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Journaling Through the Pandemic

by Tzivia Gover

The day before Tax Day, I ran out of paper in my red Moleskin journal. I’d known this day was coming. But it was mid-March, and I thought the stores would re-open soon, and I could pick up a new notebook. By April Fool’s, I began having my doubts. Each day as I wrote, my fingers sensed the firm approach of the back cover.

While others were counting out squares of toilet paper, and corralling boxes of tissues in case they had to repurpose them, I was contemplating what I’d do when I filled the final page of my journal.

Ordering a new one online was not an option. For me buying a journal is a ritual. It means a trip down Main Street browsing one bookstore then the other, and then crossing over to the card shop, and the discount store where sometimes you could find (but usually didn’t) the perfect notebook, and back again.

I liked to pick up each blank book, run my fingers over the cover and the inside pages. I needed to check if it had a ribbon to mark the pages. Were the lines narrow enough to keep my handwriting in check? Ideally, it would have a paper pocket glued inside the back cover, where I could tuck snippets of dreams scrawled on scraps of paper in my hazy early morning handwriting. Over the years I’ve had two or three journals that checked nearly all of the boxes. But I never met a journal that checked them all. As with any quest, the allure of finding something better kept me going. Until I couldn’t anymore.

Every store downtown was closed on April 14, the day I transcribed into my journal an email I’d sent a colleague, in which I described my first Zoom class with a group of low-income women in a free college program where I teach writing:

Despite everything they are up against, these women carry on with their education. I only wish our institutions and government cared for them even a fraction of the amount that my students are caring for their families and one another and the people they serve in their work as CNAs, maintenance staff, and personal care assistants …

I knew how small my dilemma was in the face of all that was going on. I also knew that worldwide, I was in the company of countless journal keepers who were also writing toward the ends of their notebooks and wondering what to do next.

What I did next was to dig into a box of gifts I collect throughout the year for when I forget a birthday, or someone unexpectedly brings me a present and I (for the moment, anyway) I have nothing to give in return. There I found, still in its cellophane sleeve, a soft-backed notebook whose cover was embroidered with blue and yellow flowers. On April 15, when I didn’t need to file my taxes due to the pandemic, I pulled it out and wrote:

I bought this notebook in January, intending to bring it with me to the writing retreat in Culebra. But it was too pretty, so I packed my red notebook instead. And now, two and a half months later, the red notebook is full and the page has turned—in the very broadest sense. The world is revealed as something different than I thought it was. More likely it is revealed as what it was all along. Fragile. Unendingly complicated. And most of all, uncertain.

Three and a half months later, in the middle of August, I hit the back cover in that journal, too. This time, with a rambling dream about death, which took me careening to the last page.

Stores had re-opened downtown with new rules for mask-wearing, hand-sanitizing, and strict capacity limits. But I was only going inside when I had a clear, quick purpose—and shopping for journals didn’t qualify.

As it turns out, the program director for the writing course I teach had recently dropped off some materials for me to review for possible purchase for our new students. Among them was a hard-backed journal with writing prompts based on Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming. Entire pages were pre-filled with quotes in massive fonts proclaiming things like, “You don’t really know how attached you are until you move away …” and “Am I good enough? Yes, I am!”

“Let’s order the memoir for the students and skip the journals,” I’d texted her. I figured I’d give my copy to a friend’s teenage daughter the next time I saw her in person, whenever that would be.

But now I was once again desperate, and getting used to making do. On August 27, I picked up that blank book and began to fill it:

There’s a pandemic out there and I’m not about to go inside and shop for a journal. And although I told P. that this one is too fluffy for our students, well—there’s a pandemic out there. And in the spirit of imperfection, I’ll begin again.

I’m a little more than halfway through that journal now. And I’m not sure what’s next…

© Tzivia Gover

Tzivia Gover is an author who leads workshops on dreams, writing, and mindfulness. Her upcoming workshop, The Art of Keeping a Notebook takes place online, Saturday, Feb. 27 with Writers in Progress. Register HERE.

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