I think I’ve mentioned somewhere on the blog before that I write in a journal, although I sometimes wish I made more time for it. I don’t write anything too earth-shattering, no haikus or secret love affairs, just my day to day and whatever thoughts I’ve managed to keep in my mind by day’s end. I don’t know what will happen with my journals, but I’ve told Jon that if I die before I’ve had a chance to censor out all the juicy bits, he should burn all my journals so Caleb will never read the sordid stories of his childhood, like how his parents may or may not have used some of his Chinese New Year money to buy hot dogs from a stand because we didn’t have any cash, or how I may or may not regularly encourage the dog to lick Caleb’s wisps of hair across his head because it gives Caleb a comb-over which I think is hilarious.
But journal writing is something that I think is a thing that’s good for you, like drinking enough water, or stretching. I’ve been thinking about writing a series of blog posts on journal writing for a while, but it’s been a bit on the back burner. It sometimes feels like I have a lot of soups on the back burners, and some of them take a bit more simmering than others.
I’ve got a few library books kicking around that have been buzzing around my brain to get me started on the series, but it wasn’t even the threat of late fines that finally got me going (I think I’m basically completely desensitized to late fines, since I make Jon go in to pay them for me so the librarians will never know my shame…) – I came across this Instagram shot from Humans of New York. I don’t know if I should make some comment on the irony of finding this inspiration on social media, rather than doing some reflective thinking to inspire myself.
Humans of New York (@humansofny on Instagram) typically shows a picture of a person or a couple of people and shares a bit of their story. The stories are anything and everything: funny, sad, surprising, thought-provoking, silly. It’s kind of just a peek into someone else’s real life, just a slice.
The complete description, from the words of the woman in the photo, says:
“I’m writing in my journal. When I was in 11th grade, I had an English teacher named Ms. Lois Bricklin who required us to write in a journal every day. Then at the end of each marking period, we were supposed to turn in our journal. For the first two marking periods, I wrote all my entries right before the journal was due, and then backdated them. But for the third marking period, I actually made an effort to do it every day. By the fourth marking period, I was hooked. I haven’t missed a day in over 30 years. It’s like brushing my teeth. I turned 50 in January, so my latest entries have been very reflective. I’ve been questioning whether I’m living the life that I wanted to live.”
I mean, of course as a former teacher, how could I not love the fact that this woman is sharing this deep impact on her life that one of her teachers has made on her. I also want to point out that as a teacher, I know when my students have done all their work at the last minute and post-dated it. Yes, even when you use different coloured pens and try to crumple up the sheets.
But also, what I’m writing about in this post is this idea that writing every day has helped to shape how this person is going through her life. This is a meditative and reflective practice that can you sane and positive and focused.
There are all sorts of reasons for keeping a journal – to help you think and unwind and reflect and re-live the good and the bad, these are probably the most obvious, and I think more than enough reason to do so. To learn from our mistakes and to grieve and celebrate and wonder. To be able to go through life a bit more thoughtfully. I think there are enough online articles that surface and re-surface every once in a while that discuss some of the mental health benefits and boosts to creativity and the inner peace that the reflection of journaling has, which is all well and good, but I think writing in a journal as a regular habit is one of those things you just have to do to understand.
Maybe it’s because people who use and like to use fountain pens know that there’s an intrinsic link between the act of writing and the act of thinking, but journal writing is one of those completely personal and subjective and reflective things in our lives. It’s you and the paper and a pen or pencil, and maybe a cup of coffee, or maybe the view from your front porch, or maybe the last few minutes at your desk at night.
I’m hoping this will be a series of blog posts on journal writing and the how and the why and the nitty gritty, but also on how the great thinkers and authors and just ‘ordinary’ people used or use their notebooks and journals as a record of their lives and the times they lived in, and as a way to understand the world around them.
I have read quite a few diaries and journals over time, and I even taught a few when I was teaching. For some reason, in my personal reading, I’m always a bit hesitant to start reading someone’s published memoirs or diary because I have this idea that it might be boring, but once I start, I find them fascinating. You read about a different time, and a different reality, and you also hear a person’s voice in a very real way.
But a lot of these journals have become an important piece of history, and the times lived in the situations that the authors were a part of or witnessed. I’m not necessarily talking just about the extraordinary situations, although I think each of our lives has a bit of the extraordinary in it. I’m talking about witnessing and living in the world as it is at that time. And while I’m certainly not saying that we should be writing in a diary for the sole purpose of establishing our eternal place in history, I do think that we should view our writing as something that’s important and lasting.
I think for us today, the insane speed with which technology is changing how we live and communicate and do business is one of the most important things that we in these times can record. Jon and I often talk about how businesses are getting bigger and fewer as big fish gobble up all the medium fish, and the small fish are sometimes just barely afloat (we would be a minnow, in this scenario). I think Best Buy and Future Shop, two already massive businesses, are now just Best Buy, can you believe it?
I mean, huge changes from technology are coming everyday – Canada Post is stopping door-to-door mail delivery (does this count as a huge change??), you can hardly find a person who isn’t on social media in some way, people are creating entire communities with other people they’ve never even met or seen, the death of the physical book and the local bookstore (and maybe also the pen..) has been predicted again and again…and all of these changes that are massive are lived every day in the tiniest of details by all of us.
But even aside from technology, the cities we live in, and the issues we are passionate about, and the cafes we sit in and the dreams we have. Each of the diaries and journals we write in preserve our humanity for the period of time we have here. And our humanity is important.
I hope that’s not too morbid. Having the baby and seeing him grow so crazy fast even though he’s less than a year old has made me a little morbid some nights. Jon says I should just have some more wine. But I think what I’m trying to say is that there’s so much that we could each write and record about each of our worlds and how we live and interact with each other. And in this world that’s moving at warp speed all the time, we should take a few minutes, and make a note of just where we are.