I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite – only a sense of existence. …O how I laugh when I think of my vague indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it, for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment.
Henry David Thoreau kept a journal, filling it with observations and reflections, literary excerpts, and personal comments. Journal-keeping isn’t new. It used to be called commonplacing. The journal, or commonplace book, had yet another name, silva rerum, meaning “a forest of things”. Commonplace books were a popular way for people to record striking passages they found in their reading, the wisest statements, usually of the ancients, for future meditation. Remember the electrifying effect that some thoughts had on you when you encountered them for the first time? The commonplace book is a way of memorializing those tooth-and-talons gripping passages that you can return to for renewed inspiration. I admire my friend Sue, a bona fide notebook-keeper, with her years and years of soul-nourishing journals. I’m too disorganized to have my own commonplace book. But I do jot down quotes, poems, ideas, and lists in one notebook or another, on a post-it, or across the back of the nearest cereal box.
Pursue, keep up with, circle round and round your life…. know your own bone: gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw at it still.
Poet William Stafford liked to sit down with a pen and paper, look out the window, and wait for something to occur to him. He filled his journals with entries about simple things like farms and dead deer and winter. He wrote about the West and his parents and cottonwood trees. He even wrote a poem about …. his journal. A revelatory one.
What’s in My Journal
Odd things, like a button drawer.
MeanThings, fishhooks, barbs in your hand.
But marbles too. A genius for being agreeable. Junkyard crucifixes, voluptuous discards. Space for knickknacks, and for Alaska. Evidence to hang me, or to beatify. Clues that lead nowhere, that never connected anyway. Deliberate obfuscation, the kind that takes genius. Chasms in character. Loud omissions. Mornings that yawn above a new grave. Pages you know exist but you can’t find them. Someone’s terribly inevitable life story, maybe mine.
I write lots of amen-astonishing words in my own hand, carefully copying out the insights of people smarter than me. Like Anne Lamott, for one.
I like to think I’ll absorb and internalize their wisdom. Oh, and, taking a page from Henry’s book, I record my perpetual thanks.
Imagine ~ a book of thoughts, ideas, poems, whatever catches your attention day by day, being called commonplace. Gnaw on that.
Let’s put the ‘thanks’ back in Thanksgiving ~ volunteer.