The Early Bird Gets the News ...
I’m sitting in my writing room, eating a home-made scone, sipping on a cup of hot tea, laced with real milk and fake sugar. It’s the anniversary of 9-11, a disaster that nearly put the company I worked for out of business—but that’s a story for another day.
This morning I tuned in to a call-in talk show that asked listeners to share memories from that wretched day.
“I remember it well,” said one caller. “It was a Monday …"
Of course, you and I both know Sept. 11 was on a Tuesday that year. Such is the collective’s memory—but at least they remembered something.
A few years back, a newspaper here in the Tampa Bay area forgot to commemorate Dec. 7, 1941, which President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called “a date which will live in infamy”—not a great move in a state populated by old people with long memories.
In a century or two, who will remember Dec. 7? Or Sept. 11? Or Nov. 22, the day U.S. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated.
This year, it will be 60 years since shots rang out in the streets of Dallas, Texas. Sixty years since CBS interrupted a telecast of the soap opera “As the World Turns” with a Bulletin saying JFK had been shot. An hour later news anchor Walter Cronkite reported “… President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time…”
I was a senior at Windber Area High School in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, when news of the assassination piped over the school’s PA system. Remember it well—as well as can be expected after 60 years. Also remember walking into my Uncle Angelo’s house after going to church at Saint Anthony’s and hearing someone shout, “They shot the bastard!”
The bastard in question was Lee Harvey Oswald.
* * *
There’s a cardinal outside my window, pecking away at the bird-feeder hanging in my backyard, the one my wife just filled the other day. This is the first time I’ve seen activity out there. I guess it takes time for news to travel.
Birds and squirrels are fun to watch when the feeder is full. They don’t know what day it is … Sept.11. Nov. 22. Dec. 7. They worry about important things like, “Did the Lambs fill their bird feeder?”
Kind of makes you jealous of birds, doesn’t it?
I am going to make a confession, which you will find difficult to believe, but humor me.
I have never kept a Journal.
Incidentally, I just learned that a crankpin is also known as a journal? Fascinating! that is the load bearing part in the crankshaft of an axle. In mechanical complexity, briefly, it has something to do with distribution of Stress. Fatigue causing breakdown, and I know from my Civic DX that you can drive with a broken axle, but not for very long, and should it give out, it would be potentially a fatal crash. That a lesson from years ago. Mercifully everything held up on prayers well enough to trade-in. (Incidentally, my DX was named Kocioł, idiomatically meaning "Chaos.")
Of course, I do carry a notebook. For as long as I can remember it is, aside from my calculator watch, my only accessory. But I have been adamant about not-writing.
My father kept a journal. In the most traditional sense, and it was locked. A thing of beauty, though on the outset nothing more than that everyday spiral ring single or multi-subject schoolthing. When I say it was locked, I mean no one could read it. His handwriting, so distinctive, was in a sort of cursive all caps, and in Polish. And whatever was in there, was by that barrier, safe. Not that I would dream of prying!! I did not. And he felt no need to hide. So, it sat on the table, open, an artifact of Intellect, his Pride.
What I am getting at is that a journal or diary is intensely private.
My sister kept a diary. She wrote practically under the bedsheets her thoughts and feelings about her tumultuous relationships. She fretted over who was mad at who, and with good reason. There was a lot of apologizing, retracting and redacting. Torn pages. Life must have been tough. Internally. I only can say so, again most definitely I would Not dare to pry, because she told me. I asked yes. And even when I didn't. She was so proud of her writing, an accomplishment applauded by elders like a learned trick, that she would occasionally read something aloud and watch for full effect. Adjectives. Flowers. Feelings and colors. Certainly, I listened, and it confirmed for me. I would Never keep a diary.
I would blush in private in horror.
So, what the devil would be in my non journal? well, I compromised. I kept a list.
Occasionally, I encrypted something in the corner, if the date were significant for it. But having capsuled some wording, within a few years, it was a code accessible only as a hieroglyph. If I could not decipher by surrounding doodle, date or to do list, I too could no longer read it. I could read my drawings, though in detail. I could recall for a considerable while after the intense emotion and surroundings that went into those marks. Drawing helped me figure out what I was trying to say... with that said, I have not drawn in years. I have, mostly, lost track of what I was trying to communicate.
