On keeping your journals.

A selection of journals from 1996 to last month.

This spring, while doing some cleaning , I organized and minimized a lot of the books, notebooks, and notes we had stashed in the boxes and in our upstairs loft space. I opened one of the boxes and found all of my journals. Like since high school. Here’s a selection:

Copying Rorscach’s Journal from Watchmen #1. 2000 or something

The first one is one that my dad got me from one of his business trips. In it you can see me copying the sentence structure of Rorschach’s journal from Watchmen. In my sophomore year of high school I was reading The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale in single issues and trying to solve it.

Trying to solve The Long Halloween.

Here’s some poetry from summer 2002 when I was in Oxford studying British-American Media and Culture. This is from the lake district. Here’s a photo scan from this Loughrigg Fell, holding that journal, where I probably wrote that horrible poem.

July 2002 on the Loughrigg Fell

Jump to New York City in 2004. Frank Miller gives me the advice to write down everything so I buy a standard one subject notebook.

NYC, November 2004

For the longest time I took a pocket notebook with me everywhere in my back pocket from 2009-2013. This was brought on by John Hughes. Then of course, there is the current stage where I use bulletjournaling. Even though I think I’m not really using the format all that much anymore other than specific modules like the daily log, the brand of notebook, and the month log. The index helps too.

Most recent journal

So really this post is about commemorating the growth happening here in these journals from when I was 16 to now—almost 40. I guess this is a place-holder as an invaluable resource in writing a memoir.

10 Things I Learned in The Last 10 Years

After seeing Scott Pilgrim vs the World. Photo by Jordan Craig. August 15, 2010.

2010: A big year for me. Interned at Marvel Comics where I learned that trying so hard to get somewhere means not getting anywhere. Also, having my first Aspergers moment in memory where I criticize a Marvel writer’s grammar issues in an interview with group editors.

My dad had a heart attack and I moved home for the summer. Triggering my first major break-up and losing my Upper East Side apartment I lived in for five years. But the major lesson learned is that family comes first.

2011: I start working at the Wolfe Institute, and I struggle to complete my graduate degree in English. Bob Viscusi becomes a close friend, mentor, as well as my graduate thesis advisor. To this day, I want to grow up to be like him.

2012: I bust through with a great thesis on Grant Morrison. I consider going for my Ph.D, but talked out of it because I’m not ready for it. I decide to move home to Lake Placid after graduation and decide that all I want to do is write, teach, and work my production company. I start teaching one section of English 101 at Paul Smith’s College. I meet Meggan during my time at Paul Smith’s College

2013: I start dating Meggan during Winter Carnival. She’s among the group of friends from PSC that we hang with. She buys a beautiful country house on two plots of land and we start working together to renovate it. It’s a great experience. My production company produces a short film and a trailer for the Go Digital or Go Dark campaign.

2014: We move in together in the country house on Main Street. I read Getting Things Done and discovered the Bullet Journal method and that drastically changes my journaling habit and both help me manage teaching six classes between North Country Community College, Paul Smith’s College, and SUNY Plattsburgh. I start writing the Emerson novel that will become The Human Library series.

2015: I asked Meggan to marry me on New Year’s Day and six months later we were in Michigan on a rainy day ceremony. That fall, I become a full time professor at Paul Smith’s College. I finished the first draft of The Human Library series.

2016: Teaching a full load and finally hitting my stride as a professor. Loving my job, my life, everything about it. Curt Stager and I start working with Emilyann Cummings on Walden. My son is born in August. And we adjust to the new normal being working parents with a newborn and his struggles to gain weight.

2017: Meggan interviews at IU and gets the job. Walden: The Graphic Novel comes out that spring. I leave Paul Smith’s College, and bring the first college film team to the Sleepless in Lake Placid Film Forum. We move to Indiana in July 2017.

2018: Unemployment ends and I end up at a job at a not-for-profit with folks who have developmental disabilities. I read So Good They Can’t Ignore You and Deep Work by Cal Newport and begin therapy. The two books and the therapy cause me to level up in my day job and produce a lot of written words. I cut down on social media and how I use the internet because I realize that none of it has anything to do with the work I ultimately need to produce. This leads to exponential growth—also quite a lot of behavior change in the coming two years.

