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Month: October 2009

ó tu mortal

Today I took some dried bits of tobacco I had balled up tight in my left fist and ground them into a stone monument atop an Iroquois burial mound in Scarborough.

Five hundred bodies below my feet. Sun in my hair. Long clouds shoving their way across the huge northeastern sky.

As I scraped my palm along the grey rock, the back of my hand all yellow and sickly-looking from clenching, I thought of my generations. My grandmother, died November 1st not so many years ago. My grandfathers. Their parents, whose names I don’t know. Three and four and five generations back, complete mysteries, an empty space, blank faces and unknown names. I may never know my family’s histories, but I can imagine them. I closed my eyes, hoped I could honour the ones come before, and asked forgiveness of the ones come after.

Crunch crunch crunch for the dead. Autumn wind, gusting, took much of it away.

bodies of water

Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.

So the point of my keeping a notebook has never been, nor is it now, to have an accurate factual record of what I have been doing or thinking. That would be a different impulse entirely, an instinct for reality which I sometimes envy but do not possess.

I sometimes delude myself about why I keep a notebook, imagine that some thrifty virtue derives from preserving everything observed. See enough and write it down, I tell myself, and then some morning when the world seems drained of wonder, some day when I am only going through the motions of doing what I am supposed to do, which is write — on that bankrupt morning I will simply open my notebook and there it will all be, a forgotten account with accumulated interest, paid passage back to the world out there.

But our notebooks give us away, for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable “I.” … We are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its maker.

It is a good idea, then, to keep in touch, and I suppose that keeping in touch is what notebooks are all about. And we are all on our own when it comes to keeping those lines open to ourselves: your notebook will never help me, nor mine you.

[Again, Joan Didion.]

Every notebook I have kept since 2002, black hardcover blank paged deeply personal things, was lost in the post sometime in the last three and a half weeks. I’ve deluded myself thinking that they could still be on the way — just a little delayed is all, they’ll arrive tomorrow or the next day. But after three and a half weeks it’s time to give up that space on the book shelf I was holding empty for them. It’s time to fill that space with documents or magazines or other, softcover notebooks with quotes and statistics and hastily-scrawled scraps of stories in them. Not the hardcover ones. Not the black ones. Those are gone.

History is tidalectic, I tell myself. It’s not that I’ve lost those seven years — important years, when I lived in Madrid, in Sackville, in New York, in Paris. These past two months, compounded by having to pack up my things and move across the world again, have already been filled with loss. If life were shaped like an arrow, I would accept this as a defeat. But life is shaped like a tide. It rolls around and it roars, in and out with the cycles. Up and down. It will all come back to me somehow.