I know I’ve spent a fair bit of space writing about my writing, as witness this piece, this piece, and this piece, among others that do not immediately present themselves to me. In the last of them, I make mention of returning to a practice of journal-writing, of putting an actual pen to actual pages to write words and help loosen some things in my mind. I was recently in mind of doing so, looking for things to write to keep my blog posts here going–as opposed to others I write on Ravings with a Dash of Lucid Prose or on the Tales after Tolkien Society blog–and I was reminded that the pages of my journals have often become the entries in my blogs.
It’s not always the case, of course; I am often able to sit at my computer and hammer out some semblance of an essay, and there is much I write for the restricted audience of my journal (my wife has standing permission to read it, though she’s not availed herself of it that I’m aware, and Ms. 8 may someday look at the pages I’ve penned) that I do not want others’ eyes to see. But I do not seldom use the journal as a prewriting exercise, following patterns of behavior I’ve long commended to my students. I’m not as diligent in it as I ought to be, of course; while I’d like to write in it daily, I’ve not been able to maintain that schedule in the entire time I’ve tried to keep a journal. Even so, I often find the exercise a useful one, and I can hope that it has led to clearer, better writing for you to read.
And I’m aware of the archival value of such things as a physical journal. I’m not so arrogant as to think that there will be people study what all I do, of course; maybe, had I actually been able to be a regular academic and not the academic expatriate I have had to become, it might be the case that my notes and papers would be of value for a broader audience, but I entertain no such ideas at this point in my life. That said, I know that I might have like to have had some of the notes and such left behind by my forebears; I’m aware that my late grandmother kept a journal, for example, and I know that my great-grandmother kept a record of family events on the insides of her kitchen cabinets. The information that has been lost with the loss of those journals, those cabinets (because the family farm where the cabinets were was leveraged long ago, and it is lost to us), may have been incidental only, recording the mundane–but it would have offered me a connection to those who precede me that I am sometimes, as now, all too aware of lacking, having grown up where I did and not where they did.
My daughter has a better sense of her connection to her past, I think, or at least has it available to her. Her mother’s family still lives on the ranch they settled after immigrating to what is now central Texas–it was Mexico, then–and she is able to walk the lands her forefathers made their own. She will have to grapple with the problems of that making, admittedly, something that will be particularly fraught for her, given her heritage, but she will at least be able to see the land, to stand surrounded by it and to know it in her bones and blood. And she will not have to do as I have done, have meant to make some record of the stories of those who have preceded her and have neglected it time and again, thinking that there would always be another chance to do so–until, at last, there was not, and memory of what was fades or is shut away.
She is still too young to do it for herself. But I am not so old, yet, that I cannot do it for her. I can hope that, in addition to whatever other good it might do, and in mitigation of whatever harm it might do, that my keeping a journal, that my making some attempt to write what I know from day to day, will help her keep her connection to me when I am gone. And I can hope, as I think most parents must, that she will want to have that help.