Saturday, April 16, 2011


Journalling is a positive past time.  It can serve many purposes.  Journalling is 'writing'.  For those who wish to excell in the art of 'writing' , journalling is an immensely valuable tool.  Just the act of daily writing improves the ability to communicate with the written word. It further assists in organizing and expressing thoughts on paper or screen.  It is a means of keeping track of one's life as well.  It allows for review at some time in the future of what one was thinking and doing in time past.  Thereby journalling serves as a personal history. it's can be a history of one's writing and thinking but it can also be a place where one can keep track of any aspect of one's life that interests them.
I began journalling as child.  My mother, a journalist herself, in the little 'j' as well as the big 'j' sense, encouraged me.  My brother was more one to keep accounts in his journal and as a young man I remember him having 'files'.  In a way he was more of a 'scrapbooker' in that sense.  I wrote.  At first I wrote whatever came to mind.  This is not so easy as it might seem.  All of us are encouraged to lesser or greater degree to censor our thoughts.  This is normal for growing up. There are behaviours which are private and public.  Social education of childlren involves teaching these principles. That said, adults censor as well, especially where there is no privacy as in police states or among people who have little respect for each other.
Julia Cameron, who wrote Artist's Way, the most remarkable tool for any form of creaitivity, recommended writing 'Morning Pages'.  She encouraged artists each morning to pour out without censorship whatever came to mind.  She describes herself as having creativity that sort of spurtied like the bleeding of an artery till she gained control over the on and off switch of her mind thereby letting creativity flow more freely and evenly.  Thanks to her 'morning pages', she no longer had to beg her muse to serve her but that exercise unleashed a fountain of youth within so that she could create as children so naturally do before they learn too well to censor themselves.
Natalie Goldberg, the world reknown teacher of creative writing, author of "Writing Down the Bone", refined the process of journalling for a writer by suggesting, quite gently really, and often indirectly, themes that could expand a writer's consciousness and direct the flow of creativity.
All of the great and famous keep journals or diarys of their activities.  Often we are given 'to do' lists in our work.  Executive agendas are little more than fancy 'to do' lists with all their appointments and phone calls, meetings and letters laid out.  Individually just keeping  one's personal "to do lists" in journals is an exciting past time.  When I began wilderness camping in my teens I wrote down lists of things to take into the back woods hiking or canoeing. Today I could probably outfit an expedition mentally but then I was so concerned about what I would forget that I made lists each time I set out. Reading these years later is fascinating as they chart what I found important inexperienced and what I found important with increasing experience.  When I outfitted a sailboat for an ocean expedition I kept 'to do lists' again, daily crossing off the items completed, if only to show me that the almost never ending pile of things to do was actually slowly and meticulously being done.
I am thankful that like my brother I used my journal as an accounting tool as well as a writing tool.  Today I have a record of my expenses for bicycling across Europe in 1971.  That's 40 years ago.  We study the history of nations yet our own history is no different.  Looking back at that journal I feel like an archeologist digging up the shards of pots of my past and can see what was important to a 20 year old traveller.  The buying power of money then and the cost of living then were certainly different than they are today.
I've always journalled poetry and anecdotes.  Canadian poet Raymond Souster captured my heart in my teens. His poetry was often just observations, little snippets about the life he viewed around him.  Leonard Cohen's last book of poetry, the thorough treat, A Book of Longing, has many such observations.  In a way such poems are like mental snapshots in writing.  I've enjoyed that I have kept such a record if only to experience the sweet nostalgia that leaps back to mind when I read my own description or short story about a time and event now past.  The journal is in this way an album of the mind.
I have journalled dreams and watched how they have unfolded.  Dreams are remembered when one keeps a pen and book by the side of the bed with the intention of writing down what one remembers first thing on waking.  Reading these later there's profound insights to be gained by seeing what themes persist and which are replaced.
I've written my waking dreams as well.  Sometimes I've just listed them as hopes and fears.  Years later I'm equally surprised at how many of my 'impossible dreams' came true and how few of the fears.  It's a fascinating walk to take in one's life.
