daybook – noun |ˈdāˌbo͝ok|
• an account book in which a day’s transactions are entered for later transfer to a ledger.
• a diary.
• a 1982 book by sculptor Anne Truitt.
Late one Friday afternoon sometime in the late 1980s, a little before closing time, I was browsing in Jay’s Bookstall, a well known bookstore in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, where I was a grad student, working toward a master of fine arts in nonfiction writing. It was probably fall, but early fall, still warmish. I was about halfway back in the store, along the left side, at a place where a buttress of a wall gave a suggestion of division between front room and back room. The buttress of a wall was wide enough for a bookcase, and on it, just below my eye level, not quite at the halfway point of the shelf’s width, I found Daybook: The Journal of an Artist by sculptor Anne Truitt, and knew it was the book I wanted to take home with me that day.
I’ve bought lots of books, and sometimes I remember where and when I bought them, the occasion of discovery. But I think no book-spotting memory is as strong and as detailed as that one.
The book is on my mind partly because last Sunday I read a post about Anne Truitt and Daybook on Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings, one of my favorite websites. “In one particularly poignant series of journal entries from the summer of 1974,” Popova writes, “Truitt exorcises the chronic resistance many artists have to the label of ‘artist’ and the perils of letting others define you.”
Substitute “writer” for “artist,” and many people I know would find themselves in that tension. And that’s a subject I’m not going to take up here. But there are other tensions I felt, still feel, that Truitt’s words touched on, the way you might touch a sore spot in a way that makes it momentarily more sore but also identifies where the problem is.
“Work is the backbone of a properly conducted life, serving at once to give it shape and to hold it up.” – Daybook, p. 219
“For one whole day I entertained the notion, which had been creeping up on me, of turning my back on the live nerve of myself and having fun.
“This morning I am sober. I would be a fool to sacrifice joy to fun.” – Daybook, pp. 39-40
Those two snippets jumped out at me way, way back in the previous millennium, and have been touchstones ever since. During a rereading two years ago, when I was working on my book, this is what pressed itself into me:
Unless we are very, very careful, we doom each other by holding onto images of one another based on preconceptions that are in turn based on indifference to what is other than ourselves. This indifference can be, in its extreme, a form of murder and seems to me a rather common phenomenon. We claim autonomy for ourselves and forget that in so doing we can fall into the tyranny of defining other people as we would like them to be. By focusing on what we choose to acknowledge in them, we impose an insidious control on them. I notice that I have to pay careful attention in order to listen to others with an openness that allows them to be as they are, or as they think themselves to be. The shutters of my mind habitually flip open and click shut, and these little snaps form into patterns I arrange for myself. The opposite of this inattention is love, is the honoring of others in a way that grants them the grace of their own autonomy and allows mutual discovery.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” wrote Annie Dillard, someone else whose written words have buttressed me for many many years now. There are things I would like to change about my own economy of days. Some of them have to do with writing. Some of them have to do with people, and inattention and love, those flip sides of the same coin that Truitt wrote about.
Reading Popova’s post, I was struck by something I hadn’t remembered. Truitt was 53 when she began to keep the journal that would become this book, and 60 when it was published. I am 53 now, and sometimes that feels old. I’ve lived three years beyond my mother’s lifespan. There are fewer years ahead than behind.
Daybook was the first of three books that Truitt eventually published from her journals; it was followed by Turn and Prospect. She died in 2004; Daybook was reissued last year.
All this whispers to me, “There’s still time.”
I’m circling things here. I’m not even close. I could explore that first definition of “daybook,” the idea of entries made for transfer later, the spiritual and metaphorical and eternal implications. In related news, I could explore why some of her sentences have made such an enduring (I might even say haunting) impression on me. The argument between joy and fun alone could take pages. And I will. But the place to do that is in my own daybook, my journal. (That’s also the place to examine the tensions of writing for publication vs. writing for self, for quick publication vs. long gestation, for paying publications vs. blog — things I’m coming up against as I make part of another daybook, my nightly gratitude journal, public for a year at Daylilies, a project I started earlier this summer.)
I will say that, whatever my 20something self’s reasons were for choosing this book, she couldn’t have known it, but she was also choosing a book that would be a gift to this middle-aged self.
What are you writing (feel free to read that as metaphor) with these days?
WORD COUNT: 950, but 244 of them are Anne Truitt’s and 13 of them are Annie Dillard’s. I’m linking with Charity Singleton Craig, who gives me a good reason to write about single words.