December 28, 2009
Kyrie eleison, down the road that I must travel.
Kyrie eleison, through the darkness of the night.
Kyrie eleison, where I’m going will you follow?
Kyrie eleison, on a highway in the light.
— John Ross Lang, b. 1952
I’m going to put the disclaimer/explanation up front, because if I leave it to the end, as conclusion, I’m afraid no one will see it.
Culling these excerpts from my private journal was an interesting and instructive exercise for me. I personally like to read writers’ notebooks. I have no idea if any of my readers will actually read any of this raw, unshaped stuff, let alone all of it. I learned from the exercise (I skimmed over and read through a good deal of the 355 pages), remembered the wild and forward-moving energy I experienced in Georgia, saw just how much certain themes dominate my work and how certain people and certain concerns color so much of my thinking and my prayer life.
However much of this you read, however much of anything of mine you read, thank you. I hope you will follow me into 2010, on a highway in the light.
It’s that time in the season for people who write regularly when distractions abound and fresh ideas are hard to come by. End-of-year wrap-ups start filling time on news shows and in the work of regular columnists. In the blogosphere the same end-of-year memes show up. I’ve done several of them — answers to a set of questions about where you’ve been and where you think you’re going, a selection from a post for each month, the first sentence of the first post for each month, one picture for each month.
For this year’s fresh-idea-free year-end wrap-up, I’ve decided to take a look at my private paper journal. For 17 years I have used 8.5 x 11 top-bound spiral notebooks with 80 sheets. I write on the front of the first 75, then flip the book over and write on the other side, for a total of 150 pages. Filling these books is an important production goal and mood gauge for me. When I am depressed, when I am slogging through the Slough of Despond, I write little more than the day and the date. If I can’t even do that, I am in serious trouble.
I wrote more meandering longhand freewriting this year than ever before, 356 pages, slightly more than two and half notebooks. I usually begin a new year on December 26, the Feast of Stephen, but sometimes I am moved to begin slightly earlier. Herewith, a selection from a writer’s notebook/private diary for 2009, from the first writing for each month:
♦December 18, 2008
Kyrie eleison — 2009 starts here, down the road that I must travel. It is a good day when the physical ability and the mental and emotional will to take out the trash are seen as a blessing from God.
♦January 1, 2009
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast and ah! bright wings — Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1884-1889, English priest and poet
I begin 2009 with a new pen, a new pencil, a cleaned table, and the shade drawn against the bright unclouded sun riding low across the vista.
♦February 1, 2009
Keep the hand moving — from the Judy Reeves prompt book — Write about a kiss. Give the prompt to my characters. I feel a call to return to my 19th century stuff, to the idea that if I could reduce the big-big-bigness of it to just an encounter between a bereaved mother and a bereaved father who don’t understand each other’s ways of grieving, I could bring the Whitmoyer saga born in me 26 years ago to a conclusion. I could flesh out Robert Frost’s “Home Burial” into narrative — a derivative work or fanfic, maybe.
♦March 1, 2009
First Sunday of Lent. Surprised this morning by a snowy landscape. Dan has four stories in The Press this morning. I need to move into my manuscript. . . . I wanted the Bread Loaf application to be done today!! It’s not, but it’s closer to done than I usually am this far out (3 weeks) from the absolute deadline.
♦April 1, 2009
[I was in my last week of a month-long residency at the Hambidge Center in Rabun Gap, Georgia. I had begun going to the McDonald's on Route 441 in Clayton where the same group of older men and women gathered each day. They had begun to recognize me, to make room for me at a table near the electrical outlet so I could plug in my laptop.]
The woman who couldn’t find a picture of her mama to give to the historical society is here. She was here yesterday too. She looks like Eudora Welty. She hasn’t worn a dress since she went to a wedding about five years ago. She has lots of clothes she never wears. She has to wear good sturdy shoes in order to walk and move about in comfort. She belongs to the Baptist church in town. “All my life,” she said, “no matter where I went, I never moved my letter.”
On the way back from breakfast I had a phone call from Dan, which I took in the parking lot of the Kilby Feed & Seed, where my vehicle was the only non-pickup truck.
♦May 1, 2009
The hundred days of summer starts here – a hundred days until I leave for Vermont. 100 days. 14 weeks. Measuring out my life in coffee spoons.
Circling the edge – the Reeves prompt for today – been here before – the image of “circling the drain” always comes to me – the idea of about to die, drwon, fail, be defeated. Circling the edge is different – caution, hesitation, denial.
A man named K______ G_____ attacked his father, B_______ G______ age 60, with a hatchet last night after an argument that erupted in the parking lot of the Market Street Baptist Church at 15th and Market. That’s at the end of the block where St. Francis is! That’s going in my Krueger story!
