Literally, a Post From the Road

This time, I am blogging while in motion.  It will only be August for another half hour, and I have neglected this blog most of the summer.  Tonight, I am riding on the upper level of a Megabus heading west toward Cincinnati and Indianapolis.  My final destination will be St. Louis, arriving there about 2:15 p.m. Central Daylight Savings Time.  This being Megabus, I will not be going the direct route, down Interstate 70.  I will be on this coach all the way to Chicago, due to arrive there at 6:45 a.m. local time.  Once the bus leaves Indianapolis, it will turn north and head up Interstate 65.

Just like I did when I made this trek in 2011, I will have an hour or so to wait at Union Station near Jackson Blvd., and then I’ll be southbound through Illinois on Interstate 55.  (I wish I could throw in an allusion about rolling up the Interstate “like a rocket sled on rails,” but C.W. McCall’s immortal song refers to Interstate 44, which does go through St. Louis, but mostly crosses Texas and Oklahoma.)  I guess I could throw in a line from Edward Albee’s Zoo Story: “Sometimes a person has to go a very long distance out of his way in order to come back a short distance correctly.”

And my mission is the same.  I am visiting my friend John, whom I met 34 years ago this month at Circle Pines Center in Delton, Mich.  John is in a wheelchair and requires full-time care because of his multiple sclerosis, and is in an assisted living facility near the Delmar Loop.  We communicate by text messages and Skype calls, but this time it is different.  John will soon be moving to Madison to live closer to his brother, so the next time I visit him it will be in Madison.

I am also reuniting with a mutual friend of John’s and mine, Alex, whom I also meet at Circle Pines.  We were there for OPIK ’79, a Midwestern get-together of members of Liberal Religious Youth, which was the Unitarian Universalist church’s youth group at the time.  OPIK (rhymes with topic) was an acronym for Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Kentucky.  The reason it took place in Michigan in 1979 is a long story that will only further bore the reader.

I am also making my first visit to the Gateway Arch since 1993.  On that trip, the Mississippi River was running wild as part of the Great Flood of 1993, and from the Arch I could see Laclede’s Landing completely underwater, and the whole area around the Arch looking like Venice.

I am also celebrating the end of another semester of moonlighting at the Columbus State bookstore, which was 2½ hours per night four nights a week, and eight-hour Saturdays.  I will receive a decent paycheck on the 13th, but I was coming home, eating not very well or healthily, and then falling into bed, only to repeat the cycle the next day.

Right now, it’s time for a confession: Writing in the blog tonight was Plan B.  I don’t want to overextend this laptop, because I left the power cord in Columbus.  I put it on the coffee table where I wouldn’t forget it, walked by, looked at it, and proceeded out the front door.  I remembered it when I unzipped my knapsack.

My first plan was to write in my diary, but the driver has disabled all the reading lights, so I can’t see the page (at least not until after daybreak) to write in there.  Right now, we are on Interstate 71, headed toward Cincinnati, where this coach will make its first stop.  Odd to be going to Cincinnati and not ending the journey there.

This blog is beginning to sound like the “traveling tapes” I used to make whenever my parents and I took a road trip–even if it was only the 11 miles to Belpre.  (I made longer tapes–on multiple cassettes–when we went to Richmond, Va.)

I’ll log off for now.

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A DOA Literary Experiment

Over our lunch at Wok and Roll (formerly the boarding house of Mary E. Surratt) in Washington, D.C. last spring, my friend Robert Nedelkoff said that he had Googled my name and found a Usenet post (circa 1996 or 1997) in which I asked, “Are there any newsgroups where one can post diary/journal entries?”  Since you can’t copyright an idea, I’m not going to wring my hands about all the wealth that could’ve been mine.

Recently, I heard somebody say that most bloggers blog about… blogging.  While I enjoy keeping this record up to date, and welcoming the incoming comments of everyone who reads it, my first love as far as record-keeping is concerned is my diary.  Late in the afternoon, Susie and I walked up to Olympic Swim and Racquet, and I was grateful when everyone flocked around the diving platform, because it gave me some time to commune with my composition book and my ballpoint pen.  (I am down to the last 13 pages in this particular volume.  Once I finish it, my journal continues in the volume pictured below.)
Maybe I should start using blank books that
would look better in museum display cases.

