Because I’m a writer, some people think I keep a journal. Those people are wrong. Despite youthful stabs at diary keeping that never got much past “I wish I hadn’t cut my hair,” I’ve never enjoyed the kind of navel gazing the act seems to require. I want an audience, thank you very much. So I write letters, I write columns – but you knew that. And no matter how many beautifully bound blank books I buy, they remain mostly, well, blank.
Still, I like to keep track of things. That’s why I buy an engagement book every year, and why I’ve been hanging onto them for years. I don’t often sit reading them, but it’s good to know that if I need to know a fact, I can find it there.
I had ten or so of them out the other day because I was possessed with the need to figure out all the travel I had done over the past decade. It bothered me that I couldn’t recall which year we went to Seattle, which to Estes Park. I can, and frequently do, consult my long suffering husband about these matters, but I wanted it written down. (This may be related to my being a librarian. Remind me to tell you about the inventory I made of all our closets sometime.)
It was pretty weird, going through each day, each week and month. This is your life, our calendars tell us, and often it’s a strange hodgepodge. There’s little emotion in the kind of books I keep; I have to supply that yourself, long after the fact. What I found, overall, was a focus on the five aspects every good news story is supposed to have: Who, what, when, where, and why.
Who? Only the most determined hermit has a datebook that isn’t peppered with lots of names. (And, okay, I don’t suppose most hermits keep them, but bear with me.) What’s sobering is how many names are less than familiar now. Ten years ago, I had lots of lunches with someone named Amy. Amy? Amy who? If you’re out there, forgive me, and please, drop me a line! Other names are bittersweet. “Lunch with Jan – Bierstube” shows up more than once, and it makes me smile and sigh simultaneously. Jan was such a great, funny, warm friend, but cancer stole her from my book much too soon. Other people come and go, or rather, go and come back. Last year I recorded “Steve’s retirement party”; this year it says “Steve & Sandy visit.” Thank goodness.
Other names have clues provided, but it hardly helps. One note in 2000 says “Jennifer’s – Green house, pine tree.” Hmm. I have no idea. Then there’s Dr. Klein, who I seemed to see a lot of late that year. But who was he? A dentist? A psychotherapist? I hope not. If so, I was in serious emotional trouble back then. I still haven’t figured him out.
What? On July 3, 2002, it says “Pizza at noon with fun, fun people!!” This handwriting looks suspiciously unlike my own scribbles. The date says it all – I was about to leave my job at Loras, my coworkers ordered pizza for my sendoff, and my daughter, who was between jobs, as they say, was volunteering in my office, so she wrested control of my datebook book away from me. There are many other “what’s” in here. This is where I keep track of the movies we see and the books I read, but it’s alarming how many plots have faded with the sands of time. There are many notes relating to work which mean next to nothing to me now. I do like remembering the time my daughter, still out of work, drove a grant proposal I’d written to Des Moines herself in order to meet the deadline. We got it, too.
When? This might seem to be the whole point of this endeavor. It is, after all, how I found out the dates for all those trips I took. But some of these notations puzzle me. Why was it so important that I “Call Co. ext. gardener” at 6:30 p.m. on August 27, 1997? Other notes make perfect sense. I wrote down my mother’s precise time of death, down to the minute, in here, as well as the day my ex-husband died, when I just wrote, “Chris.” Some dates, like September 11, 2001, are important for reasons bigger than ourselves. I find myself wanting to know what mundane things I was occupied with just before and after the terrorist attacks that day. A lunch at Mario’s is crossed out on the page, but an appointment with a surgeon is not. It was a day for serious stuff.
Where? I’m happy to report that I got my list of far flung places all lined up like suitcases in a row. San Antonio, L.A., D.C., Las Cruces, Cape Cod, Zurich, Munich, Venice, Florence, Atlanta, Charleston, San Diego, Tucson, it’s all there, and then some. Closer to home, I could tell you every time I went south to Davenport or northeast to Madison on those highways that are blessedly four-lane at last. Don’t ask me why I needed to know. I just did. And now I do.
Why? Here’s where my trusty engagement books let me down, more than a little. A real diary or journal would probe the reasons beneath that flight to San Antonio (a work related trip sweetened by the presence of friends I’d made in the grantwriting field) or the whirlwind trip to four European cities in ten days in 2003 (my second honeymoon, infinitely better than the first). These books just list flight numbers and city names. My last trip to D.C. didn’t even mention that I’d dragged my daughter along, after numerous solo trips for business, or that we nearly wilted in the summer heat.
My mother used to say, “Never argue with a woman who keeps a journal!” She kept detailed logs of her days – mostly facts, but spiced with a few choice comments. So far, I’m doing okay with these notes and my more or less reliable memory. If I start to forget, I’ll get help. Maybe Dr. Klein, whoever the heck he is, can help me.