OK, so according to the picture this should technically be D for Diary. But I'm not planning any of these posts in advance, so you'll have to cut me a little slack :-)
I first started keeping a journal when I was 12, and I stuck at it for more than a decade. Journal is really the wrong term for it, I suppose. The whole point of a journal is that it's meant to be daily; although I always started out each January with the best of intentions in that direction, my entries would inevitably become more and more sporadic as the year went on. Nevertheless, they fulfilled their purpose.
I always imagine famous diarists – Pepys, for instance – having a neat shelf of uniform notebooks, bound in leather, chronologically arranged. Books that you could tell at a glance held an important historical record of the age. My diaries weren't like that at all. They ranged from pocket-sized to A4, colourful to discreet. Some were specifically designed to be journals, one page per day. Some were lined and some were blank. One was covered in velvet. But all of them played host to the anguished outpourings of my soul: dreams, anxieties, first love, first loss.
Occasionally I read back through those notebooks, laughing and cringing in equal measure. As I get older, the person captured between their covers seems increasingly alien to me; yet through the words on the page, I can remember how it felt to be me then. I suppose that's the main purpose of a journal: to preserve, better than any other medium, a permanent now. Even a photograph can't bring back the same flood of memories, not just of what happened but of what it was like.
My last ever journal stops abruptly halfway through a year, and for a very specific reason: something happened that I couldn't bring myself to write about. At that point, I realised that everything I'd ever written in my diaries only reflected the parts of myself I was willing to admit to. Even in private, there were things I didn't dare reveal – emotions too painful to examine – confessions I couldn't make, even to myself. I probably should have forced myself to go on; a journal is a kind of therapy, and writing things down is a way of exorcising demons. But I couldn't. I put away my notebooks, and that was that.
In a way I regret it. I can't look back over the past few years, as I can for the decade or so before them, and remember how I felt about particular events. I don't have a written record of my wedding, my partner's thirtieth birthday, the day we found out we were going to have a baby. Yet even when I kept a journal, the events I recorded were very selective. Whether or not I noted down what actually happened on any given day depended entirely on my whim at the time or how tired/busy I was. My diaries were never so much a factual account as an outlet for my emotions: a form of navel-gazing. And I think perhaps I've reached the stage where I don't need to look in on myself any more. After all those years, I'm ready to look out.
There is something very vulnerable about keeping a journal. I have a friend who wishes she could keep one but knows her significant other would want to read it, since 'they should have no secrets.' She would have to keep it well hidden and secret. Journal writing can be healing, I think, but it should be private, with boundaries respected. I don't have that worry myself, but I have wondered what would happen if I kept one and it fell into the wrong hands. Where I live, there are sometimes tornadoes. I have this image of all of my deeply personal thoughts being carried miles away one disastrous storm day, and dropped into the yard of a random stranger. And while I am trying to save what is left of our personal effects, that random stranger sits comfortable in his/her in tact residence, snickering at the workings of my mind. As crazy as that may sound. :-)
12/4/2012 03:58:26 pm
Definitely - you have to be sure that no-one else will read your journal before you can really use it as intended. That's the difference between blogging and journalling, I suppose: blogging is for the benefit of an audience, journalling is for your own benefit. Though even when I kept a journal, I did wonder sometimes whether I was writing for effect (for my future self, or for an unspecified 'other' reader) rather than being truly honest. True, raw, unfiltered honesty is hard to come by even in private.
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