I wanted to write about journaling in the old days, before weblogs, micro-blogs, and Facebook. I want to write about old school journals, with pen and paper, specifically bound books of paper. I will share with you the reasons why I keep a journal, and how blogging has affected but not replaced my interest in keeping a personal journal.
I have been keeping a personal journal for 29 years.
I am not exactly sure why I started a journal, or exactly when. The earliest journal I have in the plastic bin in my basement dates from 1980, when I was 10 years old. Those early journals are lists of daily events – we did this, we did that. This was boring, that was fun. I used lots of exclamation points!!!!! I wrote to my journal as if I was writing a letter to my best friend. I’d even address the reader as “you”. I have the sense I wrote to capture what it was like to be that age, so that I might have a record for when I was different, the older that I was always moving towards. Maybe I was lonely, maybe I was trying to escape what was happening in that moment. I’m not sure. I didn’t explain why I was writing.
Later on I commited to keeping a journal because I thought it was good practice. I wanted to be a physician who wrote books. Maybe like Chekhov, the Russian playright, or William Carlos Williams, the American poet, or maybe even Oliver Sacks, whom I hadn’t discovered yet, but who writes nonfiction about people and what we can learn about the mind and life from neurological conditions. I kept a journal for raw materials for whatever books I might write in the future because I had this idea that I would combine my parent’s lives. My dad was a doctor, a psychiatrist in fact, and my mom a high school English teacher before she had us kids, and an author when I was young. So, I kept a journal for raw materials.
I find I don’t have to sustain something for the original reasons I started. I haven’t become a physician, I’m not writing fiction, poetry, or any long or structured nonfiction. Yet, along the way, I think I learned that writing out my thoughts was good for me. I’m an external processor. I have to try to articulate my thoughts and feelings to understand them. And writing things out is a very safe way to practice thinking. People have this funny habit of taking what I say seriously, when I’m only trying it on, like a pair of jeans at the store. Seeing if it fits. I learned it was good for me to write, it was safe.
I write on planes, on trains, in buses, whenever there is a long period of time to fill or for reflection. I always take my journal on vacations. I write when I’m up north at the cabin. I write when I’m on a yoga or meditation retreat. I write after a big event or about a transition to help me understand and work through things. I write when I can’t sleep and am troubled by a worry or a conflict, I write in the middle of the night when only the cat is awake with me and I need solace and understanding.
You might think I use the journals for something. It’s odd, I almost never go back and read them. Sometimes if looking for something specific – a date of a critical event, maybe, I might burrow into them, but mostly they are written and forgotten. They are something my mind uses to process and to rid itself of things. I shed things by writing about them.
Years ago, maybe 10 years ago now I was on a plane, writing I suppose quite furiously in my journal, and the man next to me started up a conversation. He said he was a psychologist, and he cautioned me not to try to work everything out in my journal, that I needed to work out some of what I was trying to understand in the actual world. He cautioned me not to depend too much on the journaling.
My favorite journals are Miquelrius notebooks I buy locally at Hollander’s in Ann Arbor. The binding is durable, the pages are lined, they’re not too rigid or thick. They feel good, they travel well.
In the last few years I have been blogging. I started my blog in 2006, when I was working for a web company and trying to help our clients think about blogs, whether it would help them with SEO, how they might use it, and I wanted to be able to speak confidently about blogging, I wanted to live what I was recommending, so I started one in June 2006.
I found it added something different to my writing: the concept of an audience. I don’t actually imagine there’s a huge audience for these thoughts, but there are a few – especially friends and family – and the thought of a reader changed the writing somewhat. Enough so that I still keep the journal for the more interior, private thinking. This blog is a little less navel-gazing, a little less open, a little more polished than the journal.
And it has done what the psychologist suggested, helped me communicate a little more of my thoughts to others close to me. One nice benefit is it has helped me and my mom share more. Which is at least part of why some studies have shown that people who blog are happier, happier because they’re sharing. A little self-reflection, a little self-revelation. Both are good for the mood and the mind and the relationship.
So, I’m going to keep journaling privately to work out thoughts and practice thinking, and I’m going to keep blogging. Not sure if there will be other, more formal writing in my future, but this is good practice for now.