Journal's aren't just creative and education. They have a legal dimension as well.  I once hired a woman who tragically turned out to be a sociopath.  I had to phone the police to report her theft and destruction of property.  Nothing like a good offence for a defence.  She retaliated, being much more versed in law and criminal behaviour than I, by falsely accusing me of all manner of sexual impropriety. She invented dates and places in which I was mutilating children and having orgies with giraffes.  Everything she wrote was utterly preposterous as a dozen witnesses reported. The times however were even sicker and more perverse than  she  was so like all men in those days, I was  guilty till proven innoscence. Thanks to my journal i had records of where I was.  It was clearly impossible for me to be where she said I was. The witnesses despite being women CEO's and ministers were disregarded but the written words with dates were not.  I was thankful of my journal then and realized how in this society of 'false accusation' and 'celebration of deceit' the journal served as a record for the honest and true.  Obviously criminals would fare poorly if they kept their journals.
Retrospective falsification is another reason for journalling. Memory is fallible for the vast majority and inevitable for all. . The courts are a grand lie based on ideas of the medieval ages. Studies of the poor memories at crime sights abound despite  fairytale crime novels and television. The degradation and effect of events on memories beyond 6 months make any witnesses irrelevant in courts years gone by.    The idiot savant may have a memory for a kind of information but information relative to one's own life changes with emotions and new experience.  I was first made aware of this as a young man. Courting an early girlfriend, enamoured of her deep and sensual eyes, the promise of her lithe body, I bragged about my days as a hockey player.  My father, to my great embarrassment pulled out the 9mm movies he'd made of us as teenagers.  There I was skating but not at all as my mind's eye perceived me.  I pretty well needed the stick to stay upright. Because I was a provincial champion athlete at the time I was singing my own praises to this peach of a girl, I had somehow forgotten that my hockey exploits were clearly not equivalent to the standards of the National Hockey League.  As kids we were the best in our neighbourhood and year but a far cry from what television depicted as the world standard.  When I competed internationally I had a much better sense of my 'true' size relative to the august stage than I'd had when I was really just a big fish in a little pond.
Journalling helped me to see myself with greater insight and know the limits of memory.  After a divorce I actually thought my ex wife couldn't have been that beautiful when I met her. She was and remains a morning star with regards to beauty but my hurt feelings coloured my memory of the past.  I had 'selective memory loss' and only saw the past through the lens of my depression.  Years later I was able to laugh at my observations being so wrong regarding not just her looks but her character.  She was clearly not an evil person and I wasn't the utter failure I felt myself to be. Over time I came to see that we were kids.  Often I meet people who by their statements and behaviour today clearly lack the insights that history of self can give one. I find my journal has aided me in the development of tolerance for myself and others.
When myself self esteem is low and I feel I've really done nothing with my life I can look back at the actual chronicles of all the silly achievements which can so easily be forgotten. My brother has a collection of his sports statues gathering dust in his basement.  I imagine seeing them on the lonely sad days we all share, can be as good a reminder of where we've been.  In ocean navigation one sometimes looks along the back trail to chart the future trajectory.   My journal serves for me in this.  I can see too where I was going in circles and some of the detours I took along the way.
I'm forever thankful to my mother who died at the age of 89 for making me a blanket and sewing on the badges of my early years. There to be remembered are the proficiency badges of cubs and scouts.  Without that blanket I'd never have known or remembered that I once cooked meals for the family to get a proficiency badge in cooking.  It's not the sort of thing one remembers and yet today I'm a gourmet chef specializing in preparation of wild game and the making of soups and stews.  My mother who loved to sew, knit and crochet kept a journal of her letters but she also kept a journal of her family in her quilts and the work of her hands.  I have the last socks she made me and one day hope to frame them.
I encourage students struggling at school to journal because so much of academia is 'writing' and 'remembering' .Daily journalling is both an exercise in writing and remembering. I have often set aside a half an hour at the end of a day or a half an hour in the morning to record my thoughts about that day or the day before.  That's where I keep the anecdotes and poems and remember the special events of a day that stand out. Like yesterday having lunch with a friend and talking about work and mortgages laughing as we remembered years before another lunch when we worried about paying the rent.  Crosswords may be an exercise in memory for obscure words but the journal is a memory for ideas and conversations.  In the anecdote I record what I remember a friend as saying or what I said or even what was said in the news that day.  For students this is the very exercise that the process of education is teaching. Can you hear what is actually being said, can you record what is being said or what you are reading, can you understand it and ideally can you build on it.
