"Writing itself becomes the subject of the writing course..."

 — Michael Carter       

A View from a Sabbatical

March 3rd, 2015 by

In another blog, I’ve admitted to keeping journals at different periods of my life. I’ve done this to develop as a writer, not so much to record events. My life has not been important enough to record; even so, life is engaging, and writing has been a way of deepening that engagement.

With that said, I recently dug out one of my old journals I kept from 1981 to 1983 because I wanted to retrieve events from a period of my life when nothing seemed certain. I have been spending my sabbatical working on a spiritual memoir of this period, when I was in my 20s. In writing the first drafts, I discovered that I was having trouble remembering conversations, people, and details that would bring things alive a little. In going through my journal of this period, I hoped to find some of that again.

What I found While Looking for Something Else
As I paged through what I had written long ago—what that twenty-something transient chose to note, observe, and reflect on—I found myself wondering what my focus had been. There were conversations I’d gotten down, and these were most valuable. But there were also defensive postures, references to offenses I no longer remember, and a great deal of psycho-babble (at the time, I was considering going for a graduate degree in psychology. My most influential friends at the time did just that). I found myself wishing that this younger self, in the midst of some profundity like “I need to recognize the shadow in my friend for individuation to begin to take place,” had stopped to describe the setting he was in–and describe what he was seeing as shadow in his friend.

There were too many passages where setting and people were taken for granted. The earlier version of me acted as though he were in a Hemingway story, omitting too much (yes, I can refer to my twenty-something self as another character, as a “he”). Too many other passages in the journal speak of “wholeness,” “integration,” or “consciousness,” all from a disembodied somewhere (most likely a Big Boy restaurant).

I found myself wishing I’d written down more of what others were facing, and gotten down more details. I suppose some of the take-away on this for today is that we can do the same thing now, assume that text messaging, for example, will always be around; everything around us will always be here.

What began to emerge in some strong detail was the point of view of this character I was and the characters of one or two other people. I could see how I was a character, facing and avoiding conflicts, limits, and reacting to a lot of fear. I suppose a psychologist might have found my jottings most interesting. At the time, the journal was my place to stop and regroup. None of these occupations from the time are still important, and I find now that I want to ask, “What were you thinking? Where were you? Why didn’t you have more confidence?”

The truth seems to be that I wrote from a set of preoccupations, concerns, and needs that were once consuming but now seem peculiar and obscure. I had no way of knowing that my older self would want me to talk more to and about my sister, before she died during that time, and get her words, her manners, her concerns down instead of recording a passage from a Jungian analyst writing on the shadow or synchronicity.

Today, I’ve noticed that my journal writing has changed. I detail movie titles and things my kids are doing and even trivial conversations, the latter of which I did before. But it seems that most of my journal writing will always partly implicated in the moment of writing; I won’t be thinking about some universal reader somewhere. There is take away in this, of course.

I used to tell people long ago that I would one day look at these writings and see a character in them.

That was prophetic. I just wish I had had the consciousness at the time to capture other characters as well.

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Comment by Lynn Maudlin on April 21, 2015 at 7:05 pm

this is powerful, on many levels. I think how common it is for us to assume the *context* will be remembered, how very much we assume and take for granted–! I often think that, reading the gospels, especially those times when Jesus asks the disciples, “do you understand?” And they nod their heads and say, “oh yeah, yeah, we got it,” and then go off and hope that maybe John can explain it to them, or maybe Nathaniel!! *eye rolling* But it’s so easy to do that ourselves, too.

Comment by Tom on April 21, 2015 at 9:37 pm

I agree. We tend to supply our own contexts to texts written in entirely other contexts than we can fully know or understand.

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