I’ve kept a journal off and on since 7th grade.
My first journal was a bright pink, lock-and-key ‘My Diary’ that was a gift from my Grannie in Scotland, my mum’s mum. I cherished that little volume and the time alone that I spent with it, with my special pen, in my room, recording thoughts and observations that I was certain no one would ever read.
Those pages were the very definition of safety—and for a shy, brainy oddball of a kid like me, playing the piano, listening to music, reading books, and writing in that diary were the whole world to me.
In short order, my need for putting thoughts to paper outgrew the few lines that were allotted to each day in that first diary, and I began dedicated entire college-ruled notebooks. In high school, I abandoned notebooks altogether, and my folks kept me in college-ruled, three-hole-punched paper by the ream, with which I filled many three ringer binders.
Making the leap from the pen to the keyboard was a joyful one for me. Being able to type rather than write meant I could get a lot of things down faster, wow!! And I had a Gateway tower in my first apartment (with an enormous 9 GB hard drive!!!!) with which to journal and write bad (and some not so bad) poetry.
Most especially when I was younger, the act of journaling was an affirmation of my need for understanding and clarity, and also for expression and relief. I’ve often thought of journaling as the cheapest form of therapy, a way to get things off the hard drive that is my brain, and to wring out the sponge and make room for new experiences and (hopefully) new insights.
There have also been periods of time in life when I haven’t journaled at all. Often I was just too busy. Other times, the raw emotions of grief or anger were too volatile, too close to the surface, for me to dare to lift the lid on any of it. For several years when I was in an increasingly abusive relationship, I didn’t feel safe keeping a handwritten journal, so I learned how to password-protect documents on a computer. Those rare moments of solitude at the screen were precious to me, and reminded me of the nights under my parents’ roof when I stayed up into the wee hours nearly falling asleep with my journal in my lap, pen in hand, trying to make sense of the world and of my place in it, one hastily scrawled word at a time.
Right now, as I type these words to share with others, I am reflecting on the many thousands of pages, both physical and digital, that I have amassed in my lifetime, most of which will never be read by anyone.
Why do it at all? I have often asked myself in life.
After another period of years of not much journaling (this time, because I was so happy and busy with life and other satisfying forms of expression) I rededicated myself to daily journaling a few years ago, and especially during the pandemic, I’ve rarely missed a day—until a couple months ago. Then it was every other day, and now it’s only a couple of times a week. Then just the other day, on the 17th, here is the entirety of that day’s entry:
‘The urge to document here, in this way, is fading from me, and I am really okay with that.’
I still write every day—object writing, poetry, song lyrics—but the emptying out of the previous days celebrations and grievances is an impulse that I seem to be outgrowing. For now, at least.
Once in a great while, I dare to open one of my ancient journals, and I find myself holding my breath as I read. Teenage angst; the anxieties of young adulthood; this boy; that song; this situation; that argument; these places; those feelings… as I read, I appreciate how much I’ve survived, how much I’ve lived, and how much I’ve learned.
So maybe that’s why I journal—messages and lessons for my future self. Or is it just entertainment?
Maybe there doesn’t need to be a larger purpose to the journaling. Maybe the act of coaxing those lines from my experience and my fingers into document form is simply a flexing of a creative and expressive muscle for its own sake, in those moments when I have needed a safe place in which I could whisper my secrets and my celebrations.
May all beings feel safe and protected. May all beings have a place to safely share their joy and their sorrow.