I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this story.
But it’s been long enough now.
I guess I can tell you.
One cool March day in the early Spring of 1991, something happened to me that changed my life. It didn’t seem like a particularly momentous thing at the time, really.
My wife and I took a day trip to Sonoma, California. We walked along tree-lined neighborhoods, looking in shop windows and browsing in the quaint little stores. As we sauntered along, enjoying those lazy narrow streets, one particular shop caught my attention. I would not describe it as a stationery store. That description would not be refined enough for what I experienced when I walked through the door. This store sold fine papers and pens and inks. Oak flooring and wide chair rail around the walls gave the entire shop an air of sophistication. Large bookshelves filled one entire corner of the shop, with dozens of books on how to write, why to write, and where to sell what you write. And nestled in the midst of those stacks of books, I saw cushy chairs with overstuffed arms, opening to me, and inviting one like me to have a seat. If “the writing life” has a smell, then the aroma of this room intoxicated me, with its hand-made papers, and beautiful pens, and wonderful books about words. I sat myself down. I touched and held and skimmed more than a dozen of those books.
I think, for me, perhaps time “stopped” for a few moments. The literary or musical term for what I experienced could probably be described as a caesura, a ‘grand pause,’ of sorts. A break in the movement. A ‘time out.’ I must have stayed in that place of words for more than an hour, thinking and looking at books about writing.
I made only one purchase that day in that little shop. I bought something called a writer’s notebook. It wasn’t anything special, really. Every page contained a quote from some well-known or not-so-well-known writer. Usually, the quotes had something to do with writing, or the creative effort involved in putting pen to paper. But every page also contained empty spaces on which to write notes or jot down ideas.
I left that store having made a decision. In fact, in my memory I can still see myself walking out the door of that little shop, carrying a small brown bag containing that notebook. And on the following morning, March 7, 1991, I sat down in a quiet place with my new notebook. I took out a pencil (I didn’t even use a pen). I dated the top of the first page, and then I wrote these words:
I bought this notebook for myself. I rarely by (sic) something strictly for myself, but as soon as I saw this notebook, I knew I wanted it. I have made a decision to become a writer; I will write in this notebook, or one like it, every day.
But I’m not going to write for anyone but me.
Everyone, I think, needs at least one place in this world where they can be honest—totally honest—without worrying about who may be listening-in. For me, that place will be this notebook. No need for shoes, or socks, or good manners when I write in this notebook. I will think; I will dream; I will act, and move and record with one purpose and end in mind: to gain a better understanding and insight of myself, my God, and my world. I will write my thoughts and tell my stories and describe my scenes for my own growth and benefit. If anyone chooses to come along and watch—if anyone happens by to listen to what I may be saying—if anyone else opens the door to what I think by turning the knob of what I write, well then, fine. But I choose, from this moment on, to write… every day.
I’ve started nearly Every Day of my life since that March morning by writing something, either in my journal or on a computer. The Apostle Paul referred to himself as a ‘living letter, known and read by all men.’ I think God wants all of us to understand that we’re being watched; our lives are being read, whether we’re recording what’s going on with written words, or just living life as it comes along. For me, words matter. Words express who I am, and where I’ve been all my life. And I now believe that nothing, apart from the Bible itself, has shaped me and honed me and affected me more, both as a writer and as a man, than the discipline of writing about the story I live and the journey I travel… Every Day.
(Excerpted from “If I Should Die, Before I Live,” a work in progress, to be released in 2016)
Photo Credit / Monica Beck