Recently I climbed “Monte Sol,” also known as Sun Mountain. After reaching the 600-foot summit, I sat on a boulder, taking notes, dreaming a bit, meditating. The sun was blazing, but the winter air felt slightly chilly. Overhead, a few ravens flapped in vast, airy circles. As I thrilled to the beauty below me—my town laid out in panorama—it occurred to me that reading leads to writing, which leads back to reading.
Perhaps because my memoir The Goodbye Baby-A Diary about Adoption focusses so strongly on my own diary entries, I plan during 2013 to peruse diaries from the past. The list includes Samuel Pepys, Franz Kafka, Oscar Wilde, and Anne Frank. I’ve started with18th century author Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who also loved to walk in nature. In a way, we are kindred spirits.
A slim volume, Meditations of a Solitary Walker, published by Penguin, had been sitting in my overstuffed bookshelves for decades. The book comprises highlights from Rousseau’s Reveries of the Solitary Walker. I had tucked it into my daypack to finish reading during my hike.
The cover, impressionist art, depicts a black-suited figure waving his hat to what looks like a tan field or perhaps a sea. The man’s back is turned away from the viewer. Each chapter is an account of one of Rousseau’s solitary ramblings. In today’s terms, we might describe them as “hikes.” The descriptions are beautiful, the reflections are somber, poetic, tormented, and intensely personal. There is angst expressed, but also lyrical descriptions and an occasional bit of wry humor.
In Chapter One, “The First Walk,” Rousseau describes his literary musings as “taking barometer readings” of his soul. He states that in his “decrepitude,” he will re-visit the readings and “shall live with my earlier self as I might with a younger friend.” Rousseau admits worrying about the “grasping hands” of his “persecutors” and transmitting his diary reflections to future generations, but he goes on to say that he is finally indifferent “to the fate both of my true writings and of the proofs of my innocence.”
Sitting on my perch above the city, I muse about the fate of my journals. Was I right to put them on death row? When I completed writing The Goodbye Baby, I had announced to friends that the diaries I’d used for the book were slated for burial or burning. Having made the announcement, I had to follow through. And now the annihilation is well underway. I’ve burned thousands of pages, saving only the covers. It is a veritable holocaust for those little books, the raw material for The Goodbye Baby. Devoid of pages, the empty book covers—flowered, patterned, quilted, and often beautiful—are being passed on to my friend Andrea, who plans to use them for art projects. All that writing has gone up in smoke. All that remains is what exists in the excerpts I used in The Goodbye Baby.
A comforting thought: there will be other diaries. After a lifetime of recording the thoughts and events of each day, I cannot stop being a diarist. The blank book will silently ask, “How was your day?” and as long as I’m still breathing, I will write my answer.
It is getting late.The sun is beginning to set and despite wearing many layers of insulation, I am feeling cold. Closing my notepad and Rosseau’s Meditations, I strap on my pack and descend the zig-zagging trail home.