July 13, 1988
“It’s 9 pm and the girls are sleeping.”
The exotic location is a Greek island in the Aegean Sea. The girls in question were sofagirl, our friends Jane and Silvia, and my sister. I was 26.
Long before Airbnb was an inkling of an idea, Sue and I managed to rent a two-storey house in a charming square, on top of a hill, on this Greek island, and invited some friends to tag along.
There is no clue as to why I decided to buy a Greek exercise-book and pick up a pen. There is no clue why all the girls would already be asleep at 9 pm – shouldn’t we have been at dinner, getting ready for a club outing? Re-reading the first four pages – the whole of the first entry – I encounter an extremely detailed and vivid description of the village and its inhabitants. I can see it again. I can see the tiny balcony I was writing on. I can see the view to the sea, the shirtless neighbor across the street, the dogs chasing a tiny cat. I can see I knew how to write.
“If you have the misfortune of boarding a Greek bus at its point of origin, you can rest assured the wait will be much longer than the trip” reads the beginning of the second entry.
Nothing particularly momentous happened on that vacation, save for Jane eating an ice-cream from a truck, and getting salmonella which prompted a close encounter with an emergency room so dingy and dirty we ran back home and let Jane throw up to her heart’s content. And Silvia’s penchant for the nudist beach, with photos to prove it. I have no idea why I picked that day, that Summer, that moment to start writing. The journal offers no clues but I haven’t stopped since.
All my journals, dozens of them, are lined up on two bookshelves, chronologically organized and never re-read. Aside from the blue Greek school book – the same blue of Greek window shutters – my predictable journal of choice is a black lined Moleskin, which I discovered before it was hip and pricey. I write long-hand, otherwise known as an impossible to decipher chicken scratch that can be impenetrable even to me, and strictly in Italian, even if my Italian began to crumble years ago, even on those days where I beg myself to switch to English, the language I think in. I soldier on, no doubts cramming the pages with English grammar constructions and loosely translated words.
For the longest time I wrote at the end of the day, a Victorian recap of what happened that I felt I needed to record or unburden. If I had to re-read the journals, which I will not, unless struck by an impossible longing many years from now, I will no doubt encounter peripheral characters that occupied my thoughts but of whom I have no memory.
Over the years, my writing habits have changed, my writing has become more inward, less structured, free-flow, disjointed – less narrative and more stream of consciousness or, what I inelegantly call, “brain vomit”.
Anyone familiar with Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way will recognize what she calls “morning pages”, three or four pages (or about 1,000 words) she invites any type of artist to write first thing each morning, in order to empty the brain. It’s not a bad exercise. I don’t stick to a set number of pages or words (although Ms. Cameron claims it’s important to push oneself past the point of having something to say) but I have been writing in the morning for many years now, as soon as I get out of bed, before coffee, before gadgets, with only a desk lamp on so I won’t wake myself up completely. Once it’s all out, dreams, worries, plans, thoughts….vomit, I am ready to start the day, a bit more of a blank slate.
I have no idea why I picked July 1988 to start writing on a regular basis (I wrote stories all the way through high school and college): maybe the beauty of my surroundings, the warmth of the women around me, the need to make sense of a budding life. I couldn’t see then memoirs would become more ubiquitous than romance novels and I most certainly never wrote with publication as an end game. Nobody but me would find my life interesting. I just wrote. My life is at the ripe stage now and writing still helps me make sense of it.
Nobody in my immediate circle of friends journals on a regular basis. Maybe a couple of writers – it seems such an outdated and leisurely occupation, even narcissistic, especially if written long-hand, no selfies or apps. Are there more of us out there?
Have you ever kept a journal? Do you still? What are your writing habits? What do you get out of it? Do you ever re-read it?