I began to keep a journal in 1961, when I lived with my girlfriend in a tenement on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village. The walls were thin and the neighbors heard much of what we said to each other, because it was often said at the top of our lungs. We fought almost daily. Despite what the neighbors heard, I considered it dishonorable to talk to anyone—even old friends or family—about personal troubles. So I talked to nobody and kept a secret journal. When lago says there are men “so loose of soul” they talk even in their sleep, he doesn’t mean me.
By the time my girlfriend and I got married, I was going to my journal as if to prayer, and I began putting down whatever came to mind— incidents, reflections, gossip, etc., not just troubles. I said many things I wouldn’t say to anyone but myself . Not because they were scandalous or shameful, but because they were of peculiar interest only to me.
Talked to Allen about Wittgenstein, told him I could repeat what I’ve read, but I don’t really get it. He quoted Wittgenstein’s remark that philosophical problems are “language on vacation,” and said he dissolves, not resolves, problems. Oh.
Phone has rung repeatedly for the past several days with nobody at the other end.
I told Bluma there is a kid in one of my classes who sits in the front row and picks his nose during my lecture. It’s driving me mad. I don’t know what to do about it. I can’t say anything to him in class or after class. Bluma recommends that I make an announcement: “Many of you out there are picking your nose.”
I still have to read twenty novels for my qualifying exam. It’s maddening to read not for pleasure but only to finish, especially Hardy’s novels. They refuse simply to go where you know they are going. In James’s The Ambassadors I counted sixteen uses of the phrase “hung fire” before I stopped reading. I’m a slow reader and there is too much to read, especially this way, without pleasure or interest. The night before he took his law exams, Malcolm read The Brothers Karamazov. He failed his exams, but that’s the proper spirit in which to read novels.
You don’t know what you’re seeing when seeing it for the first time, but you see it as you never will again. Later, you wish you could escape sophistication and see innocently. This is what Heraclitus means when he says you can’t step into the same river twice. Picasso said that when he was eight he could draw like Titian or Raphael, but he spent the rest of his life trying to draw like a child.
Micahaels, Leonard. Time out of Mind: The Diaries of Leonard Michaels, 1961-1995
“The critically acclaimed author of The Men’s Club shares a collection of observations, meditations, and confidences drawn from more than thirty years of journals that capture the inner world of a man struggling to balance his diverse roles as husband, friend, lover, father, and writer.”
Thoroughly recommended. Also of interest, The Essays of Leonard Michaels