Monday, October 21, 2013

Yours To Do With As You Wish

I bought her a diary at the book fair. It has a jeweled lock, and came with two perfect tiny golden keys. And it’s for writing your dreams. She adores it.

So I can understand why a well-meaning adult would look at it and say, “What did you do to your new diary?” I almost asked the same thing.

“I made the moon blue.”

I don’t know how much she’s heard about blue moons. She’s perceptive, and well-read, and pays attention to all sorts of things you don’t think she’s paying attention to. But clearly blue moons are special.

*     *     *

I loved the idea of a diary, myself. I loved the small book, the perfect tiny golden lock and key, the lined pages waiting to be filled.

I just hated filling it. I could last two or three days, maybe. Over many years I collected journals and notebooks, “All About Me” books that came as gifts, scrapbooks. Ruined them by writing on one or two pages. Abandoned them all.

The one exception was a vinyl-covered notebook, pastel pages climbing with flowers, that I filled with poetry in fifth grade. Filled. But that one never counted.

It turns out I have no patience for trying to recount my day. I do not want to provide a timeline, or a blow-by-blow, I do not want to provide captions. I have never been able to keep up with photo albums or scrapbooks or memory boxes or anything else. The things I want to keep or remember are stuffed in boxes or drawers or stacked in piles in closets I hope you won’t ever get a chance to open. I felt guilty about it for a long time.

Then, maybe because I still wanted to be somebody who kept a journal, I read A Book of One’s Own: People and Their Diaries, by Thomas Mallon. I drank this book. It was full of people and life and writing, and that, maybe, is even better than a tiny golden lock and key. The best part was that it introduced me to the idea of a commonplace book. Like a scrapbook, a commonplace book is a collection of the kind of thing I’ve always written down on scraps of paper, the things I carried in the back of my planner, or left sitting on my desk or dresser: quotes, ideas, notes and letters, lists, books I want to read. That could be my journal. That was my journal, unformed and ungathered. All I needed was that definition, and suddenly—freedom—a whole world unlocked.

*     *     *

During graduate school I worked in a small shop that sold handpainted Italian ceramics—dinnerware and serving bowls and dishes. It was an upscale shop, and I was amused by the people who would come in—people who knew how to do things right—who expressed concern over how they could use the dishes they were thinking of buying.

“Now this bowl—which one is this?”

“That’s the salad bowl. The larger one is the pasta bowl.”

“But what if I want to serve pasta in this smaller one?”

“Well, you can do that. It’s your bowl—use it however you like.”

I was aware of a certain freedom I had, not knowing or caring what size bowl I used to serve food in. I still wonder if, after buying both a salad bowl and a pasta bowl, the people who asked ever felt the freedom to use the bowls the way they saw fit: a gnocci with pesto side dish in the salad bowl, maybe, or a colorful pile of fresh fruit in the pasta bowl.

I wonder about all the things that didn’t count because they didn’t fit the definition. I wonder about all the treasures I looked right at but never saw. 

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  1. I had to keep a commonplace book for an assignment in my high school English class and have kept one ever since. Mine is only quotes or passages from books that speak to me. Certain entries take me straight back to what was going on in my life when I wrote them---even more so than my own words would. FYI, YOUR words are in there---between Khaled Hosseini and Jeffrey Eugenides.

    1. Sarah--wow, thank you. I can't think of a higher honor or compliment. (These words of yours are part of my journal, now, as well.)


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