I am re-reading a book I picked up at a library sale a few years ago.  It’s called Death and the Creative Life, by Lisl M. Goodman, Ph.D.  I find it fascinating.  It interviews artists and scientists and tries to discover their views on death and living.  I have underlined it, made little notes from it, and tried to alter my view of things a bit with its guidance.

One of the prevailing themes of those who seemed the most prepared for death, the most balanced about it, and the most fulfilled altogether, were those who are future oriented.  Instead of dwelling on the past, they had their eyes straining forward onto the next goal or passion.  This is not always my natural tendency, so I paid attention.  And interestingly enough, this theme kept nagging at me about a particular stash I had hidden away.

My people are journalers.  I come from a long line of writers of personal history—pioneers, gold prospectors, ranchers—who picked up the pen and wrote of their daily goings-on for posterity.  I wrote from an early age: what I was doing, and thinking, and feeling.  I wrote poetry in steno notebooks, my secret life in wire-edged binders labeled “German” or “English 101” to throw off nosey family members. I wrote to get things out of my head.  I wrote to aid me at being a better mother.  (Who else would I listen to better than fifteen year old me?)  I later chose not to be a mother, and their purpose became less and less important.  They sat in a box in my closet. 

Actually, they glared at me from a box in my closet, that I would see gathering my art materials in my studio.  I always felt some nagging sense of dread? fear? of those notebooks being revealed if I died suddenly—I had even given my sister directions to ferret them away.  Because I knew that in them lay a lot of temporary feelings and thoughts that were long gone to me, but would be very painful and forever to someone else who read them.  A fight recorded by a fifteen year old with a fifteen year olds’ perspective.  Clumsy bruises of the married-too-young, and the growing pains that eventually followed, as we matured together.  Embarrassing things.  Sad things.  Frightening things.  Things that bared myself and others in light that only the intimately invited should see.  I was exposing all in my own handwriting, without limit, without control. 

And sumultaneously knowing that the relationships I was discussing in them are now the best they have ever been.  Today-wounds are brought into the light and treated.  Today-misunderstandings are voiced and repaired.  Today-moments, good ones, are announced and shared.  Today-communication is real communication that I am grateful for and guard carefully.  These notebooks could someday undo all of that, without my permission, and with no good end.

This book gave me the push I needed to go through them. 

I read with some ground rules—no picking up hurts and grudges I had forgotten.  The dead stay dead.  I knew that in these pages lay exhibits A, B, C and so forth of every poorly chosen word, every crushing disappointment, every bull-dozed emotion I had ever encountered.  And I read with a different filter:  I viewed my parents, siblings, husband, and others I interacted with as people, people with a past and their own wounds and hang-ups and misunderstandings and distractions.  I tried to view myself with the same grace and softness.

 These were good rules.  They let me fill in the pieces between the words; help me round out the story in ways I couldn’t have seen then.  It was an eye-opening exercise.  Valuable.  Instructive.

And I didn’t destroy indiscriminately.  There is now a decent sized pile that I will eventually type and store away of good things, important things, worthy to cherish things.  I got rid of a lot of bad poetry, a lot of nursing of wounds, a lot of venting, and more score-keeping than I care to admit.

Then I examined how I felt, looking at that pile that was evidence of my life.  It was puzzling at first, like I had released an anchor and I was drifting away from who I was.  But that didn’t last long—in fact, it quickly went from negative to positive: the feeling of being unanchored to being untethered.  Released.   There is something freeing about an unrecorded history that I hadn’t expected—a lightening up that comes from mistakes undocumented.  I have spent time repairing wounds I have made to others—tracking them down, even; so it isn’t as if I am burying things under imaginary rugs.  It isn’t that.  But I hold myself to the fire over those mistakes nonetheless.  No more.  This is a symbolic gesture of finality, a line in the sand that has been helping me forgive myself.  And those who travelled down those roads in tandem.  Because quite a few of the mistakes shredded in that bin weren’t mine.  They were the recordings of the missteps of others, usually when they were stepping on me. 

In a way, it felt like the releasing of hostages.  The wrongs are no longer recorded.  They are truly let go. 

My life isn’t truly unrecorded–I’m picking up a simpler form of scrapbooking to hold onto the images that shape my world, and to document my experiences. 

I will still write—still do write.  I think it is a valuable exercise, and does what it these journals did for me all those years ago.  But I will probably do this same purge at the end of each book—save the good, look for patterns to learn from, discard the temporary venting and wailings that I do in order to get past things.  

And I will still share with you some of the things that I learn.


~ by collidescopes on July 10, 2011.

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