Blue Turtle Crossing, Everyday Life, Five Rules - Writing Life, Friends, Journaling, Letters To A Young Poet, Marilynne Robinson, Rainer Maria Rilke, Soul Care, Writing
I keep a journal near at all times. It’s nothing fancy, just a common composition book sold by most discount department stores.
To be sure, beautiful journals are a treasure though I find them a bit intimidating. I pick one up and feel I’ve nothing worth recording on its gilt-edged pages; but give me a humble notebook to mumble through, and I can write about anything and everything without a care of what it looks like or how it sounds. At best, it’s a rough diamond that may someday be taken out and polished for a wider audience. At worse, it’s just a bit of writing practice.
Whether its people or journals, it’s what inside that counts; isn’t that how the old expression goes?
My journal is my camera for the world, my way to capture and collect memories, pieces of life that I don’t want to forget. I tote it around to record life and as I do, it gives me life; where once I had little to say beyond my small introvert world, my filled pages grant me voice, a way to interact with my larger world.
In a similar way, my gal-pal Colleen always has her camera handy. To observe Colleen record life with her camera is art itself. Instinctively, almost effortlessly, Colleen positions her camera in front of her eye and as natural as breathing, she captures a series of photos. Years of practice have refined Colleen’s eye; even after countless photos, my friend cannot resist a beautiful sunset. Colleen’s careful discerning eye sees each one as unique. And why resist the call to create and share beauty? Colleen doesn’t. Every time she publishes her work at Blue Turtle Crossing, she pays homage to God and humbly invites us into her light-washed world.
Of course, no matter how practiced we become with our tools of creation, we can never quite capture the memory we are trying to preserve. The act of preservation shrinks the memory into manageable portions. It may be a gorgeous photo or a lovely line of words, but it’s just a small bite of the life we’ve experienced. Yet, somehow it doesn’t matter. We are drawn to express the inexpressible,whether our expression is in words that cast images or in images that speak words. We know no other way.
I had the opportunity to hear Marilynne Robinson — the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Gilead — lecture on the practice of writing. In my journal, under the date October 5, 2007, are these five rules for a writing life that I scribbled down as Ms. Robinson was speaking:1. Write the book you want to read. 2. Trust and respect the reader. 3. Descend into self to write — discover your primary self – the beautiful, the true; it’s preparation for writing words worth saying. 4. We know what we are by what we do. 5. Fiction is true.
I don’t know whether I will ever write a novel. I don’t feel a novel ‘in me’ at the moment. But I do my best to observe Rule #2; and Rule #3 is a work in process, what my life has been about for the last 15 months. Robinson’s last two rules require no commentary.
Ultimately, while writing begins from within, the outside counts too, of course. Take care of the tree — make it good –and good fruit will naturally follow. Or to quote the Master Teacher himself, “every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.” One way I try to care for my self is to surround myself with beautiful words.
This morning, while responding to a comment left by one who writes beautiful words herself, I found myself thinking of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters To A Young Poet. A gift from my spiritual director when I was stymied in my writing, I found this book of letters — now more than a century old — incredibly helpful. In his first letter to the young poet, Rilke wastes no time in getting to the heart of the writing life:
“Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write, find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you should have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all — ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write?” Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if it should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple “I must”, then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.”
I keep my journal near because I must. The cheap cardboard outside cradles my inner lines to life itself. At times, it may even produce an occasional good fruit.
Thank you, Janell…. your beautiful words touch my heart, ever so gently. I feel the camera as an extension of my own eye… Sunsets have always been such a spiritual thing for me, as if God is looking down and bidding us good night on his canvas of the sky. I feel blessed being able to express myself through my photography and poetry. They are as much a part of me as your journal is to you! xoxo
You’ve been in and out of my mind since Dianne’s visit last weekend. If you found the words beautiful, I am glad. But words fail me mightily whenever they approach the brink of eternity. They fall flat like shadows in expressing the beauty of a person’s soul. Like yours. And our circle of friends – Donna, Dianne & Joni…
Keep on noveling. I’m so proud of you. Maybe next year, I’ll join the adventure.
Love — Janell
Harried Mystic said:
Janell, i appreciate your beautiful words and I also agree about the importance of keeping a journal nearby. I have a lot of empty ones and they are empty because the binding is attractive and, as you say, to write in them is intimidating. Instead, I journal now via blogging and that seems to be working well along with an inexpensive notebook to catch things as they occur to me. You are a welcome voice and I’m glad to have found you. All the best.
The title of your home in the blogging sphere makes me smile.
Harried Mystic — your chosen name has a tension about it that expresses the truth of life itself — we hurry and we wait, we pray and we curse, we sneak through red traffic lights in cars that wear bumper stickers pronouncing that “God is my co-pilot.” My daily prayer should be: “Lord have mercy. Help me not embarass you too terribly much.”
Yet, our human experience is rich and beautiful as well as full of tension that requires us to stretch. And that’s why I began my blog last January.
I’m glad you found me too. I look forward to visiting your space. Now. In a flurry of a hurry now.
I know I feel the same sometimes about beautiful journals but I bought myself one at Christmas with a red leather cover with a pattern of Mayan hands on it, to use for recording JUST the good and positive things. I have piles of journals for different things; one by my bed for dreams, one in my dogwalking rucksack for anything I think of while out, one for stories/ideas, one for poems, a general one I carry while travelling for my job(i write at airports, stations, anywhere while waiting for students to arrive but I can’t write on coaches or I get sick!). I feel insecure if I don’t have a journal or notebook with me.
I found those writing rules the ones I write by, instinctively. It was good to see them here and thank you for sharing them,
I like the thought that you keep a beautiful journal for “JUST” the good thoughts.
You sound so much more organized then me. If I could do what you do — poetry in one place, life notes in another, etc., the words I’ve written may be a little easier to find. But I I fear it would play out in the exact opposite fashion in my life. If I kept more than one journal going at a time, it would be like looking for that proveribal needle in the haystack — or like when I look for that wonderful recipe I made once (many moons ago) and wonder which one of my too many cookbooks holds that treasure?
Viv, I’m glad you stopped by. I look forward to future visits, here and there.
Peace to you.
I’m not organised generally but oddly enough I am when it comes to where and what I write. I do occasionally misplace a notebook but they turn up very shortly. I think I do it this way because it’s somehow more inspiring to have a dedicated book for different things, though the one in my usual handbag gets just about everything from random thoughts, the telephone numbers of colleagues, recommended books, and so on. I tend to then transcribe things I need elsewhere to the right book later.
I have one thick faux suede journal that is intended as a brain dump type of journal that I sincerely hope NO-ONE ever actually tries to read when I am gone, because it is so full of negativity and hatred and so on. I don’t use it daily or even weekly or monthly any more, but it’s there for just getting stuff out of my head and safely contained. It’s almost like the confessional but without the ritual and the condemnation; you pour it out and it’s gone…
Your purse journal sounds just like my lonely only journal. When I transcribe (& usually translate) from paper to something more formal, it usually lands here, though sometimes a contemplative prayer practice.
I had a good friend who did something akin to your suede journal practice. She would write out her anger on some loose-leaf pages and keep them in her journal until the angst from that particular event had left her life. And symbolically, she would lift the loose pages out of her journal, tear them up, and throw them all away.
Whatever demons I chase (or that chase me) end up in my cardboard purse journal. Pity the person who ever enters their cardboard containment. But I agree; it does help release my sleep-robbing thoughts to words — as I’ve witten here before — to write out a disturbing thought is to say to it: “Now stop your whining.”
Surely discipline is next to Godliness in organization.
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