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Posts Tagged ‘value of old journals’

the desert is no lady, C-41 print film, driving across
New Mexico, January 2003, photo © 2003-2009 by
QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 
 

Yesterday our blog friend from Seeded Earth was reading her journal from last October and posting snippets on Twitter. One journal entry caught Liz’s eye:

 

Is a wash different from an arroyo, or a gully, or a gulch? We drove over a wash (looks like a dry creek bed) called Car Wash. Really. True.

The entry reminded Liz of last May when we went to see Patricia Hampl and purchased the book Home Ground – Language for an American Landscape. She tweeted back to Bo that she would look up the words arroyo, gully, gulch and wash.

This morning when I got up, Liz was placing Post-it notes on those sections of the book before driving off to work. Curious, I thumbed through the bookmarks and started reading. Our Word Of The Day multiplied to four. I was so fascinated by the subtle differences that I was inspired to post excerpts from the Home Ground definitions on red Ravine.

 
So is a wash different from an arroyo, or a gully, or a gulch? Before you read the answer, what are your definitions? They are powerful, visual words that might even make good Writing Practices. Write one of the words at the top of your page — 10 minutes, Go!

 
_________________________________________________________________

 

arroyo

The Spanish word arroyo means “large creek.” Often steep-walled, an arroyo may be flat-bottomed sand or laden with boulders and gravel. Arroyuelo and arroyito are the diminutive forms and mean “rill” or “brook.” Arroyos are ephemeral streams, carrying water only briefly during such events as spring runoff of the summer monsoons. In the American Southwest the words arroyo and wash are sometimes used interchangeably, as are arroyo seco (meaning “dry”) and dry wash — though the English terms often describe shorter or abbreviated water courses stretching less than a mile and not necessarily part of a specific arroyo.

 –Arturo Longoria from his home ground, The Texas brushlands, Zapata County, Starr County, Texas

 
 
gulch

In the western United States, gulch is a word for a small ravine. Deeper than a gully, generally narrow and steep sided, shallower than a canyon. Miners often found gold or other minerals concentrated in a gulch’s swash channel. The Blue Cloud Gulch and the Old Dominion Gulch in Montana each yielded gold, silver, and copper for many years. Artifacts of ancient civilizations are also sometimes exposed in a gulch. In Grand Gulch, Utah, for instance, the Anasazi left their mark in red sandstone. In the profusion of gifts offered by gulches, none was more spectacular than the one discovered by a miner in New Mexico in 1987. He saw the tip of tusk in a gulch; the remains were later identified as those of a Columbian mammoth. Public and scientific interest brought about a full excavation of this site, now known as the Dry Gulch Mammoth Site, exposing a grail of bones.

 –Elizabeth Cox from her home ground, Chattanooga, Tennessee

 
 
gully

A channel worn in the earth by a torrent of water carving out a deep ditch is called a gully. Gully erosion happens after a rill, a high-velocity rush of water, has moved large amounts of soil along a depression or drainage line. As water wears away the land, the rill — the geomorphic feature — becomes a gully; cutting farther down, the headlong water makes a gulch, until the cellar doors open into a canyon. Geographers distinguish between gullies, washes, and arroyos on the one hand, and cañadas on the other, according to the materials involved. Cañadas — like cañoncitos — slice through bedrock. Arroyos and washes cut through flat layers of valley deposits; and gullies and gulches erode hill-slope materials.

 –Elizabeth Cox from her home ground, Chattanooga, Tennessee 

 
 
wash

The word wash is used to describe areas where subtle contours allow water to flow, or “wash,” from elevated sites to lower zones, like the bottoms of canyons or along gullies or next to ponds. Carrizo Wash in Arizona and Hunters Wash in New Mexico are examples of washes that run for many miles. A dry streambed or creek is often called a dry wash. In some areas of the American Southwest the words arroyo and arroyo seco are used interchangeably with wash and dry wash. In Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey writes: “Streambeds are usually dry. The dry wash, dry gulch, arroyo seco. Only after a storm do they carry water and then briefly–a few minutes, a couple of hours.”

 –Arturo Longoria from his home ground, The Texas brushlands, Zapata County, Starr County, Texas

 

-partial excerpts from Home Ground — Language for an American Landscape, published by Trinity University Press

 
_______________________________________________________________

 
-For more information on the Home Ground Project or to purchase your copy of Home Ground — Language for an American Landscape, important links can be found in the post and Comment conversation at Home Ground — Back In The Saddle. 

