Journals can make a crisis seem containable. When finished, they can also serve as potent reminders of that particular crisis.
Pictured are my own disaster journals from the past seven or so months, encompassing Australia’s horrific, suffocating bushfire summer followed shortly after by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In between, there was also some flooding! [For the stationery buffs: we have two Paperblanks notebooks up the top, three Rhodia webnotebooks with covers painted by me, composition notebook decorated with viperfish pic, and an A5 Kunst & Papier sketchbook.]
Yellow cityscape in the upper right corner reflects the weird hue Sydney took on during the bushfire crisis when the smoke was at its heaviest over the city
When lockdown regulations were introduced in Australia on 23 March 2020, with the accompanying sudden adjustments that had to be made – not least the sobering probability of not seeing parents or friends for months – I found myself gravitating towards an unpretentious, unfinished Composition Notebook, containing notes for one of my many abortive graphic novels, as well as the minutes of some work meetings.
Illustration by Charles Keeping on the left; doodled stress-head by me on the right
In here, I tried to organise each day of my increasingly amorphous life, while also jotting down various updates on the pandemic. Then, I started compulsively to stick in various bits and pieces of ephemera that I had around the flat – calendar landscapes, film flyers, postcards, homewares brochures etc etc. In jarring juxtaposition, and in a telling demonstration of my state of mind, the scarier the news became, the prettier and more decorative the pages. Never have I been more aware of a notebook’s singular facility for offering a means of mental escape when there is no possibility of physical escape.
Compbook page in progress, with mundane tasks nudging up against the febrile atmosphere on social media at the time
Here in Australia, I think I can cautiously say that, in contrast with the handling of the bushfires, the measures taken by our state and federal governments, in combination with Australia’s relative isolation, have helped us avert the devastating toll of death and infection seen in other wealthy countries. Due to personal circumstances, I’m still limited to my home suburb (which means no travel to my painting studio), but I’m lucky to have frequent (virtual) contact with family; I’ve managed to fashion some kind of studio routine out of my bedroom with the limited supplies to hand; and leaving the house is no longer terrifying! I continue to keep very scrapbooky journals, but now it’s more for fun than therapy.
PS I can’t write about journals and composition notebooks without mentioning the great Lynda Barry, comics artist and reigning Queen of the Compbook, whose manual Syllabus is a must-read for anyone interested in journal-keeping, writing, drawing, comics and generally being creatively alive to the world.