In the beginning there was no particular plan. I cannot remember being inspired by any person or event to keep a journal. Although I tried keeping a diary in 1959, my oldest existing journal is from 1964. I was 16. It mentions school, friends, special events and horseback riding lessons. Nothing exceptional.
By 1968, when I had dreams of becoming a writer, my journal turned toward practice in creative writing. Important events were happening in the world which were ignored in my journal.
By the early 70s I was beginning to write about relationships and the entries had more depth and insight. I recorded a variety of experiences I had while working on a ranch. I was struggling to find my place in the world, my “work,” and to find the right man. There was much inner turmoil while the place I lived was a tempest of a social environment.
After 46 years of writing, the journal has become almost a living entity, a companion of sorts. My relationship to it has changed as I have changed. The focus of the journal has shifted as the stages of my life have progressed. Marriage and child-bearing are no longer even an idle thought. Companionship and grandparenting have taken the frontline. Relationships still predominate. The world is the tempest.
How Has My Relationship With My Journal Helped Me?…
The journal shows me who I was and who I am now and traces the paths I chose. Looking back is like seeing a photo of that gangly kid in the mismatched clothes sitting proudly on the new bike. Embarassing. Poignant.
Re-reading helps integrate my life into a whole. I love re-reading. The journal has provided a ”photograph” of my past, preserving both the best and the worst moments. To erase the sad times and the battles also erases the journey. To suck all the marrow from life you must savor the full spectrum of your experience. At the end you can say “I have suffered and come through”…lending meaning to the pain.
The act of writing has been an anchor during stressful experiences and a soothing meditation during the blues. If I feel shattered, the simple act of moving my pen across the page represents a going forward. Shaping an experience into words can organize my thinking and allow clarity and insights. It can vent and deflate anger.
The journal can be an escape (only if it replaces action), but it also allows one to live more deeply.
Has my journal really changed anything in my life? Yes, I think it has a couple of times. When I lived in a communal society – which evolved into a cult - my diary and letters allowed me to voice “negative thoughts” that were not allowed public expression and to retain a clandestine critical thinking that was necessary for my eventual escape.
A similar experience happened during a tragically wrong marriage when I was fooled into thinking my husband was what he was not. The journal told the complete story and helped me survive this dark episode.
Has writing in a journal made me a better person? Can’t say. I have had the same moral code of honor for as long as I can remember.
Will it be of value to anyone else someday? Can’t say.
Mostly it has given me the opportunity to say “I have lived, and this is my story, and these are the characters and the events of my life.”