I’ve been spending a lot of time in bed, with a bottle of extra strength Tylenol steadfastly by my side and my laptop like a warm and comforting pet always perched upon my stomach. Despite the excuse of extreme fatigue, weakened bones and other ailments caused by my hyperparathyroidism (soon to be treated), I feel weighted by the guilt of all this inactivity. Most devastating to me is the fact that my writing has suffered, as my thoughts come more slowly and my memory is drastically hindered. It has become exceedingly difficult just to stay awake throughout the day, anymore, let alone to work on a novel. But today I stumbled upon a wonderful realization; as a writer, I haven’t stopped working for a moment.
When we think of writing, our thoughts often carry us straight to the end: a fully composed book, poem, play, short story, or even blog post, that may or may not be accessible to the public. In fact, those manuscripts are only feathers, fully formed and functional in their own right, but singularly representing so very little of the bird they belong to. Writing, in fact, defies definition as deftly as does living. Writing is a pulsing, breathing, trilling beast that flies (just ask Emily Dickinson, whose feathered Hope is much the same thing). It is a compulsion, almost instinctual, which may or may not result in a warm nest for the writer, a bit of nourishment, or a harried escape. In fact, I would argue that most of the act of writing, as with living, takes place in the privacy of the mind.
I used to think keeping a personal journal was immature, and rather self-involved. It was something I did in my youth, when I was too shy to express myself directly, and didn’t quite have a direction or purpose for my writing. But after years of motherhood (days spent in an isolating servitude to the whims and needs of babies grown to toddlers grown to children with even more whims and needs) I started journaling again for therapy’s sake. I wasn’t exactly proud of it, but I felt more comfortable putting down my thoughts to the scrutiny of an unblinking document than an actual, opinionated therapist. I’ve never counted my journal as writing, because it was never meant to result in anything coherent, and certainly not public. And since my journal has been the only thing I’ve kept up with lately, I was starting to feel like a failure as a writer.
Until I realized just how essential a journal can be for a writer. It’s that all-important nest for my inner bird; that still-developing creature that needs warmth and quiet, her little wing-stubs laid flat against her sides as she peers into the sky, and longs for it all. Longing, I think, is an integral part of writing– of living!
Susan Songtag said, “In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself.”
I found that quote in Flavorwire’s 10 Famous Authors on the Importance of Keeping a Journal, which I highly recommend (I even quoted some of Joan Didion’s words, which touched me personally, in my journal). You’ll find that only one out of the ten famous authors scoffed the idea of journaling (Ray Bradbury), but even he found it extremely valuable to go back to his unused ideas and reconsider them (and he, too, saw them as little, abandoned birds). And that is what journaling pushes a writer to do; to reconsider yourself and your ideas, to listen again to the twittering of the young bird you used to be, and marvel at all those shed feathers. There’s still some warmth to be found there, even if it’s only in knowing that you’ve grown.
Personally, I’ve accomplished more than I ever thought I would in my private journal. Lately, when I look back on my entries, I realize that I’ve written my best and most literary work in writing, essentially, the story of my life. I need that raw pallet to work with, a place where editing is irrelevant, and nothing is more important than my own thoughts. I need the freedom to write without performing, without a second thought for the “final product.” I need it the way a bird needs its beginning inside the egg, its growth nestled in private confinement, without the intimidation of endless sky and the judgment of flight. So instead of wallowing in guilt or self pitty, I’ve begun taking pride in the smallness of my journalling.
The wings are there, regardless.