“Keep a diary and someday it’ll keep you.” Mae West, Every Day’s A Holiday, 1937
I’ve been keeping a journal since the second grade. Before anyone gets impressed, journaling was required by every teacher between second and eighth grade. We were meant to jot down a few thoughts at the beginning of the day or class period, primarily to practice our writing. Fortunately, I was convinced from an early age that I was a very important historical figure and so saved nearly every piece of paper with so much as a signature. I have my barely legible second and seventh grade journals, filled with angst and spelling errors, in my Hollywood apartment. My high school and college journals, slightly more legible with less angst and more pornographic sketches, remain tucked away in my parents’ home. They are the only things I’ve forbidden my mother from throwing away.
A journal allows the writer to know themselves. Because I viewed my journals as historical documents, I tried to be as honest about my emotions as possible. There are so few places in the world you can be 100% honest, which is taxing but probably for the best. In the days of teachers checking my progress, that honesty got me in trouble but I’m so glad it did. Not just because the fallout was recorded in that same journal but because now, I know what made me angry 16 years ago. I know what I was reading and watching, what I was writing, what gave me joy, the people I loved and the people I loathed. I can open up a page, read a date and say “I’ve been dealing with this for years and here is what I’ve learned and how I changed.”
In addition to keeping record of the past, journaling allows me to work through the present, the thoughts and feelings that I barely understand myself. In November of 2017, I started tracking my activity, along with how meaningful and pleasurable I found said activity. By keeping up with this, I learned what activities made me happy, what activities caused me stress and what triggered my Depression. Depression lies. It tells me that I am useless, lazy and I am incapable of happiness. Thanks to my journals, I have empirical evidence of the opposite. I can use this evidence to combat the symptoms of mental illness and react before my triggers consume me.
With so many benefits reaped, is it any wonder that I have very specific journal tastes? In the early days, I used any notebook that crossed my path, usually with the stipulation that it should be green. In my tweens, I liked smaller options that I could carry in my pocket, in case of sudden feelings. Now I prefer large sketch books. Lined paper is no good for doodling and, if I’m honest, my handwriting does not lend itself to rigidity. Ideally, my journals are black hard covers, though in 2016 I bought a purple one on sale. Obviously, the more pages the better. I intend to start ordering my preferred brand in bulk, as the most recent experience was way too stressful. I called ahead to two separate stores to see if they had what I wanted. The second claimed to have multiple in stock, but I had to wait half an hour in store while they checked the back, only to discover an error in their system. I ended up purchasing a soft cover sketch book but it’s more important to have a journal than the perfect journal.
If you currently journal, keep at it. If you don’t, why not? A few words a day, a few words a week are all that’s required to make a difference. Extend yourself beyond your own mind and get to know yourself through the page.