About three weeks ago, I sat on a rock by a river in Colorado, typing up a status update to publish on Facebook. It was a sentimental date for me—two years ago to the day, my new book, Tell the Trail begins.
After the post went live, I got up, brushed off, and took a look upstream. The river ran in a swift current around me, even though the water level was much lower than during the summer rafting season when the snow melts off the peaks.
Up the hill, after a steep climb up the banks of the river, I found a monument. It was a huge boulder that looked more like an abstract sculpture, the center hollowed out to form a hole.
On the top of the rock, a plaque was cemented into the surface of the stone.
“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.
When I read the words on the plaque, I was overcome with emotion. “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” A quote from the philospher Kierkegaard.
Under the quote, names and dates were listed to honor rafters that had died on the dangerous stretch of river.
I stepped back, realizing it: I’d traveled over six hundred miles to finally find my answer.
What’s the Book About?
“What’s the book about?” That’s one of those questions that has followed me around the past few years, along with “Why publish your journals?”
I’ve tried out a few different answers to the What’s it about? question.
“It’s a memoir.”
“It’s just my journals.”
“It’s about learning to be mindful and live in the present.”
“It’s about life.”
The truth is—I can’t reduce Tell the Trail down to just one sentence. I’m still in the midst of my story, living each day, feeling my way through my own narrative.
I’ve wanted to capture every single detail of my life, everything from the mundane to the extraordinary.
Looking back on the last two years, a lot has happened. I published my first book. I turned thirty. My best friend, Emily, got pregnant and had a baby. I traveled from the East Coast to the West Coast, put my feet in both oceans. I learned a lot, I struggled a lot, I celebrated a lot. I’ve wanted to capture every single detail of my life, everything from the mundane to the extraordinary.
I know now that one of the callings of being a memoirist is committing to the work of gaining clarity about your life’s story. Life must be lived forwards; we must live diligently and earnestly, paying attention. In having a record, I can look back, understanding.
Why Publish Your Journals?
We aren’t usually interested in anyone’s journals or diaries until they’re famous. I’ve combed through the journals of Thoreau, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, and Joyce Carol Oates—some of my favorite writers, interested to see how their private lives flowed into their art. Maybe there will always be something a little thrilling about gaining any type of insight into someone’s innermost thoughts and struggles. We see ourselves mirrored back in the words of others; for once, we can relate.
Journaling has been my mirror and compass, reminding me that writing is my passion. By keeping a journal, I’m learning the sound of my own voice.
There’s a reason journal-keeping is used as a tool for introspection and contemplation. Journals are much more than a personal history book. My journal has been a safe place to sort out thoughts and feelings and a way for me to identify meaning.
My journal reflects myself back to myself, reminding me what’s important. Reading back through my journals, I have a clear picture of significant events. I’ve learned worries and feelings come and go. By keeping a journal, I’m learning the sound of my own voice.
My journal has been a compass, pointing me in the direction of pursuing my passion: writing. Writing gives me a way to convey an inner life I don’t always know how to express otherwise.
So here it is. Tell the Trail, my new memoir.
So here it is. Tell the Trail, my new memoir. Here are my journals, imperfect just as I am, bound up between two covers. Here’s my own personal history book, shared in dedication to living, to the act of remembering.
Having kept a journal these past two years, I’ve found each day is special and significant, brimming with meaning. My journals have been a safe place to unwind the threads of my experiences and weave them into a larger story, a bigger picture of my life. Now, combing through the archives of a full year, to have detailed, daily records of what I saw and felt and thought, to trace out the horizon line of my own internal landscapes, I’m overcome by the width and depth and breadth of life.
I’ve learned I must be a diligent scribe—and student—of my life. And maybe—I need to let other people read what I’ve written, what I’ve found.
Maybe the record of one life will knit itself into the fabric of someone else’s.