In my bookcase are stacked eight notebooks. Most — on account of excessive love and handling — are falling apart at the bookbinder’s seams, shedding pages like a molting bird losing its feathers. One is severely waterlogged: I lost an entire week of life when a sudden rainstorm rolled over the hills and crashed onto me during a Yosemite backpacking trip, soaking and smudging the journal I had so carefully tucked inside my internal-frame pack.
This mixed bunch — this ragtag collection of books — has captured more than three years of my life.
My journals are my kids. Daenerys Targaryen is the mother of dragons? Cool. I’m the mother of notebooks. (Hear me roar?) It’s a far less exciting descriptor, I know; and, yeah, they’re basically stacks of paper with ink strategically dribbled on them (which are most definitely not capable of killing anyone with fire) — but these journals are my life.
The fact is, I’m a puzzle. And I don’t mean that in a cutesy “I’m different!” way. Without these scribbled-on pages, I would be utterly unknown even to myself. I’m perplexing as fuck. Writing helps me interpret and understand my world. But more importantly, it helps me figure out me.
I first started writing in journals toward the end of my sophomore year of high school. For months, I had been wading through the boggy ground of crippling depression, my feet sinking into the mud every step of the way. I empathized too much with Sylvia Plath’s profound sorrow, Allen Ginsberg’s wide-eyed horror over consumerism and Jack Kerouac’s frantic search for objective truth. I felt like I understood them, and they — from beyond the grave — me.
When I started my first journal, I defined myself in terms of the sticky, sickly-sweet melancholy I inherited from my favorite authors. But the more pages I filled, the more that perspective fell away, revealing something deeper and more raw within me.
I was feverishly seeking release: Every angst-ridden poem I scratched out cried for escape. Glorified diaries they might have been, but those early notebooks schooled me in a kind of self-cartography, mapping out my own interior in blue and black ink.
There’s an apocryphal story about Michelangelo and his masterpiece “David.” It’s said that he was once asked how he could create such a stunning artwork from inanimate, insensate marble. The old master allegedly responded: “It was easy; all I did was chip away everything that didn’t look like David.”
I’m going to run the risk of sounding like I relate to Michelangelo in any way and say this: I get it. When I write, I submit myself to trial by fire. Every one of my journals is a crucible. The fires never burn me. To paraphrase a line from the Jamaican spiritual teacher Mooji — they only burn what I am not.
Here’s the thing about my journals: I’ve never paid one second’s-worth attention to the inane details of my life. The day you catch me wasting ink to complain about how long I waited in line at Philz for my Mint Mojito is the day I quit writing forever.
My notebooks are no casual affair. I often call journaling “bleeding onto the page,” and for good reason. They’re the only place where I allow myself to be really, truly ugly. Between those pages, I give myself the space to process my depression, a former addiction to self-harm and the emotional pain of sexual assault — traumatic events that can (often irreparably) change a person.
I feel a bit like the real-world version of the ancient Greek mythic hero Theseus, who used a giant ball of string to trace his footsteps through the minotaur’s labyrinthine prison. My words are my string: If I ever get lost, I’ve got my pen and notebooks to guide me out again.
I recently wrote in my latest journal — a big white one meant for illustrations of birds (no joke) — “When I think of the future, I imagine only words.” With all eight of my notebooks laid out in front of me on the foot of my bed, another truth emerges clearly: My past, too, is all words.
And me — a flesh and blood woman — what does this all make me? My hands and heart have ink stains. I’ve got a stack of notebooks one foot high. The answer, of course, is this: I am a writer. And if I’m not, I’ll write and write and write, filling pages, spilling ink, until I figure out what it is — who it is — that I am.
“Cutting Room Floor” columns are one-off, arts-oriented pieces written by Daily Cal staff members.
Contact Sarah Coduto at [email protected].