Many of my readers will recall that I have been writing in a journal for most of my life. September 5, 2023 marks the 45-year mark. As I thought about this anniversary, I began to think about breaking it up into various periods, a kind of lifelong chronology of my writing.
1978 really was a different time. No internet. No cell phones. No air conditioning in schools (at least not in mine.) The top five television shows were Laverne & Shirley, Three’s Company, Mork & Mindy, Happy Days, and Angie. I watched the first four, but I have no idea what Angie was. We must have liked another show on another network, because I even watched the intro on YouTube, and I’d never seen even a single second of that show.
Anyway, the journal got started as an assignment for English II class in tenth grade. The first thing I wrote was the date on the second line of the first page, “Tuesday, September 5, 1978,” in a handwriting that might best be described as resembling Comic Sans.
So, what might the epochs of Richard’s journal be called? I’ll take a stab at it.
1978-1980: The Innocent Age. This was a time in my life magnified by the drama and innocence of being a mid-teenager, unspoiled by the crush of adulthood, yet with a decidedly distorted perspective about life. I felt emotionally isolated, but also thought it all revolved around me and my feelings.
1980: The First Writing Group. I took a creative writing class in eleventh grade, and decided I was going to be a brilliant novelist before I turned 18. I wrote a lot, but it wasn’t very good. I got my girlfriend and my best friend interested in writing, and they joined in, sometimes giving each other writing assignments or challenges.
1981: The Chatter Box. By this point in my writing, I was doing a daily writing dump. Anything I could think of went on the page, and while it kept me disciplined and literate, it was emotionally empty, often falling back on a sense of humor I culled from M*A*S*H reruns and Peanuts comic strips.
1982-1983: The Dark Age. By the time I was a freshman in college, I thought of myself as a deep thinker, and honestly, I kind of was. I listened to a lot of music with deep lyrics, and cobbled together an elementary philosophy. As a result, there were many nights I didn’t write anything at all in my journal. Two important deaths, both college friends, happened during this period, but I breezed over them in my journal with a kind of arrogant nonchalance.
1984-1985: The Days and Nights of Private Drama. By the time I was 21, in the summer of 1984, I was starting to express real feelings about my life in my journal, including a very powerful sense of loneliness. It was a valid expression, since I was alone in a lot of ways during that period.
1986-1988: The Bridge. I started dating a fellow journalist in the summer of 1986. It started with late night breakfasts and sitting out under the stars on a bridge over an interstate. She and I were both young and not very good at being in relationships, and if I had listened to her, I would have heard she wanted out, and if I listened to myself, I would have heard that I was into someone else more than her. It was a hard breakup, but it needed to happen.
1988-1989: My Time in Exile. I tried to move to another state to be with that girlfriend, but when it didn’t work out, I moved back to Oklahoma. It felt both like I had been exiled, and that I was living in a self-imposed exile.
1990-1991: The Second Writing Group. Three other journalists and I got together every other Friday night to trade short stories and novel chapters. We were all writing well during that period.
1991-1992: The Season of Hollow Soul. I dated a beautiful, young, creative, and at least somewhat troubled fellow journalist during this time. We were only together a few months, but I was really in love. The k. d. lang song Season of Hollow Soul came along just then and became an anthem for our break-up.
1993-1998: I Flew Away. During this period I was flying all the time. Airplanes were cheap to rent, and I had disposable income and spare time. My journal is full of fun entries about flying.
1999-2000: The Third Writing Group, Robert’s Frost. I briefly, and with difficulty, dated an endocrinologist who told me she wrote poems and stories, so we formed a writing club called Robert’s Frost. It was her, me, and four other writers I knew. We all wrote some pretty great stuff for the short time we kept it going.
2003-2004: The High Road. Abby and I met and fell in love, and my journal is all over it. She even wrote a journal for a while. Our first vacation was called The High Road, but that very phrase ended up describing our whole relationship. We got married in October 2004.
2005-2015: Diamond Days. For a while, one of our web pages was called Diamond Days, and was an expression of how happy our lives together were. We loved being married, we loved traveling together, and we loved each other. The journal, and, by then, this blog expressed that without doubt.
2016-2019: The Fourth Writing Group, Open Mic Nyte. I started attending an interesting group in 2016, and open mic venue at a local coffee house. We all read, sang, performed, or showed our art, and it was amazing. I wrote all kinds of great stuff during that great period, and often read passages from the journal itself, and I wrote about the sessions in my journal.
2020-2021: The Isolation Journals. My friend Mackenzee crafted some poems during the early pandemic under the heading of The Isolations Journals, but I like that title enough to steal it. During this period, we all faced the difficulties and missteps of the pandemic, and this period marked a sharp decline in my wife’s health.
September 5, 2023: Abby died in March 2022. The journal has it all there in black and white, but it’s not easy to look at those pages. But I am still writing.
Here is a strange truism about journal writing that has not served us well: I wrote things in my journal in tenth grade that would have gotten me arrested and/or medicated 25 years ago, 15 years ago, or today. If anyone in today’s social network scene posted some of the stuff I wrote back then, the schools would go on instant lockdown.
That seems like a reasonable course of action, but the truth is that has the effect of driving self-expression underground, where it festers and builds instead of being expressed and dealt with, and I wonder if that is a contributor to more violent trends now than in 1978.
And it’s not that I was broken and violent. We all have broken and unsettling thoughts and feelings when we are inundated by the cruelties, and hormones, of teen life, and we can deal with them, or we can bury them.
Finally, today I finished my current journal volume, number 56, and tomorrow will start the next one. Question: what can I do to amp the creativity in the next one?