The Journals


It’s been hot and muggy, the beginning of another typical NW Florida summer. Each day as the dogs and I slog around the property early in the morning I hope that a storm will give me an excuse to not mow the lawn in the oppressive heat.  So far the weather does not disappoint, with mid afternoon thunder, lightning, dark clouds and brief torrents of rain.  But today there was no excuse, just that it was too miserable even at nine in the morning to consider several hours of yard work.  With the dogs behind me we returned into the air-conditioned house to relax and drink cold water.

But what should I do this morning? I decided that it was time to organize my craft room, a repository for old pictures, sticky notes, pictures and junk.  What good does it do to have notes to help me remember things when the notes are in a pile or in a drawer, along with dog photos, training seminar notes, etc?

Time stood still while I went through item after item, making piles for later. Later never comes, I say to myself in disgust.  Once again I’ll get bogged down while going through the pile of my “treasures”, overwhelmed with making decisions on whether to keep or throw out each item. In the end I know it won’t happen and once again I’ll keep useless stuff.  Gradually the trash can filled though and I realized that each time I go through this ceremony of keep or throw out, the sadness of saying goodbye to a stupid memory on a tiny piece of paper ends with maybe another piece of paper going into the trash.  And tomorrow is trash day so all decisions are final.

To give myself a break I stepped into the closet to go through several notebooks that are filled with beading and knitting and crochet patterns, or other craft hobbies that I may one day attempt.  This is my own physical Pinterest library, as if the one I have online is not big enough.  As if I will live long enough to try everything.

I keep the neatly organized dog training notebooks that I meticulously typed while training my current three dogs. If there is ever a fourth Border Collie I can review my notes from years ago.  Do I keep all the articles I wrote as a correspondent for Front and Finish dog training magazine?  Do I keep all the articles from the same magazine written by well-known trainer and competitor Connie Cleveland?  For now these notebooks are safe from destruction.  When I quit showing dogs there will be a big purge though.

That brought me to the final giant notebooks, my journals that cover decades of my life. At one time my journals were mostly on scraps of paper, words written down while sitting at the beach or in a coffee shop or at home late at night.  But when I retired I transferred each piece of handwritten paper into the computer and printed out my journals in neat chronological order.  But then I had moments of regret.  There are things in my journals that are personal, embarrassing.  What if someone read them before I died?  After I die they would be boring for someone to read and I suspect he or she would simply throw the whole pile of notebooks into the trash, thinking what a nut case I was, good grief!

This morning I took one notebook apart, starting at the most recent date and read each page before putting it in the shred pile. After an hour I had a revelation, an awareness of myself, reasons why I am the way I am.  The journals are me: the good, the bad, the stupid, the innocent, worthless piece of shit that I think I am and have always been.  But it IS the real me.

Author Jon Katz tells his writing students that when they write they should be authentic. I have not been.  I have hidden behind my dogs, my crafts, anything else but the real me, rationalizing that I’m boring.  Who cares?

I know why my father was the autocratic, demanding, loud, caustic mean SOB that he was because I got to meet his domineering mother and hear stories of Dad’s early life. The only thing that saved dad from himself was the military and the strength of my mother.  But, reading my journals, I see how this man’s past impacted me, his daughter.  Women in my youth, in the 1950’s and 60’s, were controlled, managed, steered in the direction the male head of household demanded.  Looking back through the journals I relive the psychological result of repeated submission to male authority, my father, and what it did to me.  In those notebooks is my gradual journey through life to my current happiness and freedom.  I see now that in the end it all works out, that you either survive and keep living or you quit.  You either grow out of your cocoon into a butterfly or die trying.  When my Dad died at age ninety I felt the last rope untie around my soul.  I was free of his verbal and emotional abuse.

As I reread one journal entry I came to the most critical moment of my life, in the 1990’s.  The words reminded me of that chilling event.  No one knows  that one night I had a gun in my hand, that it had a bullet in the chamber and I was seconds away from ending my life. In the next room was my narcissistic husband who laughed the more I cried, who took my self-worth away from me and almost, almost brought me to the end.  But a voice inside me said he wasn’t worth my death.  I would not give him the satisfaction.  From that day forward my life got better because I alone had stopped myself from pulling the trigger.  No one else.  Just like my dad who had pulled himself from a mother who abandoned him to whore herself to catch rich men. My father went on to be successful in whatever he did, to prove himself that he was worthy.  The lesson is that the human spirit can always survive.  I see that now after reading my entries during that time period.

No one knows the pain I went through with my last and final boyfriend, after he had used me for a cheap place to live after his divorce. No one knows how pitifully I tried to give him everything he needed, thinking if only I was a better person.  But yet again, when he left I became even stronger and vowed that he was my last and final man.  Done.  I can survive on my own now and I see that sense of freedom in my later journals and my blog.

But all my journals cover the good, the bad, the ugly and almost the final chapter of my life. The story does not end there.  I will keep the journals intact as a way to remind myself how strong I have become, alone with my dogs and cat, who give me everything I need.  For now.  If there is a chapter with a new man he’ll have to prove himself to be emotionally stable and capable of handling someone who has become confident in herself, all by herself.  Trust is a whole new chapter in my journal.

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