Marvin Takes On Your Questions
by Marvin Payne

When Marvin Payne wrote his first column for Meridian last month on journal writing, he asked for our readers questions and comments. Here’s some of what he got-and his quirky response.

Well, I did ask for questions, didn’t I? It seems appropriate that one of the first was from david, who asked “what is backstage graffiti bye david”.

Of course, if I were doing the asking, I might ask, “david, why don’t you use capitalization and punctuation” (end of question and beginning of new sentence) but seriously david i’m glad you asked (end of sentence) Of course, I’ll admit, that, It can be Overdone! (?) But, in a Column About Journal Writing, I think I owe it to The Language (not, perhaps, the only true and living language, but the one I sort of know, which observation suggests an interesting line of inquiry with regard to the nature of some of our testimonies) and to my posterity to encourage the use of all the symbols available, like all twenty-six letters, for example, leading me to wonder what the world of modern poetry would be like if e. e. cummings had chosen rather to omit every occurrence of the letter “d,” having us imagine that in spring “the worl is pule wonerful,” except without quotation marks, which would make us wonder if, after all, he could even write good. Also watch out for run-on sentences. And sentence fragments.

But david, the major difference between backstage graffiti and what you see on freeway overpasses and railroad cars is that the backstage kind respects the wall it’s scrawled upon, and especially respects the people who may read it, because, figuratively anyway, you kind of need a ‘backstage pass’ to be where you can read it. Sort of like a recommend (but not very much). What the two graffiti have in common is that the graffitors generally don’t have permission to do it. You may say, “but marvin” (where others might say “But Marvin”) “didn’t meridian magazine give you permission to write here?” Yes. But I don’t think for a moment they knew what I might write.

On the other hand (What on earth can that possibly mean, really? “Other hand.” And once we determine what it might mean on earth, how can we be sure it will mean the same on other planets?), we oughn’t to let mechanical and/or syntactical hurdles scare us off the course. My journal reminds me that twenty years ago I went to a fireside where my neighbor, the sculptor/painter/poet Dennis Smith, held up a century-and-a-half old painting he’d borrowed from the D.U.P. relic hall. (Leave the capitals and pun ctuation out of that sentence and you’re in serious trouble!) It (the painting, not the sentence) had been painted by a pioneer of Alpine, our town. The details were disproportionate and the colors a little grotesque. It was, dare I say it (?), a lot like you or I might have painted. Or at least I. All of us at the fireside agreed it was a pretty clunky painting. So Dennis said, “Why don’t we simply incinerate it, then?” Violent protests all around, some of them nearly audible. The little painting had enormous value in spite of its flaws, and everybody knew it. It was an eye-witness view from a pioneer who loved this place.

Then Dennis made us all draw some memory in our journals. I don’t draw so well, but I now have this great picture of my California boyhood treehouse in permanent black marker on a page of my journal. I’m really glad Dennis made me do that.

Carol from Washington (the town of Sequim–what a beautiful word!) wrote me that she “would love to transform the years of journals of family happenings into a Grandmother’s Book of Stories. Believe me, this will be loved and cherished, the punctuation be amne. (I’ve left out my “d”s, cummings-like.)

Kathy St. George couldn’t imagine any of her posterity caring about what she wrote. I suggest that the notion that nobody will care is the first dragon everyone needs to slay. (And if your name is St. George, you should feel qualified to proceed with sword-sharpening.)

Incidentally, Carol, comparisons and even metaphors in your writing won’t sound like preaching or bragging. Rather they’ll allow you to preach and brag without anybody knowing you’re doing it. Any comparison that springs to mind can be considered, the simpler and homelier the better. One of the Savior’s most tender and helpful uses of a make-believe image was when he compared Himself to a chicken. His imaginary masquerade as a shepherd is so dear to us that we hesitate to admit that in real life he was, instead, a carpenter.

A couple more quick ideas: Bernice asked where to start. A couple of times in my life I’ve had to look back through old calendars or day-timers to remember when some event happened, or to locate some business detail. I find only names there, and agenda items, and cryptic notes about the nature of appointments. But I’ve been fascinated and memory-filled on those little tours of the past! Build a sentence around a name on your calendar. Make your simple, practical notes to yourself into reports someone else might understand. Then write how you felt or feel about the person or event. A journal has begun.

Eileen said she was starting with the purchase of a blank book. I suggested she buy one small enough to pack around. Because my journal is about scripture-size, I was able yesterday in church to discover how I really feel about a couple of doctrinal points that came up, and even, in the pen-pondering, to invite the Spirit to teach and comfort me. Which He did. Which I immediately wrote about. Which brings me to the first (and most important) reason for writing a journal.

Of course, you will remember vividly from my first column that the second and third reasons were (hang on a second, let me look–thanks) that you’ll: (2) live your life better if somebody (you) is writing a book about it, and also that (3) someday some magazine will ask you to write a column and your journal will be a good resource.

The first reason, which I put off until now, is to create, in Heather’s words, a “gratitude journal.”

Think of it as thank-you notes to God. “We’re really enjoying the (fill in the blank). Thanks for your thoughtfulness.” Not to mention Infinite Charity. Then read them. And make sure your posterity reads them. When the Nephites failed to include in their record the words of Samuel the Prophet, the Savior told them to repent, and get them in there. Whenever I am blessed to the degree that I can feel it, I have to write it down.

The word “grateful” appeared in yesterday’s entry three times, and the word “thankful” once.

Passing through a recent emotional shadow, I read through the entries for that shadowy date, or nearby dates, over the past twenty years (each November 9th, from 1980 through 2000). The shadow rather thinned. In the presence of light, shadows do that. Even if the light is shining from years away. Or, for our readers, from generations away.

Well, that being the most important thing I can say on the subject, maybe I should stop writing now. But not without thanking you for your kind responses, although you have introduced a serious hazard into my life.

You see, I have long felt that if the cabin were to take fire, I would hurry to see that my family made it to the front yard. (We only have a front door.) Then I would brave the inferno to go back in for my journals, two fists full Then my Martin guitars, or at least one of them. Then my daughter’s collages. Then my Winchester. Then this really cool Irish woolen hat.. Then… (Wait! This is a scene from “The Jerk”!) But these are all things I can grab quickly. Now you present me with the task of booting up the Mac, sticking in a floppy disk, dragging over “Backstage Graffiti Responses,” and flames are licking at the logs, and the computer is in the recording studio, farthest from the front door, and I hear the sirens from the volunteer fire station down the street, and my other Martin is toast. But you write such nice things!

Next time we’ll talk about art. Maybe. You decide.

Send your thoughts to


2001 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.