Gone, but Not Forgotten

What’s in My Journal

by William Stafford

Odd things, like a button drawer. Mean
Thing, fishhooks, barbs in your hand.
But marbles too. A genius for being agreeable.
Junkyard crucifixes, voluptuous
discards. Space for knickknacks, and for
Alaska. Evidence to hang me, or to beatify.
Clues that lead nowhere, that never connected
anyway. Deliberate obfuscation, the kind
that takes genius. Chasms in character.
Loud omissions. Mornings that yawn above
a new grave. Pages you know exist
but you can’t find them. Someone’s terribly
inevitable life story, maybe mine.

“What’s In My Journal” by William Stafford, from Crossing Unmarked Snow © Harper Collins, 1981.

This poem by William Stafford would welcome our class on the first day we returned from winter break in January. By that time, my students and I had been journaling together since our first day in September although we called it a “writer’s notebook” or a “commonplace book.” Yes, I know they aren’t interchangeable, but the spirit behind them is similar: to chronicle a life.

On one of our summer trips from New Jersey to Oregon, my son Sam was maybe eight, we decided to spend a glorious sunny day in Portland before driving to our final destination, the Oregon Coast. I wanted Sam to see some of my favorite childhood haunts and that included Macleay Park, the Lower trail.

(photo Wikimedia Commons)

When we had claimed our rental car at the airport, the agent warned us about the recent rash of car thefts targeting rental vehicle. I registered what he said, but in that cavalier way of a native returning home. My mind was fixed on wooing my son with west coast wonder. It was only after we’d returned to our parked car in the wooded lot, the beauty of a day spent among trees and birds and unfamiliar terrain buoying our spirits, that I noticed the sign the front bumper kissed, the warning clear: make sure all cars are locked and valuables secured.

I had taken my wallet, a stroke of luck, but everything from the car had been stolen. Stunned, I stood there chiding myself. Nothing remained, and then I heard Sam’s small voice at my elbow, “Mommy, my journal’s gone.” Along with clothes, and an electronic game that had gotten him through the cross-country flight, a wetsuit for braving the Pacific, Sam had lost his journal.

Clothes and games, the other items that as the trip unfolded we realized we’d lost, could be replaced, but the “agreeable,” amenable stories and drawings of his young life so far were gone. I bought a replacement journal, its crisp blank pages begging for attention, but Sam experienced in the concrete: “Pages you know exist/ but you can’t find them” —what we all know as we return to the pages we’ve written that show us who we are, warts and all, the “terribly inevitable life’s story,” that those words, those moments, are in the wind.

When the Isolation Journals prompt for yesterday asks to “Write a journal entry about why you journal,” I remember that day, and all the writing days that have followed for the both of us as we continue to live and to record.

Room for Growth

Because it’s only a memory now, the reality of moving into this house and the first catawampus days—oh, let’s be honest—weeks, I can only feel grateful. The move itself involved less than two miles, but the emotional distance, immeasurable. Sometimes I think moving up the street was more difficult. This was our second move in less than two years, and there was some anxiety around it, no NIMH data necessary.

The room that would become our bedroom is what my husband tackled first. In less time than it has taken for any other paint color/carpet decision, he had begun work on our retreat from the rest of the house. Meanwhile, we put our mattress on the scrupulously vacuumed and thoroughly cleaned spare bedroom floor. The unfamiliar light from community-maintained fixtures shone through the aged blinds onto the bed during that first month. I didn’t care, truthfully; I was exhausted by a long-term substitute gig with second graders (note to self: never again!).

Each morning I’d go off to work while my husband performed his magic at the other end of the house, relieved that I could leave the it behind. I’d come home, barely keep myself awake ’til 8 when I could ease myself onto the floor once again. By the end of the month and a half it took to get everything the way he wanted it, the light outside had become friendly, predictable, my clothes in various containers, the lack of an intentional, here’s-where-I’ll-put-that space only underscored our new life of possibility.

When I look back at that transition, I smile. That room has its own personality now: shades of blue, crisp sheets, bed off the floor, favorite art, red cabinet, still spare but home. And I am grateful for it all, especially for my husband who made it happen.

(prompt inspired by THE ISOLATION JOURNALS)

Try Our Take-Out

When the phone rings on a Tuesday afternoon, I’m noncommittal about answering. So many robocalls these days, but there it sits, handy. The number registers as in-state even if there’s no name attached. Curious, I answer.

“This is the Newport Public Library,” follows my “Hello.” It turns out they have been holding a book for me, one I requested way back before they shut down, a collection of poetry by Carl Phillips Wild Is the Wind, better yet, they are calling to let me make an appointment to pick it up.


“Hooray!” is my first thought, then “When did this option become available?” I voice neither, but I eagerly schedule my pickup for the next day.  I am down to one remaining borrow on my Hoopla account, yet it’s only May 5th—not a good sign. The money I have spent on ebooks, and the workout my ancient Nook color has borne with some resistance, attest to the fact that, unlike others who are struggling to read, to focus during this time, I can still escape with the best of them! And escape (therapy) I must!

I show up within the 30 minute window but barely because, guess what? I was reading. The librarian loves that when I explain my near-miss. Both of us muffled by brightly decorated, non-medical face masks, chat over a book cart and at least six feet of distance. She lets me know that, if I request a book from the local branch, I can repeat our exchange every week, but only once, she cautions. With this news, my heart races—not sorry, no lie.

Yesterday I get another call, but I’m too late to answer. Again a number without a name, but I call back, and yes, it’s the Newport Public Library. Time to schedule a pick-up. (Good thing, too. Yesterday I used my last Hoopla ebook borrow: The Opposite of Everything by Joshilyn Jackson).

Tomorrow’s the day. Here’s my list. I love my library!Screen Shot 2020-05-12 at 8.09.02 AM

Human Links

That it’s Tuesday took me by surprise; learning the actual name of the 24-hour period we call a day happens more and more. That is one of the effects I’ve noted as our stay-at-home period lengthens. No longer are my hours circumscribed by a day in someone’s classroom filling in for a missing teacher. I am the one missing.

Several weeks ago a good friend introduced me to Suleika Jaouad and The Isolation Journals project via Instagram. Avid New York Times reader that I am, I still had somehow missed her brilliant, moving “Life Interrupted: The 100 Days Project” which is to be published recast next February (can we all keep breathing and being ’til February 2021, please?) as Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted

But The Isolation Journals has provided me with the writing push when I sat frozen, pen-in-hand. Jaouad has enlisted the creative support of musicians and writers—thanks to one post, I learned about the rare talent of Jon Batiste who now dominates my Spotify rotation. (Recently Stephen Colbert featured his “Scores Your Chores”playlist. You should check it out.)

I apologize for all these links and realize that many of them will sit idle, but hey, I had to try because truly, the creative selves that we are will not be denied. A young man who was tapped for West Point from a nearby high school in 2016, the local newspaper headline announces, is “doing extraordinary things.” Cadet Easton Smith, determined to help during this global pandemic, retreated to his “girlfriend’s dad’s basement on Cape Cod” and emerged 15 hours later with a design for a “unique, inexpensive ventilator.” The human being is a wonderful, awful thing. We are seeing both amplified.

Despite the muddling of days and the mundane tasks that often fill the landscape before us, many of us find ourselves exploring inside—our insides. And that gives me hope. I’ll take this time to show up, to be present, missing as little as possible. I know I’m not alone.