When Life Becomes Literature

Photo by Taylor Holland

My first journal dates back to about the time I entered Kindergarten. It was the size of a matchbook and had just enough room on each page for one of the sub-four-letter words I knew how to spell: “MOM,” “DAD,” “DOG,” “HI,” etc. Always in capital letters. When I finished one book, I’d acquire another (I’m not sure where all these tiny books came from) and fill that one, too. I had a hunger satisfied by putting words on paper. I compulsively numbered the bottom corner of every page because, even as a 5-year-old, I knew that numbered pages made it look really legit.

Then, when I was about 12, I visited my aunt and uncle in their Topanga, California home. It was my first solo trip as I traveled cross-country from Vermont to visit the Golden State. It was on this trip that my grandmother gave me a journal and told me to write about my travels — an assignment I took very seriously. My journal had a dolphin on the front and so, so many pages to fill. I wrote about the tea house we visited, drinking strange spinach protein smoothies, eating sushi for the first time, and driving down Topanga Canyon in my uncle’s lime green VW bus to surf at Malibu (my aunt and uncle were into this shit before green smoothies and #vanlife became a thing). From then on, I journaled when I traveled, went through changes in my life, or just needed an outlet. It became a meditative practice — a means to hash things out and clear my mind.

Recently, I’ve noticed something else happens. Journaling forces you to be present in the process of writing your own story. It begs you to pause on the moments that are memorable and meaningful, and acknowledge the role that they play. Norman Maclean reflects on this in A River Runs Through It;

“life every now and then becomes literature — not for long, of course, but long enough to be what we best remember, and often enough so that what we eventually come to mean by life are those moments when life, instead of going sideways, backwards, forward, or nowhere at all, lines out straight, tense and inevitable, with a complication, climax, and, given some luck, a purgation, as if life had been made and not happened.”

I keep thinking about how my journal will play out and how I will reflect back on it. Which of my highs and lows will end up actually being consequential? What will prove to be most memorable and meaningful?

I’m convinced that the most important things are the simple ones — biking through the park with my sister and no hands on the bars, feeling still while bobbing in the ocean waiting for a perfect wave, watching golden light flood each crevice of the rugged coast as the sun sets beneath the Pacific, waking up in the mountain air surrounded by Pines and Cedars…

These are the memories that float to the top when the waters seem murky. I have this image of me in 20 years looking back to right now and thinking about how good life can be, and I want to keep filling my journal with that.