Processing Journals

Lake Macbride State Park trail, Nov. 30, 2020.

It’s never a problem to fill days with activity. Setting and working toward a broader goal is proving elusive during the coronavirus pandemic.

Activities once taken for granted are now impossible. So many people are on the lookout to prevent contracting COVID-19, causing massive deterioration of our shared social life. My reaction to the extended pandemic was reasonable: a decision to focus on my autobiography. Increasing parts of each day include such work.

In the Jan. 28, 2019 issue of The New Yorker, historian Robert Caro recounted a meeting with his managing editor, Alan Hathway at Newsday in 1959.

“Just remember,” Hathway said. “Turn every page. Never assume anything. Turn every goddam page.”

Caro took the advice to heart. My book won’t be as detailed as his books on Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson. However, it is important to read what I’ve previously written and saved. It’s important to go through the souvenirs, books, boxes and trunks that clutter our household. When the pandemic recedes it will be important to visit places and again speak in person with friends and acquaintances. It is important to give things consideration as I distill them into a couple hundred thousand word memoir.

I started keeping a journal after graduation from the university. The first volume was stolen with my back pack in 1974 at a youth hostel in Calais, France. The rest of them sit on a shelf within arms reach of my writing table. There are more than 35 bound volumes and more in photo albums, media, three-ring binders and file folders in the next room. That’s not to mention photographs, the trove of letters I wrote Mother and got back after her death, or the thousands of blog posts and hundreds of newspaper publications. It’s a lot to read, examine and consider.

I don’t know what to do except begin and let the thread go where it will. With that in mind, below is the first journal entry that remains with me.

Winston Churchill Gardens, Salisbury, England, 11:45 a.m.

Very sunny here today near Stonehenge, and other ancient ruins. Stonehenge yesterday brought to attention the very tourist like notions of seeing something only to tell your friends about it when you get back. It may be that these days this is the notion you should have or at least most common, but it is also a notion of which I refuse to partake. It is only a very insensitive person who will go look and come back in one hour as the tour bus takes, but then there’s hours and barb wire fence to keep you from doing it any other way. Yet here too comes the notion that since there are so many books and pictures and articles about Stonehenge why even bother the few minutes to even see the thing.

On the way from the rocks to the return bus, the drivers were talking and one said to another, “It’s too bad it started to rain. It spoiled their trip.”

Here it seems that there is such a “holiday” preconception among these drivers (and all Britons as well) that it prevents them from seeing what is really, actually there: some rocks with barb wire about them with people crowded within these premises. At any rate, I was no different from the others when I paid my 65p and walked, took some photographs, and bought some postcards which I today mailed to the states.

Journals, Aug. 27, 1974