I cast no judgement on Silence, nor empty space of margins.
Speaking has been difficult. When I was little, and growing up, I was periodically told that whatever I said sounded like poetry, and that to me sounded so foreign and complicated, and pompous that I'd rather bite my tongue. But I've grown to enjoy the words in my mind, and when I mention now that I write "all the time," it is simply that I script in my thinking, in invisibly personal conversations, parts that sometimes find their way to paper, but mostly, which grow wings and fly South without commitment for coming back.
They do from time to time. Like today, they are here again-- in afternoon shadow.
Writer’s Tip: Every Hero Has an Achilles Heel
According to WIKI, Achilles was a hero of the Trojan War and the greatest of all Greek warriors. In addition, he’s a central character of Homer's Iliad. Famous dude. Lived in the spotlight. An MVP. Big-time. He had just one weakness.
How could that be?
Great question. Here’s the answer: “…when his mother Thetis dipped him in the river Styx as an infant, she held him by one of his heels.”
That dip made him invulnerable—except, of course, for where his Mom held him.
Flash-forward to Monday night, Sept. 11, 2023. Another hero. Another warrior. “Grade A.” Numero Uno. MVP.
After a stellar career with the Green Bay Packers, Rodgers went from Cheese-head to Apple-head, when he became a quarterback for the New York Jets, where he was touted as a savior for a franchise that hadn’t been a consistent Super Bowl caliber team since Broadway Joe Namath led the J-E-T-S to a 16-7 upset victory over the Baltimore Colts at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida.
By the way, that was the third AFL–NFL Championship Game in pro football and the first to bear the moniker “Super Bowl”—but let’s get back to our tale of terror and tendons.
Aaron Rogers stepped on the field Sept. 11 to kick off a new era of hope for the Jets. There was even talk of Super Bowl run … finally.
The hope didn’t last long. Minutes into his first drive, the aging quarterback (he turns 40 in December) was sacked, injured, and helped off the field, never to return. It was later announced he was out for the season. The culprit: a torn Achilles tendon.
Rogers was a five-time All-Pro and 10-time Pro Bowler. An all-around MVP. To get him, the Jets gave up a first-round draft pick, a second-round pick, a sixth-round pick and a conditional 2024 second-round.
So much for so little return.
There are many lessons in the Aaron Rogers saga … “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket comes to mind.” What about you? Have you ever done that? I have … one time, long ago, I remember planning my future around winning one of those big-money contests at McDonald’s. … Didn’t win, but at least I got a great burger and fries out of it—which is more than what the Jets may end up with.
WRITER'S TIP: If you're crafting a story about a hero, remember to give him/her a weakness. For example, Indiana Jones was afraid of snakes. His Dad feared rats. Having a vulnerability raises the stakes in a hero's journey.
The last journal
Some 44 years ago I opened a new, college-ruled marble notebook and began the first of dozens of journals. They came in all shapes and sizes; sometimes I bought books while traveling to memorialize my impressions in a piece of the location. But the majority were marble notebooks.
Nearly 33 years ago, my husband saw me writing in a journal one day and wanted to read it. I declined – I had never shared my journals with anyone. He was angry and said it was his right as my husband. Rather than argue, I stopped keeping a journal.
Thirty years ago, my son was born, and my mother bought me a set of blue marble journals: to write of my experience of motherhood. Over the years, I bought many others when those were full. Each journal entry is written to my son – at first daily, eventually less often when life interfered or I really didn’t want to remember (year 12 was not a good year – I suspect I summarized the misery in a few paragraphs). I wrote about everything: what he did, what he learned, the myriad milestones, our trips, his playdates, the games we played, our family visits, his friends, funny or oddly wises things he said, the friends he made, the sweetheart, how he seemed to feel, how he made me feel… I kept a journal of his life until he turned 18 at which time he went off to college and the rest of his life. I hoped to be invited in often to bear witness to the life he would create.
The cover of the journal I bought for that final year looks like the frame for a painting. Two days after his 17th birthday, I wrote:
"My darling ----,
I chose this journal today as the last into which I will write the events of your childhood. Your seventeenth year began on Wednesday. In 2011, you will turn eighteen, graduate from high school, begin college and set upon a new path, begin chapter two or part II of the life that is yours. You will continue becoming the man you are meant to be, but no longer a bedroom away.