Gratitude to the writers of Home Ground, to Bo from Seeded Earth for asking the question, and to Liz for responding. Together they became the inspiration for this Writing Topic.


-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

-related to post: Midwest Poets & Writers — When Can You Call A Place Home?

 

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Reflection Of Things To Come, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Reflection Of Things To Come, performance & installation art piece, b&w photo from sketchbook & journal, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




Providence
1382, “foresight, prudent anticipation,” from O.Fr. providence (12c.), from L. providentia “foresight, precaution,” from providentem (nom. providens), prp. of providere (see provide). Providence (usually capitalized) “God as beneficient caretaker,” first recorded 1602.




Old Journals

I stumbled on a lost box of old journals in the studio last week. I thumbed through one and tossed it aside. It was half-full of incoherent thoughts. On the cover of another was a painting by the Zen monk, Ryōkan who lived most of his life as a hermit. I remembered the cover, but not what was inside. I had bought the blank journal at Orr Books on one of my monthly trips into Uptown.

I used to spend a whole day walking the pavement, visiting bookstores, buying art materials, taking myself to dinner at The Lotus. Dinner was the icing on the cake — beef lo mein, iced tea, fresh spring rolls, and a smorgasbord of books spread out on the table around me. Delicious.

Orr Books, Borders, and The Lotus are gone. Uptown is a shell of its former self. What used to be trendy has moved on. Or maybe it was me.



Corners, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Corners, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Corners, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



I sat down in my rocking chair and opened the cover of the journal. On the first page was a black and white glossy I’d printed of an art performance collaboration with Jennifer. That was followed by a color drawing of a mandala with Gaelic names and symbols, the Celtic Wheel of Seasons. Samhain (pronounced ‘sɑːwɪn) or Day of the Dead, has morphed into Halloween. It is the beginning of the seasonal calendar, the first High Holiday of the Celtic New Year.

The drawings reminded me of my old sketchbooks from art school. But that was long before. The journal I held in my hands was from the year 2001 — the first year I traveled to Taos, New Mexico to take a weeklong workshop with Natalie Goldberg. I had a corporate job back then, and big dreams. After 9 years, I was working hard emotionally to let myself leave. I wanted to jump off into a life structured around writing and art.

How high was the cliff? I was petrified.



Ryokan By Hand (Calligraphy), Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Ryokan By Hand (Calligraphy), Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Ryokan By Hand (Calligraphy), Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




Providence

The effort came in learning how to get out of my own way; I used every tool, rope, and carabiner in my arsenal. The Universe seemed to conspire in my favor. After two years of self-imposed isolation, I drove 1200 miles to Montana and hung out with my old friends in the Bitterroot Mountains for a week. I was in a gay bowling league in Minneapolis that year and met tons of new friends.

The last night of the Strike Pool, my name was called. All I had to do was bowl a strike on the spot, and I would win the kitty. Every eye in the place was on me.

Something must have guided my wrist. The pins fell in slow motion like the parting of the Red Sea. I left with pockets stuffed — over a thousand dollars in $1’s, $10’s, $20’s, and $5’s; a buff friend walked me to my car. The next day, I went down to the bank and exchanged the stack of green for a money order made out to the Mabel Dodge Luhan House. That’s the only way I could afford to go on my first writing retreat sitting under Taos Mountain.



Journal Entry -  Thoreau, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Journal Entry -  Thoreau, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Journal Entry -  Thoreau, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



There were other things in the journal/sketchbook that reminded me of how hard I worked back then, how hungry I was, how much I wanted to live an abundant life around writing and art. I became fearless and put myself out there in strange and unusual ways. There were four pages on the stages of Alchemy, drawings from Prima Materia to Solutio, starting at the Full Moon on 5/7/1.

On a page marked June 9th was a Medicine Shield, I think it was a Butterfly spread. There was a page of drawings on the Ancient Tree Alphabet and its relationship to the Runes. “What Is community?” was written at the top of another page, followed by writing exploration, ideas, and meanderings.

