A Possibly Fanatic But Really Useful Journal Idea
by Marvin Payne
Still on the diet, but my mind has adjusted and works really great! Read the column–this will become obvious to you. Leaner prose, sentences much more spare and sinewy. Sentences that could, if they wished, wear just about anything in their closets. (I’m thinking about printing up some little rectangular signs to stick up on phone poles by freeway offramps that will say “I lost 20 pounds in a month. So THERE!” Do you have these signs in Georgia and the Yukon, out there in Meridianland? Perhaps it is only in Utah that we take literally Nephi’s exhortation, “Let your soul delight in fatness.”) So I’m almost ready to play J. Golden Kimball. Now I just have to figure out how to get taller. It certainly can’t be much harder than memorizing fifty-five pages.
Okay, I promised you A Possibly Fanatic But Really Useful Journal Idea. This is the column that will either make you say, “Now I finally see that the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything (which answer has been widely, though spuriously, reported as being “42”), the purpose of this mortal sojourn, the reason for the forging of the cosmos and the emergence of the earth from chaos, is so I can write a journal!” or “I sure am glad that “angels above us are silent notes taking” because there’s no way on earth I’m taking any on my own.”
Watch this trick:
22 November 1979
When you lie down, your blood settles down in your body and sings. Then when it stops, your head feels better. It sings little tiny notes. Your blood is really little tiny ladybugs, and they have little tiny chairs where they sit down and sing. My son David, who is four, told me this. This is some of the mysterious knowledge he has.
23 August 1980
Tonight David accidentally knocked baby Joshua’s bowl of popcorn off the table onto the floor. I sharply said, “David, you shouldn’t have been leaning over like that in front of Joshua!” He paused for a moment and observed, “Well Dad, life is life, and sometimes ya don’t do good.”
17 October 1980
The weather has turned wintry. It hailed hard for a few minutes this afternoon. David, who had not seen such a thing before, watched it through the window for a while, then asked, “Hey, does snow bounce around?”
2 November 1980
Tonight after bedtime snack, David jumped off his chair, wiped his chin on the tablecloth, and said, “It seems like water is skinnier than milk.”
8 December 1981
David came home from school today with mud all over the seat of his pants, which he got from sliding down a certain ditchbank which he has named “the risk of mashed potatoes.”
You may ask, how on earth did Marvin do that? How did he so deftly locate all those entries about his son, scattered in among all that stuff about learning to write cursive again, and selling out as a record company mogul and getting a job in a bronze foundry, and discovering his agent was certifiably insane and didn’t really know Neil Diamond after all, and being tricked into becoming an actor, especially when it’s obvious from the way he writes that he usually works on his column for about a half-hour the night before Meridian’s deadline? And I will answer, “I simply looked up Payne, David Christian, in the index.” Just like I can look up “weight loss” or
“Kimball, J. Golden” or “Yukon” or “Fanaticism.”
You see, there came a time, after writing lots of stuff, that I wanted to find stuff that I wrote. Someone would assign me to give a talk on “faith,” and I could remember hearing some good things about faith, or thinking some good things about faith, or asking some good questions about faith. But I couldn’t remember when. And “when” is the tool by which you find things in a pile of journals. Unless you have an index! (Or, of course, a computer. Then all you have to do is engage “find and replace” and type in the word “faith.” But be sure to skip the “replace” step! While attempting last month to read a play by James Arrington, which he had sent me over the internet, I was experimenting with this feature on my computer and inadvertently took out every occurrence of the letter “i.” You may remember our experiment with removing every letter “d” in a previous column and its unfortunate effect. Oddly, James thought his play was improved by the change. But then, it was a comedy, not a serious column in Meridian Magazine.)
You, too, are going to find it odd, I fear, that creating a journal index was, for me, a whole lot of fun. (I have a very low “fun” threshhold. Perhaps as low, even, as some people’s “comma” threshhold.) Here’s the fun process. I got a big book and divided it into sections, one for each letter of the alphabet. (Don’t assign an equal number of pages to each letter. There are very many “e’s” and very few “z’s”. I got a rough idea of the proportions of the various letters of the alphabet by checking what they were in my Random House Unabridged Dictionary–a book so large it has its own gravitational field. I expect each morning to come down the stairs and see this book suspended in mid-air, orbited by several LDS romance novels.*)
Then I started reading the journals. Every time I came to a new person or subject, I wrote them down in the index, along with the page number of their first occurrence. Having just been through the arithmetic involved in determining how many pages each letter should get, I had a pretty good feel for where “humility” ought to go in the “U” section, and how far away from “hubris.” After that, whenever I wrote about “humility” (not often), I just entered the page number after that heading. That first set-up took many hours (although I seem to remember most of those hours being on one long airplane ride–on the way to upstate New York, I think, to shoot a scene in the film “How Rare A Possession,” a scene in which I was upstaged by an ox, a scene I saw some years later at the Mormon Arts Festival as an example of how the church makes films available in lots of languages. In the course of the demonstration my brother Parley P. Pratt and I switched from English to French to Portuguese to Japanese to Tagalog. The ox stuck with oxese, I think. It’s hard to tell). Now I do it quarterly (indexing, not speaking in tongues). Takes about two hours, and it’s fun reading through the preceding three months. It won’t be perfectly alphabetical, but close enough. In any case, you’ll do a better job of this than your descendants would. And this index has been really useful to me, right here in mortality. Apart from being a resource for talks and plays and songs and general research, a number of times (five) it’s enabled me to give one friend or another a little book of everything I ever wrote about them. (Only one of them ever gave it back. That’s a pretty good record, I guess.) And also, if I had never created the index, what would this month’s column have been about? (Reminder: the lid on the”Questions I Would Ask A Columnist If I Knew He Actually Read Them” box is still gaping open hungrily.) So Amen. (Only in a magazine like Meridian might you expect a column to end thus.)
Those of you who are just too freaked out by how manual and non-digital all this seems, and who might be so cyber-brained as to appreciate an interactive on-line column, may at this point engage “find and replace” and excise one “h” from each occurrence here of the word “threshhold.” (How would you have spelled it?)
Next time: I don’t know. E-mail me.
*First footnote on my way to being more and more like Hugh Nibley (Hey, I have all eternity, don’t I?): My wife reads romance novels on tape for publishers. I pronounced, for the publisher, a quarter of the words in the aforementioned dictionary on tape (that would be thirty thousand words). This is what actors do between gigs.
“Wrong is wrong, even when it helps ya.” -Popeye
Check out http://www.playwrightscircle.com
2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.