Journals and poetry over the years

My notebook of choice for poetry and journaling for decades.

The Mead composition notebook hasn’t really changed much over the years. The stiff cardboard cover is bendable cardstock now, but the cover is still available in mottled black and white, still has 100 sheets bound by string and glue, and still fits perfectly in a backpack.

Back in early 1988, when Chris and Natan and I started up our band The Flying Bohemians, I’d tasked myself with writing song lyrics. Deeply inspired and influenced by the music we were listening to on college radio and as you can well imagine, most of it ended up being pastiches of songs by The Cure, The Smiths, and The Sisters of Mercy. There’s some decent stuff in there, given my age and experience, but for the most part it’s the kind of too-serious writing you’d expect from a seventeen-year-old stuck in a small town, waiting to escape.

Song lyrics and poetry became a perfect temporary escape for me then. During bouts of frustration and depression, I gave myself one rule: no boundaries. Let’s see how far we can take this. Mind you, that didn’t mean ‘let’s write the most vile/violent/gross/puerile shit just to get away with it’. I never wanted to go that route to begin with. No, it meant ‘let’s lay our heart and mind out and go deep, no matter how dark it gets.’ Sure, it’s a teenage cri de coeur and everyone’s done it, but I took my craft (if not the words) seriously. It was writing exercise to work on my frequency and consistency, and it was a mental exercise to purge my negative emotions. And they were a creative outlet when my fiction writing well had run dry.

This was an avenue that got me through a hell of a lot over the years. The frustrations of high school, the worse frustrations of college, and especially the dismal post-college years. I may not have always been consistent with it, and would sometimes go years between writing in these notebooks, but I never gave it up completely.

My history with personal journaling, on the other hand, had been spotty for years. For a brief time I used these same Mead notebooks for personal journals, starting in 1991. Most of it was voicing personal frustrations with school, friends, relationships, roommates, and lack of money. Later on, I’d write personal entries in regular notebooks here and there (I’ve been finding quite a few of them during my KonMari Tidy-Up of Spare Oom Project), but they never lasted more than a few pages. And once I joined Live Journal back in 2004, all that writing ended up online.

It wasn’t until New Year’s Day 2014 (after a brief false start a few months earlier) that I bought a 3-pack of Moleskine’s large cahier journal from our local bookstore that I made it a point to redirect that public display back into something personal again. Since that day I’ve been writing in those particular notebooks five days a week with very few exceptions; it’s what I do during my 9:30am break during the Day Job. I’m glad I took that step, as it made me refocus my creative output. My online writing morphed into the two blogs you’re now following. My personal issues now stay personal, just like they were all those years ago.

But what about the poetry? I’ll certainly have highly productive waves every now and again, but those are often few and far between. Those remain an exercise in emotional and mental purging, but they’re also done for the pleasure when the inspiration strikes. I’m working on trying to make this outlet more consistent, however.

Every now and again I’ll pull out one of these journals and poetry notebooks and read a few pages, just for the fun of it. Sometimes I’ll cringe, but more often I’ll let myself revisit the memories and emotions tied to these writings. It’s a way for me to remember what I’ve learned, reminders of where I was and where I’m going. Sometimes it’ll even inspire something new.

Trunked!

trunks
No, I mean trunking a — you know what, never mind.

Trunking a project is always a weird feeling.  You’ve been hoping beyond hope that you could keep this project alive, even as it’s going down in flames.  He’s dead, Jim.  The heart stopped beating some time ago, and there’s no way to revive it.  Time to file away the document, close the notebook covers, and file them away under At Least I Tried (or alternately for me, Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time).  Time to move on.

I’ve trunked a number of story ideas over the years.  My first couple of novels, my screenplays, and nearly all the story ideas that never evolved past their initial first couple of days of workshopping.  The digital versions are all filed away in a nondescipt ‘etc writing’ folder, and all the printouts are gathering dust on one of my bookshelves.

I don’t think I’ve ever trunked a format before, however.

This past Thursday, I decided I was going to make it official and stop writing poetry.  At least until further notice.  [The fact that I chose to do so on National Poetry Day was a complete fluke, by the way.  I didn’t know about it until after I’d made the decision.]  For a bit of closure, yesterday afternoon I wrote a eulogy poem called “30”, and once I was done, I filed that composition notebook away with all the others.

So why did I chose to take this step?  Well, partly because over the last five or six years, it started feeling more like a chore and an exercise and less like something I used to enjoy.  See, when I started writing poetry semi-seriously, I was a senior in high school.  That’s back in 1988, folks.  It was primarily a mental and emotional escape for me, and over the years it never really changed.

I think it says something really positive that I no longer need that outlet.

The downside is that any poetry I have written over the past, say, seven or eight years, has felt forced and lifeless.  Like I was doing it for homework rather than for any personal or professional reason.  There were moments where it was fun, like when I was writing it for my now-closed Dreamwidth account, but I really was beginning to lose interest in it.

So why did it take me so long to make this decision?

Well, a few things, really.  Like I said, I’d been writing poetry since 1988.  Since before then, really.  My first attempts were actually back in 5th grade, which would be seven years earlier in 1981.  I’d dabbled with song lyrics and other things since then, but 1988 is when I first started focusing on it as a valid creative and emotional outlet, using one of those Mead composition books with the mottled black and white cardboard cover (you know the ones I’m talking about).  I have about twenty of them now, some filled to the ending pages and some with only a small fraction of pages used.  So making the decision to put that part of my life away after twenty-eight years was no easy decision.  It had become a close confidant.

But the main reason?  Simply put: I couldn’t think of anything to write about in that format anymore.  I had no need for it.  My writing projects and processes have changed significantly over the years — especially over the last five or so years — that I had little to no time to focus on it.  It felt a bit frivolous.  Poetry was no longer my avenue for self-guided therapy…that’s now hiding in my personal journals, offline and well away from everything else going on.  I had nothing to write about anymore in poetry form.

Does that mean I’ll never write another poem again?  Hardly.  I’m sure I’ll scribble a stanza or two in my journal.  And I’m quite sure I still have a few song lyrics in me that have yet to surface.  This only means that I’m not going to force myself to write something that no longer works as a viable format for me anymore.

It’s time for me to move on, to continue to evolve as a writer.