Every morning, after rising and making coffee, I sit on my couch with a 6" x 8" spiral notebook and a Pilot Razor Point Extra Fine pen. For at least a half hour, I record a diary of what I did the day before, dreams and nightmares, wounds and applause, plus tasks due that day. As of this writing, I'm up to page 10,380.
While that number may sound impressive, it doesn't travel far enough back. I wish the innocent little girl I once was would've grabbed pen and paper as soon as she learned to print. If I had started then, writing my memoir, "The Division Street Princess," might have required less tunneling. To fill in, I had to rely on microfiche pages of Chicago newspapers, tales told by relatives, memories that had been bolted to my brain, and my imagination.
For my second book, a slight e-novel called "She's Not The Type," I had some journal pages, but not the guts. The first half of that book is a roman e clef, somewhat based on my first marriage -- our secret romance, wedding, birth and upbringing of two daughters, and our eventual somber divorce after 30 years. The second half is pure fiction -- a wistful dream where the protagonist becomes a journalist and her mother, rather than dying young while in a pathetic second marriage, moves to Hawaii and finds true love.
In this current period of my life, with my morning journaling as sacred as a religious rite, I also read a page taken from past years. I do this because I want to learn my patterns -- worries that never came to pass, prophetic musings, and other buried gold.
Recently, I've been in 2012, reliving my husband Tommy's last weeks. Although my heart beats as I read about the emergency room visit when he became dehydrated, the astonishing discovery that it was throat cancer rather than dementia blocking his ability to swallow, ten harrowing days at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and twelve at home in hospice, the most surprising take-away was my eerie calm.
When I discussed this odd composure with others who had experienced similar journeys, one friend said, "You did what you had to do." I'll accept that, but I have another theory: Because of my daily journaling and the The Rookie Caregiver blog I was writing at the time, I had been able to release most of the shadows, fear, and grief.
Remarkably, on the entry I wrote November 4, 2012, just two days after Tommy died, I wrote: Plan to start post for TRC about his death. Then, keep up until I have enough pages for a book. After that, get a fee for editing and self-publishing, do a cloud fundraising, and try to get book completed by May 2013. Goal.
I'm a year late, but thanks to 112 backers on a Kickstarter campaign, it is happening. She Writes Press will publish "Green Nails and Other Acts of Rebellion: Life After Loss" September 2014.
It turns out it's not only starry-eyed goals that plump my journals, but other musings that bear repeating. On November 9, 2012, one week after Tommy's death, I wrote: Bank turned me down for a Home Equity Line of Credit, not enough income. Not surprised. Think I will eventually sell as house is way too big for one person & do I want hassle of roommates or borders? May be better for me to rent new apt. that can make my life easier and not have to depend on others. All options open.
Those words turned into several posts on The Rookie Widow - a prophecy that took less time to accomplish than my third book. In a little over five months, I was settled into my new River North apartment.
Because I'm tech savvy, it's surprising I've resisted typing my daily words into a computer. But for me, there's something about pen and paper that better stirs my brain and soul. I'm grateful to journaling for buffing my writing voice, while also serving as memory chip, repository, therapist, best friend, cheerleader, and crystal ball. And coupled with that first cup of coffee in the morning -- for this writer, it has been the most nourishing way to start a new day.