I had forgotten I had taken an Enneagram workshop that year (the Ego forms around 1 of 9 enneagrams). There are positive aspects to each identity, but the False Cores of the Enneagram are harmful, learned belief systems, Monkey Mind mantras, that when studied, help answer the question of why we feel separate and alone, rather than part of a larger whole.

With Providence we are aligned with the Universe; whereas the separation of Ego causes us anxiety, insecurity, and pain. The Enneagram types and False Cores were listed in the journal this order (turns out I’m a Four) with notes that followed on ways to turn the tide:


  1. Perfectionist – False Core: Something is wrong with me
  2. Helper – False Core: I am worthless
  3. Performer – False Core: I have an inability to do
  4. Romantic – False Core: I am inadequate
  5. Observer – False Core: I am nothing; I don’t exist
  6. Loyalist – False Core: I am alone
  7. Epicure – False Core: I am incomplete
  8. Boss – False Core: I am powerless
  9. Mediator – False Core: I am loveless




Wilderness & Thoreau

My favorite journal spread was a rough drawing of 10 Mile Canyon in the Pintler Mountains of Montana. I had taken a once-in-a-lifetime pack trip with a friend, 2 dogs, and 4 llamas that we carted in the back of her Toyota pickup. I had never saddled a llama before or even been that close to one. Their names were underlined in my journal with the following notes:

  • Crow – for the Crow Reservation where she adopted him, part coyote, she called him “Crazy Indian Dog”
  • Camas – from the purple flower, like a gentle lap dog
  • Rumpel – Stiltskin – The King, The Old Man – he was 15 years old and all white
  • Chaco – for Chaco Canyon in New Mexico – he was feisty and black
  • Willie – the friendliest, roams free, he was brown, she called him William III
  • 10-Mile – for 10 Mile Canyon – the lead and the youngest with a white stripe, very stubborn


I never would have remembered these details without writing them in my journal by the fire (it reminds me why it’s important for a writer to take good notes):

The glacial Montana lakes we passed that trip were not named. There was a Snow Cave at 9000 feet. We saw a pair of migrating Sandhill Cranes on the hike in. Llamas do spit but it’s okay; it’s only cud, regurgitated grass or hay. And they only spit if they are irritated. The moon rose on Friday, July 5th, 2001 at 11:45, one day past full. The wind was constant, keeping the mosquitoes away. Until later that night, when the tent zipper broke and we spent the buzzing night with our heads covered.


The journal was so alive. Did I really go on a llama pack trip in the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness? Drive twice cross-country by myself, join a bowling league, win $1000 on a single strike, attend a writing retreat on the edge of Taos desert with 48 complete strangers, all in one year? When did I stop sketching and drawing? Have I become complacent? Lazy?



Journal Entry -  Thoreau, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Ryokan By Hand (Calligraphy), Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Ryokan Journal, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Corners, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



I don’t know if I’m supposed to be laying low, slipping inside like the turtle way I feel. Or force myself to get back out there, take the next step, walk hard in the world again. It’s alright to rest, reflect, fill the well. But that journal woke me up — nothing comes easy. Nothing comes without hard work and risk. In 2001 I was working my ass off. The Universe lined up beside and behind me, nudging me along.

It’s kind of like those few lines from Natalie about the angels cheering her on. Or the way W. H. Murray and Goethe write of Providence. Or these lines in scratchy block print from the first few pages of my journal, penned by Henry David Thoreau:


I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be explained, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.

In proportion, as he simplifies his life the laws of the Universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854

Journal/Sketchbook Entry, March 18th, 2001
Near the Spring Equinox
Time of Crane Migration Through Nebraska




Providence Revisited

Do you believe in Providence? Not magic or miracles. But that if you make positive effort with Great Determination, the Earth and Sky, a Higher Power, will help you along? Do you believe in Fate? Or do you call it Faith?

Providence extends to the neighborhood, the state, the region, the country, the world. If the time is right, the old systems will crash to the ground, making way for the new. The right person will come into power, into the place they need to be. Change is not always positive. But it may be necessary.

Providence – is it fate or faith? Neither or both? Usually when it’s time to move on, challenging personal opportunities present themselves. Do we bite? Show a willingness to sink into the gristle? Or ignore the signs and keep living the status quo. Every day, we are presented with the chance to make a new choice.

