Throwing Ink

Essay

I started my first journal in the spring of 1996. The inside front and back covers are filled with quotes about living in the moment, which is something I’ve been obsessed with most of my life. In 1996 I was so self conscious of my poor spelling and grammar that I wrote exclusively in poems. There are poems about love and teenage angst, but there is a particularly long one about complete despair that I now recognize as a cry for help. I had a couple of other notebooks in the late 90’s and into 2001 but only one has survived and much of that has been torn out because I never wanted to see that writing again. What is left is mostly poetry, though there are quotes, drawings and even some regular writing. It is also the first time I put into writing how important it was for me to keep writing and how I dreamed of being a writer, something I barely allowed myself to believe. The end of the book talks about goals and how I really feel about myself deep inside. I remember writing this while living in Boston just after college. The answers were all lies. I knew it then and I certainly know it now. It is important to tell the truth and sometimes that means you write things that you never want anyone to see, that perhaps you never want to see, but you just need to get it out. You can always rip it out later if need be. I write for myself but I also write for future generations and so I stick to the guidelines of, be honest, be real and show your vulnerability. 

In the early 2000’s I began carrying a pocket-sized spiral notebook that I would fill with quotes, poems, and anything else that needed to be written down. 

In 2005 I received my first Moleskin notebook, and promptly put undue pressure on myself. 

“This is the notebook of Hemingway and other famous artists; therefore, this book should only hold the best ideas and work. The poems should come out one and done,” I told myself. This only succeeded in stifling my dream of being a writer. After nearly three years of this undue pressure I put aside pocket notebooks for larger ones and began to sketch more and write less. 

My new sketching obsession led me to discover Urban Sketching and as I am apt to do with new interests I jumped in feet first. Deep down I was hoping it would make me happy. Of course, it didn’t, and I spent as much time comparing my sketches to other people’s and telling myself I was not good enough as I did actually sketching. In truth some of the pictures are really bad, but that is ok, it is all part of the process.  

Along the way I switched back to pocket-sized books and slowly began writing more. I have always loved the idea of combining my sketches with my words, I love the aesthetic of it. These particular notebooks (Handbook Journals) were great for trying this, but I soon concluded that even though these books fit in my pocket the thickness and the hard covers made them cumbersome to carry when also minding two small boys and all their accoutrements. 

At one point I tried to go paperless, but I am too much of a stationery nerd who loves the scratch of the fountain pen and the feel of the paper for that. Frustrated with the lack of writing, I decided an entirely new approach was what I needed to write daily. I picked up some softcover pocket Moleskins with the plan of filling a book for each month. This was moderately successful but in the end I abandoned the whole idea because it was too rigid and my daily writing continued to wax and wane for the next several years.

In 2015 I discovered Field Notes which are now my pocket notebook of choice. I also came up with the idea of making travel journals for the trips that we took. My first travel journal was filled mostly with writing, though there are some receipts and cutouts pasted in. These journals quickly evolved to include floor plans of the places we stayed, typography, cutouts and sketches, anything I thought would be relevant and fun. I desperately wanted to capture every detail, but the more I added, the more stringent my rules for filling the books became and the more time-consuming the books became. It all fell apart on a particularly adventurous trip we took to Utah in the spring 2018. My depression was fully leading the tango at the time and trying to keep up with the travel log did not help matters. I came home with a huge stack of brochures, receipts and the like and the pile sat untouched for months while I spiraled downward, the unfinished project of the journal only adding to my discontent. 

I gave up on travel journals after that and the next few trips were little more than notes of the days with perhaps a thumbnail sketch here and there. These synopses would prove to be a breakthrough in my journey to becoming an obsessive chronicler of life, but I would have to fail two more times before I would learn this lesson. 

More Next week. 

I Wanted to Be Indiana Jones

Essay

My Indiana Jones fedora is pushed back on my head as I hunch over my desk on a cold winter morning, looking through my notebooks from the last twenty-plus years.This is more philology than archaeology but I am still discovering treasures. It was from these books that I discovered the poems I posted last month. As a kid I wanted to be Indiana Jones and I had the whole get-up, bullwhip, fedora, though never one that looked like his, and an old leather satchel that was my grandfather’s. I never dared to use the bull whip to swing with but I was pretty good at cracking it. It was a disappointing day when I learned that archeologists were not bull-whip-toting swashbuckling do-gooders. 

I left behind the bull whip and the desire of becoming an archaeologist, but I never lost my love for history, treasure hunting or fedoras. Though the latter I did not begin to wear again until around 2015, when I finally allowed myself to not worry about what people thought of my appearance. My idea of treasure has also changed. When I was growing up I had shelves filled with all kinds of strange knick knacks from a glass head, pewter figures, to happy-meal toys. Part of this was because I liked to collect odd things but the root of it was that I thought displaying these things wold help me be the person I desperately wanted to be. It was not until my forties that I realized I’d been putting on costumes all my life and holding onto material things because I thought I needed them to show who I was. I relied on these material things instead of just being and allowing my joy of Self to shine through. It was an unhappy way to exist to be sure. 

One treasure I have kept and carried with me since I was a teenager is a beautiful multi-colored rock I found on the shore of Cape Elizabeth, Maine. It was an extremely troubled time for me then, though that is not why I have kept the rock all these years. The part of the rock I could see showed only a mere glimpse of its true beauty and yet it seemed to be calling out for me to pick it up. I was shocked to find that the other side was filled with colors of purple, orange, blue-gray, tan and yellow. I have kept it all these years because I still feel the joy and wonder of its discovery.

I am known to come home with plenty of pocket hitchhikers when I go out on a walk or we travel. Sometimes I keep the items, like two smooth rocks from the shores of Bowen Island, British Columbia, that sit on my desk and I use like zen meditation balls when I am writing. Other times I sketch them and then return them. More and more, though, my treasures are made up of words, sketches and photographs. Since 2015 I have carried a Field Notes pocket notebook (notebook) everywhere I go. I also write in a daily journal which I refer to as a time capsule because I am writing not only for myself but also for future generations. In my pocket-notebooks I write down all manner of things; nothing is too insignificant. In this way I am preserving history and practicing mindfulness. Along the way I hope that I am teaching the kids and myself to slow down and not just look at what is around us but to see it. To ask questions and to get down on our hands and knees and smell the earth. To stand motionless in the middle of the forest, a beach, or a bustling city having arrived in that moment. I find that all of this together is yet another way to unshackle the joy of this one magical and beautiful life.