The films we saw this past weekend made me think about my own creative process, and the intersection between my life and my art. My journals have long been the site of that confluence. Writing, like exercise, is best practiced on a regular basis.
Keeping a journal for so many years (stretching back to fourth grade) got me into the habit of writing daily. Some days, I was more creative than others, although most often, my journal entries chronicled the daily events of my life.
Through journals, I've trained my observation skills, learned to pay attention to detail and to recall those details later. Some of this comes from mental rehearsal of things like names, while sometimes I remember things visually. For example, if I'm in a new place, I might look around me and take a mental inventory of what I see, so that I can recall it later. In much the same way, I pay attention to what people say. A key gesture or the look on someone's face might be the trigger for recalling an entire conversation.
(Of course, I'm not as good with remembering things I don't strive to remember, so that I tend to forget entire plots of books and movies, though I might remember the emotional feel of the work or a few scenes.)
For a couple years, while living with the dreadful Leechboy, I kept two journals. I knew that he snooped in my personal writings, because once he announced, matter-of-fact, that I'd gotten some detail of a shared event wrong. Ever after that, I kept one journal that he could read, and another, more radical version on a floppy disk, labeled with a bland name, which I carried in my backpack.
Shortly after leaving him, I gave up my daily journal, convinced that it had become a daily obsession, taking up time I should be spending writing other things. This period, which lasted about eight years, marked the darkest, depression-laced nadir of my life. In that time, I met, married and divorced my first husband and fell into a diseased relationship with The Luser.
Even in those years, I made sporadic entries in available notebooks, and I've gathered those entries in the storage container where I keep all my paper journals. Even though I'd ceased writing on a regular basis, I was amazed by how many entries I'd written.
This morning, by the way, I had an interesting dream. I was walking to the Kern Graduate Student Union Building on the Penn State campus and saw a Golden Retriever tied up outside. The dog resembled the one I use in my Yahoo! avatar (see above), which I use because it's the closest I can find to our doggie, Una.
The dog was tied up on the lawn with two bowls. A note had been placed on a stake, stuck in the ground nearby. In it, the dog's owner said that she'd be gone for four days, and she was asking the public to feed and water her dog. Noticing both bowls were empty, I filled the water bowl, cleaned some grass out of the food bowl, and scooped in a portion of food from a nearby bag. As the dog ate, I petted her and told her everything would be all right.
Still, I couldn't help being angry at the person who had neglected this beautiful dog. Was I angry at myself for ignoring the essential food of my life, writing? After all, I've been effectively out of commission for anything but my journal for the past week and a half, as I recovered from a cold. Food (pardon the pun) for thought.
I credit my friend, The Cheshire Cat, for getting me back in the habit of keeping a daily journal. I had started my portfolio page, AlyceWilson.com, which featured some writing samples and my resume (later removed, since it included too much personal information). We got into a conversation about the Web page, and I told him I wanted to entice people to come back on a regular basis. He suggested starting a blog.
At the time, I was new to the concept, so I researched the blogosphere to see what others were doing. My favorites were the slice-of-life blogs, where bloggers shared thoughts on their lives and their views of the world. So in December 2002, I began Musings. At first I wrote seven days a week, but when that became too much, I made it a Monday through Friday blog.
I've had lots of fun with it over the years, writing about my daily life as well as my thoughts on a myriad of subjects. But it always bothered me that I lacked true community interaction. After attending Philcon 2007 and speaking to other writers who keep blogs, I began to mirror Musings on both MySpace and LiveJournal. While they match up about 99.9 percent of the time, there are occasionally slight changes in wording. I also tend to participate in memes on my LJ that don't appear in the other blogs. Such as, for example, taking a quiz to determine which member of the Firefly crew I most resemble.
Since I started mirroring my blog, it's been rewarding to receive feedback from friends and strangers. While this might sound strange, even when I was young, I wrote my journals for an audience. I tried to explain things in a way that would make them accessible to others, although I confess there were times I was deliberately more cryptic.
My journals no doubt led me to write the narrative free verse poems I wrote for many years, before I broke those constraints and began taking larger leaps of language.
Speaking of poetry, I thank a college friend and poet, just_the_ash, who told me about National Poetry Writing Month, where poets are challenged to write a poem a day. I had fallen out of the poetry-writing habit, sad to say. This is a bit odd, because it's been a preferred artistic outlet since second grade. I last wrote poems regularly several years ago, when I commuted daily to a Center City job. I kept a small notebook in which I wrote word sketches of the people and things I saw. I've written poems far less frequently in the past five years.
Writing daily poems is like stretching an atrophied muscle. At first, I felt frustrated with the results, and now, I'm warming up, finding my second wind. About 11 years ago, I made a New Year's resolution to write a poem every day, even if it was just one word on an index card. This was a good habit, because I would say, "OK, I'm going to write a poem." Then I would write, with no restrictions. I explored different ideas, different forms, different subjects. Unfortunately, I discontinued this habit when my daily life became more bothersome. This month, I'm rediscovering that creative freedom, and it's exhilarating.
As I advance through my days, I regard everything with a writer's eye; for example, a blooming cherry tree, feathered white against a blue sky. I think about how it makes me feel, listen to the birds. Sometimes, I even photograph it.
I think about the tree. What does the tree inspire in me? Will I write about it later? Even if I don't, I appreciate the tree. I appreciate the art of the tree.
A block later, I find a crumbling house, in the process of being torn down. To me, those ruins are equally evocative. Even beautiful. The boards cascade as if crushed by a petulant giant. Or perhaps the building collapsed under lonely neglect.
I just remembered the second chapter of my dream. So there was a dog, and I was feeding it, feeling angry about the person who had left her there. A number of people were in town for a film festival, and some of the showings would be in Kern Building (where they used to show films during my Penn State years). Just outside, two old ladies sat on folding chairs, talking quietly. On a third chair nearby, I saw Brad Pitt. I figured he was in town for the film festival.
Instead of gushing over his work, I told Brad about the plight of the dog and how angry it made me. I choked back tears. He nodded, with a worried look in his eyes, but said nothing. It was about time for my movie, so I got up to leave. That's when I noticed he was tied to his chair. I suddenly realized that the old ladies had kidnapped him, but I had to get to my movie, so I just said, "Well, I'll see you later."
While people on my street might have cell phones, by the way, they prefer to just shout really loud. Most of the time, this doesn't bother me, but sometimes when I'm trying to take a nap, I have to play an Enya album to drown out the sound. Right now, I'm walking by a 20-something man, yelling to his mom, on a porch several blocks away. "I need money! I only have $3."
She replies, "But I only wanted a soda and a sandwich." Yes, and in 1975, you could have had both and change to spare.
Getting back to the source of this entry, I was particularly moved this past weekend by the film In a Dream, about the life and the art of Philadelphia mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar. In the movie, he says that his life is his art. Things happen to him, and they become stories he shares with people.
In a way, that's what I do here. I share my stories, the texture of my experience on this earth. It's immediate. It helps me to gain perspective, by explaining things to others. And isn't that what art is about? Expressing the nature of existence?
So thank you, Cheshire Cat; thank you Philcon panelists; and thank you to my Mom, who gave me my first diary.
In the dreamworld, don't expect me to rescue you when you're tied to a chair.