And now, my 17th journal

So I just peeked. (Why do people start sentences and stories with “So”? When did it start? How did it happen?) I started filling my first journal — the $3.59 clearance book from Hobby Lobby — on Oct. 26, 2011, which would be almost exactly 10 years of regular journaling, except it wasn’t until April 15, 2015, that I got serious about it, coming back almost daily again and again to the point where I needed a new journal every four to six months or so. It took four years to get to the end of Journal One, six months to fill Journal Two, und so wieder.

Thursday morning I started my 17th journal, ranging from 192 to 400 pages, this one and its immediate predecessor being 240-page Moleskines. I have mined the pages to create blog posts and books over the years, but I have not plumbed all the depths, especially the random story ideas and thoughts about novels in progress. The first journal actually was a deliberate attempt to craft my novel The Imaginary Revolution, and since then I have collected blog posts into five more books, but most of the stories are still to come. In fact I just spotted an old idea for a dystopian novel in the first (or was it second?) journal that sparked something within anew.

I often re-introduce my hopes and goals at the beginning and end of these things, and comparing notes with myself can be frustrating. I keep writing things I didn’t set goals for. One book morphs into another, and others spring out of thin air. I did not wake up one morning to write a series of “writing rules,” nor did I set out to write a short story framed as 10 letters from an imaginary re-education camp established in a woodsy area by the USSA regime. They emerged in the just-completed 16th journal while I was thinking I ought to be writing something else. It’s an adult-onset attention deficit disorder kind of life. Maybe I should publish the journals as is under the banner AOADD.

Or maybe I should just R-E-L-A-X and write as I wish on these journal pages. As my most sage writing advice goes, “Write anything until you write something.” That concept literally emerged one day while I was sitting in this chair writing anything that came to mind. I should probably append that advice with, “and keep going!” Sometimes a whole passel of blog posts emerges in one sitting: I’ll be writing anything and then a nifty something will pop up out of nowhere.

At one time I’d stop there and say, OK, that’ll do, but then one day I thought hey, I still have time to keep writing anything, and out popped a second something, and then a third. So now I try to fill at least three journal pages in a session or set a specific time when I will write as much “anything” as I can, and then go back to see if I wrote “something.” Sure enough, not always right away but maybe later, I’ll go back and say, wait a minute, I have something here.

Lost in the flow

Having thoroughly enjoyed two of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novels, Never Let Me Go and Klara and the Sun, it felt like time to visit the author’s perhaps best known work, The Remains of the Day. And, of course, it is a mysterious treasure.

Ishiguro has a knack for creating endearingly flawed narrators and unfolding the story in a way that shows us the other characters in a light that the narrator doesn’t quite understand. As I write this, our friend Stevens is on his way to the climactic reunion with Miss Kenton that, I suspect, will be surprising and sweet, given my past experience with Ishiguro. (The resolution of Klara and the Sun may be my favorite reading moment of this year.)

I enjoy getting lost in stories. As a writer I should pay closer attention to the storyteller’s methods, I suppose, to see what they do to make me lost, but the enjoyment is in the story, not the dissection. And I wonder if I were to try applying lessons and formulas rather than just getting lost in the story as I tell it, the resulting work would feel a bit mechanical. I can sense when a formulaic story has reached its halfway point because the hero has come to her lowest ebb before starting to piece together her eventual triumph.

No, I’m ready to drift along with the story like the proverbial leaf carried on the stream. I would wager the authors of the best stories get caught up the same way. I’m pleased to be able to say I’ve had a few “scenes that wrote themselves” along the way, though I’ve never yet written a tale as fine as Ishiguro’s.

I’d love to see the film now that I’ve read the book, especially as I see Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson are the leads.

My goal is to never be finished

I’m not in any hurry to move on to the next plane of existence. There’s still too much I’d like to do. But I know in a perfect world, I’ll leave some stuff unfinished.

“In a perfect world”? Wouldn’t a perfect world be the one where everything is completed and tied up with a bow?

Nope. Don’t think so.

How would it feel to say, “I’m finished. I’ve accomplished everything I ever wanted to do, done everything I set out to do”?

It would feel wrong, says I. There should always be something on the agenda to do next, or what’s a heaven for?

We all should leave something on the table as evidence we didn’t stop growing and learning and doing.

The best-case scenario is people will say, “Too bad he didn’t finish this and that, but look at all this other cool stuff he did.”

Notes from the road

According to the smartphone, I am 6 hours, 16 minutes on the road away from home. This will be my last entry in Eastern time for a while, maybe ever — you never know. Not being dark, just real. This — Quality Inn in West Branch, Michigan — has become my favorite stop along the way. The moose decor, the clean and quiet rooms, the friendly staff, the great attached restaurant —

It may be time to acknowledge that I love Northern Michigan and Upper Michigan almost as much as I love Wisconsin — the woods, the water, the quiet (The Mackinac Bridge!!!). It is a lovely place to visit; would I want to live here? I don’t know if I’ve been here during peak tourist season or winter, so it’s hard to say. But, this fall morning, after nine hours of sleep, I’m content to be visiting.

Tomorrow (today by the time I rework this into a blog post), I will be back in the daily grind of making community newspapers and helping run a household and finding time to write what I want to write. This has been a 2,000-mile-round-trip road trip sandwiched around a few hours with my sister-in-law and nieces and beloved cousins gathered for my brother’s funeral — and isn’t that a jarring sound, “my brother’s funeral”? I have not made family a top priority since moving to the Midwest 50 (!) years ago, and I always miss these sweet people after spending too-brief visits with them. In that seemingly distant future where I am free of daily grinds (it will likely be sooner than I expect; the future always is), I shall make a trip that involves more than scant hours with each of them — or at least any of them who want me about for a little time. I don’t want to impose.

My companions on the road (Red stayed back to care for the puppy, the hound, and the cat) have been Mark Manson (The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck), David Rosenfelt (Dogtripping and Dachshund Through the Snow), and Agatha Christie (The ABC Murders and Poirot Investigates), with L. Neil Smith (Lever Action) keeping me company during stops. I went through Manson’s book twice — it’s very interesting and is really about how we make choices every day regarding what we give a f*ck about and making sure they’re healthier and wiser choices. I’ve asked the library queue to deliver me the follow-up — Everything is F*cked, A Book About Hope — as soon as possible.

OK, I feel the need to sum up and say something pithy here, but maybe I just did, so let me turn to one or two of the tasks that will bring home some bacon before I depart this lovely spot.

Take back your life

(With apologies to the Galaxy Being and Freddie.)

We live in a time of seemingly unprecedented privacy invasion, government overreach, and Orwellian illogic. I’ve spent most of the last two weeks cleansing my palate by writing a dystopian story about the re-education camps that may seem an inevitable product of our present condition.

We now return to our regularly scheduled encouragement: These wannabe overlords are far less relevant than they imagine.

You control the reception of their messages. If you wish to make it louder, you can bring up the volume. If you wish to make it softer, you can tune it to a whisper. You control the horizontal. You control the vertical. You can roll the image, make it flutter. You can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity.

In the big picture, on the bottom line, at the end of the day, you control all that you see and hear. You are participating in a great adventure, experiencing the awe and mystery that reaches from the inner mind to the outer limits.

It’s not theirs to control, no matter what the voice in the little box is telling you. Open your eyes, look up to the skies, and see.

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