If You Want to Keep a Journal

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One of the reasons why people resist keeping a journal is because they assume it will quickly become a garbage can for all of the spoiled plans, bad news and other dark developments in their life. The journal I keep is the spiritual equivalent of a personal light box or cheering section which I create as I go along. This isn’t to say that the pages are without pain or perplexity. The dilemmas in my life were one of the main reasons I began to keep a journal in the first place. But I use it as a tool for solving or understanding them. Whatever insights or glimpses of the truth I glean when sitting quietly in a wing chair – thinking, reading, or simply gazing out the window at a neighbor walking her dog – is what I write down.

There are other, less self-involved motives for keeping a journal. Knowing I have a place to save them keeps me on the lookout for beauty on display, even in a checkout line in Safeway, or on the other side of a grimy train window in the rain. These are my butterflies, halted mid-flight on the page. Then, there is the “Journal As Ragbag” use, where I store stories, anecdotes or phrases that please my mind and ear. When my children were small, they would often say something so heart-breakingly astute or funny that I rushed to preserve it – sometimes for tomorrow’s essay, which used to drive my children crazy. “Nobody else I know has this problem” wailed my daughter, Eliza after she found herself trapped in a car full of other Brownies listening to her mother read an essay on the radio – about embarrassing her children! Read More

In New York City

 Waiting in Penn Station for the train back to Virginia, I watched a young girl, perhaps seventeen or eighteen, who was also waiting. There was an expectant, self-contained happiness about her that had everything to do with what she was think¬ing about—perhaps a boyfriend who was going to meet her at the other end. Her thoughts competed with her eyes, which gazed out at the flow of travelers, but she was only mildly, idly interested, following someone for just a few yards before returning to the more brightly lit interior of her own mind. She was so fresh and innocent, like a soap scrubbed schoolgirl, clutching her plum-colored garment bag, which matched her plum-colored luggage. Read More


As of this moment I am bill-free and paid up. It is, however, the beginning of a new month of bills to come. Without the income from a monthly column (my contract with House Beautiful maga­zine has just ended), I am vulnerable. Well, so be it. I must make an act of faith and go ahead with the new asphalt driveway.

This may be as good a place as any to say a few words about my attitude toward money, a topic that surfaces frequently in my jour­nal, usually when I’m about to run out of it. As a freelance writer it helps to be independently wealthy, married to someone who has a regular job, or—failing that—have a regular job yourself. None of this has ever been true of me, at least for very long, and when I was getting divorced my lawyer kept asking me about assets I surely must have forgotten when I was making up the list. “No,” I said, gesturing to my blue-jean skirt and thrift-shop sweater, “what you see is what you get.” My lawyer, who was sitting beneath a plaque that read ASSUME NOTHING, smiled. “In my experience, women who look like you are often worth millions.” But the facts are that while I have lived around wealthy people all my life, my own family consistently bought high and sold low until we had nothing but a bunch of scuffed-up antiques and some scrapbooks full of photo­graphs of houses that were no longer ours.

On the subject of money, here’s what I have going against me: an inability to sustain my interest in it for very long, a deep-seated belief that there is nothing I can do to better my economic position, and a relationship with my bank account that is akin to the relationship I have with my refrigerator. I rarely know what is in either one. Read More