The writers I hang out with don’t write for money. Sure, they’d take it if offered, but that’s not their primary reason for putting pen to paper, fingers to keyboard. They do it because they must. They have a story to tell or some ideas to share, and they understand the power of words. A few of them likely feel Robertson Davies who said, “There is no use whatsoever in trying to write a book unless you know that you must write that book or go mad, or perhaps die.”
I have dozens of journals, pretty ones and utilitarian ones and cool ones. One has Anais Nin’s words “We write to taste life twice…”on the front. I found an old one, a spiral bound composition notebook that I used for making notes for class, listing grocery items, and jotting down to-do lists. I smiled at some of the entries but found most of them boring. I was about to toss the notebook when I found a few pages that took me back to September, 1989, the month Hugo came raging through South Carolina.
I had arisen early the morning of the 21st and watched an update with the local weather station. Hugo was expected to make landfall somewhere on the coast, possibly South Carolina. No way, I thought gazing from my kitchen window. The sky was blue and cloudless, and from all appearances, it was shaping up to be another scorcher in Myrtle Beach. Yet, I felt fidgety and on edge. What to do? Should we pack up and leave for the Midlands to be with family?
Elizabeth, my eleven-year-old, and I were the only ones up and about. In-the-know about the storm’s progress and what the experts told people to do, she sat at the kitchen table making a list for us to take to the store. I was sort of nonchalant about the situation until I looked over Lib’s shoulder and saw items like water, candles, batteries, and flashlight written in her neatly developing cursive. Caught somewhere between amusement and wonder at her diligence, I began to see the situation as more serious.
A few years later a friend gave me a gratitude journal that accompanied Sarah Ban Breathnach’s Simple Abundance. I faithfully recorded five things each day I was thankful for. Before I knew it, I was seeing journals everywhere, and I was off to the races. Some of my gratitude lists had as many as a dozen things in them—phrases, not paragraphs. I added some specifics. Instead of writing “Family,” I’d write something like “Meeting Aunt Polly, Sue, Little Polly, Ann, and Lisa at The Pearl for lunch.” That was an entry for Saturday, February 4, 2006. Aunt Polly has gone to heaven, and The Pearl has long since closed up shop.
Soon I began to copy quotes from books while in Barnes and Noble or the local library. This was before the internet made finding quotes easy. I began taking notes just about everywhere—in church, in meetings, at stoplights. Increasingly aware of the fleeting nature of time and the inaccuracy of memory, I deliberately took more notice of my environment and recorded goings-on, feelings, and observations.
Gratitude lists still make the cut. It’s just that they’re often interpersed between new words, story ideas, or travel memories. Sometimes my children kid me about it. If ever there’s a doubt about what happened or who did what and where they did it, someone will say, “Ask Mom. It’s probably in one of her journals.”
I’m grateful that I wrote the happenings of that Friday morning when my little girl prompted me to take the coming storm seriously. I’ll always remember that morning in the kitchen and my feelings when I skimmed her list, astonishment and the realization that she was growing up. If I hadn’t taken the time to jot those moments in the blue notebook, the memory would have slid into oblivion.
Did we go to the store for provisions? I don’t know. There’s no record of it. I did record how and where we slept that night: on the floor in the hall of our ranch home that night, windows securely taped against the wind.