By Ron Rozelle / HoustonChronicle.com Posted 4/13/2020
So, you’re getting stir crazy in your isolation. You’ve watched so many hours of movies and streamed so many television series that your eyes are going foggy. You’ve plugged countless jigsaw pieces into place, earned enough points on internet solitaire to be a grand dragon, and even reading has become monotonous. Your walks have become obstacle courses of avoiding coming too close to other humans.
When you find yourself staring out the window or at a wall try finding yourself a pen instead, and start chronicling what you’re going through. Start keeping a daily personal journal.
Not just as a conduit for ranting and raving, though there will be some of that. And certainly not as a ledger for profits and expenditures, or as a book of lists (write your curbside delivery items somewhere else). If you already keep a journal and have for a while, you know that it can serve as a means of time travel, but only backwards. I have two journals beside a current one on the desk in my study so I can look back every morning to see what the world in general and I in particular were up to on that day a year ago and a decade ago. A short trip to a nearby shelf will let me go back fortyish years; I’m an old hand at journaling.
But one of the best things journals can do is let future readers see into not only our lives but our era.
Throughout history keepers of personal journals have provided eyewitness front row seats to important events that played out around them, supplying nuances and details that historians often miss. Julius Caesar’s numerous entries in what would come to be called his campaign books provide a unique view of as much of the world as he could conquer in the first century B.C. And if Samuel Pepys hadn’t kept a daily diary we wouldn’t know nearly as much about a horrific outbreak of plague or the great fire of 1666 that leveled London, or the jubilant coronation of King Charles II, the ‘Merry Monarch’ whose reign would free British citizens of the severe restraints of the bleak years after the Puritan parliament removed Charles’ father’s crown (along with his head). There are plenty of other examples of first-person descriptions that vividly paint much of the sweep of human history, like Pliny the Younger’s account of the destruction of Pompeii and Lewis’ and Clarke’s reports of their westward wanderings. And what better insight into the evil mankind is capable of and the quiet strength of the optimism and courage of a single human heart could we possibly have than Anne Frank’s diary? All of these are gifts to us from individuals who looked at the world they lived in and wrote things down.
But enough about history. This particular genre of writing can prove useful in the current situation that you and I share with everybody else on the planet. And it’s a quote from Anne Frank that might be an inspiration. “I can shake off everything as I write;” she recorded in her journal, “my sorrows disappear, and my courage is reborn.”
Since the majority of us are shut-ins in this great dilemma that is testing us, I have a suggestion. Get yourself a real, tangible journal or notebook and start writing down what you’re going through in your isolation. Don’t worry about making it into a story, just get down details in complete sentences and hopefully legible handwriting.
Because here’s the deal: maybe someday somebody, a grandchild or great grandchild or somebody who has no connection to you whatsoever will come across your journal in an old trunk or in a box in an attic. They might pick it up and start reading and see our current situation for what it really was – a heady mixture of aggravation, fear, concern, loneliness and hope – narrated by someone who actually lived through it.
Why, you’re wondering, does it need to be written in longhand in a book? Because books last, and actually writing the words make them more meaningful and personable.
Don’t leave out anything. Write about long lines in grocery stores, about trying to keep the prescribed distance from other people, about sewing your own face masks so as not to deprive healthcare workers and first responders of theirs, about stocking up on liquor (who knew what would be considered nonessential venues before the shelter in place orders came?). Write about a newly discovered reverence for things as simple as toilet paper, Lysol wipes, and being able to sit down in a favorite restaurant and having a meal brought to your table. Write about having to substitute FaceTimeing with your grandchildren for holding them in your arms. Write about watching the number of the infected and the dead rise horrifically every day. Write about looking out your window at a world that is suddenly a threat and feeling like your home is now a fortress, and hopefully a good enough one. Put down detail after detail and hope that somebody reading it decades from now won’t wonder what a Barnes and Noble was.
Recording your feelings day by day through however long we have to put up with this might help you get through it; having a mission is oftentimes a good incentive to keep going. And it might prove to be a very real testament someday for people you’ll never meet, for descendants you will never touch, about how you dealt with a predicament that you hope and pray they will never have to.
Flannery O’Connor, one of my favorite authors, said this: ‘In the long run a people is known, not by its statements and statistics, but by the stories it tells’.
Grab a pen, and start telling yours.