Having just finished Working in Women’s Archives: Researching Women’s Private Literature and Archival Documents edited by Helen M. Buss and Marlene Kadar, a book that prompts us to think about the role of archival work in “[t]he reclamation of women’s ordinary, everyday (or “trivial”) experiences as valuable, having their own integrity, both formal and substantive;” and “[t]he investigation […] how women’s lives and works change how we think about reading” (116), it is interesting for me to consider how much of my own writing has been lost.
I destroyed my childhood journals after a babysitter read them. I tore the pages out of the journal I kept as an early teenager when, one autumn afternoon in eighth grade, it was taken from me and read aloud just outside of my junior high on a small hill that may have been leveled by now. My writing from that point was posted online, locked behind a username. But that particular online space is gone, too, and I am only able to see the first sentences of my posts when they appear in a search: “My hands belong to nobody. People far away try to own them and hope for me to kill my nerves and let my fingers fall limp in wait. That can’t be so. People far away from me can’t handle my hands; they wring and shape every discomfort. There are many discomforts. His hands are his own again,…” and then, that’s it. I don’t know who I am writing about or what sort of conclusion I reached. All content and context is gone.
Of course, there are entire pieces of writing that I still do have access to. They are all dated journal entries. Some are hopeful. From Tuesday, May 21, 2013:
I am twenty-three. The trees this year are late in budding. There are so many twigs leaning in the wind. I do not always feel in control of my life, though I do try to speak decidedly, and when I walk it is with a sure heel. The spring is still new and the earth pulls away from the sidewalk. I tire easily, trying to grow, trying to bud, trying to reach again for the concrete path. I paint myself inexpertly with a wall of green at my back, and blossoms. An eye, imprecise, too large and too clear. This is how I’d like to be.
But this sounds too earnest to me now, as though I am trying on a voice that doesn’t quite fit. Other entries are much more familiar to me. Entries like this one from Tuesday, June 10, 2014, 10:24 PM, sound honest, documenting a moment, small and private, that also felt immense:
I hold my palms down while the sink fills, hot rings around wrists, soap bubbles, a bruise under the thumb. I clean the pot I cooked rice in. I didn’t cook it properly. Grains cling to the pot in groups of three and four and I pull them away from each other, keep them between my fingers. It feels like the first time I have touched anything. I hold them until the water cools and then I sleep until the afternoon ends.
I don’t share these to be self-indulgent, but to say—to remind myself—that I did write. I am a depressive, and as a result my enthusiasms wane, and even things that I feel passionate about, even things that feel necessary to me, can go neglected for days, weeks, months, or even years. But as I research the life-writing of authors whom I admire, and as I learn more about doing the archival work that will potentially reframe their writing, I can’t help but look inward and wonder about my own writing life. I wonder about how much is gone and how I can—if I can—make up for it.
It has always been my intention to write and read, to live a literary life. I have fallen away from that. In some ways, my time on BookTube has allowed me to continue a particular conversation about books, but there is little critical depth to it. Perhaps that is unfair of me, as there are channels run by people who think deeply and generously. More likely, my own channel does not reflect my critical interests because the energy the medium requires—to look a particular way, to set up equipment, to film (and say everything you mean to say in a bright, engaging manner), to edit the footage into something watchable—is more than I am able to expend. But this, a blog, appeals in so many ways.
Again, I don’t write this to be self-indulgent, but instead to make clear my intentions with this space. This is where I will talk about the books I read, but as with all of my writing, what appears here will be personal (aren’t the relationships we have with books always personal?). I do not read outside of my life. What I read weaves itself into my daily experience, and it is my hope for that to be reflected here. There is a journalistic impulse to my writing that I cannot, or refuse to, step away from when considering books. I can’t write about a book without acknowledging that it was read in spare moments among the minutiae of daily life.
It only seems natural to quote Elizabeth Smart here, who has influenced my reading and writing life tremendously, and who is the source of my online literary alias, The Heavy Blanks. “Why don’t I write the terrible, heavy blanks,” Smart writes in her journal on January 25, 1940. “I open the book, I stare. I say, there is nothing to write. But there is the important, powerful, evil blankness to write. Catch the disease, and dissect it to find the cure. Put facts if necessary, and minutely the bleak-eyed look” (254).
Until next time,
Works Cited or Mentioned
Buss, Helen M., and Marlene Kadar. Working in Women’s Archives: Researching Women’s Private Literature and Archival Documents. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2001. Print.
Smart, Elizabeth. Necessary Secrets: The Journals of Elizabeth Smart. Ed. Alice Van Wart. London: Grafton, 1991. Print.