Out of the Well recently posed a question to readers: What is the value of keeping a journal?
The purpose of my journal has changed with almost every phase of my life. My earliest journal existed because diary-style fiction was popular for young girls at the time. An earlier version of myself fantasized about falling into some grand adventure and leaving behind a marvelous journal detailing the excitement for posterity (though I certainly could not have used that word at the time).
As an early teen, my journal existed to hold my loneliness. Friends weren’t a common commodity for the awkward girl who walked around with her head down and arms crossed all the time, but a journal would listen to her ever-so important rants, her questions about boys and fantasies about living a fairy-tale.
In high school, I journaled for release. I could complain and say all of the horrible, scared, mean things that ever crept through my mind, just to get them out and away. My fear of someone getting a hold of that side of me was so strong that I carried it everywhere – class to class, room to room. Though it contained some happy memories, that journal existed to help me deal with some of the anger and confusion that comes naturally at that age.
Its purpose once again changed with the next phase of my education. The college journal held not only personal words, but it existed as a creative outlet as well. Until then, I had always kept creative writing in separate notebooks, but combining the two had a drastic impact on my writing. I like to think that my personal recollections became more creative, and my writing more personal.
Now that I’ve settled into life and a career, my journal has become the constant that it was in high school again. It’s gone from the bulky thing sitting on top of my stack of textbooks to a sleek notebook kept inside my purse. It lets me hide away the grievances that I’m not yet ready to share. It’s a record of my life and relationships, holding everything from details about my wedding day to last week’s grocery list.
Through those phases of life, and all the phases to come, I do not think my journal was ever a complete reflection of myself, but it’s certainly been more than words and poor drawings. Rather, the journal’s purpose has been to house whatever I’ve needed to process or remember, the very best, and very worst of me. I still have them all.
Well, except one. One journal that went into a fire 3 years ago. I never worried I’d regret it, and I still do not. So often, my journal existed as therapy, and in that one case, I went through something bad enough that it was therapeutic to see the memories turn to flames. It’s not something I would ever recommend to anyone else, and this isn’t the time to explain what happened to cause it. What’s worth noting is that while I value every journal I’ve written and enjoy flipping through their pages on occasion, some are still not pleasant to read. I guess that’s what I meant by the worst of me. It’s not just my best and worst traits held in those books, but the best and worst experiences as well.
Okay, and some really bad drawings.
Because pictures are always better…
A friend for my early teenage self
Below is a picture of my journal from sometime in middle school. I have no idea what this entry was about, but in case you were wondering, I still cannot do the Electric Slide.
A place to process
I remember being young and thinking it’d be really awesome and dramatic if it looked like there were tear stains on a diary page. Since I couldn’t muster up any tears, I sprinkled the page with water. I remember thinking about that, and that tear stains were not, in fact, awesome and cool, when I wrote the entry below and found myself crying through it. Confession: when I flipped through my old journal and spotted this picture, I started to tear up. I’m not sure of a better way to define the value of journaling than those tears.
This was high school. Notice the handwriting didn’t improve at all since the picture above…
And a for happy thoughts as well
Another high school (maybe early college? I should have looked at the date) picture, that I took entirely because I saw the Avatar: The Last Airbender flip-book stickers. If you decide to read the text, I’ve got a spoiler for you: I married someone else. It was nice seeing that bit of happiness from my past though.
A pile of history that’s just for me.
Finally, a picture of the mess I made of my middle school to high school journals while going through them the other night. There are plenty more. The one on the bottom left is actually fiction. I wrote it for a project in my 8th grade English class, and applied my superior knowledge of writing diary fiction that I’d learned at age 9. I’ve never gotten rid of it because of all the time I took sewing the darn thing together.