Back in October I mentioned that my daughter, her best friend and I had started a group writing project involving Keri Smith's Wreck This Journal. My goals were to show the girls that journals and diaries don't have to be boring, and to try out a little creative destruction myself.
To give you some perspective, here is a typical entry in one of my own journals. I write about my family, friends, books, music, art, world events, my job, and all the ordinary (and probably boring to anyone else) things that go to make up a life. After getting into art journaling a few years back, I also regularly paint or sketch something and then write a short passage about it or some topic that relates to it.
Keri Smith's journal demanded a different approach: a destructive and messy one. Before I go into details, I think overall this was a good exercise for me, as I am kind of a nitpicky person about cleanliness. Okay, my bathrooms sparkle, you can eat off practically any surface in my house, and I can produce three different kinds of hand sanitizer at any given moment (and my guy is just as bad, and even cleans the bathrooms for me; another reason I adore him.)
Every other page in Wreck This Journal listed instructions of what to do on that page or to the page, i.e. "drip something here (ink, paint, tea) close the book to make a print" and "tear this page out, put it in your pocket, put it through the wash, stick it back in." I dutifully followed the instructions, going so far as to spend a half hour reconstructing the page my washing machine turned into mush.
As I progressed through the journal, I used the blank pages for daily entries, spaces for photos and so forth, as I would any journal. But then I started reaching instructions I truly didn't want to follow, like licking pages, chewing on pages and smearing pages with things bacteria and mold love, like candy, food, dirt etc. I love books, but I simply don't put my mouth or food on them; if that makes me uptight so be it.
Because the author noted that the instructions were open to my personal interpretation, I tried to get away with some creative substitutions. Instead of using one page as my dinner napkin, I taped one of my dried paint rags to it (art is soul food, right?) My favorite page -- "Make a mess, clean it up" -- I was able to interpret with a visual parody (later in the journal Keri instructed me to give it away, which I did.)
I did things I've never done with journals, though, lots of them. I sewed a page, picked up the journal with my feet, played golf with a page, slept with the journal under my pillow (now there's something I didn't do even when I was a teenager) and covered two pages with office supplies. I also added bird feathers I found in the yard (safely and sanitarily encased & sealed under clear packing tape) and made a drawing using my own hair.
Nine times out of ten it was fun, and the few times I did draw the line at following the instructions exactly I made a creative substitution or wrote down why I decided not to follow them. Some, like jumping up and down on the journal, were not physically possible for me (the bad knee does not permit jumping.) Mainly I baulked at doing anything that would make the journal unpleasant or hazardous for someone to handle.
Toward the end of finishing the journal my aversions made a light bulb go off. I've always believed that I write my private journals for myself, but maybe subconsciously I want them to be read by someone else someday. After thirty-six years of keeping a daily journal, you'd think I'd have realized that, but honestly I hadn't.
As with altering books into art, I don't think creative journal destruction is my thing. Respect and love for books is deeply ingrained in my personality; I winced every time I had to deface or destroy a page. But this was a fun project, and it opened my eyes to my own journaling habits. Despite my failure to get oral with certain pages, I think Keri Smith helped me loosen up a bit, too. Any time you can expand your horizons as a writer or an artist, you get a chance to increase your range. I definitely will be doing some new things with future journals.
Guided journals often prompt us to vent our worries and explore our imaginations, but Keri Smith invites us to rethink our attitudes toward the journal itself. Through her zany instructions she reminds us that a journal can be more than a thought depository or a sketch book; it can become a golf ball, a pull-toy, a bulls-eye, and just about anything else we want to play with.
As for the girls, they've both have told me that Wreck This Journal is the most fun they've every had with any book. I think it is a terrific gift for adults as well as kids ages 10 and up (younger are okay, too, but should probably be supervised by an adult while following instructions involving glue or other substances that can deface and/or stain more than the journal.)