I cannot expect my children to transcribe 35 personal journals I’ve written on this earth. Like a hoarder, I’ve held onto my journals as valuable to others, but understand it is not truly the case.
My friend’s mother passed away years ago, leaving over 1000 journal/scrapbooks organized like resources for a human Google search engine. She organized a lifetime of topics, magazine articles cut out, photographs from botany to zoology, shelves filled her entire home, bedrooms, livingroom, diningroom and her garage.
My friend kept only one index of her mother’s, because it was her handwriting, reminding her of mother’s passion. Many scrapbooks were donated to a small logging camp’s ‘library,’ which may not be accessible to other people who want a look at those books. I want to see the volumes all together. I went to look at her collection, and the place was closed indefinitely, no sign of ever being open again.
My namesake, Aunt Pru, transcribed her mother’s writings from dozens of strong, fragmented letter-essays written in long hand. Aunt Pru used a Royal typewriter to transcribe them. I can barely read Grandma’s handwriting, so it’s good to have them typed, but they don’t feel like Grandma to me, even though she died when I was four years old. When letters changed script, Grandmother’s substance seemed diminished, not by her hand, for clarity. The second generation of words changed somehow. Ideas and word choices were Grandma’s, of course. My aunt became part of her substance.
My youngest son and I made a visit to Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, to visit the Book of Kells, the illuminated Gospel book in Latin. I really wanted to see them. Joey and I stood in line awhile, but I could have spent the day looking at those fabulous Celtic pictures calligraphed so long ago. I found sacred energy there. Joey was less than impressed with them. He didn’t experience a deep, abiding appreciation of sacred text from so long ago.
My own Samsonite blue fiberglass shell of a suitcase holds more than twenty early journals from my young life, I needed to write, while I transformed into a writer. I have another dozen journals sitting on shelves in other parts of my house.
I imagine Joey will think even less of my notebooks when I’m gone, since I wrote them passionately, in earnest, and they contain more information than he likely wants to know about his mother. They aren’t beautiful, like the Book of Kells. I’d be willing to bet he tosses out my journals, but I won’t be here to stop him. Why should I? Joey’s not looking for a logging camp library to house my dozens of journals. Yet, they contain my substance.
I’m calling my memoir Substance. Its title comes from my mother telling me, “You come from people of substance.” I used to joke, “more like people of substanceS,” referring to generations of my family alcohol issues, including mine. What makes each person’s substance? It’s been on my mind tonight.
New substance, like me being born. When I married two previous times, I tried to alchemize men, and change their substance and character, but my efforts didn’t work. Alchemy cannot transform men of thin moral character into men with moral fiber. I wrote about those men in my memoir. My journals from those marriages illustrate me. I was a different woman than I am today.
I made a personal commitment to not remain shallow. If I kept drinking and smoking marijuana for decades, my character might have formed rust . I had to be galvanized, dipped into zinc, to coat my soul. I decided to tell the truth for integrity, substance. As a result, I shifted family history by not drinking. I am the last standing member of my primary family, and the first sober person in multiple generations.
My struggles seemed so personal when I wrote, but substantial change is universal. Self-examination to grow, and be truly human is not unique.
I’m not going to live forever. I’m 62 years old, a grown-up by anyone’s estimation. Given 25 more years, my end is closer than my beginning. My urgency to understand substance, and define it for myself is important to me.