The other day I bought a crisp new notebook. It looks like a basic composition notebook with the cardboard covers but it is new and thick and full of lined white spaces. Its pattern is decidedly herringbone.
I used to write in a journal almost daily from when I moved to Boston, thirty years ago this month, in fact, and through the first few years of my daughter's life––a period of five years. There were some years in high school where I made an effort and I was also dutiful on an exchange program to England when I was 16, and again on my junior year abroad (back to England). I also kept a haphazard journal during the first year of each of my boy's lives, too. And then email came along, and blogging soon after. So journaling seemed to dissolve away (plus, I type much faster than I write).
I have kept each of these journals and intend to revisit them this winter. It occurs to me, like the script writing of my great-grandmother in her turn-of-the-twentieth century journals (which I am (slowly) transcribing), that my children will have difficulty translating them one day. So I intend to transcribe my own one day––perhaps with a bit of editorial license, perhaps not.
My first official journal exercise was when, after camp for two weeks in 1973, my grandmother said that if I wrote up an essay about my experiences, she would buy me a flower-power notebook set. It was from Mead and I very much coveted it at the local five-and-dime. Perhaps it was that exercise that helped set my experiences there into the concrete of memory. It was a pivotal summer in my life and I had not wanted to go to camp or stay: I got very homesick. My parents had separated only a month before and my paternal grandmother died during my second week. So I actually left for a day for her memorial service and burial, and came back to finish my last few days at camp. It was that summer on our annual August visit to New Hampshire, where we would move with my mother the following year, that my grandmother encouraged my journaling. Just as she had encouraged my letter writing since the second grade.
A few years later, my writer friend Elizabeth Yates McGreal gave me a beautiful red desk diary for 1976 with a page a day. I wrote in it almost daily and often enclosed snippets and longer lists of things I wanted to include that were happening at the time. We read together every Tuesday afternoon, with tea in the comfortable parlor of her old New England Cape Cod house, and she encouraged my emergent love of all things English. This beautiful diary was from Smythson on Bond Street in London. It had been given to her but she passed it along to me with the proviso that I write in it. And so I did.
Some of my favorite writings to read have been journals (and letters, too): Sylvia Plath's (although heavily edited) and Virginia Woolf's come to mind. Willa Cather's letters, which she never did want published (she had requested of her friends that they burn her correspondence to them upon her death––most complied).
I've been blogging for 10 years, its own kind of public combo of journaling and scrap-booking. I did try journaling in a Word document but it's just not the same thing: I want to edit it, as I have reedited this blog post already several times now! But I have missed that pen-to-paper feeling of recording thoughts onto something that can be read without turning on a screen, not editing for an audience, and just getting it all out, whatever "it" is.
I've always found that when I journal, or even when I record a few lines in the 10+ year journal that I got a few years back (and with which I have not been faithful, either), that life seems to go a bit more smoothly. Perhaps because when you journal you are folding and creasing the various bits of your life into something cleaner in the expression––maybe even something that needed washing out with a good starching and ironing. I find that I can remember time and events a bit more clearly, too, when I write about them in some kind of progressive order. "Ah, that happened." In perusing my own journals I can be transported back to that very day in my life.
Written words in a journal take on their own unedited crispness if you allow them to––it takes practice but write what you need and the rest will follow. Write the sacred and profane, write the everyday or the philosophical. Stop or start as necessary. Don't worry about proper form (but paragraphs are good). Just make it your own refuge and a place to harbor "the bits and threads of your very life," to paraphrase Katherine Mansfield.
We'll see what these new pages bring.
You come back when you're ready!