Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Monday, September 3, 2012

Do You Really Remember That? (Part II)

As I wrote yesterday, I was not much of a diary/journal keeper in my younger days--though there were periods when I did it, either for my own use or to do the same writing as my students were doing.  (I always found that instructive, by the way--writing the same assignments I gave them; I often discovered I'd asked them to do something (a) hard, (b) impossible, (c) stupid, (d) confusing.  Humbling.)

One of the major exceptions to my not-doing-all-that-much-journal-writing was in the summer of 1993 when I culminated a sabbatical year in Aurora--a year I'd devoted to the preparation and writing of an annotated edition of The Call of the Wild--by traveling to Alaska to hike over the Chilkoot Trail, the 33-mile trail the Yukon gold-rushers used in the winter of 1897-98, Dyea to Lake Bennett, the trail that young, unknown Jack London himself had taken in the fall of 1897, the trail that figures prominently in The Call of the Wild.

I took with me the notebook you see in the picture, and I wrote in it every night in my tent.  The first entry, though, is on 30 July, aboard Delta #719, Cleveland to Atlanta (it took some zigzagging to get to Skagway, Alaska, my starting point).  It tells about an adventure I'd had that morning--changing the battery in my watch.  I had already run five miles that morning (I'd been training hard, losing weight, for the hike).  On the plane I was reading Larry McMurtry's The Streets of Laredo.  (On the trail, at night, I read Vanity Fair.)

I'll write about the hike another day.  Suffice to say: I came home alive, but with an injured knee, a new-found respect for what those gold-seekers had done, and several metric tons of self-regard.  The journal ends with a paean to Joyce, who, as always, had so wonderfully supported me--even in my daffy ideas, like hiking alone in Alaska.

But as I said, in February1997, about three weeks after I retired from Aurora, I began keeping a journal/diary for real.  But not too ambitiously at first.  I was at work researching the life and times of Mary Shelley, and, initially, I was pretty much just keeping track of what I did each day.  I used the calendar-maker feature of WordPerfect (the program I was using at the time) and simply filled in what I could each day.  (See image.)

It turned out to be an eventful month: on Saturday, the 22nd, our son (Steve) and Melissa told us they were going to marry.

But soon I found that calendar format too restrictive.  I was starting to get wordy--and I needed more room.  So in April 1997, I began using the format I'm still using today--still using the strategy I use today-- a strategy that has a history.  Mary Shelley's father, the writer/philosopher William Godwin, kept a diary virtually his entire life.  He kept it open always on his desk, and when things happened (finished a book, a visitor arrived), he would jot them down immediately.

Well, I stole the idea from Godwin.  I keep my journal file open all day on my computer, and when things happen, I write them down as soon as I find a minute.  I do the same thing when I'm traveling.  Sometimes circumstances keep me from writing one day, and I'll have to catch up the next, but this is rare.  I haven't missed more than a tiny handful of days in the last fifteen years.

And, oh, the things that have happened ... our son's marriage, my father's decline and death, the birth of our two grandsons, our son's career at the Akron Beacon-Journal (including a Pulitzer nomination), his years in law school, his graduation, his passing the bar (first try!), his election to the Ohio Legislature, his re-election, his subsequent defeats, the decline of my mother, my return to teaching in 2001 at WRA, my departures and returns to WRA for various health reasons, my retirement from WRA (spring 2011), the discovery in late 2004 that I had prostate cancer, the subsequent surgery, the waiting, the return of the cancer, the radiation treatments, the waiting, the return of the cancer, our travels here and there in pursuit of our writing and intellectual and teaching interests, all the books I've read, the movies we've seen, the visitors we've had, the visits we've undertaken, the funerals and weddings we've attended, the changes in friendships, the books I've worked on and written and published, the moments of great terror (taking Joyce to the ER), of great humor (oh, the silliness!), of great pain, the trips to the store, Joyce's retirement from Hiram College, the publications of her books, the silly poems I've written, the speeches I've given, the visits to schools to talk about The Call of the Wild, bouts of depression, moments of elation, anger, disappointment, celebration, sickness, love ...

It's all there.

And when I began writing some memoirs, the diary/journal was invaluable.  My Kindle book Turning Pages: A Memoir of Books and Libraries and Loss deals quite a bit with the decline and death of my father, and I simply could not have had in that book the detail it required if I'd not been keeping daily track of what was going on.  My last phone call with him.  My last meal with him.  Sitting by his bed, stroking his hand.  Getting the news ...

As the years have gone on, I've added things to the journal.  Now, for example, I paste in copies of letters I've written to family members, significant emails, texts of things I've written.  And other things.

I have always had a good memory.  I am nearly 68 years old, and I can remember with an alarming clarity all sorts of experiences and feelings and screwups from my elementary school years.  From junior high and high school.  College.  Beyond.  Its been a wonderful aid to me in my writing--but a curse at times, as well.  Why can't I just forget that?!?!

Family members and friends are sometimes surprised by what I remember--Do you really remember that? they'll ask.  And I'll smile and wonder, too.  But now, of course, since February 1997, anyway, I have a supplemental memory.  My journal--now hundreds, thousands of pages of it.  Typed, single-spaced, 11-point font.  A bundle of years.  Of memories.  Of tears.

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