Journal a life.

I have always had a journal– back to 4th grade (see the pink patent leather with the lock and the word PRIVATE). The early ones are about boys and best friends. The middle ones are about being afraid to die and being afraid to live and being afraid in general– mostly of myself. Oh, and also about boys. And God. And the more recent ones are all written from the hot cramped cabins of airplanes. I’m a claustrophobe who hates to fly– the one pretending she’s blithely involved in the NYT crossword puzzle, but who is in reality, sitting there begging the heavens for smooth skies and a safe landing. To the tune of: Please don’t let anything scary happen. Please don’t let anything scary happen. And I travel a lot. So if anyone ever reads my journals from the last ten or so years of my life, they will put me in the annals of crazytown. Each entry is written as if the plane’s going down and I need to say just…one…last…thing about life and what it is to be human and mortal.

I’ve kept them all. But I’ve never re-read them. I’m too afraid to see that I haven’t changed or learned anything. Or am still complaining about THAT thing which I should have figured out how to get over years ago. I’m too afraid to see the broken record that is me. Or too sad to see big dreams unrealized. Or remember all the years I spent suffering for something that actually DOES come my way– good, bad, or indifferent.

I’m not sure what purpose the journal serves. I just know that it is my lover, best friend, confidant, safe house. I can feel them in the box in my writing room closet, sitting there with all my history and hysteria; I can hear the many voices of me and feel the pulse that drives them to want to write my story in those private pages. I love them. Even when I don’t love myself.

The other day, for some reason…I missed them. So I braved it and took them out, spread them on the staircase and ran my hands over them. Each of them like long lost loved ones with whom, upon first sight, you pick up exactly where you left off. I was suddenly hungry for my earlier selves, and dared myself to dig in. A summer in Spain looked like a good place to start. I took that Asian silk wrapped journal from a head shop in my childhood town (back when there were head shops), and opened it in the middle. Read the words, “If God is so good then…” and slammed the book closed. Couldn’t do it. Italy–that was a good year. I opened that journal, covered in marbleized Italian paper. “I hate Americans. All they care about is…” Slammed that one shut too. Maybe one from sixth grade instead. “I’m in my treehouse hiding.” Nope. Instead I decided to just lay my hands on them and thank the words that I needed to spring…knowing that they somehow needed to spring and believing they helped…and took a picture.

In that moment, I have never been more certain that the past is the past, and is meant to be left behind. It was a powerful exercise. It reminded me that I have spent a lot of my life in deep thought, moving around a pen to the tune of my emotions in a little book that lives somewhere close. Until it is full. And then it goes into a box in a closet for safe keeping. I’m proud of that. That’s where all those words belong. In a box.

I think someday, if and when I’m an old woman, maybe I might be brave enough to go back and see who I’ve been all these years. Until then, I write in my journals where I am free to be exactly who I am without anyone’s judgement but my own. Maybe that nails it: when I am writing in my journal, I am not a self-critic. I am not crafting story. I can be my most despicable and dreamy self. And who wants to re-visit that? Not me. Not yet.

I invite you to do the same. Collect all your journals and spread them out. Bask in them for a bit. Read some if you must. And put them back from whence they came. Send me the photo.


Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, My Posts

16 Responses to Journal a life.

  1. Laura — So true! Journals have been by best friend for so many years precisely because they are private. I still have trouble with blogging because I so miss the breeziness of REAL journals where typos don’t matter and no one is there to judge.

    And it IS hard to read the old stuff from old selves … maybe a HUGE journal bon fire is in order sometime?

    ;-) Thanks for the post.

  2. Wow! What an extraordinary record. I totally understand your trepidation about going back to read them … but just knowing you have them is so powerful. xo

  3. Erika Putnam

    I love that you wrote this. I love buying journals and filling them up. My safe and sacred place. I would take a picture for you, but they are in a huge plastic bin wrapped in 3 layers of clear packing tape going two distinctly overlapping directions. Not sure what to do with the other eight or nine lying around. Just in case Laura, you can appoint me “destroyer of the journals”. I would do a good job for you. My best. Erika

  4. Donald J Stifer

    Welcome to our private little world. Journal’s are personal. It is not required for later reading. They are written in the moment that you occupy at that time. Journaling gives us the opportunity to talk with ourselves about our most personal feelings in that moment. No moment will ever exactly mirror that time. As we write, we reflect and we feel. Hopefully we grow.
    Most of what we write is directly from the heart and extremely personal. It is ours, it belongs to us. It is based upon the shoes we walk in. What we write is engrained in our heart and does require further review. That moment is gone.
    Hoard them love them but you need not read them again.
    With love your honorary person.

  5. I, too, have enjoyed journaling over the years–but I made the mistake early on of re-reading my journals along the way…and would then either rip pages out or toss the whole journal, so now I don’t have those words I wrote as a young girl. I wish I did. I really wish I did.