I chose this particular journal because the cover looks like the frame for a painting – without the painting. Significant because you will begin adding great strokes of color to the painting of your life. Also, if you look carefully, there appear to be sketches, shadows, vague forms already in the painting. We will not send you out to meet the world a blank canvas. You are already a good and kind young man. You are smart and insightful. You have had many wonderful and varied experiences and friendships that have helped you become the young man you are today. You have already begun the painting that will be your life. But it has only just begun – hence the sketches and vague shadows that will become a beautiful, vivid work of art along the way.
I love you, Darling."
There's an episode of Rugrats where the dad is stirring a pot on the stove and the mom is in the background saying, "It's 4:00 in the morning! Why are you making chocolate pudding??" And the dad says, "Because I've lost control of my life."
The dad's facial expression, in its cartoon form, is the most accurate depiction of depression I have ever seen on television. The episode aired when I was a toddler. I couldn't have fathomed then the sleepless nights, the pointlessness of anything, the accuracy of making something simple and delicious in the wake of crushing despair.
I could say I come back, time and again, to the Era of Chocolate Pudding On The Stove At 4AM.
Like last night, when I woke up around 4AM crying and decided it's even too meaningless to attempt making anything at all.
There's a fine line with depression: all too easily, it becomes self pity. But what if it's real, the pointlessness of my existence? What if I'm stirring this pot of pudding and it's the most meaningful thing I've done all week? All month?
But whenever I think of that, I also think of a client of my previous therapist, who was the first person to survive jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. He said to her, after he survived: "Right after I jumped, I understood that every single problem I had in my life could be solved."
I think about that a lot. I think about my problems. I think how pointless wallowing in self-pity really is. I think about the meaninglessness of my existence and wonder how much better off I'd be if I jumped - not for the suicide aspect, but for the moment it all flashed in front of my eyes - the solution to all my problems. Where is my moment of clarity?
But when that man chose to jump, he had a great deal of pain. Where does that go, once the moment of clarity is reached? Does it just go away?
So, last night at 4AM, as I struggled to put the pieces together, I thought about these things. I thought about chocolate pudding and its pointlessness, my pointlessness, and the moment of self-actualization that might only be achieved at the last possible moment of self-destruction.
I decided to go back to bed.
Because if there's one thing I'd tell the dad in Rugrats, it's this: things don't necessarily get better, at least not immediately. But if you stick around long enough, there's a solution to your problems.
For you have not "lost control of your life", your life just needs that extra push, that extra hour of sleep, the realization that at some point, it will no longer be 4AM. You will be rested, and life will continue, and you will be there to witness it.
Haven’t in a while. Maybe I should start again.
Thur 16 Mar 23
My day? Not great. Clouds & music? Good. Going out 4 passport shit bad.
I just want some peace.
I'm struggling enough with Shadow.
I don't want to fucking talk to him.
Maybe I'll feel different tmrw.
Right now I just want 2 type "fuck you" in all caps myb & block his number.
Fuck D future & past.
Fuck hope & apathy.
Fuck all the goddamn bad parts & bad emotions. Die.
Y can't ppl just be good & honest w each other?
Me especially included.
Lots of times idk how I feel in the moment so...
Control. I know I want it. Use breathing as a coping mech.
In my dream I flirted w a blonde white girl in a college. D future?? ;)
I just want to be alone. Starve. Not eat. Unhealthy detached non-existent self.
This is technically the last entry. I write it down by hand into a book which may be why there's so many shortened versions of words. But the actual one is just five short lines that I wrote in there with no date:
I am afraid.
That I might truly be a lesbian.
Truly be asexual.
Truly be nonbinary...
And that's all there is. I haven't journalled in a while. I think it got hard. And I think I didn't want record of anything, anymore. The bad parts, I mean. Happy parts are nice. But if I write down just those it wouldn't feel truthful or authentic to me so what's left, then? Anyway. That was.. Nearly 6 months ago? And here I am still. We survived as we always have and always do. I am... Trying to accept whoever I may be. Not put myself in a box. Feel out whatever comes. There's a lot to my identity I may not understand but all these things are just words, anyway. What matters more to me is that I'm starting to make peace with myself, little by little. It's not always easy. It's not always hard, either. We've also made it to 5 months, 20 days with no... Err... Self-violence. Shadow is in the past, Joshua is fading away little by little by my own hand (it's sort of a relief) and We Are Still Here. Worth something. Has to be. And it means a lot to me that you're a piece of my survival. Thank you. I'm not always grateful to be here but we exist and we will be until we are not. Promise.