Elsewhere in this blog (and its predecessor on LiveJournal), I have sung the praises of the late Reverend Robert Shields, a retired United Church of Christ minister and teacher who kept a diary of everything he did from the moment he awakened (indicated as “GOD–Genesis of the Day”) until he finally fell asleep.  This included everything he ate, bought, excreted, thought, read, or saw, complete with sales slips, business cards, and other evidence.  He kept a whole arsenal of IBM Wheelwriters on his back porch office, in case he ran out of ribbon or one of them broke down, and the diary kept him, not vice versa.  This dominated his life until a stroke partially paralyzed him in 1997.  He passed away in 2007.
In the same league, although I don’t think he suffered from the hypergraphia that dominated Shields’ life, was former U.S. Senator Bob Graham (D-Florida).  He was briefly on Al Gore’s short list for Vice Presidential candidates in the ’00 campaign, but his penchant for writing down everything in his life in small spiral-bound notepads soon became a running joke and a late-night TV punch line.  This article in the St. Petersburg Times covers Senator Graham’s extensive note-taking and need to chronicle.  When this 2003 article appeared, Graham had already filled 4000 notebooks.  When the North Carolina Paper Company discontinued this particular size (about the size of a deck of playing cards), he bought the company’s leftover inventory of them.
Lord knows I am envious of men like Shields and Graham, and hypergraphia is one psychological condition I wish I could develop.  As I sweat blood over a single short story–which I think may be ready to try on some unsuspecting magazine editor later this week–and have to force myself to the keyboard to work on my novel, Graham and Shields cannot shut off the flow.
So, one day in June, I decided to chronicle one day the way that Graham and Shields had done.  Sometime in May, I bought a green Mead spiral memo book, which I had carried in my over-the-shoulder bag without ever marking in it.  Very early one morning, I decided to put it to use.  Here is how I grandiosely marked the cover:

The “Genesis of the Day” that day was about 2:30 a.m.  The smoke detector had beeped at 30-second intervals, which meant the nine-volt battery was on its last legs.  Once I went downstairs and tended to that, I was just too wide awake to sleep.  I logged onto my laptop and read a Slate article about Graham from 2003, and that was when I decided to do it.

I won’t share the entire day with you, but here are some of the early notations from the morning, many of them made on the fly.
B/R is bathroom.  I wasn’t going to elaborate on that.  The 6:45
notation alludes to my returning the Bible to my shelf.  I had
plumbed its pages for a verse to use as an epigraph for something
I was outlining at the time.

I tried like mad to keep a record of everyone who
boarded and disembarked from the bus between
Clintonville and downtown.  I listed the male (♂)
and female (♀) symbols as a shorthand in lieu
of writing out the words.  S/B is southbound.

And that was how I filled up two thirds of that memo book.  At work, I had to make the notations somewhat furtively, like a spy sticking microfilm into his pocket, but I managed to do it.  That night, there was a Homeschool Dance and Luau at Whetstone Recreation Center, and I managed to drive Susie nuts (though I neglected to write that down) as I noted each intersection we crossed when walking to Wendy’s for dinner–since we arrived early at the dance.
So I managed to maintain this record for 24 hours, and it exhausted me.  Even as I left the William Green Building for the night at 5 p.m., I was chronicling like mad:
At the dance itself, Pat saw me writing and wondered if I was covering the dance.  Yes, but not for any journalistic media.  (He and his family came to the dance as well.  My head ached too much to go in the gym with all the loud music.  I’m just thankful there wasn’t a ’70s theme, which would have meant mirror balls and strobe lights.  I am not epileptic, but strobe lights, especially when reflected numerous times, wear me out.)
So, I’ve returned to sanity with my diary-keeping.  As the kids and parents clustered around the dive tower tonight at Olympic, I managed to write about the day, how I awakened fully intending to go to church, but the sound of the thunderstorm and wind outside made me decide to go back to bed for a few more hours.  I wrote about Sporeprint and the work they do, pretty much the same way I did here in the blog.  (Writing at poolside has such a John Cheever-esque ring to it.)
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in “The Crack-Up” that “In the real dark night of the soul, it is always three o’clock in the morning.”  I just heard my watch beep the hour, and when I glance down at the lower left-hand corner of the laptop screen, it says 3:03.  The digital clock sitting nearby is in agreement.  My friend Steve is driving Susie to Girlz Rhythm and Rock Camp in Lockbourne, and we’re leaving at 9 a.m.  I tried, unsuccessfully, to get the whole day off work, but couldn’t.  So once we drop Susie off, we’re turning right back around and heading back to Columbus, where the rest of my day (until 5 p.m.) belongs to the good people of the state of With God, All Things Are Possible.
And look how well I’m resting up for this busy day ahead.  I have many concerns on my mind right now–which I don’t want to publicize at this time–and they’ve kept sleep at bay for much of this weekend.

