of writing out my thoughts when we had to keep a journal for Morality [class] . . . My mind has expanded so that I find a need to write things down,” as if my mind would explode from too much input; I had to write to settle myself and make sense of my world. And then I continued my inner dialogue about Tom and Bob and Lynn and Adam and what a good time we had putting up the Christmas tree.
School anxiety, test-taking and dreams took over the discussion as the years developed. I was a worrier and an analyzer of events that may happen, the what-ifs and how-comes. I confessed secrets as I “sit and listen to Streisand’s ‘The Way We Were’ and wishing I to be in a movie, a love story.” I strove for adulthood and my optimism for growth in a big world seemed to shrink as I centered a microscope over the everyday, recapping the happenings. Maybe it was my way to make sense of the minutiae in the chaos I felt?
My day’s entry was usually classified by two topics – the weather and type of day I was having. Interestingly, both topics coincided. “Today for the first time in a week the sun finally came out. It sure made me in a better mood. The day went pretty fast.”
Writing during my college years reflected all of the above— weather, what kind of mood I was in, the analyses of boy-girl relationships, anxiety and general nervousness. “Sometimes I get so confused and frustrated. Half the time it’s about my writing, then it’s about female friends and then, of course, it’s about male friends and I wish one of them would be my boyfriend.” It was always about boys, declaring my love for any boy who reciprocated conversation. My unrequited feelings were reflected in my words of angst, frustration and anger.
Finding my place was difficult. My journal writing never saw so much exercise as it did in college. I even invoked my favorite words from Shakespeare, Sonnet 115 that starts, “Those lines that I before have writ do lie, / Even those that said I could not love you dearer . . .”—it felt heavy in my mind. Sonnet 75 got equal attention. It begins, “So are you to my thoughts as food to life, / Or as sweet-season’d showers are to the ground . . .” Perhaps I would be a good actress in a movie. I certainly had the drama of it all going for me. My spirit was awakened.
I have come to realize that my writing had a sense of purpose back then. My world as a young girl may have been typical, centered on seeking boys’ attention, trying to make new friends, searching for a sense of belonging. I knew I had a voice and a spirit, and I would encourage their growth.
Soon my journal writing became like open letters. I was lonely and asked for comfort; I was confused and I asked for understanding. I was pensive and serious and asked to be light and happy. I’m not sure who I was writing to. My voice yearned for answers to my questions as if I was invoking dialogue. I was praying.
The end of my journal writing came in January of 1992 for reasons I don’t know. When I read the last entry I wanted to read more. Where was it? What happened to the rest of my life? Where were my own written words and thoughts at the time they were happening? Maybe I didn’t need to be close friends with my writing, to make a connection with something that would give me meaning. I didn’t need written words to help me understand or calm me in my fits of anger, sadness or loneliness because I didn’t have these anymore. Maybe it was because I came into my own, came to an understanding that I was on a good path. I didn’t need to write it down as conversation with my invisible friend to help me get somewhere in life. As much as I always sought connections, this was one I voluntarily broke.
My journal writing in my younger years was a catalyst to becoming a writer of memoir today. Turning journal writing to stories was a natural progression like memories to memoir writing. Writing became a form of prayer where I may have asked for something or expressed gratitude. It is a meditation in which I open my heart and mind to what I have asked for.
The more I write, the more reflective I am of my spiritual sense. My relationships with others and my place in my physical surroundings are experiences connected to my spirit.
Today, I allow my heart and mind to fill with spiritual gratitude. I connect with my place. My inscriptions in a small pink book started a dialogue where I wanted my words to be free and to travel with my spirit, hitching a ride.
My journal writing in its early years was my personal sacred text kept in its own space, visible and accessible. My pink book and the Bible were important to my spiritual growth. The opening of their clasps set their words free and welcomed an understanding of my place.
Perhaps I already harbored wisdom captured from life when I opened blank pages of the pink book. I simply wrote, “The time has come for us to move on. Let us nest that time in the bottom of the tree, to grow with each new branch, letting our leaves bud with each new spring. The nest is our home, the branches our foundation. It is the universal home of God for I am set in the ways of the tree, I am bound for eternity.”
“. . . and I always managed to pull through.” April 4, 1979.