I chose a quotation from Joan Didion’s essay “On Keeping a Notebook,” because I found so much of what she had to say provocative. I keep a notebook. I’ve kept one for years. More than ten.
More than half way through her essay, she says, “But our notebooks give us away, for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable ‘I.'” Our notebooks are our written scrapbooks. Scraps of our lives, from our lives, about our lives at that moment in time. That’s why I am so obsessive when it comes to dates. I want to remember not just what was happening in my life at that moment. The light in the morning. The frustration with a child or a spouse. But thoughts about the books I was reading or the music I was listening to. Who was the best act at ACL last night?
So what is it that I really want to say about this quotation? To begin, I agree with her. When we write we always reflect a little bit of ourselves in our writing. When my brother’s son died, I tried to write about his death, our family’s loss. I’d write. Maybe a half a page before I hit a wall. Finally I realized that the story of losing a child was not my story. My story was from the perspective of a sister whose brother had lost a child. I felt that my brother had lost part of his childhood. That trust that all would be okay was gone. This wasn’t going to be okay. Our conversations which followed. There was the day when Niki’s goldfish died. He remarked, I can’t even keep a goldfish alive. Sigh. My pain was for my brother. My family and I watched my brother and his wife waiting for them to break. I remember likening them to the glass ornaments in “The Glass Menagerie.” That was my story. From a sister’s point of view.