Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Beginnings, Endings and Disclaimers

I just filled up another journal notebook. This was volume 51. Volume 1 was begun when I was thirteen years old. So for those of you doing the math, that's 51 volumes in about 30 years, since I started around December of 1978 (when I got a blank book for xmas and decided that it should be a journal). The last 25 volumes were filled during the past ten years.

I don't know what it is, but I have this thing about beginnings and endings...they ought to be special somehow, they ought to be marked or noticed in some way. So whenever I begin a new volume of the journal, the first page always starts with a sort of where-I-am-now entry. When I finish a volume, the very last page is reserved for a summary, where I write about where I've been during that volume, whether there were any huge life-altering events, or whether I had any life-changing epiphanies. And then there is the little ceremony of naming the volume, and taping an index card on the front with the title, the dates, and the volume number written in permanent marker.

The last thing I do is tape my Standard Journal Disclaimer on the inside of the front cover...this is an open letter to anyone who might find the damn thing after I'm gone...I'm paranoid about my mother reading my journals and thinking she's raised a pervert...it's one of my Mortal Dreads, to borrow Harlan Ellison's words. Not that I have a bad relationship with my mother or anything...it's just one of those little things that keeps me up a night.

My Standard Journal Disclaimer goes like this:

Jazz's Standard Journal Disclaimer (version 1):
The following should be understood by anyone attempting to decipher the ramblings which lie herein.

1. This is not, strictly speaking, a diary. I always thought of it as a writer's notebook or a writer's journal. In these pages, the lines between truth and fiction often blur imperceptibly. Some entries are traditional diary entries; others are pure fiction. Many fall somewhere in between.

2. The writing is often cathartic. Entries are often emotionally charged. I write in the heat of anger/frustration/annoyance/(insert your own emotion). It's better than strangling someone. Or breaking something. And provides a wealth of raw material to be mined for my fiction later on.

3. It is practice. It is where I play with ideas and characters that may not be all bunnies and flowers. Things I need to work out or understand. So if it seems, for a while, that I'm obsessed with something unsavory, well, it's probably because it's part of an idea for a story or character. I have these thoughts on paper so that they can be mined later. You who don't write don't need such devices. But I do. I can't possibly remember every scene that's ever played through my head, can I, now? Especially when the movie never stops.

4. I never asked anyone to read this stuff, so I make no apologies for what you might find here. Remember only that living and personal growth are dynamic processes, and the best you can hope to glean from these pages is a snapshot of my thoughts, my process, at any given moment. The journal speaks of who I have been, not necessarily who I am.

5. If you're reading this, I'm probably dead.
I wrote this for me. Not you.
You hold my soul in your hands.
Come into my garden and play for a while…
Happy Hunting…

Writing Prompt: If you keep a traditional paper-and-pen journal, chances are that unless you've left explicit "Chuck it All in the Bonfire" instructions to be carried out by someone you trust implicitly, someone is going to get their hands on it after you're gone. What would you want that person to know before they read it?


Wellness Writer said...

What an extraordinary accomplishment! I'm truly awed by the scope of your journaling. And I think it's great that you have such a detailed account of your life! You should take digital photos of all your journals and show that to the class you're teaching! WOW!


Jazz said...

Hey, that's not a bad idea...
It's interesting to go back and look at those journals...what I wrote in sort of tells a story about where I was, too...in high school I swiped notebooks from my mom's school supply cupboard, in college I journaled on legal pads and bound the pages into report covers. In graduate school I used hardcover lab notebooks. Then for about five years I used these really cool notebooks I found at Target...and then I used a series of different ones because I was so annoyed and resentful that Target stopped carrying my beloved notebooks, and I couldn't settle to one that I liked. Now I have a "stash" of my favorites, which I guard jealously from school-supply-seeking children!

Hannah said...

oooh! I have spent ages looking for a new journal and just a few days ago found the perfect one, I'm glad someone else shares these little joyful feelings - I think the woman in the shop thought I'd lost the plot, I was hugging it to me with a huge grin on my face and barely let it go long enough for her to swipe it, refused a bag and ran home with it hugging it to me the whole way!

Jazz said...

Isn't it a great feeling when you find just the right book? I always feel a little flare of excitement and triumph when I find a good one...and then I can't wait to finish the current volume so I can start writing in it!

deepblue said...

I have stuck with the Mead Composition Notebooks (the black and white ones) ever since Middle School (with only a few exceptions). And I get so excited to start a new one! Like you, I've written in over 50 of them since 7th grade and I definitely need to come up with some sort of disclaimer (they end up informally throughout my entries, such as, don't pay much attention to what I'm saying, this isn't really me, just venting,and so on) but I like your idea of a standard "if you should find this" statement to put in each front cover. :)

I would definitely want them to know that there was much more to my life than what I wrote. I tend to focus more on negative things to purge in my journal and, at a time in my life when things were going pretty well, I didn't write nearly as much. Which is kind of sad, if you think about it. I would also want them to remember to be gentle with me and my memories. To forgive my faults. To be sensitive in sharing them. And try to love me despite it all.

Jazz said...

I thought of the disclaimer about eight years ago, did it up on the computer and printed off a load, then taped them into all the old journals...just in case!

I also use my journal to vent, so there is a lot of ranting and raving in there...but my silent periods are usually times when I'm not being true to myself rather than times when things are going well...although when it's smooth sailing it's sometimes hard to come up with things to write. It gets awfully boring writing about how lovely life is and how well-adjusted I am, etc. etc. during those smooth, happy times... fortunately, various family members' antics provide more than enough food for thought most of the time!