I'VE been sitting here an hour or more, reading entries from 1979 in my journal. I strongly recommend keeping detailed journals. This recommendation is directed to any listener or reader, but most especially to myself.
I have journals in notebooks from January of 1979 to now, and the only fault I find with my journals is that they often have no entries for a month, two months, or even more. The missing times are usually in the summer, when I have been busiest with earning a living, irrigating the meadows when we were in Whitney Valley, northeastern Oregon, fixing fences, cutting hay, cutting firewood. When I page through my journals, I regret those missing dates and resolve to do better.
Here is an entry for Tuesday, the 23rd, before we moved from Sumpter over the mountain to Whitney Valley to take care of the Rouse Brothers' ranch. Ash and Ingrid and Bob came for dinner. Alice came after dinner. We all made music; three guitars, an autoharp, and many voices.
I read that entry from my journal, and an expansive process begins in my memory. I might have gone the rest of my life and never remembered that evening, but now that it has been called into memory, I remember more and more about it. We had spaghetti and garlic bread and music. I remember some of the songs we sang almost as clearly as if we just finished singing them. It was a good time, a warm time.
My journal tells me I sought work, those days. I applied for jobs the 24th, 25th, and 26th. According to my journal, there were two 24ths that month, a Wednesday and a Thursday. I don't know what the mix-up was and didn't correct it at the time. Applying for one of the jobs involved catching a ride with a friend who worked at one of the mines and then walking 12 miles of the way back before I caught a ride the rest of the way. There just wasn't much traffic that morning, which was fine, because I enjoyed
Our pickup was up on blocks, waiting for parts I'd ordered. I realized more acutely just then that many people believe anything goes when it comes to selling a car. Let the buyer beware. It startled me a little, because I'd bought the pickup from a friend, and, as best as I could figure, he'd lied about the condition of the pickup and about what work had recently been done to it. I adopted a policy then that I've adhered to since. I always tell a potential buyer everything I know about the vehicle I'm tr ying to sell. I've never regretted that policy.
One of those 24ths, the same bunch of people played music at Bob's place in the evening. "A pleasant time," I noted, and indeed it was. Having stimulated my memory with the journal entry, I remember the progression of the evening quite well, even a lot of who said what and what the response was. It was a clear, cold night, with northeastern Oregon's myriad stars scattered casually across the sky when we headed home. Juniper and Amanda, our daughters, were five and three. We kept them up late, but no one minded. They loved the music. They loved the people. We employed baby sitters twice in the first dozen years.
I was having an argument with myself about journals then. One hand held forth for a simple reporting of the basic facts of existence, what the weather was that day, what we did, with little interpretive comment. "A pleasant time," for example, would be sufficient. The other hand said that detailed analysis, how I felt about the facts of the day and why I felt that way and any underlying meaning I found in events, feelings and thoughts, should also be recorded, to provide more perspective from the future on my life then.
It was an argument that I never completely settled. The recording of just the facts of the day won out most of the time, because it took less time. I was writing stories, songs, and books then too, and those pursuits often used up all need I had for expressing emotion and psychological analysis. "A journal might become painfully self-conscious," I wrote then, "which is why I didn't keep one for a long time."
I see that I suffered some agony over the question, "Why doesn't more of my writing publish? I deserve to make a living at writing." All these years later, I still suffer some small agony over that question, but I am calmer about it. I have at least a partial answer to the question. I write what I want to write, what I think is necessary, not what I think someone will publish. After I write it, I see if someone will publish it. I am not in the mainstream of literature, and I have no desire to be.
Not long after these journal entries, made after I had two books turned down by a literary agency, I published a short story, then another. Eventually, I started selling essays. Eventually, the income from those sales helped our existence. Steady publication eased the urgency of the question.
My journal also reminds me that I never placed earning more than enough money to meet basic needs as a very high priority. Alongside entries that mention having barely enough money to buy parts necessary to get the pickup road-worthy are entries about songs I was writing. A line from one of the songs is, "I should be finding jobs for money, but I'm writing songs instead."
Oh yes. I was seeking work, but I didn't lose sight of songs, stories, essays, visiting and sharing music with friends, and day-long walks, just to see what we could see.
Sometimes, during those days, I wondered if I was spread too thin, a lot of time with my family, guitar, songs, writing, gardening, looking for a steady job.
I wrote, "All the projects, all the activities and relationships knit together into a good, productive life. Even failed projects fit, because they are part of a learning process, steps on the way. Rejection from an editor or an agent does not necessarily mean I have failed. There are many editors in the world. There's a lot of life to live yet."
When we started our garden at this place where we live now, in northern Colorado's Rocky Mountains, the garden did not do well through the first part of the summer. I worked hard, as I had time, at solving the problems. In August, we left for two weeks' vacation. When we got back, I walked down to the garden. It had rained while we were gone. The garden was beautiful. Every plant flourished. Edible-pod peas hung thick on the plants. Cabbages, spinach, green onions, and lettuce were ready to eat.
Coming back to my journal after a long time of not reading reminds me of coming back to that garden. I built the soil and planted the seeds with what I wrote.
Now, I look back, and I see so much more than what I wrote there, memories that were not included in what I wrote, answers to questions I had then, understanding of what the seeds we were planting then grew to over the years since. Problems that loomed large then have been solved, or we still work on them in more mature ways. As with the garden that I walked down to look at after two weeks away, there is more here to harvest, memories, essays, stories, and another song, than I ever expected there would be.