If we’ve built castles in the air, then those are our dreams. The time is not lost. With effort, and practice, structure creates a solid foundation. What once seemed impossible is now routine. Am I living old dreams? Maybe it’s time to replace them with something new.



Journal Entry -  Thoreau, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Ryokan By Hand (Calligraphy), Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Ryokan Journal, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Corners, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Journal Entry – Thoreau, Ryōkan By Hand, Ryōkan Journal, Corners, from 2001 sketchbook & journal, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, all photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, October 16th, 2008

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I made a list of all the jobs I’ve loved before…who’ve traveled in and out my door…um, I mean, all the jobs in my life, which is the first step in this week’s topic post (Job! What Job?). I thought I had a lot more jobs than this. I guess I’m more stable than I care to admit.

July 13, 1974 summer diary, all rights reserved, ybonesy 20071. Babysitter: Starting at about age 13. From my Summer Diary of 1974, a few excerpts on babysitting: 

  • June 7: Dear Diary, Well, school’s out. I’m glad. I got st. A’s. Gonna babysit tonight. After school we went to Alvarado. I got my yearbook signed some more. Lisa wrote me today. I babysat the H.’s. I made $2.50. I went at 7:30 and came back about 11:45. Got to go. Bye.
  • June 10: Dear Diary, Well, I went to swimming lessons. My instructors name is Mark. We mostly just got organized. We did do some of the back float and front float. At first it was scary but it was fun too. I babysat A. and A. Got $2.25.
  • June 14: Dear Diary: Today in swimming lessons I got to dive. Michelle didn’t go. The Brody’s moved today. I babysat the B. kids from 2:00 to 12:00. Boy, were they BRATS!!! Bye.
  • June 18: Dear Diary: In swimming lessons we dived some more. Not off the high board! Mark says that this guy is a baby! He is! I like Mark. He’s nice! Also funny! I forgot to tell you yesterday but my guppy died. I babysat the B. kids. They weren’t real brats. I met their reletives. Boy, some more weirdos. Now I have about $25.00. Bye!

2. Dentist Office File Clerk: The next summer, age 14, I went to work with my sister at a dentist’s office. We drove in her brand new red MG convertible. I filed all day long while she worked the reception desk. It was the most boring job ever. After the first day of standing in front of the giant set of file cabinets pulling out identical manila folders and filing dental x-rays and insurance papers, I knew I never wanted to have anything to do with teeth again.

3. Retail clerk, Hallmark shop, age 15, where I stole something almost every day. I think the owner was on to me.

4. Banquet waitress, Albuquerque Convention Center, age 17. Got fired, along with all my friends, the night after we dropped water on debutantes and their escorts and essentially did a lousy job working the Senorita Ball

5. Hostess, age 17-18, at a restaurant housed in an old haunted building. I got to drink in the saloon after work each night even though I was under-aged.

6. Picture framer, age 19, for two different frame shops. From the second one I quit and got fired in the same instant. Good news is I can cut my own mats, and if I had the equipment, I could do my own framing. Given the cost of framing today, I ought to splurge and buy myself the tools.

7. Researcher for the Vargas Project, age 20ish. Beautiful flourishy hand-writing of the Spaniards who entered New Mexico. Otherwise showed me that I wanted nothing to do ever again with historical research.

8. Waitress for a university-area restaurant, early 20s. I never wanted to go back to waitressing, but then I discovered I needed tips to survive.

9. Account Executive for a Santa Fe advertising agency, mid 20s. Learned it’s all about image. Also learned I’m not.

10. A bum in Spain.

11. Research Assistant for a handsome Brazilian graduate professor who unlike other professors didn’t even make me grade papers (and I didn’t even sleep with him! He was just a nice guy.). I guess I was lateish 20s.

12. Program manager for a university program that did internet publishing related to Latin America. This was a cool job–got to travel all over Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean. Went to Cuba. Salary sucked. Started at age 29, quit at 35.

13. Internet trainer. Attempt to supplement my university salary. The role took me to Mexico a bunch of times. I learned how to say “mouse” and “click” and “ftp” and “telnet” and all sorts of early-internet words in Spanish.

14. Corporate sell-out, age 35. By then primary breadwinner for my family. I’ve had about six or seven different jobs in my almost eleven years with the company.

