Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tripping over Inspiration

Oh, I've been silent for far too long. I apologize. The hustle and bustle of the end of my school semester rode into Christmas, which spilled over into the new year. Now, I am lighting a fire under my ass to get writing again in this space.

I'm taking a new class this semester: magazine writing. My hope is that I will hone my writing skills and be able to start selling some of my pieces to a few nationally recognized magazines.

The first assignment was an interesting one. Our instructor asked us to write our own version of "Why I Write." For inspiration, I read George Orwell's piece, and then, I read Joan Didion's. I sorted through old magazines - The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Elle, old issues of New York Times Sunday Magazine - and flipped though Annie Liebowitz's At Work. Her black and whites always get my creative juices flowing.

But I felt like Diana in A Chorus Line. I felt nothing.

I kept churning the assignment over and over in my head. And finally, on Sunday - the day the assignment was due - I stubbed my big toe, tripping over the journal lying on the floor next to my bed. My source of inspiration had been hiding under my bed all along.
I flashed a smile over my shoulder at my parents before I tossed my over-stuffed, black L.L. Bean backpack onto the airport security belt. It was then that I saw my mother’s panicked face, as she started running toward me, rummaging through her black purse.

“Wait!” she yelled, running alongside at least a dozen confused-looking travelers in the security line.

As she stretched across a nylon barrier, my mother held out a pocket-sized, maroon notebook and I reach out to grab the notebook’s spiral end.

“Write everything,” she said, still gripping the paper side of the notebook. “So you don’t forget anything.”

She let the notebook go and grabbed my shoulders. Yanking me toward her, she delivered another lip-glossed kiss on my cheek before bounding back up the ramp toward my waiting father.

I shoved the notebook into the front pocket of my backpack, rushing through security so I could catch up with the rest of my high school classmates at the gate. I was bound for Paris, France – my first trip to Europe, my first plane ride without my family.

After shimmying down the 747s’ narrow side aisle, I settled into a window seat and watched the hard-sided baggage being loaded into the underbelly of the plane. As my stomach churned in excitement, I turned my eyes downward to the crisp, light-blue-lined pages of that maroon notebook and wrote in Catholic-school cursive, “I’m off! My dream of going to Paris is finally coming true.”

Today, I giggle and shake my head at how innocuous that first journal entry in April 1993 is – nothing profound, just the exclamation of an almost 17-year old girl about fulfill one of a growing list of dreams. But it was my first travel journal, and the beginning of my habit of recording all of my important – and not so important – life events. I started writing because I didn’t want to forget.

Next to my bed, I now have a stack of black, leather-bound notebooks. The previously blank white pages are bursting with words, sketches, ticket stubs, postcards, prayer cards from funerals of loved ones lost. I keep these journals next to my bed because they are what I would grab if my house was on fire.

Each page chronicles details of a day’s events over the last 18 years: sitting in a dark subway car on a Paris Metro during a bomb scare; getting my first job after college and wondering if I would ever learn enough to get promoted in a job I knew nothing about; asking my future husband on our first date to see an Italian movie during a March blizzard; walking across the Mass. Ave. bridge from Boston to Cambridge in the hours after the World Trade Center towers were decimated by terrorists; encountering a swarm of sharks while diving Belize’s Blue Hole on my honeymoon; the sweat dripping down my shoulder blades on that hot July day when my grandmother passed away; the sinking feeling of failure after another negative pregnancy test as I crested over a year of trying to conceive my first child; the roast beef sandwiches my husband and I ate the day we brought our son home from the hospital.

I write because I don’t want to forget these moments. Because one day, my mind and memory may fail me, like my grandmother’s mind and memory slipped from her tender grasp. But I will have all my notebooks, including the spiral-bound, maroon one my mother handed me as I boarded my first trans-Atlantic flight.


  1. So glad you are back!
    This is a lovely piece. And the inclusion of a musical reference made it that much better.

  2. L, thanks for staying tuned! I appreciate it! Looking forward to reading more from you too this semester.

  3. Nice work Sharon. A relative of mine recently gave me a mole skin notebook. While I appreciated the craftsmanship (it's a nice notebook!) I've never really considered myself a "pad and paper" guy. I brought it with me on a whim one day and now I carry it everywhere. Other than making me more attractive to hipster chicks, it really brings out the ideas somehow. MF

  4. Thanks for your comment, Michael! I love Moleskines too - every size. But my favorite these days is the 5" x 8.25" - blank page (http://www.moleskineus.com/largeplain.html). Nice and slim. Easy to carry with you.

  5. You are incredible! This brought me to tears. I totally get it.

  6. Thanks for reading, skf! Hoping to get more posts up in the weeks ahead.

  7. What a lovely post. I hope your instructor liked it too! I am a big journal writer too and when one of my high school friends told me that she threw all of hers out a year ago I almost fell over. "It was all whinig" she said, "really, I never want to read it again." I was so surprised, and have been afraid to revisit my adolescent writings ever since :)