letters & journals

So it has occurred to me that blogging is very much like journal and letter writing, only it is done in a public forum and one seldom expects a response of any kind. Not that one expects to get a response to a journal entry (unless you are Harry Potter and the journal in your possession is Tom Riddle’s).

During my second year of college I had signed up for a couple of English classes, part of the core program requirements of the two-year fine art programme that I had unceremoniously dropped out of the previous January. Our school was a small one and did not offer any art classes outside of sequence, so while I waited to resume the second half of the first year of the fine art programme, I had a bunch of time to fill up with non-art classes.

Fortunately, because my English language skills were advanced, I was able to skip past the precursory composition classes and pick some meatier options, one of which was to read through the works of two Canadian Margarets (Lawrence and Atwood), and the other a course called Letters and Journals, which was a study of those two styles of writing in both fiction and non-fiction. We read Marie-Claire Blais’ Tête Blanche and the journals of Anaïs Nin, and were asked to incorporate these same techniques into our own storytelling in whichever way we chose.

I had been keeping a journal, on and off, since about fifth grade, so journaling came easily to me. (Side note: A few years after I walked away from school, struggling through my young adulthood, I came upon my early writings and was so embarrassed by what I had written that I dumped them all, only to continue along a similar vein and write more of the same sort of drivel, but felt that because it was timely and more mature it was more valid. Years later still, I felt despondent at having chucked decades’ worth of my personal history.)

Upon reading Anaïs Nin’s tomes during that year (I went on to read most of her published journals), I felt sadly inadequate with the contents of mine in comparison. I felt green and embarrassed at my lack of knowledge of the world, my unworldliness. I thought that only through life experience could I amass the skills and knowledge to become sophisticated (something that my upbringing instilled in me as being an important value or trait), and that only through hardship could I become someone of substance (another illusive quality that I knew I didn’t possess but longed to).

I wish someone would have sat me down then and explained a few things to me. I wish that they would have said that experience doesn’t guarantee sophistication or a lack of naïveté, that the road of hard knocks alone won’t make us worthy of others’ respect, and that feeling worthy is something that must be cultivated from within, not measured by others’ opinions (including those of our parents, friends or peers). I wish someone would have taught me to be still with myself for long enough to hear my own voice amidst the tumult and clamour of everyone’s opinion, and find my way, not as a reaction to -or to elicit reaction from- someone outside of myself. I wish someone would have listened without judging or wishing to mould me into what they perceived to be the best way.

Stillness is hard to achieve, even on a good day, and hearing that small, still voice residing at our center even harder still. It has taken me decades to finally be able to occasionally tune in without too much interference, the chattering continuing on even without their initial owners’ voices. They mean well. Everyone means well. They just have no idea what it’s like to be in your skin, and many don’t know how to listen when you attempt to explain or lack the skills to explain it coherently themselves, if they were asked to do the same. We are a mystery, even to ourselves. We may lack the curiosity or courage to delve in.

It occurs to me that my idea of sophistication has evolved over time, and that at times in the process of becoming worldly, one loses one’s sense of wonder and perhaps even joy. And that wisdom is something hard-earned, difficult to quantify, and must be tempered with compassion and empathy in order to be effective or useful.

Ah yes… the journaling. So even now, more decades later than I am willing to admit, my written journals tend to focus on matters of the heart (read: boys). And while I am still embarrassed by what I write in retrospect, I no longer wish to destroy proof of my idiocy. We all have a little fool in us.

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