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I was going through an old writing notebook I filled in Taos last year, when I ran across some notes I had jotted down on Nikki Giovanni and James Baldwin. It’s good to re-read writing practice notebooks. Sometimes there are helpful quotes, raw images, inspirational lines to be plucked from the pages of wild mind.

We read Another Country and Giovanni’s Room for the Intensive and I’d checked out a bunch of library books on Baldwin. One was called A Dialogue: James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni (1973), published by J.B. Lippincott.

I remember thinking the generational differences between Baldwin and Giovanni would add a richness to their dialogue. It was true. At the time, Baldwin was 49 and Giovanni was 30.

On February 28th, 2007, Nikki Giovanni spoke On Poetry and Truth in the Ted Mann Theater at the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus. The talk ran on PBS the first week of April and Liz taped it for me. But I didn’t get a chance to watch it until after the closing at the Virginia Tech Convocation. I was riveted to the screen.

She started out talking about how her dog, her mom, her sister, Rosa Parks, and her aunt had all died unexpectedly within a year period in 2005; she started out talking about grief and loss. Then she went on to discuss in great detail, the children’s book she wrote about Rosa Parks, titled Rosa.

She considered the book carefully and wrote with historical precision, considering every detail. That’s the hallmark of a good writer. I could see that writing the book had helped transform her grief.

I wish I would have had a chance to see Giovanni and Baldwin dialogue. They are two writers who have a startling honesty and unwavering passion for what they believe in. Speaking strictly for myself, I am completely inspired by both of them. After hearing an archived Baldwin interview, or listening to Giovanni speak, I want to run out and write my next book.

In Taos last August, I shared some of the Baldwin and Giovanni dialogue with the writers in the Intensive. Some found it inspiring. I thought it might be good to capture here the parts on Truth and Love. You can also still buy the book.

It seems like famous writers and artists used to publically dialogue with each other more regularly than they do today. Maybe it’s my imagination. But I’m hungry to hear gifted writers speak about their work and have frank conversations with one another about the issues of the day.

And while they are at it, I’d like to give them a go at world peace or global warming. It wouldn’t be the first time creative intellectuals debated the truth – and came to a place of compromise and love.


A Dialogue: James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni (1973)
excerpt, p. 78 – p. 82 – On Truth

Giovanni: Exactly. And I’m talking about Chester’s [Himes] pursuit of truth. Because Richard Wright died, or was murdered, before he quit pursuing the truth.

Baldwin:  That’s right.

Giovanni: But Chester could say, Okay, I will pursue truth in this way, which looks a little better, so that you can make a movie out of it if you want to and it’ll still be true. And then takes it right to Blind Man with a Pistol.

Baldwin:  But, sweetheart, it’s the same thing we were doing on the plantation when they thought we were singing “Steal Away to Jesus” and I was telling you it’s time to split.

Giovanni:  But why do we –

Baldwin: Steal away, steal away –

Giovanni:  Why do we, as black writers, seem to be so hung up on the truth?

Baldwin:  Because the responsibility of a writer is to excavate the experience of the people who produced him. The act of writing is the intention of it; the root of its liberation. Look, this is why no tyrant in history was able to read but every single one of them burned the books. That is why no one yet really believes there is such a thing as a black writer. A black writer is still a freak, a dancing doll. We don’t yet exist in the imagination of this century, and we cannot afford to play games; there’s too much at stake.


A Dialogue: James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni (1973)
excerpt, p. 92 – p. 95 – On Love

Giovanni:  People really feel the need to feel better than somebody, don’t they?

Baldwin:  I don’t know why, but they do. Being in competition with somebody is something I never understood. In my own life, I’ve been in competition with me.

Giovanni:  Which is enough.

Baldwin:  Enough? It’s overwhelming. Enough?

Giovanni:  Just by fooling yourself –

Baldwin:  That’ll keep you busy, and it’s very good for the figure.

Giovanni:  It makes you happy, you know.

Baldwin:  Well, it means that in any case you can walk into a room and talk to somebody, look them in the eye. And if I love you, I can say it. I’ve only got one life and I’m going to live my life, you know, in the sight of God and all his children.

Giovanni: Maybe it’s parochial, narrow-minded, bullheaded, but it takes up so much energy just to keep yourself happy.

