Two Notebooks

They’re really nothing special to look at. In fact I probably haven’t opened them more than a handful of times in the past 34 or so years. I mentioned the older of the two to a couple of friends not too long ago, it’s the one with the unsightly stain of unknown origin. The newer of the two is missing its darker-blue spine. I assume it was on there at some point.

If you are not one of the two close friends that essentially had to endure a text that was almost a freakin’ blog post about my blue notebooks from Potsdam, New York, then you haven’t yet read about the one I’d boldly called “Volume II – Book One.” At the time I wrote to my friends about it about it, the 40th anniversary of its first entry had just passed, and I was talking about it – the notebook – having, for some reason that I’ve never really been sure of, awakened a new level in my brain – a new level of thinking like a writer. Those blog-post texts talk about how that first entry was written in the after-hours study room of the college library, and how I remember for the first time allowing myself to be intentionally “writerly.”

My conclusion was that I could trace my career as a writer to that night, to that notebook. Even though it would be many more years before for any serious publications, the beginning of thinking of this gig as my gig happened on December 18, 1980.

That date should probably be expanded upon slightly. Well, not that date exactly. That was just the day I bought the notebook and something about it made writing a little easier. The more important date would have occurred about seven months earlier, in May. I could tell you exactly if I had a calendar from 1980 – oh, alright, you’re my peeps and deserve my A-game. I’ll look it up on the interweb. Looks like it would have been the 3rd. How odd that it would be unclear.

Anyway, May 3, 1980. That was the day my first marriage began. Sigh.

Whenever I force myself to think about that day, and the three plus years of days that followed it, I generally sigh. It usually happens in a real world physically manifested way, i.e. I actually make the sound wherever I am. And when I write about it I almost always type the word. In both forms it is autonomic. It is my body’s reaction to the thought.

It is also a very good metaphor for the entire experience. A sigh. It’s brief, first of all. I think that’s true in general, unless you’re going for the world record sigh on purpose, in which case good luck, but let’s talk later. Sighs are brief, probably because they involve an exhale and unless you’re finished with the whole breathing thing you’re going in inhale sooner than later, at which point sigh is gone.

Yeah that’s about right. A brief exhalation. That was my first marriage. Three years and change, then “Wake up, I have to tell you something.” To this day that phrase makes the hair on my arms stand up.

But when I got married I was just barely 20 years old. When I was released from that position I’d been 23 for a few months. So even though it’s not a long time, hell I’ve had back spasms last longer than that, when you’re that young there aren’t as many other years banked up to buffer that sort of pain. And while I’m not suggesting it would have hurt any less had it happened after five years or ten, maybe it wouldn’t have hurt for as long.

Listen, the reason the notebooks are even still on my radar after having talked with my friends about them around Christmastime, is that I decided to clean my office today. Which of course I didn’t complete because to properly make this an ideal work environment would have taken me all of today and most of tomorrow. Then all of the next three days. There’s a lot of micro-organization needed, but the aggregate effect of all this micro-chaos is macro-challenges, like finding vital paperwork that I am positive it put on the small table next to my reading chair but has since vanished. Things like that.

It sucks.

So, like I said, I decided to do something about that.

Okay, back to the journals. Or notebooks, or whatever you call them. I suppose I used the terms interchangeably back then. But what I want you to understand is that the first book opened in December of 1980, and the very next volume began after a three year gap. The pretentiously-named “Volume II – Book One,” signifying in that name my metamorphosis, my having gnawed my way out of the chrysalis – ends the day before my twenty-second birthday. I don’t know how bad it felt to her by that point, or why I didn’t immediately start another notebook as had been my habit since I was thirteen. There were several books in the implied “Volume I.” I don’t know if I somehow sensed everything was about to catch fire, or if by that point my mental illness and relational unpreparedness was actively striking the flint.

