Saturday, October 02, 2004
A year or so ago I moved my journals -- 35 volumes, spanning 1971-1994 -- from bookshelf to closet shelf, then closed the door. A faint smell leaks out from time to time, not so much the frank stench of putrefying corpse, as the sour, stale odor of sloughed epithelium -- toe jam, navel lint. But that smell is far less nauseating than the sight of them there in all their bald, naked, narcissistic magnificence.
My body of work, my corpus, my wordy effigy.
I should really burn them. But ice figures more prominently in my metaphoric life than fire. So they're doing ice time, prison lingo for time spent in isolation, in solitary confinement.
Most of the notebooks are black speckled composition books with unlined pale green paper, utilitarian, academic blank books. Some, which I bought when I couldn't find the proper speckled ones, have green cardboard covers. Two thirds of them are handwritten. The later ones have typewritten entries, on paper trimmed and taped to the blank pages. The tape is brittle and failing. The typed entries are beginning to yellow, detach and fall out, as if striving to attain some state beyond chronology, leaving behind big gaps in the record. Disorienting, dementing. The last volume is simply a black three-ring binder of word-processed entries.
And after that ? A computer file (9.01-12.03) named "Pue de Soi," journal finally reduced entirely to gas: electrons and stink. Cleaner, and oh so much easier to dispose of the evidence: just hit delete. What is it when solids go directly to vapor without the intervening liquid phase ? Sublime ? Yeah, right.
And between 1994 and 2001 ? Poems. Lots of poems. Again, the bodies pile up, viz. the six bulging thesis binders (1970-2004) still squatting in plain sight in my study,
even though the stack of little magazines where some of their poems have been published has long since been evicted to the back room.
I note with amusement tinged with unease that, on the floor of my room, in front of a low bookcase, is a pile of twelve photo albums, record of nearly a year of looking at weeds.
Logorrhea ? Syllogomania ?
Keeping a journal served to make me feel more real, in the same way that a mirror does. An admiration. It provided me with a reassuringly structured, narrative meta-self that cohered and made sense. It relieved the claustrophobia, the loneliness, of simply experiencing myself. It projected me outward, as in projectile vomiting, as in being too full of myself, as in having swallowed myself whole. It transformed me into an artifact in page after page of writing and rewriting, as if I were a tree continually shedding and regrowing its leaves.
There's something of this in public writing, too, a tawdry little psychodrama that goes on behind the text. My poems range from the frankly confessional to the impersonal. But having my words read is a little like being seen, being reflected in the mirror of the reader's eye. But at several removes. Like eye contact filtered through two pairs of dark glasses, or bounced off the surface of an intervening moon. The text is an emissary, a surrogate I send out into the world to do my dirty work. It's my bag man.
And what about all those weed photos ?
You'd think they'd be the least personal, most objective of all my accumulated artifacts, where the explicit self is at its most covert. But aren't they, after all, just a creepy, Jeffrey-Dahmer like invitation to come inside me and look out at the world through my eyes ?