The older I get, the more the cheap spiral-bound notebooks pile up. They fill one and a half shelves of a book case and could suffocate me. From the year 2000, I have solid proof of The Past: a (mostly) daily journal.
Of course, it’s not a full accounting of what took place. But it’s enough of a taste. When I reread it, or transcribe it into a word document as I’m currently doing so readers unschooled in cursive might understand it, I come back to the present altered. Like I’ve time-travelled. And not always in a good way.
We have a negative bias, us humans, right? We’ve talked about this before; it’s there to save us in times of threat. It’s possible my negative bias runs on overdrive?
In my zoom art class the other day, we discussed keeping a journal. One of the ladies shared how she recorded swaths of her kids’ lives when they were young, with a focus on the positive. I try to record my kids’ and grandkids’ lives too, but a positive focus? I wish! Suffice it to say much of my journal is complaintive (just made that word up and spellcheck is NOT impressed) as opposed to contemplative. Whah-whah-whah. I come away wondering if I’ve always been this first-class Biotch, that one right there, staring back at me, in blue, or black, or pink ink – whatever coloured pen that happened to work. I go through them. Let me tell you, pens do NOT last like they used to!
With writing, I’m a student of many great writers, and lately the teacher has been Matthew Dicks. He wrote Storyworthy. My husband B heard him interviewed on a podcast and promptly ordered his book. The second B finished it and set it down, I promptly stole it and it now sits on my book case, above The Past. The subtitle is “Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life though the Power of Storytelling”.
Dicks has numerous tips and tricks for great storytelling and one of my favourites is a thing called “Homework for Life” in which you pay attention on all of your days and find one little snippet each day that is storyworthy.
Usually these are moments that just happen inside your head. Like the other day, my 10-year-old granddaughter and I sat shoulder-to-shoulder and head-to-head on the front porch watching a YouTube video of a newborn giraffe learning to stand. We giggled at its awkwardness. As I glowed in the feeling of being so physically close to my granddaughter, I did the math in my head. I realized that I’m older, by three years, than my maternal grandmother was when I was 10. I never sat shoulder-to-shoulder and head-to-head with her. She seemed so old to me. Because she lived on the east coast and me in Ontario, I only saw her once a year, in the summer. She had a harsh accent (it’s from Newfoundland, I found it endearing in later life); I couldn’t always understand her. Old people seemed older back then, didn’t they? In dress and demeanour? As a kid, the people I spent most of my time with were all my parents’ ages or younger. It’s a terrible shame, but people I deemed old? They scared me.
Well, I could go on and on here, dredging up how my paternal grandmother would literally “whoop” it up in a back bedroom after being gently “medicated” with drink, or the time my cousin’s grandma with dementia got lost in the smallest of bathrooms and couldn’t find her way out. You get the picture; there’s definitely a story to uncover. But what I’m trying to get at is that Dicks and his sweet wife Elysha, on their podcast, insist that keeping track of The Past is a gift to your future self. A gift? Sometimes I find it a curse.
Perhaps I’m too ruled by emotion? The days I plan to transcribe my journals I have to steel myself, give myself a good talking to, say, “Rita, you’re going on a journey. Take the emotion out of it. You’re not that woman any longer. You’re an older, wiser version. You’ve learned from your mistakes.”
I’m also a realist. I can reread my journal from yesterday, note all the mistakes I made. Did I learn from them? Am I a better human today? Hmmm.
I’m a slow learner. The first time I tried to write a story using Dicks’ suggestions? Of contrast, surprise, ending opposite to the beginning? Oh man, I was so excited. I could not wait to read it to B, have him pat me on the back, say, “Wow. Way to go. Nailed it!”
We were sitting at the island. With wine; it was date night. Candles lit. Some wonderful culinary sensation B had created was tingling our nostrils, awakening the hunger in our bellies.
But when I finished reading? B just shook his head in disappointment. “No. That’s not it.”
We argued about it. B won.
I put it on the blog anyway and you guys liked it, so …
Dicks has some great suggestions and they’ve been helpful. Unfortunately, every time I come up with a story idea? I discover it’s a big ol’ circle. I end up right back where I started from. With The Past, lurking. All those words in all those cheap spiral-bound notebooks crushing those shelves with the musings of a gal that was, is, and always will be little ol’ imperfect me: aiming for wiser, mostly missing the mark.