The Meaning of Profound

December 9, 2009

Years ago my father drove a great deal for his job. If he was in a small college town, he’d bring me a spiral-bound notebook with the college crest on the front for me to use as a journal. I filled numerous notebooks from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Kearney State College (it wasn’t a University back then), Dana College, Doane College, Wayne State College . . . you get the idea.

They were simple notebooks and I filled them with rants about high school frustrations, job issues, stories, and even the occasional poem tainted with the romantic delusions of a teen-aged girl. (ahem)

Anyway, I didn’t care what I wrote. I didn’t censor myself or criticize myself. I just wrote.

When I was in college, my older sister gave me a beautiful journal with a picture of Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night on the front. Like all the notebooks I used before, this was spiral bound. But instead of a cardboard front, it had a thick, glossy cover and screamed TALENT and ART and DON’T PUT ANYTHING ON THESE PAGES THAT ISN’T PERFECT.

Understandably, it sat unused. When I started medical school, I copied, cut, and pasted anatomical figures, lists, class notes (typed, of course) inside and used it as a pocket reference during rounds. I refused to touch a pen to the pages lest anyone think I was pretentious enough to believe I had talent.

However, even though I was engrossed in class work geared to take me in a scientific direction, I still wrote in secret, scribbling thoughts on scraps of paper when the mood struck, writing funny Christmas cards, thinking of funny characters and the like. People bought me journals for gifts . . . beautiful journals with cloth covers and perfect pages. But I continued to hide my desire to write like some sort of leprous lesion and I rarely brought any of those journals out or used them.

Occasionally I tried to document (yes, document) the first words of my children or funny stories or even feelings . . . but everything sounded clinical. Too afraid to make a mistake on the pages, I wrote carefully, determined to keep my thoughts organized and numbered, just like I’d been taught in school. If I had nothing profound to say, then I had nothing to say.

Eventually I grew up and got over myself. Writing will always be something I do. My words may not change the world; they may not stop global warming or clear up acne, but they are my words and it is okay for them to matter to me.

I’m thinking of my oldest son as I write this. He’s an incredibly talented writer. Several months ago we gave him a leather journal to write in. When I noticed he wasn’t using it I asked him why. He said he felt he had to write something “profound” inside. “Profound.” That was his exact word. I was only too happy to show him the journal I use now . . . a beautiful, refillable, leather-bound journal with hand-torn pages . . . a gift from my husband and kids last year.

He looked at the cover and said only, “I’ve seen that before. You got it last year.”
So I opened it up for him and let him have a good look at what I write these days. Today, my beautiful book contains story ideas, shopping lists, sketches (and I can only draw stick people), funny stories, first chapters for books I’d like to write someday, angry rants, reminders, ticket stubs from dates with my husband, playbills, and too much else to name here. In short, my journal contains all sorts of things that make me who I am. I’m not afraid to put words inside a beautiful book. My words don’t have to be profound; they just have to come from me.

I hope if you are a writer you don’t let the appearance of your notebook intimidate you. I hope you don’t shy away from writing in public because you are embarrassed to want to share your craft with others. And I hope you keep writing because life is short and filled with so many good things worth dreaming and writing about.

—J.B. Kohl

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