My Day Off
Dear Dairy (I protest the use of "Diary"),
Today I crashed a Novena. I don't even know what saint it was for. Some nameless angel looking down on me from above, wondering why I was there. I opened my mouth to taste all the sanctifying grace I could catch--the stuff just poured down. It tastes sweet and sour, like Chinese.
After, I walked and walked, counting my steps, but not watching my step. I fell into a womanhole, which was soft and kind to me. I could have stayed there for hours, but wanted to see sunlight again, so I rose from the dead. But just in my head.
The cops all looked at me suspiciously, and I know why, but they don't. Still, they're professionals and their spidey-senses tingle at the sight of me.
I remain conflicted over mammals in general. Don't even get me started on the birds.
I'm still growin', which is what keeps me goin'. You can hang on if you want, but that's a no-go/no-grow. So be respectful.
Tonight I'm planning on a big reunion with my scruples. It's been a long time since we've gotten together. I'm sure they'll comment on how ruthless I look. ("I wonder where Ruth is?" courtesy of Firesign Theatre.)
Then all is said and done, it's usually done in that order. That's what she said. Can't wait until tomorrow, 'cause I get more every day. More what? Well, I guess we'll just have to wait and see!
A belt in the car broke and coolant has splashed throughout the engine. We are stopped on a mountain road between two rises. I noticed a vertical pattern in the rock face of a cliff some distance behind us, and similar on a smaller cliff next to us (dark gray to sand red to dark gray etc.). I wonder of this is caused by the crust contracting and folding down together, causing what was once horizontal to become vertical.
Car ran again about a mile. Power-steering quit again and smoke from hood. Radiator is spraying coolant. A Hispanic man stopped and gave us a ride to a nearby AutoZone to get replacement radiator.
I've been contending with something in my mind. It may be my "fear of drowning". Maybe it's a fear of death. Fear of the unknown--or uncertain. Fear of myself. Fear of other people. Fear of losing control. Fear of truly facing the pain of rejection.
The rain falling down on the land behind us... never have I seen something so beautiful.
sucks, contains language
hey man, i would write your real name but im to scared
that sounds weird but anything else i came up with was worse. i love you so much. like a lot. i wish i could say something corny like "i've never felt this way", but i have and last time i got hurt so bad and i just recently got over that. but here i am. fallen once again. i know that this is like a letter to you but i can never give it to you because you hate me and that won't ever change and now you have a girlfriend and things are so complicated. i will miss you a lot but i guess this is what is best. cause of your age and mine, the new girl, and how i fucked up bad. i missed my chance by two years. god damn that fucking sucks. i will respect your wishes and leave you be but that doesnt mean my feelings go away. i wish they would. but its all i think about. how it felt to feel your lips on mine. how we had so much in common. how we just clicked so well. is she better? is the new girl more funny, because thats one of your dealbreakers. or is she more pretty? do you call her beautiful, just like how you called me pretty? i drew nicolas cage because thats your favorite but i will never give it to you. never. i want you back so bad. this fucking sucks ass.
(sorry guys if you can't figure out the story but i needed to be raw to get this out and this challenge was the perfect way)
Oh. Of course.
I don't understand this feeling of not wanting to exist. I don't wanna die, but this isn't living. I feel numb, while simultaneously furious. I should be grateful for my life; I have all of these opportunities. Instead, I hate the school I was thrown into. I hate that my parents don't see that they're killing my love of learning. I wanna quit, drop out, give in to the academic burn out. I'm drowning in assignments that I don't understand. Internally screaming that being bilingual isn't the same as being able to fit into a different education system. I don't get the instructions, the lessons, the corrections, the questions, none of it. I have to get this done. I need to go to the bathroom but this assignment is due in five minutes. I can't take it. I wanna leave everything...
*Sigh* guess who just got her period.