Baldwin:  It isn’t even a question of keeping yourself happy. It’s a question of keeping yourself in some kind of clear relationship, more or less, to the force which feeds you. Some days you’re happy, some days you ain’t. But somehow we have to deal with that on the simplest level. Bear in mind that this person facing you is a person like you. They’re going to go home and do whatever they do just like you. They’re as alone as you are.

Giovanni:  Because that becomes a responsibility, doesn’t it?

Baldwin:  Well, it’s called love, you know.

Giovanni:  We agree. Love is a tremendous responsibility.

Baldwin:  It’s the only one to take, there isn’t any other.

Giovanni:  I agree and it’s awful; we’re supposed to be arguing.

Baldwin:  And we blew this gig.

Giovanni:  Goofed again. I think love is an answer but you have to be logical about it, you know.

Baldwin:  You say logical or rational and I say clear, but it becomes the same thing. You can’t be romantic about it.

Giovanni:  No, you can’t be romantic about love.

Baldwin:  That’s all, you know.

Giovanni: I think we’re in agreement.

Baldwin: You think we are?

Giovanni: Yeah.

Baldwin:  You asked the loaded question.

Giovanni:  I asked the loaded question?

Baldwin:  You did. You did ask the loaded question. But it’s all right, because we’re home free.


-posted on red Ravine, Monday, May 14th, 2007

-related to post: Nikki Giovanni – Hope at V-Tech

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Detail from ybonesy’s journal, 2007




I’ve been wanting to do a post on the power of journals for some time now, ever since I read this article in the May/June issue of Poets & Writers. It’s about Brian Singer’s 1000 Journals Project. Here’s the gist: one thousand journals are sent into the world. Some are sent to friends. Others are left in public places. The journals land in the hands of artists and writers and average Joes; they’re filled and when they’re complete and available for viewing, we discover each page in each journal is a piece of art. Collaborative art.

Bald Tuesday, from ybonesy’s writing journal, 2007I love this idea that people are making art separately and together out of something they find. What I love even more is that it’s something as ordinary as a journal. Nothing to fret about. No worries about perfection. It’s a page in a notebook. After you paint on one page, there are a whole bunch of pages left just waiting for you to take your pen and scribble. Doodle. Do whatever you want. And when that page is done, there’s another, then another.

This idea of “journal as art gallery” is enticing because it is so impermanent. Nothing to be framed and hung. Nothing to publish or sell. Always another page, and every page your own.

During a year-long writing intensive with writer and teacher Natalie Goldberg, I kept a journal to track my daily practice. All of us in the intensive did. Days we practiced—writing, sitting, or walking—we noted what we did and for how many minutes. We also recorded days we skipped.

Skipped Wed from ybonesy’s writing journal, 2007I loved the journal part of our commitment to the intensive. I liked picking out my book. I settled on something mid-size and thick yet flexible, with a bright red vinyl cover. The pages were graph paper. For me the journal signified witness–witness to the fact that I showed up. It added structure to what was already a year of discipline.

Something broke free in that structure. I suddenly found myself doodling like I did when I was younger. I’d open my journal while at work sitting in a meeting and I’d draw the fellow giving a presentation, or I’d draw my hand. I got into inking typefaces, serif and san serif. Flowing, flowery cursive. Tight, narrow lettering.

I played with the headers for each day of the week. Sometimes I stamped them out with alphabet stamps I bought for the girls at a paper store. Or I wrote the days in a loose freehand.

I threw in color. Some days if I went somewhere interesting, like the time I took Dee and Em to see the Mexican Modern exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe, I included a memento. The journal reminded me to be present, and any time I was cognizant of this effort to be present, I documented it as practice.

Another page from ybonesy’s journal, 2007Once the intensive was over I stopped keeping track of my writing. I stopped recording my creative process. I still have my journal. I still have notebooks for my writing, and I have a painting notebook as well. I haven’t stopped writing or painting or doodling, although I have lost the structure. I’d like to get back into recording my practice, maybe once I settle into the new house. Once my life becomes sane again.

I’m struck by how for me the journal became a creative medium in and of itself more than simply a record of my work. It was like verb and noun all rolled into one.

I’ll let you know when I get back into it. Maybe we can start it up together. In the mean time, if you have a chance to keep a journal—a hard-bound book in which you draw, paint, make collage, and write—give it a try. Make it be about more than just the journal itself. Log your progress toward practicing your art. I think you’ll enjoy the process.

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