“Why don’t you keep a pain journal?” my friend R encouraged me. “It will help you track your progress.” I have chronic pain and continually try remedies to alleviate it.
“I don’t know.” I was thinking about the time in my late twenties, eons ago, when at the prompting of a friend I kept a food journal. Each morning my good angel sat down and recorded all the blessed things I’d eat that day — hard-boiled eggs, cottage cheese, celery sticks, diet bread — and by 3 PM I’d cross out these foods and scribble in what I really ate — hunks of cheese, a glob or two of peanut butter, several pats of butter, and all on a dainty bed of a potato chips. Chained to the diet mentality, this had been an incredibly unhappy time in my eating life. It left a bad taste in my mouth, no pun intended. “Maybe,” I said.
R keeps a journal. Her therapist suggested it. She writes in a large artist’s notebook that she’s covered with leopard-skin material from the fabric outlet. A Virgo, she takes a ruler and creates lines, but leaves part of each page unlined where she expresses herself by drawing colorful flowers, waves, skylines, sunsets. Sometime she cuts out words from the newspaper and makes titles for her entries, like a friendly ransom note. Or she’ll glue in leaves, rose petals, swatches of material or… pictures of Sharon Stone. Why is it that every lesbian I know is either obsessed with Sharon Stone or Madonna? Older lesbians, that is. When I’d be over at R’s tiny apartment in the Sunset District — she’s lived in her rent-controlled one bedroom for the past thirty years — I’d sit on her bed and leaf through her journal, admiring magazine cutouts of Sharon. Each page a work of art.
I knew that if I kept a journal it would have to contain more than a list of physical symptoms, a report of ailments. That would be too depressing. Another day, I’d write, and I feel shitty. Who needs that? Instead, I’d feel compelled to write about what it was like to spend so much time alone and how at times my life was rich, believe it or not. Being alone and in pain can have its pluses.
Writing. I wouldn’t have been able to keep a journal in the first six months of my illness because I was way too sick. But now that I was getting a little bit better, I pondered the idea. “I’m not going to write down how bad I feel every day,” I told R, a bit defensive, probably thinking of my earlier journal fiasco.
“Write what you want,” she said. “You don’t have to please anyone by writing in a certain way. It’s just for you.”