This will not impress you. I can not impress upon you enough how much this will not impress you.
Don’t tell me what to think, you say. Don’t tell me how to feel, you say. Don’t try to control my emotions.
Of course not, I say. I would never be so bold. Which is a goddamned lie and I know you know it. That is all I am ever trying to do. That is the entire point of this. Do not ever trust me.
There are words and words every day in places far more respectable and celebrated than this for people who go about the searching of words. As I do. As you do. As we all do. These hallowed halls of textuality and of contextual duality and of high-minded, reverant consubstantiality. Where we feel we belong. Where we go searching for enlightenment and to hear opinions from writers we’ve taught ourselves to identify with and from whom we pull ideas like junk food from their bored and jaded beaks. I spend a lot of time in these places. I spend a lot of time appreciating these places. I spend a lot of time resenting these places.
I used to write stories about my life in this space. Then I grew cold on that. I think I wanted to be less subject and more object. So I began writing stories loosely based on my life instead. Thinly-veiled little vignettes. Crafted in such a way so as to distance myself. Not so much “trick” any of you. More to trick myself into saying more than I normally would. These sketches, set in environments not unlike my own house and back yard. With characters not unlike the ones I eat with. Not unlike the ones I drink with. Not unlike the ones I sleep with. Set in frames of mind not unlike my own dog-obsessed inner universe. I did this to give myself emotional distance from my nagging bugaboos. But I kept falling back on what I knew. Which was this: honest little essays about my life. It seems I can’t escape that.
So I’ve come here today to confess. To myself mostly (because I’m sure the rest of you knew it already) that I am a journaler. I journal things. I take photos. I write notes. I document. I’ve learned to be this way from other people I admire. But it’s also come from somewhere else. Maybe my parents. I discovered books of journals from my mom after she died. And I’ve been told to expect the same from my dad. So maybe it’s some kind of gene passed on from them. Or maybe it’s just some impulse given by the High Oyster we call god. All I know for sure is I’ve been doing it since at least third grade.
Yes, I’m a journaler, it turns out. My god. Against all my better schooling. Against all my better learning and good judgement and grade point averages and high-minded college essays about Modigliani and Melville and Rothko and Wittgenstein. (I had such promise!) I’m a journaler. Not to be confused with journalist. Which is a far more reputable and prominent thing to be. With their adherence to the true fact over the true emotion. With their steadfast worry over details. I admire many of these folks, as well. Many of them have great hair. Which is a thing we should all have, at least once in our lives.
I have not given myself the luxury of writing here as often as I used to. Because it seems indulgent. It seems like time wasted. It seems like the time would be better spent on my novel or crafting essays that will appear in the hallowed pages I’ve mentioned already: the online spaces of journals and lit mags and magazines. To be one of the mama and papa birds doling out sugary food and loving the little chirps and tweets they get in return. But however nice those online spaces are, those pages, they are not the thing I have here. Which, in the end, is the only thing really worth anything to anybody that matters. Certainly to me.
I want to be clear: this isn’t a call to myself to retreat into a cave. I want to continue to try and have my words in other people’s places. But I miss the freedom of just writing because I want to say something trivial or non important or, sometimes, extremely important. To me. Things about my life. Thoughts and ideas and stories that are only half-formed. But still out in the world and not hidden on a hard drive. I want to start giving myself that luxury again. It’s something I told myself I would do in 2013. And I’m finally doing it, by god, even though it’s taken me 45 days or so.
The other day, it snowed about a foot of snow here in Jersey. Nowhere near the 28-30 inches of accumulation that New England saw, but enough to fill up my yard and driveway pretty damn good. When I went out Saturday morning, I went out with a plastic yellow snow shovel. I have two plastic yellow snow shovels. One I keep in the back and one I keep in the garage. Part way through my shoveling, I was offered a snow blowing machine by a neighbor, but I turned it down. Because even though I was drenched beneath my warm clothes with sweat and my arms and back and wrists were tired, I like to do it with a goddamned snow shovel. The reason I like to do it with a goddamned snow shovel is because I still can. And I know very well that there will be a day when I can’t. When I will sit in my house and look out at a blizzard and remark to C about its beauty and hope to hell somebody young comes early in the morning to dig us the fuck out of that beautiful thing. And I know when I get to that point, I’ll want to be able to get up and do it myself. I’ll want to do it more than anything else. I’ll want to do it the same way I’ll still want to punch a bag. The same way I’ll still want to drink too many beers and do too many shots. The same way I’ll want to fuck. But I know that I won’t be able to do it anymore. That I really shouldn’t do it anymore. And I’ll listen to my body and I’ll appreciate what it’s given me, and I’ll concede to what it’s telling me. Which is that shoveling snow would be a bad idea. And I dread this day more than anything else.
So, for now, I will use a goddamned shovel. And every day from now until I can’t.
And I suppose I will do this to, this journaling thing. I will do this journaling thing so I can document the ways I am and the ways I change. So I can remember the greenness of the grass. Or the way a flower bed looked before I put a fence around it. Or the satisfaction of laying two yards of Shenandoah river stones. Or the way my dogs play or curl up with one another on the couch or lick each other’s ears.
And maybe these will look like somebody else’s stories one day. When Honey and Rothko are gone. When the only things I can remember are the things I’m doing at that exact moment. Like, opening the pill box on the “M” or the “T” or the “F” and dumping the contents into my wrinkled hand, the satisfying “click” it makes when I close it. These details. These journalistic facts.
The reason I do it with a shovel, and the reason I write, is because I still can. And there will be a day when I can’t. And I will look back fondly on the days that I could. And I want to look back on those days and I want to say, look at that, I used to be able to clear the driveway with a goddamned shovel. And that will be something to me then. It will be something important. It’ll be everything.