I have kept a handwritten daily journal for the past 8 years. Most mornings, I rise from disturbed nights with relief, make coffee, and sit at my desk to tame with syntax some frayed and tangled thread that dangles from the chaos of my consciousness. I’m writing in a crisp new black book now; I miss the last one, which was yellow. I shall re-read them all soon, mining for matter, as I impose structure on the memoir I hope to publish. I hope no other eyes will fall upon their pages. I’ve instructed my family to burn them all when I die. They are not meant to be read. Some journals are written for others, like those of May Sarton (whose work I’ve been revisiting), like the many online pandemic journals my friends are publishing now, like this one you’re reading. I’m still unclear about my motives for putting this journal out publicly, but I’m doing it nonetheless. Perhaps a purpose will emerge.
In one of her journals, May Sarton wrote about journaling.
“…it has led me to think a good deal more than I ever have about what keeping a journal is like and what it demands of the writer…There is always the danger of bending over oneself like Narcissus and drowning in self-indulgence. If a journal is to have any value to the writer or any potential reader, the writer must be able to be objective about what he experiences on the pulse. For the whole point of a journal is this seizing events on the wing. Yet the substance will come not from narration but from the examination of experience, and an attempt, at least, to reduce it to essence. Secondly–and this is curious–what delights the reader in a journal is often minute particulars. …A journal has to do with ‘what I am now, at this instant.'”
–May Sarton, from The House by the Sea: A Journal, 1977
She’s right that what delights the reader is often minute particulars. I must work to include those more, for I too often veer toward concept and swerve around the concrete. This morning I keep Sarton in mind. An exercise of sorts, I suppose, of seizing a moment on the wing and reducing it to essence. Let’s see how I do.
Shall I write about freezing the grapes this morning? The juicy burgundy grapes Charlie bought before the isolation and left in Salem, thinking he would return to the house? How I had to tug the fruit from the vine, the wrinkled skins around the joinings strong despite their age? How I remembered packing picked green grapes and peeled, de-seeded oranges in my children’s cartoon lunchboxes long ago because they’d only eat fruit I’d prepared? How I wondered when I’d no longer shop for fruit because the shelves were bare, the growers and pickers and packers and truckers and grocery workers isolating, or ill, or dead? How I put aside some grapes and other fruits bound for salad–chose not to make the salad now–to save an activity Skye and I could do together because last night they said, “Can we do something together tomorrow that’s not watching a movie?”
Or shall I write about last night when we celebrated Mimi’s 87th birthday in a Facetime live event? The family gathered, from Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Ohio, and Idaho? We talked to each other from our little video squares. Becca held up a cupcake with a lit candle, and we sang to Mimi who made a wish. Little Ben blew out the candle and ate the cupcake. His chocolate-smeared face made us all smile. After a little while, Mimi said, “I think we’ve done enough of this, don’t you?” We all laughed, understanding her overwhelm with this new way of being with family, and feeling the same. Shall I write of how sad it felt amidst the celebration?
Skye and I are well into our second week of the physical distancing we hope will prevent us and others from falling ill. I’m missing my solitude, and Skye is missing their friends. We’re filled with fears and questions and concerns, and we’re filled with gratitude too, for so many things. We’re living day-to-day, adjusting and adapting, as best we can, as are all of us. The feel of life has changed. The virus has inserted itself into more than physical bodies that work to survive it. Even if we’re not physically ill, we’re working to survive it too because it has invaded our minds.
I can’t do much more to survive than keep myself physically distant from people while working to stay connected emotionally, to pray in my way to end the suffering that is happening now and ameliorate the suffering that will come, and to continue to weave this new reality in some creative, generative way into the life I have heretofore known. I suppose that last bit reveals the purpose of this pandemic journal.
I leave you with a link to an old recording of Pema Chodron whose wise words about Maitri strike me as evermore important in this moment of crisis, and a simple metta meditation I invite you to practice each day. Maitri/Metta is the cultivation of lovingkindness, for ourselves and for others. May your heart be filled with love.