Holy Day of Obligation for Diarists

Samuel Pepys, we who are about to blog salute thee!  On this date, in 1669, Samuel Pepys wrote the final entry in his diary.  He was a member of the English Parliament and Naval Administrator under Charles II, and discontinued his journal (begun New Year’s Day 1660) because he feared (mistakenly) he was going blind.  So, every May 31 is the day that I feel I must post a blog entry, or write in my holographic diary, even if I abandon it all other times.

I started my first real diary on New Year’s Day 1974, when I was in fifth grade.  As a belated Christmas gift, my dad bought me a blank diary (blue cover with My Diary One Year on the cover, and a lock.  The lock was as impenetrable as Fort Knox unless you had a bobby pin.)  He bought me the diary at Sugden’s Book Store in downtown Marietta, and for the entire week between Christmas and New Year’s, I was itching to start writing in it.
I made my first entry New Year’s afternoon, as we were driving back from Richmond, Va. to Marietta.  We had gone there on December 28 to be with my aunt (my mother’s older sister) Jean and her family while her husband Roger was in the cardiac care unit of a Richmond hospital, undergoing treatment for the congestive heart failure that would take his life the following spring.
That diary, along with all the ones from 1974 to 1989, is long gone, since I stored them in a storage locker and never maintained the payments.  I distinctly remember writing the first entry with a dull pencil, even including a dateline (“Somewhere in Virginia,” which sounds like a Union Army dispatch to the War Department during the Civil War), writing about Uncle Roger’s return to Intensive Care, watching the ball drop at Times Square on the television, and how hard it was to find a gas station that was open.
I was hooked from then on.  My friends (particularly my male ones) thought it weird, but it was just another proof that I was completely nuts and 100% different from them.  (When I had friends staying over, or if I spent the night with them, they were respectful when I would get out the diary and a pen and go off by myself just long enough to fill a page.)  I even defended it with words I echoed from my dad: “You like to watch Star Trek, don’t you?  Well, when Captain Kirk does his captain’s log, that’s his diary.  Besides [I added, doubly righteously], the most famous diary in the world was kept by a man!”  It did take me a long time to get over the picture of the girl lying on her stomach writing when I heard the word “diary,” however.
I haven’t maintained a perfect day-to-day record, even in the many volumes that were lost.  I have gone days, weeks, and months between entries.  Overall, I am a pretty conscientious diarist.  I have used a variety of books as diaries.  Growing up, every Christmas I received a new one-year book (never another one with a lock), but when I was 16, I began to use blank books that were not predated, so I wouldn’t be confined to a page per day.  I varied in book types then, too, ranging from big red legal ledgers to spiral notebooks.
For most of my 20s, I used bonded leather blank books (usually the Anything Book brand), with the occasional stenographer’s notebook or appointment diary thrown in for variety, plus whatever books I received as Christmas or birthday gifts–when in doubt, get Paul a journal, was the wisdom.
From about age 35 on, I have–with some exceptions–written in simple composition books, inspired mainly by movies such as Se7en, Joe Gould’s Secret, and Henry Fool, where major characters make liberal use of composition books.  They’re cheap (often about $1 at places like Family Dollar) and much more durable than many of the more expensive variety.  That is the type of book I am now using.  (The current 200-page Mead composition book is 70% full, and its successor sits in my desk drawer right now.)  I have received expensively bound blank books with parchment pages, but they’re so beautiful you almost feel guilty marking the page.  Plus, I have good penmanship, but I can’t write without lines–the words go downhill almost immediately if I write on an unruled page.)
Steph vowed several years ago she had stopped reading my diaries.  There was no higher principle involved–the matters of trust and secrecy.  She had read them when she thought I may have had something to hide, or if there was something on my mind that I wasn’t sharing, but she quit for a much more practical reason.
“Your diary is boring!” she said.  She read page after page of my rehashing of a union meeting and its aftermath, where I would write something like:

John seems to think that this policy will help with the mandatory overtime, and he thinks that they should be adding five more people per shift per area.  I told him that he’d be playing right into Management’s hands if he did that, because they’ll be accusing the union (and I’m not sure they’d be wrong) of deliberate featherbedding, which will bite us in the ass come contract time.

