Monday, September 06, 2010

Birthdays - and looking forward & back ...

Well, it's happened. I've just celebrated one of those milestone birthdays. You know - the ones that are supposed to give you pause, make you examine your life and see where you've been, where you are and where you're going. Oddly enough, having spent my whole life not celebrating birthdays, this one passed in a similarly uneventful way. As it happened, we were on vacation at the time, and we managed to find a low-key (but charming) heritage house turned restaurant on the extreme western edge of Vancouver Island where we had a lovely dinner. I had the steak, it was wonderful. They did everything to a steak that I can't do, or more accurately, they DIDN'T do to a steak what I would do - which is turn it into shoe leather. There was a shocking absence of singing waiters, presents, cake/candles and the like. Which suits me fine. Honest.

On the other hand ... I HAVE been reviewing my life in the last few days, but not because of my birthday. I've been working on a swapbot project about fairy tales. One of the options is to write your own and (coincidentally) I actually wrote a fairy tale of sorts lo, all those many years ago when I thought I might become a writer. The only trick was to find it. Somewhere in my many journals - I knew that much, but what year? Good question.

So I've spent a few evenings reading back through my journals looking for the story ... essentially time traveling backwards through my life, becoming younger and younger, more and more naive, more and more self-centered the further back I go. While it's sometimes excruciatingly boring (and even embarrassing) to read what my younger self has written, it is heartening to see that I have actually progressed in my life. I'm not saying I wish I hadn't written it all. I'm just saying that most of it will be burned in the event of my death.

The other shocking thing (and a positive shock at that), is the sheer amount of *writing* I've actually done. I've been sticking a post-it note on every page where I think I've written something of interest, particularly poetry, or a pithy bit of prose, and I now have a virtual forest of post-it notes poking out the tops and sides of my journals. Weirdly cool and satisfying to look at. And some of it I hope to gather in some form, since the idea of indexing my journals makes me queasy (oh my heavens, the sheer *volume* of content is daunting, let alone trying to think of keywords for most of it!).

I don't want to sound self-congratulatory, and I wouldn't want to get anyone's hopes up about the *quality* of my writing, but I find I have quite real affection for the body of work, as flawed and unfocused as it might be. As I read each bit, I get a vivid picture of the where and the why of the writing, and I see myself as I was then - young, naive and self-centered sometimes, but always trying to see the good in things, to see the way forward, to find my purpose, to make sense of life, as I believe we all do.

So maybe there's something to this milestone thing after all ... the two events are merely coincidental (birthday + a project that has me reading back through my journals), but I do feel that I've been looking forward & back, and (for the most part) liking what I see.


Gwen said...

May I be the first to say that I am not a bit surprised that you found a lot of wonderful writing in your journals! Looking forward to seeing what you do with this project!

ginny said...

What a great post. I have done the same (reading back in my journals) and sometimes read a surprisingly well put thought, too. I find it really interesting to read my own journals, but then no one else is as intrigued by my life as I am.

Paula McNamee said...

Happy Birthday, Penelope! Your time traveling through past journals sounds like a great adventure. It will be fun to see how you incorporate your writings into your books and artwork.