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Enter Stage Left

If a tree falls in the forest, and I don’t journal it, did it really happen?

Photo: Evalyn Baron

Well, I may as well try to make some sense of it all.”

I wrote that sentence on a muggy Atlanta day, having just graduated from Northwestern University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in theatre. I was headed for graduate school in Minneapolis, on a McKnight Fellowship, to further my studies and acting talent (I wondered if I even had any at the time), and to say my future loomed in a scary way … well, that’s an understatement. I was vibrating with fear.

And the only place I could possibly put those vibrations was down on paper. So I sat at my momma’s kitchen table and began a journal writing habit that would last for 50 years. And, in the form of this column, has continued.

Actually, I’d begun that journal habit in my first-level acting class, taught by Dr. Hinderyckx, when he ordered us to write down everything we saw, heard, smelled, and tasted in a day. We would then hand that in, and he would write his reactions to our earnest scribblings. His comments were always in red ink. I treasured them.

Well, the above is not totally true: Actually, I began my journal writing at age 15, when my momma gave me and my brother our first blank books, suggesting we put down our thoughts in them. My brother began to fill his with news headlines of the day from the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, while I came out of the gate with all the feelings that were bursting inside me. I wrote in pink ink, dotted my Is with little flowers and stars, and called the diary “Dear Heart” because it sounded so artistic. Even then, I dramatized. But even then, I wrote.

In fact, my decades of journaling have been my personal and primary form of theater ever since I felt that the blank page was my only true and trusted friend, the one audience I could count on — that audience being me — and a place where I could always go on a lonely Saturday night to feel fully expressed, welcome and, dare I say it? Loved.

I have dozens of handwritten journals now sitting in a book case of drawers I had built to store them, and as I read and reread them, I realize what a body of work they are. And I wonder, what is it about writing that so affirms me, so affirms all of us who absolutely must write, no matter what.

I remember thinking all those years, as I wrote and wrote, that one day, people would read my journals, and at first that limited what I felt I could write, but then one day I realized, if my journaling was to be anything like I wanted it to be, I needed to be totally and unreservedly candid. So I began to write everything I did, felt, saw, thought, and even went into the taboo area of sex: I began being honest about that, too. It became imperative that if I were to write, I had to write it all down and censor nothing. That’s when the journal writing became my honest lifeline to finding out who I was: What was I really made of? I could only ponder such questions in the pages of my handwritten journal pages. The sheer act of letting the ink flow from my thoughts through my arm and pen became a necessity.

Now, as I age and get closer to understanding what truly motivates me, I write by hand rarely. In fact, I write, hardly at all these days. I no longer feel the need to check in to see if I exist by writing myself into being: I am content to be who I am and do not need to check in on myself every day. There was a time when I could go nowhere without a journal and a pen. I carried my journals with me to write in constantly, or just whenever I felt like it. A coffee shop, a park bench, on the subway, in a class, at an audition, wherever and whenever I felt like it, I had the good company of my blank pages. I could shape my world by writing it down. And I wrote constantly. It was as if I did not exist if I did not write in my journal.

Things are different now.

I need to engage in a thorough and constructive process with all those journal volumes, and have determined to begin to put them in digital form. Transcription, pruning, editing, shaping: The journal journey will be a time-intensive and all-consuming one, but it’s time.

It’s also time to bring Enter Stage Left to a graceful and determined end.

Seven years and nearly 100 columns later, I want to thank the Marina Times managing editor, Lynette Majer, and publisher, Earl Adkins, for the space they have given me to express myself, as I have gone through the transition from East to West Coast. I will always be grateful to the Times for the space given me to grow and write.

And to you, dear readers: Stay tuned. Adventures await. Thank you!

 

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