“I take a long look
A long look
It's a hard climb that takes a long time
I can see where I'm going
And some places I've been
I take a long, long look”
~ Sandi Patty, Long Look, from Le Voyage.
Today's entry to this blog is my 200th, and thus an occasion to consider the draw of writing to record thoughts. The world and ways of words and wonder comprise my movable feast. When I think of this verbal vocation, it is with gratitude for what has become a means for continuing discovery. When I was a printmaker, the work was inextricable from the need for printing presses. In my first career, photography, there had to be studio and darkroom space- not to mention the plethora of tools, papers, films, enlargers, chemicals, and hosts of hardware for both film exposure and for printing. By contrast, written observation requires almost nothing. A pencil or pen is applied to paper as footsteps reaching a new meadow. Pages rolling through the typewriter map my city streets, coasts, and country roads.
Materials and tools are to be animated in their application. My photo gear continues with me as part of my bookbinding equipment- and as means to accompany written thoughts. Those utensils which respond to the stirrings of the creative spirit are at the ready. Just downstairs from where I note these words- at the Boston Athenaeum- is a collection of Benjamin Franklin's books. Of these, my favorites are his volumes of Diderot's Encyclopedia. They are as Franklin had left them- with bookmarks, folds, and marginal notes. Well-used tools of the craftsman.
Indeed, my gratitude for the writing impulse has been expressed before. Now, the purpose beyond the craft itself deserves its due. When journaling became very important to me, increasingly more of my time was set aside for this. I remember hearing myself say to my friends that I wanted to write through my culled ideas and hopes. I described the process as "doing the long division," rather than to simply calculate for instant answers. My elementary math teachers required that we "show the work," demonstrating how results were reached. By giving place to thoughts, otherwise voiceless words are distinguished- even if humbly so. Expressing the inner life by configurations of letters and images becomes a pursuit within the grander voyage.
Navigating days and distances as a writer has revealed some unexpected liberties. Regarding content, form follows sincerity- and the idea of "poetic licence" is an encouragement to explore forms of expression. The liberties I refer to here are related to the freedoms opened up by writing. When I traveled as a photographer, my purposes and intentions were often questioned. Traveling as a writer- albeit a journaling scribbler- prompts gracious and courteous treatments in public venues, inns ("this'll be a fine room for you to write in"), restaurants, on flights, and in museums. (Aren't museums places for musing?) Penciling words into notebooks permits me to freely move about the aisles of this world. In addition, that idea-scribing penchant has bailed me through banal meetings in the past, dull events, and aimless lectures. More importantly, creative projects provide constructive ventures other than employment travails and perfunctory obligations.
In several days’ time, the next essay will begin taking shape. At this moment the topics are as yet unknown to me. But there will be something, as surely as there will follow another day of journaling- through my coffee breaks and lunch hour. For me, it is a privilege, and never a tiresome task. In a discourse about her love of gleaning through jotted ideas, Elizabeth Berg wrote:
“Nothing matches this feeling. Nothing brings me this particular kind of joy. And I need it. I crave it. When I don’t have it, I suffer. I feel like a drug addict with an exceptionally wise drug of choice.”
The need to continue writing is equivalent to the necessity of perseverance. In a world replete with instability and static, the critical need to keep balanced and finely-tuned is all the more urgent. The word vocatio translates as a summons. It is a call to persist- not simply in letters and imagery, but in faith. A reminder not to forget to dream, and to go forth with a solid aspiration for better days. There are blessings now, and there is room for improvement. Each day is a step. Alongside the paths of steps, carefully-recorded written words attest to what happens- and how the movements are interpreted. When I organize groups of manuscript records, the basic steps are known in the field as arrangement and description. To do this well, the materials and their respective contexts must be comprehended, otherwise the composite collection will not be coherent to future researchers.
Retrospectively, there is a broad view that presents both ends of the active lives of noncurrent archival records. By contrast, journaling lives in the here-and-now, notwithstanding distant recollections and anticipated aspirations. An archivist’s view of a continuing journal would be that of observing the active life of a current chronicle. Without an end-date, it is an ongoing documentation. There are yet more words to arrange, more journeys to describe.