 Steph’s remark that my diary was/is boring may well be true, but at the time neither of us knew much about the Reverend Robert Shields (1918-2007), a retired United Church of Christ minister in Washington State who kept a very detailed diary of literally everything that happened to him from 1972 until a 1997 stroke made the job impossible.  I first heard of him in a “News of the Weird” column in 1996:

According to a Seattle Times feature in March, Robert Shields, 77, of Dayton, Wash., is the author of perhaps the longest personal diary in history–nearly 38 million words on paper stored in 81 cardboard boxes–covering his last 24 years in five-minute increments.  Example: July 25, 1993, 7 a.m.: “I cleaned out the tub and scraped my feet with my fingernails to remove layers of dead skin.”  7:05 a.m.: “Passed a large, firm stool, and a pint of urine.  Used 5 sheets of paper.”

I thought this had to be a joke or hoax, until shortly after Shields’ death, when excerpts from this mammoth diary were published on National Public Radio’s Website:

 One of the more exciting pages I could find in
Rev. Shields’ magnum opus.  Click on the
image to read the entries more easily.

This entry was written on my 31st birthday.

I bought a small white one-year diary at a junk store years ago for about a quarter, and used it for appointments, etc. until it disappeared with the coat where I carried it.  Most of the pages were blank, so I was able to fill in appointments under the appropriate preprinted dates.  There were a few penciled entries, such as “Me and Donnie told jokes at class today walked home there’s a good chiller movie on TV tonight.”
During my white-tornado blitz cleaning of the office the past few days, I christened the finished project with pictures from my new Kodak digital camera (see last entry).  One of the shots I made was of my own diaries.  This isn’t even complete, since some of the volumes are locked in my desk at work:
These are more or less in chronological order.
The current volume stays with me, so I can
write in it whenever the urge strikes me.

Just before Steph went to The Cleveland Clinic for her heart surgery, she made out a last will and testament.  I realize now I should have done the same thing, both as a gesture of solidarity and as a practical matter.  (I should have made one out when I got married, and again when Susie was born.)  I have no vast financial holdings–my net worth can be calculated by what’s in my wallet when I die, plus how many pennies are in the jar in my office, so I don’t have that many assets to distribute.  If I died intestate (as I am now), Steph and Susie would automatically inherit everything.  However, I do plan to bequeath my diaries to either Alden Library at Ohio University or the Ohioana Library here in Columbus–can’t decide which.
Whichever place finally gets the honor, I do have daydreams of the day they arrive, when the librarians march all my diaries around the facility in procession and people touch their garments to them.
Steph puts up no objection to my diaries ending up in a library vault somewhere–they didn’t interest her when I am alive, after all.  In this, she was probably a lot like Evelyn Yates Inman, whose husband Arthur, a reclusive and hypochondriac poet, kept a 155-volume diary.  Arthur Crew Inman kept his record while living off inherited money in a Boston hotel, living as an invalid because of a long list of imaginary ailments.  He began the record in 1919 and ended it in December 1963, when he took his own life.  Professor Daniel Aaron of Harvard University began editing the 155 volumes and 17 million+ words in the 1980s, while I was working for The Crimson, and Harvard University Press published a very abridged version in 1985.  A movie, Hypergraphia, about Inman’s life, is currently in production.  This Website for Hypergraphia is the place to go for the background and news on the film.
I discovered this Website 100% by accident last month.  It’s one that makes me feel like I’m a little less alone in my fascination with notebooks, diaries, etc.  The title is Notebook Stories, and I feel like I have a personal kinship with everyone who posted there.  I used to think I was the only one who would go back into my burning house to rescue diaries and notebooks (once my daughter and wife were safely outside).
And while I’m on here:

I slept until almost noon, then I got up, took a shower, and dressed.  My friend Jacques took me to lunch at Cazuela’s Grill at N. High St. and W. Northwood Ave.  (Normally, he’d be in Mineral at the Feed My Sheep food pantry, but the pantry is closed today for Memorial Day.)  He drove me back home, I loaned him two or three issues of The Catholic Worker (poor is having to buy a Catholic Worker subscription on layaway). I took Susie to our friend’s apartment so she could feed and water the cats, then she and I came back home.  She may go swimming later, once we’re 100% sure the cloudbursts are finished for the day.  (It’s in the low 80s right now, and the pollen count is in the stratosphere.)
And then I came home and wrote this entry.