I have been keeping a journal since I was eight years old. Stashed away in closets and baskets are piles of diaries and notebooks that have accumulated over the years as a result of this fetish. It is actually a little embarrassing to have a record of your life (and self-absorption) littered throughout one’s house.
I think writing was something I’ve always enjoyed. My grandfather used to comment on how I’d spend hours writing letters to my folks back home whenever I’d visit during the summer and that they would have to call me to dinner because I’d get so lost in what I was doing. But I know that for me, writing was more than an amusement. It was a life line. I began to write to sort out just what was happening at home.
The diary with the kitty on the cover chronicles my first reflections on my mother’s alcoholism. “My mom was acting strange. Then she got the hiccups bad. I know she was drinking. She poured herself some vodka and the big bottle is almost empty. She buys everything in small quantities but liqor (I didn’t know how to spell the word). When she is drunk she goes off to space. This weekend will be all right but I’m going to have to push those feelings aside and barge down the wall. She is my mother and I must be good to her, but it is hard. I hate it when she sits and stares stupidly. When she drinks, her eyes get foggy.”
I reflect on this because this month I have committed to some serious writing, in which I’m at the computer first thing in the morning before going into work, revisiting a subject I have been writing about since those early years. Piecing together reflections since my mother’s suicide like strands of beads on a string, I find myself exploring the same themes: God, suffering and the longing for connection and peace. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Sometimes I think I write because I’m crazy; other times I write because to not write makes me crazy. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an urgent need to put thoughts and feelings to words. Language for me is the oxygen that keeps alive. I wonder if I write because I was an only child and the paper became a substitute sibling or friend and if now the paper has become a substitute for a spouse. Or if I would keep writing even if I lived in a house filled with a jillion people. I wonder if I spend hours writing crap or if what I’m working on someday will really touch people’s lives.
Regardless, my grandfather was right. I love to write. And sure enough, in the kitty diary I wrote, “I want to be an author so bad. This diary I can tell all my feelings to and can look back and laugh. I know I will write stories about the great life God planned out for me.” That is a little spooky to think that at age eight or nine, I knew myself perhaps better than I do now.
Maybe that is why we write. To make certain we don’t lose ourselves.