  6. I loved this post! I am currently working on a memoir about a past love who comes back into my life when he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Our reconnection caused me to journey back in time (20+ years – college) and re-live memories via photos and my journals. And you’re right, a lot of it was tough to read (especially my immature writing style – yikes!), but in this case, I couldn’t put them down. I felt I had to try to remember everything from my past before I was left holding all those memories of my time with him all on my own.:( I also love how you describe being free to be who you are/were in your journals without judgment — so so true. Thanks for posting this – it obviously hit home for me.

  7. Terry in Colorado

    I just ran across my stash of journals a week or so ago and put them all together on a shelf. I never realized I has so many until that moment. Then I saw your photo and realized I didn’t have very many at all. I didn’t have pretty ones when I was young. I got my first pink one last year! I have about ten pages left and look forward to searching out just the right one to be next. a href=”file:///home/terry/Pictures/2012/09/15/SAM_1097.JPG” title=”">

  8. Terry in Colorado

    I just ran across my stash of journals a week or so ago and put them all together on a shelf. I never realized I has so many until that moment. Then I saw your photo and realized I didn’t have very many at all. I didn’t have pretty ones when I was young. I got my first pink one last year! I have about ten pages left and look forward to searching out just the right one to be next.

    If this doesn’t work please delete this comment.

  9. God bless you!

    I have always felt so strange and guilty about NOT wanting to revisit the past through old journals. It’s awkward and weird and I just don’t like it.

    I feel less alone in that now. Thank you, Laura, for sharing this.

  10. Have you read Terry Tempest Williams’ book about her mother’s journals? You might like it, if you haven’t. This is pretty wonderful. I don’t like to reread my journals either. In fact it’s hard for me to reread my prose on paper too. I’ll look at it on the screen, but not paper…

    I kept emails in the early days of emails when they were bridging from letters. I kept old letters to as a friend said they were like journals. But now I’m ready to crack open those notebooks and burn all that paper. I think it will feel very good, a huge relief…Not ready to do that with the handwritten journals yet.

    You’re right, the past is the past. And I’m not sure where I am with writing, right now, I guess I’m kinda walking away from it.

    Well, that’s all I know for now…Thank you for your good work and I hope your new novel keeps talking to you as long as it needs to.

    Blessings and all good things, Katie

  11. Mara Owens

    Katie A. beat me to the topic of Terry Tempest Williams memoir. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to add that the book revolves around the fact that her mother requested that her journals, lined up neatly on a bookshelf, were not to be opened until after her death, the surprise that awaited Terry was that each was blank. I’ve moved over 47 times starting at age 16 and always loved stringing words together like beautifully arranged beads form a necklace, but writing more reaching out to tell the world at large what the observant soul in an introspective mind felt, thought, wondered, than recorded for myself. Sometimes in actual journals, more often on whatever write able surface was at hand and usually also embellished with sketches, found images, pressed flowers, butterfly wings or other artifacts. My ramblings sometimes found eager audience that liked visiting my mind or live my roamings vicariously, who read & returned such whenever I had an almost permanent address, or at their death.

    • lauramunson

      It was Terry who told me to stop writing fiction and to write memior, per her experience writing REFUGE. How great of you both to know intuitively that she is part of my woven writing world. yrs. Laura

  12. Keith Smith

    Hello Laura
    Journals or Diaries are my personal life and knowing that every time I write in there I can just be me. I had three of them but I decided to make an offering of my first one, mostly because that part of my life was very…………shall we say contrary to the belief that life was good. I decided at that time to have a more positive outlook, and so since then it has been a hodgepodge of mixed emotions, and even an autograph or two of famous people that I met and had a great impact on me to keep moving ahead.
    I didn’t think about it before but in hindsight, my journal kept me sane when I thought I was losing it, and I stained a few pages with my tears when there was no one available to listen. So glad that I was able to share this with you and your readers.

  13. I am 42 with a trunk filled with journals and lettters dating back to kindergarten. My patient husband has hulked it around with us through each move, patiently and kindly for over 15 years now. He knows something I don’t- that it isn’t about the reading, it is the writing, the doing. I enjoy his encouragement and I relish trusting him. This is a big change frommy younger years, when family members trespassed. Back then, it was a tougher audience I catered to, and when I finally found my honest, vulnerable voice again, I discovered I had been missing my best friend.
    I am more grounded when I write. My favorite morning routine involves Mindfulness/Meditation and then a journaling session. Yummy.
    Thanks for the post & discussion, Laura

  14. Great read, Laura. I have all my journals from the past four years – when I put everything else in storage and set out into the world. Recently I’ve been considering whether to burn them. I am incredibly paranoid that I will get hit by a bus and my family will read them and be horrified about the state of my mind. I have no desire to go back and read them – whenever I have attempted that I just seem to find myself reading the same issues year in year out and I get frustrated because I haven’t achieved nirvana yet!!! And yet I’m reluctant to part with them. I understand that they’re such a key part of my life – my journal have quite literally been my pathway to growth, and healing and hope. So I’m reluctant to let that go. But would I feel a sense of release? No, not yet…

    Maybe for now I’ll just remind my family of the ‘burn without reading’ clause…

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