2019: I start getting evaluated for Attention Deficit Disorder and I’m diagnosed with Aspergers, ADD, Generalized Depression and Anxiety. By the end of the year I can trace back specific actions and moments in my life where I exhibited symptoms of this. I realize that the victim/creator pattern alternates years and goes on streaks. For two years at this point I’ve been in a victim pattern. It’s time to come out of it. My daughter is born. I feel reborn as I begin to study Stoic philosophy and write like I could die tomorrow.

19 Lessons I Learned From 2019. (Plus one for the New Year.)

  1. My diagnosis of ADD, High Functioning Autism (Aspergers), Depression and Anxiety. I learned that these symptoms are representations of what Steven Pressfield calls Resistance in the War of Art. But really it’s all just an addiction to pain, shame, pessimism, isolation, and no creative or productive outlet. Weston and Shadow King is resistance and Great Grandma is the muse.
  1. Quotes of the Year: “Comparison is the thief of joy,” quote of the year from Meggan, “Never ask for permission only forgiveness.”
  2. As a result, there’s a lot of internal conflict happening here. Meditation and Stoicism has taught me how to respond to that internal conflict.
  3. Estrangement is the norm, but for the first time in a generation that’s changing and it started with my parents and it continues to me. That is an incredible honor (and burden.)
  4. It’s my responsibility to give all that I have to my family and the stories I want to tell. Being a dad is a privilege and I must remember that every day.
  5. Doulas are amazing human beings. “The second child’s birth is the birth of a father.”
  6. John Grisham’s Work Routine is what works for me.
  7. Headspace Meditations on Sleep Health, Pain Management, and Anxiety are helping me defeat my resistance.
  8. Always remember what it’s like to be a kid.
  9. Seven to nine hours of sleep is required.
  10. Read everything, put yourself—as strange as you are—on the page.
  11. Less is more in life and digital.
  12. Remember the walk to Mirror Lake. That is your Creator’s Path. You listen to everything, choose a new action, and stop blaming others.
  13. If you want to get stuff done, wake up early.
  14. Playing with Loglines: Wonder Boys meets Parenthood and Legion. For fans of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series and the work of John Green and Rainbow Rowell. As if John Hughes, Danny Woodrell, and Kelly Link were on the writing staff of Twin Peaks. Tintin meets Hellboy. Little Nemo in Slumberland in the 21st century.
  15. The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony and how being an office drone leads to creative death.
  16. What it means to be the father of a daughter and there are unwitting predators everywhere. Transfering that anger from real life to fiction.
  17. Matthew McConaughey on life not being easy, unbelievable is the dumbest word, happiness is an if/then statement and never attainable, but joy is a constant ever-present process of doing the work of being a human. That you must define success for yourself and don’t leave crumbs behind. Pay yourself every day.
  18. Small things lead to big things and a lack of doing the small things lead to big problems. So make small things playful activities with your kids.
  19. Finally always ask: how does this next action impact my intentions to be a loving, joyful, proactive husband, father, and storyteller?

The Limbo Year.

When I came back to St. Bonaventure after my summer in Oxford, I solidified my process: legal pad for rough drafts, revise that draft, type it, print it out, edit, and turn in. All of which took about three hours.

My senior year, I wrote a thesis on celebrity journalists: profiling Katherine Graham, Hunter S. Thompson, Ernest Hemingway, and Tom Brokaw. We counted the days until graduation: 200 days and Halloween. 100 days and prom. (Yes, really.)

My roommates and best friends were going to graduate school—for masters of education or business, but all of my journalism advisors said that if I wanted to go and be a writer then I don’t need to be in a program to do it. That the only way to do it was go out and get a job at a rinky-dink weekly paper and write and write and write until my hands fell off sometime around sixty-years-old. By then, I hopefully would have made it to the New York Times—my journalistic goal.

So I didn’t go to graduate that school. Mistake #1. I spent my last semester interviewing at newspapers all over the state from as close as Alfred, NY to as far as Port Washington, Long Island. None of them worked out.

At graduation, Bob Schiefer of Face The Nation gave the commencement address. The power went out in the gym. I don’t remember much of the speech other than Schiefer saying, pointing at the stands where all of our parents and relatives sat, and saying “You won’t understand this feeling of success until you’re sitting where they’re sitting.”

My faculty advisor that upon graduation you work for the advertisers when you work in journalism.

So I went home to Lake Placid. I managed to get some freelance work. But I was a seasonal worker, working as a lifeguard at the beach, working in marketing at Whiteface Mountain, back to teaching swimming and taking Kenpo karate classes. The latter was probably the only good thing I was doing in my “limbo year.” That year between college and when your professional life started.

