Keep, Save, & Make, part 3


photo by L.L. Barkat

photo by L.L. Barkat

Save: 2011-2014

After my mom died I started keeping a journal, just a Word document where I could write through what was going on in my life on a semi-daily basis. I titled the document “Weather Report.” It could just as easily have been called the same name as a geology class my husband took in college, “Earthquakes and Other Natural Disasters.” 2011-2014 were years of what I like to politely call “personal natural disasters. “The tectonic plates that formed my stable little Pangea shifted, tearing apart my happy island.

It would take years to understand this destruction was not caused by some bogeyman. It was climate change, with destruction at the poles, the equtaor, and underground.

Writing through my problems had always been my go-to way to cope. Now that practice betrayed me. It entrenched ideas that were just plain wrong. I’d feel more angry after writing, not less. And there were continued aftershocks. It wasn’t exactly to safe to leave my deepest thoughts laying around, unsecured.

But some of what I was writing could be read by anyone. I was beginning to use my journal in a new way, to write about things that were less explosive: a bike ride on Willow City Loop, a friend’s blog post that moved me. I wrote about articles, movies, books, podcasts. Musings about wheat berries became a post at Tweetspeak.

Sometimes my writing amounted to nothing more than noticing the life in my own backyard. I wrote about the dogs, the birds, the crepe myrtle, the guy driving a riding lawnmower at 6:30 on a Sunday morning in a yard that didn’t deserve it. Writing in the moment was centering.

And I journaled about poems. The combination of reading a poem a day for a decade and the daily earthquakes in my life meant poems were slipping into the cracks in my soul. I could not not write about them. The poems were stronger than I was.

Somehow they became even stronger when I stopped journaling on my computer and migrated to pencil and paper, right after walking the dogs early in the morning, while the moon was still out.

These were pages I could leave open anywhere. How revealing was it to journal about Emily Dickinson’s “I Had No Time To Hate, Because”? Well, on one hand, if you knew the backstory, it said everything. And if not, it’s just my thoughts on Dickinson, marveling at how unconventional she still is. That particular poem pointed the way forward in a situation involving a couple I can only describe as the Dursleys, Harry Potter’s suppremely annoying aunt and uncle.

One thing is certain. I believe journaling about poems for those four years saved my life. It allowed me to explore terrain without triggering more subterranean rumblings. If I died tomorrow, anyone could read these journals I’ve left behind. They might not be able to figure out when they were written without some sleuthing, but here’s a hint: If you save your selections from Every Day Poems, The Writer’s Almanac, and American Life in Poetry, you can pretty well trace the dates.


  1. “Sometimes my writing amounted to nothing more than noticing the life in my own backyard.”

    I’m glad you mentioned this. I credit last summer’s Tweetspeak workshop on “Mindfulness of Place,” which was a lot of writing about my own backyard, with resuscitating me, bringing me back to life. It ferried me back to writing again like a little boat traveling between two shorelines.

  2. Marilyn, that made my day. How very tender to know it brought you back to life.

    Megan, just this:

    “The poems were stronger than I was.”

  3. Megan, I liked the lines about poems slipping into the cracks in your soul. Wow.
    The tectonic plate analogy seems fitting for that particular season of your life. Thank you for this peek into your everyday world and the process of bringing The Joy of Poetry to life.