I tuned in to my local radio station recently at a point where one of the presenters was reading a passage from his teenage diary, discovered as he was preparing to move back into his parent’s house. Over the following days, callers and other presenters started sharing their own musings as COVID-19 inspired clean-ups unearthed teenage angst scrawled in what were once private chronicles.
I recall from my own childhood a small diary with hot pink, puffy plastic cover guarding thin, blue-lined, pages that would tear at the very thought of an overly-sharp pencil, let alone withstand the assault of the hard eraser attached to its extremity. Best of all, however, was a strap and latch with a small lock and a tiny key, which held the promise of secret-keeping. Even at that age, I wasn’t sure what to write about – certainly not dramatic tales of love and loss, which was probably a good thing given that, if you prised hard enough (as my older sister clearly figured out) the lock would pop open rendering my key guarding futile. She was no doubt disappointed by my take on the family trip to Dubbo.
In my late 20’s I kept a travel journal during a 4WD trek around Australia. I loved having a purpose during an otherwise unstructured life of exploration. This journal was an A4, brown suede leather-bound number with high quality, blank, white pages. So many pages, so much promise. I vowed to write in it every day. I still wasn’t sure what I was going to write about but it was much easier for me to narrate the journey than to spill my emotions onto the page. The first quarter of that journal is written in overly large handwriting, the type you might use on a card that you are sending to a distant relative. By the end of the journal, the size of my handwriting represents that of a wartime lover sending letters on rationed paper. Somewhere along the line, I hit my stride.
I love the concept of journaling and in recent times have been encouraged by friends/counsellors/Instagram to start scribing my feelings out of my head and onto a page. I immediately visualise myself with clear space, a lovely brewed almond chai, a .04 Artline pen (black – terrible writing pens, mind you) and a lovely, A5 worn-look, brown leather, fifty dollar, 150gsm silky, blank paged Moleskine journal.
Such promise! The potential of a blank page. So superficial. It strikes me that I know nothing about journaling. The travel journal that I kept was always written for an audience. Not that I’ve shared it with anyone in its entirety, but I’ve certainly read passages out to family and friends and I know that I wrote it with the judgement or praise of others in mind.
I know I’ve missed the point so I turned to my friends to gain some insight into why they journal. One friend described her preferred medium (“I hate Moleskine’s”) and her lack of commitment after many promising starts. Another told me that she journals to consolidate ideas and inspiration that she has gathered from sources ranging from reading, yoga and even from her workplace. And then I hear back from another friend who takes me to the heart of it. “I’m not a writer, I’m a journaler”, she tells me before she begins.
This friend relays how journaling is her gateway to ‘the zone’. A place where she can tune out and allow the alpha brainwaves to kick in. She records the date, moon phase and which day of her menstrual cycle she’s on. I nod my head at this stage because I know how much of an impact a woman’s cycle can have on her perception of self.
My friend goes on to tell me that as she writes her thinking brain switches off and the words just flow. She poses questions, and finds answers; unravels ideas and beliefs and finds the hidden gems of wisdom buried there. I listen as she tells me that her handwriting becomes less legible as she goes on but it doesn’t matter because the thought of going back and re-reading any of her entries makes her shudder. In the moment, her revelations are profound and helpful but on reflection, cringeworthy. I’m shocked (by my slow lightbulb moment) to hear that she burns or buries old journals once they are full, sparing only a page or two that contain something that might warrant revisiting.
The conclusion was always going to be that there is no right or wrong way to journal. It’s a custom fit but that doesn’t mean we can’t borrow a concept and see if it fits – the filling will always be unique. It’s fitting to end this post with a quote from my dear journaling friend, a woman who may well be the one to inspire me to finally take a ballpoint pen to one of my many blank Moleskines. “Journaling is my way of shifting the mental fog and finding clarity, in the same way, a long hot shower or a run can. It’s the process as much as the outcome that keeps calling me back.”