But mostly, I played with the cult of the personality of the writer. Mistake #2. The virus that spreads from the biographies of Hemingway and HST and so many others. I emulated it. I partied five days a week. My output was one novella, a short story, and I co-wrote a screenplay. A horrible year. I still think it’s a good screenplay and the novella turned into a novel that got me into Brooklyn College six years later. That’s my biggest problem: when I start a writing project, I dwell on it for too long. Refining, refining, rewriting, and rewriting. That’s still true. Mistake #3: I’m working on the fourth rewrite of my second novel, Emerson, and I’ve been playing with it for the last four years. This is the last draft and then in the new year, I’m going to write three more novels. Just to hammer them out. To break out of this habit.

Mistake #4: See, newspapers were already dying in 2003. Small newspapers were owned by corporations and didn’t cover things that were against that company’s business interests. That led to a lack of readership, a lack of readership led to a lack of advertising which was the way newspapers made money so more old timer reporters were not retiring after the age of 65 and that meant a lack of space for kids like me. At the same time, the internet and Blogger was rising so many of us who couldn’t get a job in newspapers went to blogs and the attrition continued.

But I didn’t realize any of this until the summer of 2004 when I decided to move to New York City.  

Timeline #3: Oxford.

[Continued from here].

(On top of the Loughrigg Fell in the Lake District of England. Sorry for the smudged scan.)

I was lucky enough to get into the Francis E. Kelley Oxford Programme with one of my junior year roommates and best friend. Junior year I lived in a garden apartment with five other guys.

We were ecstatic: six weeks in England studying British and American Media and Culture and taking classes on Shakespeare, Middle English and History, and traveling all over England and Europe. I’ve written about it before, because these six weeks were amazing for my growth as a person and a writer. 

I had just read Dave Eggers’s A Heartbreaking Word of Staggering Genius and I wanted to experience everything. Traveling is great for a writer—you’re always out of your personal context and forced to really pay attention to everything that is different or unfamiliar. It is ripe with stories. At the time I didn’t know how life-informing AHWOSG would be for me that summer, and why it’s still one of my favorite books.

I tasted real beer—not Labatts or Milwaukee’s Beast or Natty Sick—but Carlsberg, Strongbow Cider, Jupiler, and when I came home I could drink Lake Placid Brewery’s Ubu Ale like it was mother’s milk. Guinness was significantly different in England than the US. This was a badge of honor, a turning point in my life. Most of all I learned what it means to be the eldest child.

A classmate’s father was very sick. This classmate had to leave the program to say goodbye.

I’ll never forget the scene: it was raining and this classmate, head down, left the program director’s office and walked through the courtyard. No umbrella. I knew what was said to the Franciscan father who ran the program. I nearly wept in this classmate’s room. We’re still kids at this point, freshly 21, and the classmate asked me not to cry.

This is, eventually, the burden eldest children have to bear. A lesson Eggers illustrates in his first and best book. We replace the elder of the house. Most of us are out of the house by the time this comes. We’re well into our careers, our houses, our families. But this classmate had three younger siblings—the youngest starting high school that year. That’s an experience most of us don’t have to bear until much later. Fundamentally, I knew this is going to happen, but to watch it—the experience of it happen to someone else—is very different from intellectually understanding. To watch it unfold before my eyes, so young, my worst nightmare was an experience that July 2002 taught me about life and writing.

Timeline #2: High School & College.

[Continued from this post]. 

When I make a decision about something, I push forward with full effort. I rarely change my mind. I’m the same way about choosing beer and food, so when I make a decision I stick with it.

By the end of my sophomore year of high school, I was interning with the Plattsburgh Press-Republican. My first story was on Road Rules coming to Lake Placid.

I worked with a journalist who went to St. Bonaventure University. After junior year, I worked with the Lake Placid News. I was off to the races. St. Bonaventure was in my future and my writing education kicked off into high gear there. Throughout my high school experience I still read comic books. We were at the end of the Chris Claremont and Jim Lee era of X-Men and I stuck with the book because I loved Joe Madueira’s art.

I went to St. Bonaventure University with a need to tell stories. To work on the nuts and bolts of it. Still I knew that I wanted to be more than a journalist. This is when I started reading Transmetropolitan. I tried other Vertigo comics and indie books but none clicked with me.

