20 August 2002

The end of all scribblement is to entertain."
   - Jonathan Swift

I had a sobering moment at the local bookseller's today. Let me give a little background information here. I write a regular newspaper column about journalers, focusing on topics and issues, rather than on the mechanics and how-to-do-its. Week after week, I slog through published journals, some dating back several hundred years, searching for common themes. I excerpt small bits, and then weave them together into a brief rumination on said themes. Normally, I stay away from offering advice about keeping a journal -- the market's saturated with articles, columns, and advice on that matter by plenty of people with considerably more qualifications than I possess. Instead, I offer up tidbits of commentary on the lives writers have led, and I try to frame the writing in some context that makes sense to local readers. I've been told my column is serving its purpose, and that readers are enjoying it, even as they learn something.

I'd recently read one of Virginia Woolf's diaries (the collection is one of my all-time favorites). In it, she made some off-hand remarks about how it was time to have the loose sheets packaged up and sent to the printers for binding. She was in the habit of writing on single sheets, piling them up, and then creating the "journal" after the fact. This is a similar thing to what Julia Cameron suggests journalers do with "morning pages" in her wonderful book, "The Artist's Way." I've been writing morning pages for several years, but I've always had pre-fabricated journals for them, rather than the loose pages. My latest contrivance has been to make my own blank books: I buy stationery I love, then take it to a printing press, where they obligingly cut, shape, cover, and bind the sheets into blank books made to my precise, demanding specifications. I've always thought the blank books and sketch books you can buy in stores were somewhat expensive, particularly since I'm in the habit of filling up seven to ten pages every day (only the first three are morning pages, mind you). Over time, it adds up.

So, today I decided to see what was available in the bookstore by way of blank books. I didn't have anything specific in mind -- I even considered that if warranted, I might include some information in my next column about the sizes, costs, and options (ruled, unruled, gridded, weights, covers). After all, I've been writing the column for nearly a full year -- surely by this time, a few people might want to know how and where to acquire the materials for journaling. Did I ever get a surprise.

Instead of blank books, what I found on the shelves were mostly "tutorials" for journaling, covering a variety of topics and themes. Gardening, gratitude, grandmothering, spirituality, weight control, book/movie/music reviewing, feminism, teaching, travel, illness, writing, and a host of others, all designed to step the neophyte journaler through from the first page to the last. I was flabbergasted. 

All I could think was, these aren't journals, these are specialized self-help books masquerading as journals. Some even had full pages of photographs and paragraphs and inspirational quotes designed to lead the writer through the thought process which might result in a paragraph or two about him or herself. Sort of a "paint-by-numbers," using words.

Most significantly, the only words in my journals are mine, unless I consciously choose to quote somebody else. All the pages in my journal are unmarked until I put my pen and thoughts to them. 

Nobody else's ideas invade my privacy as I write. All I can say is thank heaven for web logs, where anarchy and freedom of thought still have a toe-hold. I'm hoping the "tutorial" journals are a passing fad, and will soon end.

Excuse me. I have to find my pen. Blank pages are beckoning me.


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