Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Journal Secrets

In today's all-digital, all-public-all-the-time age I think it's becoming more important than ever to keep some things hand-written and personal. Yes, this is yet another Why Aren't You Journaling? nag post. I know, it's not easy, and it generally requires you to write more than 140 characters, and it's a pain to upload to your Tumblr blog or Twitter thing or Facebook page. But with a little time and creativity you may discover it can be just as much fun as all the electronica.

This is a pic of the journal I'm using this month for my personal chronicles, and we'll take a couple peeks inside so I can show you what I put in it and how it helps keep me motivated and actively involved in learning, moving forward and feeling gratitude for my many blessings.

One reason I think more people don't journal is that they think they'll have nothing to say, or they dread all those blank pages, or they believe they'll end up whining and writing bad poetry the way they did in high school. Because a paper journal is probably now the last place you can bitch about anything without someone looking over your shoulder or using it to hatchet-job you online, it is tempting to make it a depository for all the negative, depressing things that happen. Now imagine that's all that survives you (personal journals are almost universally cherished once they get old enough), and someday your great-great granddaughter opens your old journal to find out what kind of person you were. Are they going to think you were the interesting person you are, or an endless complainer who never appreciated any of the good in life?

Personal struggles are standard journal fodder, but so are the little triumphs and accomplishments we manage, too. For this journal page I added a list from the magnetic notepad on my fridge, which I use to track my progress with walking each week. While history may not care how often I walked every day, it's important for me to know so I can stick to my goals, tally it up and feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the week so that I'll be motivated to keep doing it. I like making and looking at lists that show what I'm doing, too, because they're a good barometer of how healthy I'm living. I'm now competing with myself to do a little more walking; I would love to work my way up to walking 50 miles every week (if that sounds like a lot, imagine Charles Dickens, who reportedly walked at least 20 miles a day.) When you get older motivating yourself to be active becomes more of a challenge, so setting goals and sticking to them helps boot me out the door every morning, too.

If exercise isn't an issue for you to journal about, pick something that is. For example, my friend Jill was trying to clean out her spare room, which was pretty cluttered with stuff, and making little progress. I suggested she start taking a picture of the room every time she worked on it and put the pic in her journal, along with a list of what she got out of the room and what she did with it. After a week of doing that she told me it did the trick, and she had the room cleaned out completely (this after months of being unable to make a dent in it.) She also tucked the receipts she got for donating some of the excess into her journal. Now next year come tax time she'll be able to detail exactly what she donated to Goodwill, and have the pictures to prove it, all by raiding her journal.

Here's something you may not know about me: I save every single card, note or letter my family and friends give or send to me in the mail by adding them to my journals. Here's a lovely card I received from a wonderful reader of mine that left me a little teary-eyed -- and yes, I do keep everything my colleagues and readers write to me, too. I even have a special journal just for editor correspondence. Occasionally, when I feel strongly about an issue, I write to very famous and powerful people, and sometimes they write back as well; among the more famous letters I've stored in my journals is one from then-President Bill Clinton about health care for the elderly, and a note from the CEO of Waste Management about the fair treatment of working-class people.

You may not think your correspondence is worthy of saving in a journal. I'm sure Jane Austen's friends might have thought that. Women of her time were mostly regarded and treated like room decorations, and I doubt anyone thought the little stories she scribbled would go on to become some of the most beloved classics in romantic literature. Or Emily Dickinson's few friends. Sure, she was a crazy lady who dressed in white and never left the house . . . and after her death would become one of the most admired and respected poets of all time. Almost all of what we know about Vincent Van Gogh's state of mind comes from the 874 letters that survived him. Even if you and all the people you correspond with never become famous, you still have value to history. You know how they say "In a hundred years, what will it matter?" Maybe in a couple hundred years all the electronica will be erased by some disaster, and your humble little journal may contain the only record to survive and show your time as it really was, ala Pepys.

Future fame as a dead celeb or posthumous contributor to history is definitely a glamorous reason to journal, but perhaps not as important as what has personal meaning for you. You all know one of the great joys in my life is quilting. I talk about it occasionally online, but where I really explore it and work on it and think about it is in my personal journals. I keep a quilt diary to record everything I make, but I also use my daily journals to play with design ideas, work out problems, figure out failures, celebrate milestones and pretty much quilt-dream whenever I like. This is something that makes me happy, allows me to channel my energy into artistic creation, and keeps me connected to some of the happiest aspects in my creative life.

This is a pic of some lovely quilted blocks and a huge, generous collection of fabrics that a dear friend sent to me. The colors and patterns are just amazing, and right now in my journal I' working out what to do with all of it. I'm sketching and planning and arranging little swatches on the pages, and having so much fun. Now that said, I don't think any of my quilts will be historically important; I'm not that skilled. I leave the history-making stuff to my more talented sisters. What will be important is what quilting taught me, how it made my life more colorful and fun and content. Those passages in my journals may inspire someone else someday to give it a try. I hope they do, and in passing along that gift I hope it enriches their life as much as it has mine.

Bottom line, whatever secrets (or non-secrets) you choose to put in your journal, the chronicle of your life is something only you can create. A journal is in every way a book of your life, and who better to write it than you?


  1. I have been keeping journals since high school (now I'm 57). Sometimes on, sometimes off. And it is interesting to see how my journaling has changed over the years, including more and more 'stuff' in them and becoming more of a record of my life. Wouldn't leave home with it!

  2. That journal is beautiful in itself, but I wonder why the pictures are so much larger in the feed to my reader than here. Odd that...

    I'm sporadic at best when I journal. I might go months with nothing, then weeks where I write like mad, every little thing gets put to paper. Then I stop again and it's another huge block of time before I pick up pen and paper and try once more. I sometimes wonder after I'm gone, will my girls just think I was nuts with what I write...


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