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Keeping my head in order

Yesterday, life was pretty easy to live. The whole thing was laid out before me before I even started. I was up at 8 a.m., brewed a cup of tea, and then sat down to my work.

Since I run most of my life by the seat of my pants, I usually don’t know what I’m going to do with my day. Sure, I have job responsibilities. Family takes time. Housework. And I want to write. How to line all these things up is my quandary. I sometimes wake up and start making it up. Actually, most times I’m making it up.

When the days work best, however, is when I sit down and actually sketch out a plan for a day. I keep a journal. It’s nothing special and sometimes just a diary that helps me remember what’s happened in a day. Writing in the journal allows me to differentiate one day from the next. Let’s admit it. Days have a way of creeping one into the other. The older I get, the more frequently I realize that it’s Friday again. What happened to the rest of the week? One Friday looks a lot like another. Keeping the journal is my way of adding color to the gray.

In my journals, I keep track of myself. I go through and ask myself questions and try to answer them honestly: What have I accomplished today and to what end? When was I selfish, dishonest, angry, or afraid? Do I owe anyone an apology? How can I do better? Did I do my best?

(I handle this last question carefully. Some days my best isn’t very good, particularly when I’m sick, hurt, or have suffered a difficult night’s sleep.)

It all seems very serious. But the journal is my way of telling me about myself. Through the years, I’ve filled many journals. Sometimes I go long periods without writing in them. But I find myself out of kilter. It’s like the lines get blurred if I don’t keep them in order. And really, that’s a feat. I’m not really an orderly kind of guy. I can stand some deviation. But I can’t deal with clutter in my daily, walking-around life or in my head. Writing in the journal is my way of clearing off the kitchen counter that is my mind.

As a part of writing in the journal, I consider, most nights when I take up the pen, the 24-hours ahead. I think about deadlines, things that need to be done around the house, writing I want to accomplish, teaching duties, family obligations and things I’d like to do with family. I list those things out in a narrative, not necessarily a list. Sentences that contain who, what, when, where, why, and how.

Sometimes, the following morning, I check back with my journal to keep myself on track. If, for instance, I want to scribble something for this blog, I might develop the idea for an essay in the journal. Not often, but enough to keep producing work that you might want to read. The subjects I write about are things that I need to deal with, questions I need to answer, flaws I should work out, stitches that keep me up at night and need to be unthreaded.

I don’t know if any of this has made me a better person, but it sure helps me sleep at night, which is probably the point of the whole exercise.

I think sometimes about what someone will find if they look back through these blank-page books I fill with my handwriting. They might learn aspects of how my mind works. More likely, they will find a guy who’s pretty boring and whose life is filled with workaday items common to just about anyone. I do laundry, wash the dishes, occasionally swab out the toilets and scrub the tub. It’s all in there.

Then, there’s some pretty dicey stuff in there, things I don’t want my wife or kids to know until I’m dead. I feel self-conscious when I write these things. After all, nothing keeps these people from looking through my journals. The old ones, the ones filled with my scrawls, lay about the house in various places—bookshelves, bedside table, under the bed. The one I’m working in stands next to the television near a laptop desk Virginia bought for me for Christmas. (I used to use a board.) They have free access. And, thank god, they aren’t much interested in what my journals contain. Either that or they respect my privacy, which is great. I think that what’s theirs is theirs. That it comes back to me is a great blessing.

So, the journals order my days, both those past and those yet to come. I’m generally not a long-term thinker. I limit my thinking in the journals to just what’s ahead, what needs to be done. I don’t plan weeks in advance. I used to count down the days to an event or meeting. The anticipation kept me on edge. I used to live in the future. The journals keep my head in the moment. Life’s just a whole lot easier when I’m living what’s in front of me.

When I make plans for the next 24 hours, they form a guide, a sort of roadmap. Fortunately, roadmaps often reveal many paths to the same destination. When I’d doing the journal thing right, I start my day with a rough idea where I want to go. Things happen. People make decisions. Things don’t go my way. Many paths to the same destination. Flow like water.

The night before last, I thought about yesterday. I had a writing workshop to lead. After the workshop, I had a reading. I planned out the course of the workshop and thought seriously about what parts of my books I wanted to read to the audience. I was nervous about the day but wrote myself out of it. I slept well.

Then, I woke and made my tea. I washed and put up my hair (that’s right, it’s that long). I sat down with my books and let them guide me on what to mark for the reading. Then, when time came, I drove to the Writers Place and began to assess the situation. The deal wasn’t going the way I planned from the very beginning. Some people came with finished pieces they wanted to workshop. Others didn’t. I had to flow. My goal was to make sure that everyone got their $50 out of the deal. That’s what I wanted and through intuition and seat-of-the-pants thinking, I believe everyone did.

If not, I did the best that I could, and that’s what I strive for every day.

After the workshop and reading, I took a nap and then sat with Virginia for a quiet night at home. Movies. Some talk. I watched her do some of her work. It was a nice night and a good day. I was able to sit down to my journal and write of my favorite things: Life was pretty easy to live today.

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