It was hard to access comics from 1999-2003 when I was in college so my reading declined. I had Transmet and Hourman subscriptions my freshman year—and the internet.

Warren Ellis’s message board, the Comics Continuum, CBR to keep on things in comics. Making notes to check out particular books and learning how to write them from Matt Fraction’s Pop Life column and Ellis’s Come In Alone. All this time I was writing articles, sometimes as many as four a week. I got very efficient at drafting: handwrite a draft, type it up, revise. I wasn’t quite a five draft man, but I was a three draft man and I was fast. I could sit down and type a thousand to two thousand word article in an hour. The whole process probably took about two days. I would always take twenty-four hours between drafts to get some distance from it for revision purposes. Eventually, I realized, I had to do a little more than three drafts to be an A student.  

That’s when I fell in love with St. Bonaventure’s Library. Specifically the third floor that looked out over the ball fields, the Allegheny River, and Hart Mountain in the distance. The reason it was called that is there was a giant clearing in the middle of the hill in the shape of a heart. Thomas Merton lived in a small cabin on the other side of the heart. I would sit near the windows, writing a rough draft out on a legal pad or in a specific dedicated notebook to whatever class I was in. Then I would go back to the dorm and type it up.

The problem with the dorm was all I ever wanted to do was hang out, and that’s still true to this day. When I go home it’s time to be with my family. In my freshman year, I had a girlfriend early on—my first serious girlfriend, and this was at the height of my self-esteem issues. We broke up in February 2000, because I lied to her, because I didn’t think I was good enough for her so I had to make up stories that would show that I was good and worthy of love. My friends knew my bullshit immediately. They’re still my best friends. We broke up and I spiraled. It was all caused by lies, anxiety, and victim-thinking.

I liked making up stories that make me feel like I was better than I was. In a lot of ways that’s what I’ve been trying to do—prove to myself for eighteen years now. That I’m not a poser, or a wannabe, a hobbyist storyteller, or a pathological liar.

I’m a writer, a storyteller, and I learned the most important lesson of all in 2002, when I was accepted to Somerville College at Oxford University.

Timeline #1: Seventh Grade.

[From David Sedaris’s Diaries: A Visual Compendium]

I started writing every day in seventh grade. At the time I lived in Connecticut. You know when you read Walden by Thoreau and you get the assignment to keep a journal? Well, I kept doing that.

I was a nerd, an outcast because I was caught and shamed for reading the novelizations of Death of Superman and Batman: Knightfall. Event comics felt too big for me to keep up with. I’m still allergic to event comics. So I read the novel adaptations by Denny O’Neill and Roger Stern to catch up on what happened.

That’s when the idea struck me with The Flash and his big event—“Terminal Velocity”—to adapt that into the novel.

I started doing it on a typewriter, because this was 1993, and we didn’t have a functioning computer. Well, there was a functioning computer just not one I could use for writing purposes. It was an IBM that only ran DOS with a black screen and green type from the Matrix. Nobody in my family knew how to use it, so I used my dad’s word processor.

In eighth grade we got a Gateway 2000 and I retyped my novel adaption of Terminal Velocity into Microsoft Word. It was a breakthrough. Word was the only program I could figure out. That’s still true. It’s still my favorite word processing program despite the fact that I’m writing this post in Scrivener right now. But everything was started by hand in leather-bound journals that my dad brought home from overseas business trips. Adapting the Flash comics turned me onto many other teenage heroes of the early ‘90s like Impulse, Chamber, and The Ray (who was in his twenties but still acted like a teen.)  I would write journal entries in their voices. Rewrite captions and copy handwriting lettering that appeared in Impulse #1 by Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos. I was learning to write from comic books.

I had no friends. Ridiculed for my Flash trucker hat and my leather bound journals, I needed something to keep me busy.

At this time I told my mom that I wanted to be a comics and fiction writer. Like all parents, she casually suggested something more practical. Being a comic book nerd, I watched Lois and Clark (with Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher.) The show focused on Clark Kent and Lois Lane’s burgeoning relationship than Superman’s adventures. It was their jobs as reporters for the Daily Planet. A memorable line from that show refutes Tarantino’s Superman thesis: “Clark Kent is who I am, Superman is just something I do.”  

So I said “journalist” to ease my mom’s nerves, but still—to this day—being a comics and fiction writer is what I’m passionate about. Journalism is something I do, but haven’t done in a year.