You could ask yourself the question of whether it really is that important to write a journal. Especially nowadays when you can keep an ongoing collection of words and images and videos of your everyday life via social media sources such as Facebook, Instagram, Vine and other. If writing a journal is just tantamount to keeping track of what happened to you on a weekly or daily basis, then I suppose it isn’t that necessary, or important, not with all the other mediums we now have at our fingertips. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, mainly after reading the new Bridget Jones installment (Mad About the Boy – and yes, Helen Fielding hasn’t lost any of her talent or wit… I laughed and cried loudly all the way through it); and then randomly watching a movie called Stuck In Love, where a writer father makes his two kids write in their journals on a regular basis, as a way to train them to record their experiences and to be passionate about writing, just as he is. Both very different forms of journal writing (daily updates on the mundane activities of life with the occasional spurt of change, seemingly boring in theory but actually incredibly heartwarming and endearing; a collection of experiences, thoughts, poems and drawings created from a happening, a word, an encounter or just a thought in a day), but both technically a way to collect the threads of a life in writing.
And in the end a journal is private, not meant to be shared with anyone. Which makes it still very important in my mind and heart – there are so many things that I want to express, but that I don’t want to post on Facebook, or even on my blog for that matter.
All of this got me thinking about my own journal writing. However inconsistent in quantity my own writing has been over the years, I have always kept some type of journal, since the age of 10 when I was given my first diary as a Christmas present. I still have every journal that I have kept over the years. Sometimes a book full of the day to day activities at school and the boys I was in love with, sometimes a tremendously deep and sad recount of feelings and pain, sometimes an image of happiness, surrounded by pictures and clippings from newspapers or others. Here and there a poem, written on the spur of the moment and recorded that day, to be rediscovered years later and added to a collection of poems that I am trying to put together. I started to reprimand myself the other day for not keeping a “proper” journal anymore, when I realised that that is not true – I actually have several. They are just not the “traditional” forms of journals that I kept all these years. One is more of a “picture” journal, where you can find photos, magazine clippings, words, photos, random song lyrics, thoughts, movie stubs, concert tickets, post cards… The other is a collection of essays and short stories that I have been adding to a folder amidst other folders on my laptop for the past couple of years, all stories involving places and people in my life, all essays reciting certain experiences that I felt the need to record, all with the idea of publishing together one day. Now I realize that I don’t think I could ever publish these essays as they are, not right now anyway, as they are so very personal and don’t just involve myself, but other people who are very much real and alive. Therefore this is just my way of continuing to create a journal.
I don’t know why I do. It’s not like I want anyone to read all of these journals. Not while I am still on this earth anyway! It’s not like they contain my best writing either (although I sometimes do feel surprised when I come across something I wrote at the age of 16 when I was so unsure of myself and of my writing, and wonder why I felt that way because I had a way with words then). Even when I am at my least inspired I have always been able to write in my journal and I also think that this was (and still is) my only way to really describe how I feel and say what I really want to say in words. An outlet for emotions that are often kept pent up inside. A musician will release these emotions in song; I do it in words on paper, and on screen, the only difference being that I don’t want them to be seen. But would it be that bad if they were seen? Music has always helped me in good times and bad times and very, very bad times, so maybe my words could help another soul? I know words have always helped me too, be they in fiction, non-fiction, newspaper articles that hit home, song lyrics, poems… Even other people’s journal entries. That said, I have never read anyone else’s personal diary (I am a huge stickler for privacy and would be the last person to go through anyone’s phone, journal, email, personal items, even if I feared the worst). I have only read published journals. From the darkest thoughts flowing from Sylvia Plath’s mind through her pen; a young teenager’s recount of being persecuted by the Nazis through Anne Frank’s eyes; trying to understand Kurt Cobain’s pain through his journal excerpts; to the fictional diaries of Adrian Mole that kept me laughing all the way through adolescence into adulthood (and still today). These journals (as well as others that I haven’t mentioned) are works of fiction in their own right, tales of moments in time that we may also have lived, or may be able to learn from, or just provide us with a historical reference to a time gone by, coloured with personal experience and thoughts.
Some of my favourite writers, Gerard de Nerval and Sylvia Plath for example, wrote their stories based on completely personal experiences. I find that I do this a lot too – although not all of the time, some of my stories are completely made up in my head, ideas conjured up by part of a conversation heard on the subway, or the sight of someone who grabs my attention on the street. Other stories are completely autobiographical and you just have to change the characters’ names to know who I am writing about, or what time in my life I am referring to. I’m sure I have many, many more stories I could pull from my journals, stories that will finally help me finish this novel I have been working on, on and off, for the past three years. Or maybe they are all best staying right where they are, ink on paper, for my child to read when he or she is old enough to read my deepest secrets (if there is ever an age for that!). All in all, maintaining a journal has always been something that I cherish, and I will probably continue to do so until I die, in whatever format I feel like. I do miss writing, fountain pen and lined paper, but I always find nowadays that I start writing and finish by typing on my laptop and end up with random notebooks full of half-written essays and stories, as well as notes for blog posts and lists of photo numbers that I want to add to collections on Flickr.
I just want to make sure I record everything I can… Not for anyone else, but just for myself. So that I can go back to my journals years later and remind myself that I have or haven’t changed. And just for that I think that it is incredibly important to maintain a journal – for oneself. A photo album in words.