"This morning I looked out at the world and found it wanting, so I went back to sleep until it improved'
For the past eleven years I have been fairly consistent with my journaling, and rarely go as long as a week without giving at least a summary of what is going on. I was advised to start the venture by a counselor I was seeing, and who was helping me to get rid of some of the angst and self-loathing that the breakup of my marriage had evoked. It was good advice.
“Be absolutely candid,” she said. “Write whatever you’re wrestling with and be totally honest. Don’t censor yourself at all.”
Great, that meant I could write dirty stuff, too.
What I found, however, was that dirty stuff was easy (isn’t it always?), but feelings were really difficult. I almost felt like I was intruding on myself be putting down assorted items of ‘honesty.’ But, the advice was well founded. I found myself exploring areas of ‘me’ that I’d never truly looked into. Why did I do that? Why did I think that? Eventually it became like a jigsaw puzzle in which you start out with a mass of meaningless bits but then, as you persevere, a picture begins to form and take genuine shape. That was what began to happen with me via my journal. It was like home-brewed psychotherapy and ultimately produced a number of ‘aha’ and ‘of course’ moments.
Now, I periodically look back at earlier entries from eight or nine years ago and can either feel good because I have moved on, or feel like shit because I seem to be stuck in a particular area.
I keep my journal on disks, but I also print it out. In theory anybody could go into the home office and pull it out, read it, and come to the conclusion that I am maybe beyond hope. So be it. That is what a journal is all about. After all, Samuel Pepys was pretty candid about his desire to bonk their pretty li’l French maid, so if Pepys wasn’t shy, why should I be.
Would I want somebody to read my journals? Absolutely not. To me it would be like being intruded upon in the can; just not a situation open to public purview. We all have our private selves.
Is a journal the same thing as a diary? Probably. It’s just that diary (Pepys notwithstanding) sounds kind of 11-year-old girl, sort of Little Lulu – you know, one of those little pink tomes with a lock and key and in which each entry starts: “Dear Diary …”
When I was about 17 I actually started to keep a ‘diary’. I still have it. Once in a while I’ll look at it, and it’s a bit like exploring an alien universe, on the one hand. But, on the other, there are entries that are chillingly reminiscent of much more recent journal entries.
“Today, when I went to my locker, Susie Schwartz smiled at me and said hi. I didn’t think she knew I existed. I think I’m in love with her.”
An entry from today might be: “Went to the supermarket and that delicious Melanie was working my till. Made a point of going through hers. Such a nice young woman. Must dispel such thoughts.”
See, other than the grown-up word ‘dispel’ it’s not all that different. By the way, that wasn’t a ‘real’ entry, but it wasn’t all that far removed from reflections of the odd weak moment.
On a final note, I have found my journal can be helpful in some of my other writing, especially in my odd foray into fiction where I want to set mood and explore emotions. I think it's a good thing to do and will likely keep doing it. "The unexamined life is not worth living," said Socrates. I think maybe he was right.
So, do you keep a journal? Does it work for you?