Writing an unlined life

Photo: CKirgiss
Homemade journals. **Details at bottom of post.

Confession: I’m a journal freak. A blank-book maniac. Whatever.

I like journals. I need journals. I crave journals. (And pens to go along with them. Lots of pens. Lots and lots of pens.)

Over the years (like every other journal-freak-blank-book-maniac-whatever) I’ve worked my way through more pages than I can count, shifting from composition books to sketch books to notebooks to whatever happens to be on sale.

In the process, I’ve learned there are only two non-negotiables for this slice of my life.

One: no lines. I want the freedom to write sideways, crossways, or diagonal; to doodle, sketch, or chart; to meander, march, or stall; to shout, chat, or whisper; in short, to write or draw in any direction and in any size I want. I totally get that lines help keep things straight and neat and orderly. Not interested. That’s what closet organizers are for. And calendar apps. Journals are for life, and life is usually unpredictable, messy, spontaneous, and slightly (or greatly) out of control. A journal is meant to reflect that, not cure it.

Two: sewn binding. I want to know that my pages aren’t going to fall out. (Journals are meant to reflect life’s messy spontaneity, not mimic it.) I want my pages to lay conveniently flat. (Just because I want the freedom to write up, down, sideways, and around doesn’t mean I want to write over the side of a tumbling paginated cliff or into a valley of stiff binder’s glue.) I want the comfort of knowing my pages are each connected to another page just across the row of signature stitches. (If journaling is an exercise in solitary discourse, it’s reassuring to know that the pages upon which the discourse lives are not themselves solitary but rather sewn permanently into a larger community.)

If this sounds weird or obsessive or (gasp) even a tad neurotic, well (cough), yep.

It is.

Too bad for me, unlined sewn-binding journals aren’t easy to come by. At least not if a person cares even just a little bit about style and flair and appearances. And cost. Which means there are actually two more non-negotiables for this slice of my life.

Three: looks matter. At least a little bit.

Four: cost matters. A lot.

Even more too bad for me, cheap, stylish, unlined, sewn-binding journals aren’t easy to come by. So I’ve started making my own.

If this sounds silly or time-consuming or (gasp) even a tad snobbish, well (cough), yep.

It is.

But it is also thrifty, rewarding, and even a tad delightful. Wrong. A ton delightful. Oh my, yes indeed.


Photo: CKirgiss

These journals are made from the boards of old, discarded, rejected Readers Digest Condensed Books. You can find them anywhere. Everywhere. Often for free. Free is good. Spines are made of Tyvek tape (right) and duck tape (left). People who know what they’re talking about say you should never use duck tape for this. I used it anyway. (And my needle got kind of sticky.) Innards are made of printer paper, folded, cut to size, sewn into place.

Photo: CKirgiss

These journals are made from old leather wallets. You can find them at thrift stores for cheap. Cheap is good. Gutting them takes a while. A long while. To do it right you really need to rip out all the seams and then resew the edges neatly. Innards are made from printer paper. My good friend Joanna Benskin gave me this idea. (Her innards are made from lined composition paper. We are still very good friends.) This idea is probably out there on Etsy or Pinterest, but I don’t look at those sites. Sensory overload. I’m sick just thinking about it.

Photo: CKirgiss

Inside view of wallet journals. (I should mention that part of the motivation for these is that a good piece of leather shouldn’t go to waste. Ever.) Endpapers may or may not adhere. I left the pink one plain because really, what screams competent-and-independant-jeanswearing-thrifty-egalitarian-nonprincessloving-moderndaywoman more than a PeptoBismal Pink Journal-Wallet free of any design distractions?

Photo: CKirgiss

Confession: I didn’t make this journal. It’s a Moleskin skinny, which is neither cheap nor stylish (non-negotiables #3 and 4). But since I already owned it and didn’t go out to buy it in order to retrofit it, it’s sort of like I got it for free during the makeover stage. Really. This idea wasn’t mine. I saw it at a craft fair. Which had only ten exhibitors due to torrential rains. Ten exhibitors was enough to send me into sensory overload. No, that’s not the original old photo sewn onto the cover. What do you take me for? And yes, I know the people in the photo. The one on the left is an amazing mother and grandmother. The one on the right is a journal freak. A blank-book maniac. Whatever.

**Top photo: these journals are made from covers of old books. Look – I love (adore, collect, cherish, fondle, drool over) old books as much as anyone I know. I would never sacrifice one if it had even the barest hint of life, value, or that delightful fusty smell so many of us love. But these books were on their past breath – cracked, torn, crumbling, and unhinged. Really, their covers were all that remained of their former glory. I like to think I saved them from the grave and gave them a brand new life. Innards are either printer paper or unlined-and-sewn innards of cheap sale journals with seriously bleh covers, sliced out of their sad and sorry homes (which will be remade into happy, schnazzy book boards at some point), then rebound into these delightful covers from long ago. Spines are made from (variously) Tyvek tape, duck tape, or scraps of leather salvaged from thrift store stuff – you know – jackets, pants, vests, boots, bags…

Eleven years later…

I wrote these words 11 years ago, but could have written them yesterday – not just about the events of that day, but about all of life when it is lived outside of God’s immeasurable, forgiving, majestic, jealous love. (Please silence your outcry for that last element. God’s jealousy is not humanly petty. It is gloriously divine. It is for us…all of us, and nothing could be more breathtakingly astounding) .


