Skip to main content
This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Sunday, January 15, 2022

Writing is cathartic. I’ve been writing (In fancy circles they call it “journaling”. For the better part of my early years I called it “writing in my diary.”) for almost 39 years. If that sounds very specific, it’s because I can remember the exact day I started writing.

Prior to that, someone, probably my mother, bought me an actual diary, one with a lock and key. It was yellow with tiny flowers, and a plastic dust cover. It said DIARY on the front, which is how I knew what it was. It was a five year diary, and about half the size of a paperback. Each entry took up about three lines on the page. I’m not sure what one is supposed to write on three lines, or what could be so important in those lines that required one to keep them under lock and key.

But I tried. Not writing so much as jotting, I noted things down that happened on any given day. I don’t know if I still have that diary, but I did until relatively recently when I read through what I’d put there.

Two themes kept coming up. One, I was really mad at my cousin a LOT. Two, I thought some boy or other was so cute.

But that was before I started writing.

I started writing sometime around June of eighth grade. And the reason I started was because a friend from my neighborhood had just died, drowned in the lake where the neighborhood kids went to hang out during summer weather. It was the first time I’d been up close and personal with death, and I had no idea how to process the empty space where a boy used to be, the one I saw every day in science class and played kickball with on the street.

I say “friend”, but really what I mean is “one of the only people who was actually nice to me in those days and not trying to poison me by squirting random toiletries into my lunch when I wasn’t looking (true) or trying to break something by slamming balls at my head during dodgeball in gym class (also true).” I was a kick-ass dodgeball player in those days, mostly because I didn’t want to die.

But this boy was nice to me, and always included me in the kickball games, and never tried to break my head or trip me. He was also quite cute.

And then he was dead, and I didn’t even know what that meant. I kept wondering, “But is he ok?”

So I started writing.

First to process death, then to complain about my cousin some more, then to talk about more cute boys. I had a crush on a lot of boys. None of them had a crush on me.

Whenever I was angry (which happened a lot between the ages of thirteen and eighteen), I wrote it down. Whenever I was freshly infatuated (which happened even more), I wrote it down. Whenever something funny happened, or interesting, or when I had an idea or a musing or my teacher was a jerk or my mother clearly put me on this earth to suffer, I wrote it down.

I wrote it down when I got my new car. When I went to college. When I met Ralph. When I started teaching. Everything I wanted and didn’t want, everything I loved and hated, everything I did and shouldn’t have done.

Most of that is sitting in notebooks in a stack of very not-locked boxes in my parents’ attic in Brigantine. Sometimes that haunts me.

These days I write in a password-protected Word document, and though I miss pencil on notebook, I sleep better at night.

Writing has always had the effect of emptying my brain. Which is perhaps why I started a new Word document on January 1st and already have 94 pages, or approximately 33,000 words. Not even including most of what I’ve written here. Some people call that a novel.

I call it “dealing with chocolate chip cookie dough in the bottom of my oven.”

This morning I broke the Chemex. Offered to make coffee for Ralph, then picked up the Chemex and watched it shatter to a billion pieces when it slipped out of my hand. How do you drop a Chemex? It has that curved part right in the middle where your hand goes.

It was at that point that my word manifested

Well, to be fair, it was at that point that I used a long string of four letter words in varied configurations of fury. Then without even picking up the glass, I went straight to Amazon and ordered a new one. It will be here Tuesday.

Then my word manifested.

You know how you hit a threshold of not caring because you can’t possibly think about or process another thing?

That’s what happened after I broke the Chemex today.

I felt calmer.

I stopped caring about the Chemex.

The word I have for that is empty, as in my brain is empty.

It’s the feeling I get after expunging everything onto paper, or dropping a Chemex within 12 hours of losing an entire tray of cookies to the oven floor.

Like there is nothing left, no more flotsam and jetsam, just a big open space.

Nothing matters, but it’s not indifference. It’s like walking into a room for the first time before you clutter it up with the furniture and carpets and photos and shelves with things on them. For a minute you can just sit in the emptiness and exist, without attachments or thoughts about whether or not it’s time to dust.

In a state of emptiness, I stared at snow today. I didn’t muse on the snow, just sat and watched it from the window.

I did my exercise and unquestioningly followed the directions of whichever program I happened to put on. I cleaned out the office closet, where “cleaning out the office closet” means staring blankly at the mass of unbelievable junk we have accumulated in three short years, none of which is any use to us, but we have it now, and you can’t just get rid of things. I mean, what if you need them one day? What if, when you finally get rid of the speaker stands that you never used, or the monitor arm that doesn’t fit your monitor, you suddenly need them? What if you get a new monitor?

I took a few things out and put them on my desk where they are now in the way of me doing anything at my desk, because I want Ralph to look at them with me and approve or deny getting rid of them.

Of course, there is the fact that the minute you get rid of something you will absolutely need it.

Some tangled black cord, I threw that out, except then about a week later Ralph said, “Remember we had that black cord? Where is it, we can put it on [insert thing here that is suddenly useless without black cord].

Anyway that was what I did today as my brain remained empty of musings or ideas or caring one way or another about the black cord.

My brain just drained out like a cracked egg.

I called my mother, and she told me the family news and the dog news and the weather news and the recipe news.

And I occasionally said “uh huh,” because when your brain is empty you can take in a lot more without spewing anything out.

Emptiness is underrated.

There are so many thinking things to do on any given day that sometimes you have to be grateful that a Chemex just shattered at your feet and flipped the switch in your brain that thinks them.

My day was empty of angst, of have-to need-to should-do. It was, rather, full of snowflakes. It snowed a lot today, where “a lot” means “a laughably small amount for someone who lived 49 years in the northeast and thought the south was going to be warmer or something.”

Emptiness only really happens when enough sludge builds up that you have to pull the plug and let it all drain away. It doesn’t happen a lot, but when it does, it’s very relieving.

Fortunately, life goes in cycles like this. The escalating crazy, until you overfill the balloon and it bursts in your face. It stings for a second and then you look at the leftover pieces in your hand and go, “Huh. That’s interesting.”

And now I’m empty of explaining the emptiness, which itself is a satisfying emptiness.

Photo: a drain cover on Bourbon Street, New Orleans, after a night’s partying was swept away.