The human race seems to be separated into two groups – those who keep a journal and those who do not. I’m not saying that one is better than the other (because clearly I’d be biased if I did), but as a compulsive journaler, I just don’t know how the other group gets on in life. How do they survive? What happens to all those thoughts? Where do they go? Do they just disappear like socks in the wash? And where do they end up?
Now I live side-by-side with non-journalers and I have to say they seem to be a fine lot. The look like they’re having fun. They seem like they don’t have too much of a longing to pour out their heart onto the page and I’d like to know, what’s up with that?
Is it that we just function in different ways like the shark and the dolphin? One breathes the air and the other, the water – and so I shouldn’t try to understand why we’re different. Instead I’ll focus on what I know best. That’s right, journaling!
I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic lately because it’s the only writing I’ve been doing. I’m back at my parents’ house in Perth too and so I had a whole lot of fun last night reading the journal kept from age 13 to 16. My teenage self was always waiting for her life to ‘start’, but meanwhile doing a lot more than I do now.
Pages and pages could be written about what went down at the bus station and the bus was a candyland of potential thrilling encounters with public school boys. I wrote about the Canadian swim team and a guy called D’Alesandro from air cadets and a forty year old Italian who could hardly speak English but squeezed my leg in Bali and told me to wait with his beer and about guys I had only heard about and others I’d known just briefly. (Only got three words for you : private girls school). I thought life would start when I could make my own decisions and have some real life romances that existed outside of my head. I also wrote about fictional guys. After reading Bryce Coutney’s The Power of One and the sequel, Tandia, I wrote, ‘I hero worship Peekay and cry over his death and then I realise he isn’t real.’
But apart from all the crazy making, I painted an accurate picture of what my life would become. On a roll about Bryce Coutney’s books, I wrote at age fifteen (nine years before I really tried to ‘write’) …
‘I wonder if I will ever write anything that will bring a person to tears by the sheer truth of what I am saying…. I don’t even know what ‘sheer’ really means. I am just trying to see if there is a writer inside of me.’
Looking back is fun, right? I actually read back on my journals more rarely than you’d think and especially not recent ones, but I particularly like to go over the tough times and see how far I’ve come or what I learnt with the hindsight of knowing what was just around the corner. It’s interesting to see how the fabric of your life was woven – don’t you think?
Not everyone or even all writers would agree. The author Douglas Kennedy said that he doesn’t keep a diary because it would be like looking at your own shit. I get this. I have over 20 years of shit to look at. Without this, it is too easy to forget the person we used to be and too nice to live in the present. What’s so fun about being weighed down by all those dead bodies? But to Kennedy I’d say that it is not the viewing of the shit that is the most satisfying, it is the actual release that is the point of the whole thing. You leave feeling lighter and cleared of all the gunk that would otherwise be clogging up you system and seeping into your blood stream, toxicating the place up!
Are you with me?
My writing imbues my inner world with a richness that was previously absent.
Oh yes! Jounalling is an intellectual and emotional pursuit that I often found otherwise lacking in my day to day. ‘People living deeply have no fear of death’, Anais Ninn wrote in one of her many published diaries. Journalling is a way of digging deeper. We are writing ourselves into meaning.
The habits of journal writing create a most interesting distance between you and your thoughts. Experiencing that your thoughts are not inevitable, and discovering that not only your thoughts but also your feelings change when you write them down. You can shift the emphasis, style and content of your thinking.
Journalling keeps me conscious. Thoughts swirling round in my head make me feel unbalanced and cranky, groggy and hung-over, unstable and explosive. I get the thoughts out on the page and they are separate from me. Cleaning out my mind is as necessary as brushing my teeth. On the page I can see my thoughts and examine whether they are true or if they are simply revolving round the stratosphere like a lost asteroid.
The journal is simply a vehicle for your inner wise self.
Journalling provides a best friend that you can tell everything to, who never gets bored and always listens with undivided attention.Talk to this friend, ask for the answers and you will receive.
That’s it folks!
So where do y’all sign up?
Stephanie Dowrick has some free associating exercises for newbies or for old-timers looking for new ways to experience their journal time.
As you are sitting there with pen and journal, focus on one thing outside yourself that you can see, hear, taste, touch or smell. Write it down and then whatever you associate with that and keep going from one association to the next for twenty minutes at least. You will end up in a very distant land, I promise.
An insect rhythmically ticking, tracking the passing of time. So much to do always. Eternity. There is enough time. Tropical paradise. Frangipani trees in maxi-bonsai formations.
You might finish by realising how much of an influence American sitcoms had on you as a kid, like I did.
So you release your creativity as you aren’t restricted by sentences and proper punctuation. I had forgotten.
Another option is to take a big word such as God, place, parents, hope, friends, love, peace of mind, justice, loneliness, purpose, death, health or whatever else you choose as a jumping off point and then go for it. Don’t re-read your work either. ‘Let your thoughts rest’, Dowrick says.
There you go my friends. Journal writing is not just for teenage girls or the indulgently self-absorbed. It’s for old dogs wanting to learn new tricks, for the blind and the feeble and the willing and able and all mammals with usable thumbs and also those without.
Please (please!) let me know below in the comments, do you journal to live or live to journal or are you the breathing water type?