The journal is beautiful. Covered with textured paper and bound with string, its large pages are thick and creamy, flecked with fibers. When I couldn’t sleep one night almost six years ago, staying with David at a friend’s camp on Bear Island in Lake Winnipesaukee, I got up to write. As I sat down and opened this journal, which David had recently given me, I thought to myself, “I’m going to write a book, in this journal, and only write it on islands.” I filled that journal over the next eight months, always writing on islands, and have since filled many more pages on many other islands in other journals and on my computer.
When I started writing that night, I had no idea where my intention would lead and certainly never thought I would soon be recording another difficult life passage, as untimely cancer death bumped up close again within weeks of our time on Bear Island. Turning that original island journal into a full story, into the book I’d imagined, has also meant going back to my life with Eric and how losing him reverberated in so many unexpected and disorienting ways.
That’s the memoir I’ve been working on over the last several months, starting with my time at Vermont Studio Center. Several blog posts lately have talked about the difficulty of revisiting such turbulent times in my life, but there’s more to it than how hard it sometimes is. It’s also necessary.
As one writer friend said to me, when I told her there are days I start to hate this book, “You have a story to tell and this is your story.” She shrugged. Another writer friend asked, “Why are you writing this book,” not to challenge me, but to understand why I’m engaging with a subject that’s clearly hard for me. “It’s a story that resonates with people, that I want more people to hear,” I said. “It’s about recovering and getting past something you feel you can’t get past and learning how to go on.” She nodded. She understood.
I understand too. I need to do this, which is why I’m sticking with this book, even when it makes me uncomfortable. How could I have known opening this lovely journal on a summer night six years ago it would lead me here?