a guide to writing
Have you given yourself over to a brand new, never-been-done project? It’s tricky business. A couple of years ago, I decided that I was going to knit a sweater. I could see it in my head, the seafoam green color, the nubby texture. When I told a friend of my intention, she asked if I was an accomplished knitter. “No,” I replied. “I’ve never done it.” She gave me a funny smile. Then she said, “Well, maybe you should start with a scarf.” First I was offended, but then I took her advice and shopped for a pair of needles, an instruction book, and some beautiful skeins of yarn, then went on to knit a series of fabulous scarves, which I then gave away as Christmas gifts. The first ones were something only I would wear, but they got better with time and effort.
Oh, I know what you’re thinking: knitting is not writing. But you know, maybe it is. You start where you start, and each time you do it, it become a bit easier, a little less freakish. Keep at it long enough, you become adept, and your new passion will give you a glow. Look at a hand-knitted sweater closely; it will reveal a story to you. Was the hand that made it loose and confident, or was it tense and fighting the yarn? Knit one, purl two.
There is always a learning curve, whether you’re knitting or writing or making paella. Don’t beat yourself up. Start at the beginning. Make an effort. Take a giant leap of faith. You may not be accomplished in the beginning, but make an honest effort. Become a channel of the spirit of the thing and eventually, with enough practice, your hand will relax and the yarn will flow.
There may be times when you’ll look at your journal and be tempted to pull a string and unravel the whole mess. It isn’t what you thought it would be. The words fall heavily on the page, tight as turds. It isn’t the beautiful creation you intended. But you cannot judge these things. What would a teacher say about your knitting, your journaling? She would be gentle, she would be kind. She would say, “That’s very nice, this here. You see where you did this so beautifully? And here – you can do better than this. Pay attention. Practice.”
At lunch one day, my friend Kate told me that she has kept a journal for twenty years, consistently, except for one year. “What happened,” I asked, curious about that empty year. “I had a room mate,” she replied. “I found out that when I wasn’t home, she ready my journal without my permission.” This was a violation of the worst kind. I sympathized. Journals are not something to share randomly; they are an intensely private affair. Kate’s roommate had found a string, pulled it, and unraveled a precious creation.
In a way, it is easy to understand the temptation of the roommate. There is something pure and delicious and overwhelmingly seductive about the discovery of uncensored thoughts. When we’re small, we’re programmed to not say certain things, not to even think them. So we exile such thoughts to an underground of sorts, in order to gain acceptance from the people who have the power to dole out or withhold love. But the years trickle by and as adults, the thoughts don’t just evaporate, they go underground. Therapy is one route to release them, journaling is another. Journaling can become an outlet for the millions of thoughts jumbled in our heads. We may not wish to acknowledge them, but the thoughts are there nevertheless, and it feels good to get them down on paper. Very good. Soon, if you give yourself permission to get used to creating a personal narrative, journaling become s a delicious habit.
Once you get used to writing in your journal, you may find that you want to keep that sacred text with you at all times. You carry it around in your purse, your bag, your car, the way little grannies carry around their tapestry bag of knitting needles and yarn. When you are waiting on line at the DMV, lunching on a park bench, sitting on a bus; you’ll pull your journal out and look around for a moment and then move the pen across the page, knitting words, narratives, belief, into something lasting. You may even find yourself arriving early to appointments, just to give yourself that space of time to sit quietly, to write.
After Kate and the intrusive roommate were no longer sharing a living space, she began to journal again. You see, the evil roommate couldn’t stop my friend from keeping a journal, for the desire to write was too strong and the satisfaction from having written was too sweet. Now, as if confessing, she tells me that she doesn’t record her thoughts every day, but still, she journals. “Some journals are a single year,” she says. “Some journals contain two years.” She journals for the peace it gives her, the gifts she will one day make of this deep art to her children.
Kate doesn’t journal daily, but she writes often, and keeps her journal on the table beside her bed so that before she sleeps, she can place her thoughts where she can see them, touch them, keep them in a safe place. She, and you, and me, we create something when we journal.
Knit one, purl two.
to be continued. . .