♦June 1, 2009
[I had driven the day before to southern New Jersey, where I was attending a writers' conference as the guest of one of the presenters.]
The seagulls woke me.
It is necessary for me to make a fall into reading fiction as well as a fall into writing it. I thought about this yesterday as I was driving to the accompaniment of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. You can’t start listening, interrupt the process to go do something else, and then come back and finish listening. The experience of the piece is meant to be whole — I’m not expressing this well. I’m moodling here on paper. The writer’s moodling journal.
♦July 1, 2009
M___________ F________ (a former colleague who had lived with Lou Gehrig’s disease for several years) died on Monday.
“In the writing life, only remarkable and unique pain counts.” – Leslie Pietrzyk, from “Just Another Abortion Story” in The Gettysburg Review, Summer 2009. Wow! What a story!
♦August 1, 2009
A male bluebird was hanging at the hole of the house. The season’s third set of eggs is in the nest. Three this time. Last time we had five eggs but only ever saw four young.
“Sprawled on the futon, he looked smaller and younger, vulnerable in a way he never seemed awake.” — Katharine Noel, from Halfway House
♦September 1, 2009
At the Aerie — there is one child left behind [that is, not in school with the others] at the bottom of the hill, a little boy with a scooter. I saw him yesterday as well. He’s walking the scooter up the [steep] driveway [the private road that leads up to the Aerie]. He’s barefoot. He starts down — the scooter picks up speed — he puts his foot out as if the headlong rush surprises or frightens him, then he stands on the scooter and rides it to the bottom, steers it left to go down the next hill, yelling at the top of his lungs. Then he climbs both hills again, talking to himself, and repeats the ride.
♦October 1, 2009
I have the new Best American Short Stories. Eleanor Henderson, whose story presented in my Bread Loaf group in 2005 I deemed perfect is in it. So is someone I know from the Poets & Writers board, for the second year in a row. Alexi Zentner [who was in my BL workshop this year] is in the 100 Notable Stories, as is William Lychack, the Fellow in the workshop where I met Eleanor. Where am I? Still scribble scribbling. I can do this. I know I can do this!
♦November 1, 2009
First cup of coffee spent breathing and pondering. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Still I say it. Still I believe it. Reading in Aryn Kyle The God of Animals. Alice in the story is 12 years old and living my fantasy life — she lives on a ranch in Colorado, helps her father with the horses, and has, if not a dead mother, one who never leaves her bedroom (because she has fallen into a depression).
♦December 1, 2009
Happy Birthday to my cousin Rosemary, whose birthday I long thought was December 6th. I learned from Facebook that it is today!
My emotional health, my state of mind, has been wobbling of late. I am not depressed, but neither do I have the same sunny confidence I had when I declared at the beginning of November that I was Back back from the mild funk that was threatening to blossom fully into a diagnosable depression. I had a good three weeks, but since about Thanksgiving I’ve been distracted, unable to maintain focus, beset by anxiety about the “brief procedure” scheduled for December 22.
I used an exercise from personal growth coach Jennifer Louden that helps to determine the source of a troubling emotion. When did I start to feel that I had once again reached the rim of that canyon that is depression? When did I feel the first pieces of the edge begin to crumble and myself to slide?
And I think I found it. Just before Thanksgiving I saw a promo for the new season of the A&E show Hoarders, a weekly look at people whose ability to organize their lives and be productive is so severely compromised, absent even, that their living spaces are waist-deep, even shoulder-high, in clutter and filth. That day there was a Hoarders marathon, back-to-back episodes of the show. I watched one while I ate my lunch.
The therapist who was working with the woman who was the focus of that episode picked up some items and asked her to identify them. They were baby gifts for co-workers, bought years before with the best of intentions but never delivered. The woman said something about needing to get to that soon, but you knew that those babies were probably at least in middle school by now.
That could be me, I thought. That could so be me.
And here we are. If you are still with me, thank you for reading so much, so often. And as I said above, I hope you will follow me into 2010, on a highway in the light.
From the Archives
December 28, 2004 – Epistolary Tropes: The annual family letter is a genre one either loves or hates. Few people are neutral. I’m a connoisseur of the form. I’ve made my share of jokes about the more absurd examples, and once I got zapped by what one of my online friends calls the “karmic boomerang.” In 1995 I was reading one as I walked up the driveway, making fun of how the writer referred to everyone as “our Dear” or “our Darling” Someone (”Our Dear Sherrie Jean has become engaged to her Darling Horatio. . .”). I slipped on a patch of ice and broke my leg in two places. I spent that New Year’s Eve in the hospital.
Love it? Hate it? Just want to say hi?
To comment or to be included on the notify list, e-mail me:
margaretdeangelis [at] gmail [dot] com (replace the bracketed parts with @ and a period) OR
Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/silkentent