Regarding September 11…
I have a thousand questions I want answered.
I have a thousand fears I want quelled.
I have a thousand thoughts I want sorted out.
I have a thousand concerns I want soothed.
I have a thousand things I want changed.
I have a thousand people I want saved.
I have a thousand places I want seen.
I have a thousand songs I want sung.
I have a thousand steps I want walked.
I have a thousand prayers I want uttered.
I have a thousand bridges I want crossed.
I have a thousand roads I want traveled.
I have a thousand books I want read.
I have a thousand poems I want whispered.
I have a thousand birds I want freed.
I have a thousand trees I want honored.
I have a thousand skies I want admired.
I have a thousand oceans I want remembered.
I have a thousand eyes I want dried.
I have a thousand ears I want opened.
I have a thousand voices I want heard.
I have a thousand wrongs I want forgiven.
I have a thousand mountains I want climbed.
I have a thousand stars I want named.
I have a thousand lives I want lived.
I have a thousand fields I want sown.
I have a thousand rivers I want blessed.
I have a thousand children I want born.
I have a thousand sorrows I want healed.
I have a thousand days I want begun.
I have a thousand years I want danced.
I have a thousand clouds I want explored.

But I have only one God, who is true from the highest depths to the lowest valleys, from the farthest east to the farthest west, and from the beginning of always to the end of never.

The god for whom people were willing to die last Tuesday is no god at all.

The true God does not say, “Die for me.” He says, “I’ve died for you.”

The true God does not say, “Hate others.” He says, “Love others…as much as you love yourself.”

The true God does not say, “Crucify the enemy.” He says, “Crucify your heart so I can create in you a new one.”

Would that the entire world could live in the contented peace of such simple truth as this.

copyright 2001 Crystal Kirgiss

From empty to full

Photo: CKirgiss

The bottom basket of my freezer is bare. Nothing in it. Nothing at all.

This is a problem because that basket is supposed to be full of frozen overripe brown bananas.

Bananas that – when thawed – can practically be poured out of their peel.

(Bananas that – when frozen – can break a toe if dropped on it.)

Bananas that are absolutely perfect for baking projects.

Bananas that yield domestic gold.

Bananas that ooze culinary delight.

Bananas that are THE single most important ingredient in banana bread, of which I must bake three loaves every Wednesday night for a very particular and discerning crowd.

It’s Wednesday.

I have no overripe brown bananas.

None. At. All.

And the twelves pounds of partly-green-mostly-yellow-with-barely-a-hint-of-brown bananas that I just scrounged during a desperation run to the grocery store won’t be transformed into genuine baking gold for another week. At least.

This is just the kind of crisis that threatens to destroy my immediate existence for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. Or rational.

Bottom line: I should have been better prepared. I should have checked the bottom basket of my freezer last week, bought twelve pounds of partly-green-mostly-yellow-with-barely-a-hint-of-brown bananas then, and had plenty of frozen overripe brown bananas now. But I didn’t. And so I don’t.

In a world that can beam data signals halfway across the world in a millisecond, you’d think there’d be a way to fix this. A way to make these bananas ripen quickly. A way to turn at least a small part of this depressing morass of partly-green-mostly-yellow-with-barely-a-hint-of-brown into a lovely pile of mushy-smooshy-runny-oozy-deep-dark-brownness now. Right now. This minute. Immediately.

Huh. How ironic. My little bananas crisis (little, indeed) and the resulting sense of despair and doom and frustration and irritation isn’t really about bananas at all.

It’s about my response to human limitations. To the fact that the world is not mine to orchestrate. To the fact that I cannot control most of what happens around me. To the fact that I am, after all, a created being existing in a created world that – for all of our human advancement and innovation and progress – is not under my authority.

I am only human. Miraculous and beloved and blessed, to be sure, but fully – only – human nonetheless.

The divine does not inherently exist within me. Enlightenment and perfection are not merely a matter of tapping into my own inner reserves of power and strength and wisdom. (Left to itself, my inner reserves are desperately wicked and include nothing of value or merit or worth.)


beyond all reason and comprehension

the Divine does graciously dwell within me. Salvation and redemption are freely offered, poured out at the cross and filling my soul so that I can learn love and humility and obedience. (Left to itself, my soul is filled with my own self which knows nothing of love or humility or obedience.)

The bottom freezer of my basket is empty.

But my soul is full. Oh my …. very full indeed.