Updated: Nov 26
If a black flag is the symbol of anarchy and a white flag signals surrender,
somewhere in the middle the gray flag waves.
From 1990 to 1993 I kept a journal. Or I should say, I tried to keep a journal. I didn't make confessional diary entries or record life's mundane moments, and I didn't write in it every day, every week, or even every month sometimes.
Much of what is in the two notebooks is just recollections, sketches, thoughts, et cetera. Some entries end abruptly while others are impossible to decipher. The beginnings of these notebooks showed much ambition and a lot of promise. However, much like the notebooks I kept in high school and then college, the farther you go, the less organized, the more space between snippets of writing, and eventually, you reach a long stretch of blank pages with a few notes and a phone numbers scrawled here and there.
For the past twenty-odd years, I have occasionally looked at these notebooks from this period of my life. This usually occurs after a move to a new apartment which happened fairly frequently. Up until recently, however, I could not bear to read these things beyond a sentence or two before wincing in acute embarrassment and throwing them back in the old Dubuque Star beer case where they’ve lived for the past 30 years.
I can read them now. Most of them anyway. I was a kid when I wrote them—early twenties, anyway. Thought I knew everything. Knew a bit. I don't judge myself as harshly as I did even a few years ago.
The result is my Gray Flag writing journal zine. It features some of the more coherent entries I kept while a student in the writing program at Columbia College in the early 1990s. I was forced to make some editorial decisions, try to decipher illegible words and sentences, fix some glaring grammatical errors, and change a few names.
Part Lit Zine Part Per Zine
With all that said, Gray Flag #1 and #2 feature select entries from my journals from June 1990 to sometime probably in 1993. I was a writing student at Columbia College during this period and we were required to keep a journal, so much of what was recorded in my notebooks from this time was a part of some writing exercise or other and some of the entries turned into stories.
I no longer have the stories that resulted from these exercises. I may still have the hard disks on which at least some of them are stored, but I no longer have the Apple Performa II necessary to read them. I guess they're lost to history. That's probably for the better.
Throughout my college years, like many people before and since, I worked shitty restaurant jobs and saw live rock bands. I drank shitty beer, smoked bad weed, listened to music, and watched stupid tv with my friends. Most people I knew didn’t have computers, nobody had cell phones of course. It was the 90s. People hid their ambition, pretended they were losers and listened to Nirvana.
Writing Journal Zine
Gray Flag #1
If a black flag is the symbol of anarchy and a white flag signals surrender, somewhere in the middle the gray flag waves.
I turned 50 in April of this year. What does that mean? Does it mean anything? I’ve been trying to figure it out. I don’t look back now any more than I ever did, but I do look back.
Gray Flag is about looking back. It’s about finding that stuff written in notebooks years and years ago and trying to make sense of it. Am I the same person I was then? How have I changed? Have I learned anything?
Here is Gray Flag #1. It consists of journal entries I wrote while a student in the creative writing program at Columbia College in the early 1990s. I worked crappy jobs and drank shitty beer in cruddy bars. I met some interesting people. I was broke and hungover much of the time. I thought I knew everything. I enjoyed myself. — September 2020
Gray Flag #2
The entries in this issue are from journals I kept as a student in the Story Workshop writing program at Columbia College in the early ‘90s. We used these journals for writing exercises, to generate ideas, develop scenes, and record everyday events.
A few things I remember from my time at Columbia are brain fatigue and a growling stomach which was quite audible during three-and-a-half-hour classes with names like Prose Forms and Critical Reading & Writing.
The Story Workshop method required us to sit in chairs with desktops folded down as we were instructed to listen outside of the classroom, down the hallway, and out into the street, then asked “What do you hear?” And also, “What happens next?” And then told, “Show don’t tell.”
I remember kids smoking in the hallways during breaks using empty Coke cans for ashtrays which was never officially sanctioned but never actively discouraged. I remember waiting for hours to get into the school’s computer lab because no one I knew owned a computer.
And getting out of night class too late to get on the Howard line at the Harrison Street stop because the entrances were blocked by steel gates at 10 pm. Then walking to the Jackson stop through empty streets because back then the Loop was a ghost town after dark.
Anyway, these handwritten entries, while chosen for their legibility, still required editing. I also felt the need to change some names even though few would know the difference. — February, 2021
Gray Flag #3
The third issue of Gray Flag is comprised of journal entries I kept as a writing student at Columbia College in the early 1990s. I didn’t think there was much left to glean from those two notebooks I’d been toting around from apartment to apartment for the past three decades. I realized, however, that stringing some of these entries together formed a narrative even though they were written many months apart.
Some entries were written as they happened, or shortly thereafter, while the others were written months later as in-class writing assignments. For example, “Letter Never Sent” was not an actual letter not sent but a part of a writing exercise, and “Egg Shift” was written for a class a year after the fact. For this reason, the date following the title is when the entry was written and not when the events described took place. — January, 2023