This essay originally appeared in Volume 12, Issue 2 of The Inner Swine.
The Sad Tale of My Journal
by Jeff Somers
LIFE moves pretty fast, in a way. In some ways, sure, it drags along—an endless series of eight-hour sessions behind a desk, sleeping, and generally doing the same things over and over again, like consuming an entire bottle of bourbon and waking up two states away wearing a pirate costume. These sorts of ruts make it easy to let your existence slip into a blur that’s hard to remember. I don’t think this is anything new; I’m pretty sure that a few thousand years ago when daily life was an endless heart-pounding series of near-death experiences and desperate struggles to survive, it all got kind of blurred together into one endless mortal combat and individual days got scrambled into a melange.
A few years ago, I realized that my life was slipping away like that. Not that I was spending every day in a rut of blood struggles against nature, but that my days were terribly similar and were thus blending together, resulting in an existence that I couldn’t pin point very accurately. Memories stood out, of course, but I found I was having increasing difficulty placing those memories in context and in the proper timeline. I remember being naked and chased by police in Mexico, I would think, and having to steal a woman’s dress from a clothesline. When was that? 1993? 1994? And I’d be unable to place it in my own personal timeline.
This disturbed me. I’m a strangely organized and anal-retentive person in many ways; while I don’t mind losing my trousers on a constant basis and view my finances as someone else’s worry, I like everything to be in its proper place otherwise, and this includes my own fucking memories. So I bought a simple marble notebook and started a journal. Not a diary, mind you—in my mind there’s a difference, although that may be one of many examples of me having a private and personal definition of a word that the world at large does not share. In my mind, a diary is someplace you record your thoughts and impressions—and possibly the day’s events—whereas a journal is simply a record of your activities, with perhaps a stray thought or impression slipping in from time to time. To illustrate:
DIARY: Dear Diary: Today I am sure I will be able to shotgun an entire bottle of schnapps—I know it! Woke up feeling strong and powerful, stomach empty but stable, mind clear, and thirsty. Today I know I will be able to take that rubber hose and funnel, kneel down carefully, give the thumbs up and manage to swallow the whole bottle without hesitation. Today’s the day!
JOURNAL: Work, home, tried to shotgun entire bottle of schnapps again, same EMT guys as last time showed up and were quite rude.
See the difference? This is how my mind works, at least, even if the rest of the world doesn’t agree. The purpose of my journal is simply so I can order up my memories and refresh them when I need to, so if I suddenly ask myself when I did something, I can fix it in the timeline. This may not seem very important to you, but trust me, it helps me sleep at night. I’m a writer, after all; nothing seems quite real to me unless it’s been written down in some permanent manner—hence my affection for baseball, with its tomes filled with statistics.
So, I’ve been keeping the journal for about six years now. I go through periods of being very good about updating it, and then I’ll go a month without filling it in regularly and I’ll have to try and reconstruct the past four weeks’ events from memory, which sort of defeats the purpose entirely, I suppose, though I think reconstructing things a month after they’ve occurred is still a lot better than reconstructing them a decade after they’ve occurred Looking back over these few thousand entries, a disturbing pattern emerges: A great deal of the time, I have nothing worth writing in the journal.
Remember, my journal doesn’t contain many impressions or thoughts; it’s merely a laundry list of actions and events. When you scan through these notebooks, you see large tracts of paper where the entries are all pretty much the same:
2/25/06 – work, nada
Now, the fact that most of us lead lives of quiet desperation is not news, and I’m certainly not an exception to the rule. Most people, I think, even adventurers, spies, and serial killers, lead lives that are 85% grocery shopping and toilet activities. Our lives conspire against us, after all; someone has to clean the bathroom, someone has to put gas in the car, someone has to buy new socks. Even serial killers, even the type of genius unkillable serial killers you only ever find in movies need to purchase new socks from time to time, and the evening they decide to go out and purchase new socks is inevitably a boring evening not worth writing about. Unless of course they decide to kill the entire staff at the store they shop for socks in, I guess. But even then, since they are serial killers, I’d imagine killing gets a little blurred with the constant repetition. So instead of work, nada they’d write woke up, killed six people but it would be the same thing. Daily life is pretty forgettable, so it’s no real surprise that the majority of my entries reflect this. But still, staring down at line after line of this, day after day where nothing out of the ordinary happened, is kind of depressing. I guess there are worse things; endless entries that read work, beaten unconscious by neighborhood kids again would be pretty horrifying in retrospect. Or maybe even that would be better than the gray sludge of work, nada.
It probably depends on how small those neighborhood kids are.
Not much I can do about it, though. Having a lot of boring filler between the cool stuff is pretty much how life is structured, after all. You can aspire to doing something really cool and amazing every day, but for those of us who have to work for a living that would be a little difficult to organize. Plus, let’s not forget that for me at least a lot of that white space is taken up writing; what I’m doing right now probably won’t get detailed into that journal, but about 95% of those work, nada entries could probably honestly be changed to work, wrote a bit, nada, which is slightly better. It at least gives the impression that I’m doing more than sitting in a hard-backed chair staring at the walls. Which is, I admit, what I’m usually doing when not writing.
Still, it’s disconcerting to see all that white space, and I’m pondering my legacy—you know, when future academics start collecting all my written artifacts in order to plumb my genius, and some ambitious professor somewhere gets their hands on my journals, seeking insight into my creative spark. Or perhaps when the journals get entered as evidence in the Trial of the Century once I give up on my doomed literary career and embark on my second career as a Super Villain of some sort, whichever. Do I really want the academics of the future to read work, nada sixteen-thousand times? Think of the affect that would have on my reputation as a colorful drinker and social gadfly! No, it won’t do. So I could come up with a special code, a code phrase that would mean “work, nada” to me, but would sound like something more exciting. Like maybe work, defeated invading army of mole men attempting to break through cellar floor again or work, perfect cold fusion technique again but got drunk and spilled schnapps all over my notes again. Something like that. I’ll know it means I went to work, came home, and watched the paint dry for a few hours that evening, but future academics won’t. Though, to be honest, they’ll probably suspect.