Fairly recently, Angel and I were out shopping at a well-known craft store and I took her one by one through an aisle of journals and sketch books. I picked each one up carefully and showed them to her like I’d stumbled upon a trove of precious gems. “I like this one ‘cause it’s red. I like this one ‘cause it’s got perforated pages. And this one ‘cause it’s got a faux alligator skin cover.” And so on and so forth. I was pretty much going through my Lawrence from The Glass Menagerie. Finally, Angel, who’d been fairly patient, blurted, “If you show me one more empty book of paper….”
One of the things I love about a brand new journal, and I suspect, the lure of an unexplored camera lens, is the untapped potential. You have no idea what you’re going to trap. I mean, you may set out to capture one image and find yourself with something completely unanticipated and all the more pleasurable for that reason.
Angel and I are currently facilitating a program called, “The Swallowtail Project” through the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association. Essentially, every week, for at least the next year, we have received funding to go into the federal prison in our city and offer a creative writing workshop to women who are incarcerated there. On our first day, we were invited to take a look at the quilts a group of the women had made to give away to young children in need:
For my workshop, I run the creative writing part, Angel documents the workshops with her camera and provides portraits for the women. One or two representatives from KDVA also are present to help aid the women should someone get particularly emotional as they write. Our wish is that over the next year (and beyond, we hope) we’ll have enough material for an exhibit, a documentary, and a publication showcasing these women’s work and their stories.
Because I believe to become a good writers, you must first foster good reading habits, we’ve been giving copies of writing guides and books of poems to the women who have elected to join our workshop. But in addition to the reading materials, we knew up front we’d like to make sure they had their very own spot to focus their writing specifically for the workshop. So, you can imagine, I felt a little like Oprah when I got to announce, “I’ve got JOOOOUUURRRRNNNAALLLLSSSS!”
Simple black journals.
They’re sort of small at 6”x9”. Some are unlined. Some are lined. Some are saddle-stitched, some perfect bound. Every single one of them were blessedly empty when I gave them away. Thirty-two in all. Thirty-two tomes yet to be written. Thirty-two collections of their responses to the writing exercises, their innermost thoughts, daydreams, nightmares, meditations and prayers, wishes, doodles, and scratched-out words. Thirty-two amoebas waiting to evolve. Thirty-two empty books of paper waiting to be filled. And to a journal enthusiast like myself? Well, that, is a beautiful thing. About as beautiful as dozens of hand-stitched quilts hanging from the line, waiting to keep someone who deserves them warm.