What I do know is the first date written in the next notebook is on the inside cover, where on June 2, 1985, I dedicated it to my lover, a woman several years younger than me. She was a poet, almost painfully beautiful, and not the least bit interested in a relationship with an alcoholic restaurant cook. At least not one that was going to last past the end of her summer break. We had a very little time together, but the relationship was intense. The word “love” was used, although “in love” was frowned upon. If I had to look up my wedding day, I’m sure I won’t shock you to know I didn’t clearly remember how long we were together, but I was able, by bravely flipping through the pages, to determine she left for Europe on June 29. Twenty-seven days.

Yet I dedicated the book to her. It is not inappropriate that I did. For there had been a three-year silence prior to that. During my worst months immediately post marriage I wrote constantly, but on loose paper. There was no notebook. Not even regular pieces of paper. No legal pads. No ream of loose leaf. Well, yes, I sometimes used both, but just as likely I’d use bar napkins, the backs of carefully peeled beer bottle labels. Even on rolling papers. I would write on any blank object that would hold ink.

All of that is lost. I believe the building in which they were housed burned, or was torn down or a tornado blew it to a magical land or something. Anyway, three years of the rawest shit I ever wrote are nothing more than a very painful, very sketchy memory.

But then I met this girl, and suddenly I was writing every day again. And although I was brave enough to dig in today to try and get you a relationship duration, I am not ready to see if any of that outpouring is any good, or if my hand was moving but my brain was just making dirty carburetor noises. The point is, she helped me open the gate back up in a journal again. No more foil from cigarette packs or discarded tampon wrappers from the woman’s room floor (which I was in there to mop, frequently – about as unsexy a reason as there could be.)

Additionally, it’s appropriate that I dedicated it to her because she actually gave it to me. I saw it on a shelf at her father’s house, (where she was staying – awkward, but he split town for a while so things were groovy – we talked like that back then, maybe). I think it was her father’s notebook actually, but he’d only used a few pages of it. It was identical to its predecessor otherwise. It even had a name written on in already. Nothing so self-centered as my Volume II. Just a single word. Her dad was a philosophy professor at the college from which I’d graduated and though I’d taken a handful of philosophy courses to fill in electives, I’d never had him as a teacher. But anyway, here, in his handwriting is the book’s original title.

Again my courage fails me, as I’m not prepared to tuck into that even a little. Okay. I’ll say that whether I was admitting it yet or not, this serendipitous entitling could have easily stood as the theme of my existence, certainly for the duration of it’s use. After all, she was gone after very few pages had been filled. And she was definitely a prime example of another cute way I had of characterizing my life back then. I used to say, “Life is a series of brief interruptions to an otherwise constant pain.” She was a wonderful interruption, and definitely an inspiration, but ultimately nothing more.

But here’s the cosmic punchline. I really couldn’t craft a story this good, perhaps. Or maybe I could. I could always just write this one and change the names or some similar shenanigans. In any case here is a provable truth, (although I will not show it to you) that the universe is a great big kokopelli trickster wise-ass. Because the final entry in that notebook was penned on August 2, 1987.

I was no longer in Potsdam. I had returned to my parent’s home first, then had gotten my own place. I was working at a lumber yard, briefly doing cool things before hurting my back (for the second of three times I would do so before the eventual spinal surgery). And right before the final entry was one from just under four months earlier.

Now, as many journal entries of mine have, the last one began with “I can’t believe that I have haven’t written since April 23.” Well they didn’t all say April 23 specifically, but it’s about the gist, people.

The point, the cosmic punchline is that in that August entry I mention the name Kim Reynolds for the first time. And while plenty people knew her by that name, for the majority of both of our lives she has been called Kim Varengo.

So that is the secret of the two blue notebooks. The span from just after the beginning of my first marriage to just prior to the second. It may have been marked, literally, with tragedy, but it was really the documentation of two awakenings. Genesis times two. Born again twice in the span of under 250 pages. But like I said, the reason I got thinking about them today was I picked them up off of the carpet and then I wrote this and now I can put them back on the shelf and maybe think more about the stuff I’ve yet to write.

Yeah. That sounds good.

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