The Joy of Journaling
My grandson’s kindergarten teacher announced, “It’s time to write in your journals.” Shrieking with delight, the children raced for their pencils and started to print. It was apparently a highlight of their day, this time to write whatever they pleased. I’d like to think at least some of them will keep this joy alive into adulthood.
Daily or sporadic, morning or evening, pen or keyboard, matter-of-fact or filled with angst—there’s no one way to journal. Do what brings you joy or peace or clarity, if you choose to do it at all. My practice involves pen on yellow pad, usually in the morning, usually three pages from top to bottom. (Partial credit to Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way.) If my mind is spinning in circles, writing helps move it forward. If my mind is blank, some buried issue tends to surface about the middle of the second page.
Historians draw on diarists from Samuel Pepys to Anne Frank for invaluable information about major events and daily life. Genealogists must feel they’ve struck gold when they uncover a diary to flesh out the raw data. How do we weigh this archival value against the presumption of privacy in diaries that were never intended for posterity? I’m torn. I’ll read a journal with a clear conscience after the diarist’s death, but share only what seems harmless to survivors, like my mother’s notation from early in her marriage: “Accidentally locked myself in the basement. Puttered and carpentered for two hours till H. came home and let me out.” As for my yellow morning pages, the question won't arise; every few months the latest batch goes out for recycling.
7/25/2016 09:32:43 am
Your memory of your mom being locked in the basement reminded me of my grandmother's diary. Quite mundane, and at the same time an interesting peek into what her life was like. On Jan. 1 she wrote her resolutions, which were surprisingly like many of mine: lose weight, exercise more, be more kind. Thanks for evoking this memory.
7/25/2016 10:00:37 am
Last fall I read the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. The first thing she has a reader or client do is journal about why we want to do this and what we hope to accomplish. I took the time to do the writing and was surprised what came up! Then I did the work, and this summer I can notice that the results have accomplished what I had hoped for.
Interesting to hear about the role of journaling in decluttering. I wonder if most diarists reread what they've written. For me, perhaps the fact that I could do so (even if I don't) frees me from that obsessive fear I'll misplace an idea if I don't think it again and again. Another way writing helps me off the squirrel cage is the expectation that each sentence will say something different from the last. My thoughts apparently have no such expectation.
7/25/2016 11:35:55 am
Oh, sometimes when I was journaling for The Artist's Way, I would sometimes have to write, "I do not know what to write" several times before something came to me. Are you a list-maker too?
7/25/2016 06:38:59 pm
Me too. I imagine that is the purpose behind writing down, as opposed to merely thinking about, what you want to accomplish by tidying up. There's something about the breaking down of the thoughts into sentences, words, individual characters, even more effective if using something other than a keyboard. Back on topic, I do have a notebook my great-grandmother kept, more like a scrapbook of words, and it IS thought-provoking to consider what she thought to make a note of. A bit of humor, a date or place in her life, fleshed out by her daughter when I asked what this address or that person meant.
7/26/2016 08:51:22 am
I met her one time when I was about 9. She lived in Idaho, far away. Her daughter, my maternal grandmother's sister, gave me a copy of the notebook when I began my family history research, and it was invaluable for dates and places. The notations were made later in her life, not at the time of the event.
7/28/2016 11:11:56 pm
I'm glad the kindergarteners are using pencils and paper and not iPads! I feel more personally involved when I write on paper than typing on my computer. There's certainly a difference physiologically. But since I grew up with pens and paper, I keep wondering if the children growing up expressing themselves electronically will feel more attached to that format for expressing themselves.
7/29/2016 11:44:08 am
We all grew up with typewriters. If the only way someone will journal is electronically, I still believe that's better than not journalling at all. But studies show there is a difference in the brain between forming the letters by hand directly on paper than by typing them. And it makes sense. Typing is just a repetitive tapping motion. Forming letters is more like art, no matter how good your penmanship skills!
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I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.