I have fallen out of the daily practice of writing in the mornings. Although I am up early every day -- who sleeps anymore? -- I more frequently find myself squandering this precious quiet on small tasks -- responding to email I had left unanswered, paying bills, going through the mail, and until very recently, preparing for my classes -- reading and responding to student work, reviewing the assigned readings, planning the class time, etc.
Yesterday, a student asked me for my advice on a writing practice, whether to write every day and the purpose of keeping a notebook; how she could find ways to talk about what she was reading. I thought of course of Virginia Woolf -- how she recorded her insights about her own writing and kept notes on her reading. This idea of a reader’s diary is something that has always held great appeal. Despite the class discussions I’ve led all semester, I feel as though I have had very little time or space to think about and write about my own reading.
Teaching has meant that I have not read much new work. At the end of the summer, I was reading primarily about the Korean War -- summaries of military strategies, oral histories of U.S. soldiers. Accounts of atrocities and uprisings. Since the start of the semester, Tommy Pico’s IRL, Don Mee Choi’s Hardly War. My Private Property, Mary Ruefle. In the days immediately following the election, I took some comfort in Adrienne Rich. And the other day, while waiting for my hair dye to “process,” I started Patti Smith’s Just Kids.
On the shelf nearest to my desk, there is a book called Revelations: Diaries of Women. I bought it more than a year ago, when Mary Ruefle advised: “Read the diaries of women and weep.” My weeping requires little prompting, so have not turned to it for many months, but when I revisited it this morning, I found this in its introduction:
The [diary] form has been an important outlet for women partly because it is an analogue to their lives: emotional, fragmentary, interrupted, modest, not to be taken seriously, private, restricted, daily, trivial, formless, concerned with self, as endless as their tasks.
Fragmentary, interrupted, modest. Trivial. Formless.
To the student, I found myself suggesting something a bit impractical, but appealing: to find a correspondent or two, with whom you could exchange letters about what you were reading. More intimate than posting to some online discussion group and perhaps requiring more personal accountability? I don’t know how one might convince someone else to embark on what would likely be a very time-consuming task, and I am quite certain I am overlooking some much more practical solution. I don’t mean book clubs though. I am thinking of how the act of writing itself requires a different engagement with and articulation of one’s responses to the text. Lower stakes than writing a review for publication, but higher than casual conversation.
This morning has been the first in recent memory that I am not already days past one deadline or another. There is work to do, to be sure. Daily, trivial, formless, endless. But I like to think it’s possible to let in a little light -- start a book list for the new year, go back through some writing notes. Make a promise to myself to return here tomorrow.