How do we self-quarantine? Let us count the ways.
The media are full of ideas for activities in isolation, with much of the world shut down. Let’s encapsulate.
Read big books: the bigger the better. You can do it alone or with virtual company. The internet is replete with online reading groups tackling weighty tomes together.
Learn a language. There are plenty of online sites for this too. Sign language might be especially apt these days.
Learn to play an instrument. A quiet one, so as not to annoy housemates or neighbors. Ukulele, for instance, not harmonica or tuba.
Learn origami. Bake. Birdwatch. Take up yoga. Meditate. Keep a journal.
This last most naturally interests us here, at a newspaper, where we work with words and exposition, and in fact are technically called journalists.
We wouldn’t be doing it professionally if we didn’t think it worthwhile. Personal journaling is valuable, too.
Simply put, by writing about a situation you claim authority (note that word’s root) over it. With a journal you’re creating structure for your days and life.
If you have the goal of solving problems, acknowledging them in writing is a step toward taking control.
You might think that one day of your life is not different enough from the next to be worth noting. But you don’t know until you do it what distinctions you might find.
It describes a different medium, but the 1995 movie “Smoke” features a character named Augie who runs a cigar store in Brooklyn, and every morning over many years takes a photograph of the storefront from across the street.
The pictures tend to seem the same. But many days, for instance, there is someone carrying a boom box, then one day there’s not, and there never is again. Soon there’s a person with a Walkman, then a lot of them, then 3,000 pictures later there are none. In the early photos people walk by with blue-and-white paper coffee cups bearing faux Greek designs and the words “We Are Happy To Serve You.” Soon, then only, the cups say Starbucks.
Like Augie’s photos, a journal makes art of the mundane, and records history: personal, particular, perhaps peculiar, but history nonetheless.
Personal art or expression needn’t be confessional, if you don’t want that. And of course by definition, or at least repute, it needn’t be professional, either in aim or outcome.
So what might a journal look like, hold, or relate?
Well, like a gamut of things: unique to any journaler. But I have my own as an example.
I’ve kept a journal since I relocated to Ithaca in 1993 (and for years before that). For the sake of scholarship, as a handy reference, let me present segments of various entries of mine over the years for the date of September 9, the publication date of this week’s Ithaca Times, just as a relevant point in time.
I’ll hedge on that a bit to relate what I journaled about this week’s column: that I started it on September 2, then took a break midway to turn on the TV to see how my team, the Mets, were doing in their ballgame, and heard the bulletin that their Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver, a boyhood idol of mine, died of dementia and the coronavirus at age 75. That stopped me writing this column for the night.
Years before, on 9/9/93, newly in Ithaca, I had breakfast at the State Diner, where I was impressed by the “mandatory three-count of toast.” In Bethesda, Maryland, whence I came, diner breakfasts came with two. Big news, clearly.
On 9/9/99 I got a $10,000 loan from Alternatives Credit Union to start Small World Music, a CD/record shop. I was involved with GrassRoots Festival then and it seemed a logical business extension.
Fast-forward to last year, 9/9/19. I visited Angry Mom Records, Ithaca’s current record store. I bought an LP by Sonny Boy Williamson and discovered a song where he sings in imitation of Howlin’ Wolf about what he wants for Christmas. I played it five times straight.
You get the idea. With journal entries like this you can keep, recreate, or at least remember a world in whatever ways please or amuse you.
Maybe no scholar will ever peruse your humble spiral (or fancy Moleskine) notebooks. Maybe in the future you will hardly ever look at them yourself.
It doesn’t matter. With a journal you show that everyone is an artist or historian, potentially; and that there are no uncared for, forgettable, or immutable days.