Do You Keep a Journal?
Mine started in first grade with the sentence, “May funny boy way who?” and embarked on a nonsensical meditation on a boy in my class named Clinton, with whom I was in love. I wrote a cast of characters on the inside cover (“Mom–my mom”) so that one day, when this tome was discovered among my papers, the reader wouldn’t be hopelessly lost. This diary was pastel blue with a lock, a schmaltzy quote about dreams, and a castle in the clouds on the cover: typical––though tragic––little girl stuff.
I’ve never been able to stop, and I credit journals for keeping me going through middle school, my teens, a melancholy, lovesick stay in Italy, post-college confusion, and whatever you’d call this period of post-post college confusion. (PoPoCoCo?)
At my first real office job, my boss was a wonderfully chic, astonishingly smart woman of the old school New York variety (rumor had it she had taught herself Russian in order to read Anna Karenina “in its purest form.”) You could set a clock by her workday routines––the morning pot of tea, her toaster oven lunch, an afternoon seltzer––but one unpredictability that enlivened our days together were her visits to my cubicle for a chat. It’s hard being an assistant, especially when you have just been puffed up for four years with the idea that your thoughts are illuminating to an unprecedented degree, the importance of your mind’s work irrefutably unassailable. It’s a long way to fall to mass mailings and spreadsheets, and my boss understood this. So she dropped by my desk to ask what I was reading (“You’re too young to really appreciate Madame Bovary; it’ll mean more when you’re older.”), and to ask about my personal life. In my three years as an assistant, we got to know each other pretty well, I think, and this all relates to journal writing for the pearl of wisdom she tossed out one day: “journal-writing is therapy for the poor.”
Some might have called her a bit of a snob, but I found her hilarious and likable in a scathing Dorothy Parker-kind-of-way.
She had been poor, at least in gentile way of an art history doctorate student scrimping by in New York at the time when sitting in the nosebleed seats at the ballet cost as much as going to the movies. She would write for pages and pages, she said, and sort things out for the cost of a notebook.
I don’t think writing in a journal is quite the same as therapy, and I do think the one-two punch of journal writing plus therapy can really get you places fast. But we’re not talking about sitting on the couch today; we’re talking about carrying around a little notebook. Some might argue that their blogs have replaced their personal writing, but I think they’re so different. After the idea wore off that my first grade crushes (and eighth grade depression and high school malaise) would be of any interest to anyone but me, the writing changes. You’re not writing for art or for laughs–you’re just writing to sort your own stuff out, to make sense of what’s happening in your life and in your head. Perhaps most helpful (and most amusing) is the record of it: you can see patterns, recognize triggers for certain behaviors and mood, and suddenly be reminded of the perfect brunch you ate with your beloved nine years ago that certainly would have fallen through the holes of memory.
And there is nothing more exciting, more like turning the page on a new chapter of your life when you begin a new notebook. I am deeply in love with this cheerful, colorful one, purchased at Target for the nice price of $3.99 (I’d link, but sadly, you can’t buy them online). Do you still write in a journal? Do you think it can help you make sense of the chaos of life? Do you think this sounds like juvenile stuff? Or did you fall back into journal-writing with something you tried as an adult, like Morning Pages?