Monday, July 14, 2008

Journaling: Therapy or Memoirs (for Bearclau)

Bearclau posted this about journaling, and I began my answer there, but it was just too long for a comment! So here's a little insight into my history with journals.

I actually remember the moment I started keeping a journal. Kindergarten. It was an assignment to write at least 3 sentences a day. It was supposed to help with my handwriting, and I guess writing skills as well. I sat there and couldn't think what I possibly had to write about. Eventually, I wrote about caterpillars (I remember writing it down even). We used to go as a class to collect the caterpillars that turn into monarch butterflies (we'd take a branch of the milkweed plant the caterpillar was on; there were a bunch of them right by the school). We'd each make our own "cage" by filling a pie plate with plaster of paris and putting in chicken wire for the enclosure. That was always a fun day. Then, put in the branch and caterpillar (we must have watered it somehow), and watch them make the crysallis (so pretty), and then hatch. Then we'd release each butterfly as soon as its wings were filled out and working. (If this has peaked anyone's interest, as it revived mine, there are some cool videos on this site.) I don't think I wrote about any of that, really. I'll have to see if I've still got it somewhere. But each day it got easier and easier to write about things, and I discovered that I enjoyed it. I've kept a journal ever since.

Bearclau says she wants her journals to be part of her legacy. I actually don't want people to find my journal because I put things in there I don't want other people to know. But it's absolutely therapeutic for me to write in (sometimes furiously, sometimes sadly, rarely happily, though, because I don't feel the need then as much). I have my journal nearby all the time. It goes on trips with me, hangs out by my bedside at night in case I feel like writing before bed. I like to know it's available if I have something strike me, or even sometimes if I'm bored. I'm lucky enough to have a husband who knows it's something I need to do, and he doesn't get nosy or suspicious. Maybe because I'm happier after I've done some writing!

There's something about the physical act of writing that I love. With the computer, I can type almost as fast as I can think. And I can move it around later so it flows better (that's the English major in me). But feeling the pen move against the paper, having the words flow out and not thinking about them so much is often better for my therapy. I don't censor myself as much. Some people draw in their journals. I'm not that kind of journalist. I prefer to keep that to my sketchbook (which so far I'm not good at using as much as I should). I like to concentrate on the words.

I do enjoy periodically going back and reading some of my old journals. Looking at what notebook I used for that period in my life. Some are nice, with lots of colors of ink I've used, or reflect a theme in my life (a retro Brooklyn scene for when I first moved to Brooklyn, for example). Some are plain school spiral-bound notebooks with stickers or drawings on them. I have a stash of journals I've picked up randomly (I prefer spiral bound, but if I like the design I'll make an exception). It's always exciting to pick the new journal once the old one's full. I love looking at my style of writing. I can tell if I was pissed off or tired or happy just from my handwriting. And laughing at how things seemed so horrible then, and now seem so childish. Well, I was a child, they were traumatic!
Some of my most eloquent writing has come out of my journals - often around relationships, like Bearclau was saying. I took a passage about a new relationship (which happened to end up being my husband) and emailed it to my best friend (not common practice, mind you!). She emailed it back to me a few months ago. 9 years after I had written it, and the prose still held true. I was surprised by how tender and sweet it was, even though I'm the one who wrote it. Those entries I love going back to.

And then there's the question of this blog you're reading. I resisted the idea of a personal blog for a long time. But after following a few friends online, I realized that there was a lot one can share with the world that doesn't have to give away all your personal secrets and emotions. Those things I reserve for the journal. My blog is still my thoughts and still sincere and personal. But everything that gets put up here is with the knowledge that anyone can read it. I'm not as nervous about strangers. It's more difficult if there are people you know that you really wouldn't want to share something about. (For right now, though, my readership is so low that I don't worry about it so much - it's always in the back of my head, though.) I like that I can share pictures and links, and a lot of times I post things that I wouldn't write about in my journal.

The book sounds interesting. I hope it encourages people to start or continue their writing. Not only do I think it's therapeutic, but in this day and age of text messages and abbreviating, shortening, and basically butchering the English language, it would be nice to see people writing again. Even if it's on the computer (although I still think there's just something about the tactile sensation of doing it with real paper and ink). How many people focus on having nice handwriting anymore? That's a whole different can of worms I won't go into now.

Thanks for sharing, Clau! (See why this wouldn't fit on your comments page?!)

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