I hear people saying they are afraid that others will find their journals.  Those are the ones who actually use their journals as a study in truth recording their guilt and shame their thoughts about friends and family.  They say they are afraid that others will find out what they truly believe.  That's the world we live in where ignorant politicians,  petty beaurocrats, corrupt judges and rabid generals play their cards close to their chest and keep their poker faces while incurring heart disease and hypertension. Wikileaks and the limits of secrecy are a lesson to those who live in that 'paranoid' way.  Everything can and will be used against you. Good deeds always will result in jealousy and envy.  This is not a planet of adults and so many of those who look grown up and hold positions of power are seriously stunted personally and emotionally.  Transparency is an alternative approach to the threat of false accusations and terrible disclosures.  Adolescents have been embarrassed to have their journal discovered with the lines "I love Jake".  We can collectively cave to those who would not respect or understand the 'fifth amendment' of America which dates back to cornerstone of democracy, the Magna Carta of England. The sociopath 'hides' his evil and denies it till the very moment he is caught 'red handed'.  Red handed probably refers to the truth that was told when in the past hot coal was placed in the hands of accusers to ascertain if they told the truth. Those were the days when 'anonymous reporting of crime' the backbone of police states and totalitarianism was frowned on.  Today we live in an age where 'whistleblowers' are literally crucifed while those who sought to conceal and discredit are protected by a long past era of communication and association.
Journalling allows me to one day look back at that paragraph I just wrote. I wonder now if my views on the state will  change with greater age and maturity. I know my father seemed to have grown smarter in my twenties to when I was in my teens.  .  A friend believes she remembers truly what her views of yesterday were though all those who knew her remember that she was quite a different girl than the lady she is today.  An anecdote about Churchhill and a famed lady dinner companion goes with her saying, "Churchill you are drunk".  Churchill responds, "Yes, I am drunk, but in the morning I will be sober. You on the other hand are ugly and in the morning you will still be ugly".  Were it not for the history of friendship and repartee between these two debaters one would think Churchill referred to her character when indeed he was only being a politician winning his point by whatever means.
We are all like this and our journals can teach us so much about ourselves.  They can educate and improve our thinking, writing and conversation.  They can help keep track of the past and allow us to see the important patterns that will help us take a more direct path to where we would most wish to go.
These days I record prayers in my journal.  I watch as the prayer for a porche move on to prayers for family, friends and work, to prayers for the well being of my enemies who are God's creation just as I am. Finally I pray, Thy Will Be Done.   In many ways my journal has transitioned into a blog. The blog for many is this global celebration of journalling.  Collectively we are becoming comfortable with the diversity and inclusivity of our collective humanity.
Journalling we can be more aware of the insults of courts, media and individuals who take a phrase or behaviour out of context.   Normal people make mistakes.  Everyone is not perfect, especially those in authority as evidenced by the war and poverty and sickness they could change if they were not so self centered , self absorbed or plain incompetent. Journalling we can see the traits within ourselves we so dislike or like in others.  Journalling we can express ourselves and hope through self expression to find those who are sympatico if not with all the whole uniqueness of each other ,those parts that count and bring meaning to our lives.    Journalling we can celebrate our differences as much as our similiarities. Journalling we can know joy.
Begin a journal.  Start one today.  If you drift away wander back and continue from where you left off or with the new day.  Don't beat yourself up about the way you embrace and release the process of journalling. Just try it and try to persist in this.  If your have children imagine how much you would have enjoyed your parents bequeathing their inner thoughts, their ambitions, the events of their days.  Men and women have always recorded the acts and behavior of great nations. The journal of St. Augustine and Marcus Aurelius are fine reading indeed.  But there's something as exciting about the kid down the street if he or she is truly honest and reflective about their experience of life. Life is God and God is life. The journal is a personal record of this encounter.


Heid said...

I love the fact that your mom encouraged journaling! Thank you for covering this topic. As an English teacher, I tried to encourage my students to write with mixed results.

My blog is helped daily by my journals and Wordpress even has a theme that looks like a leather-bound diary. I've been able to quote what I was thinking at various stages of becoming an alcoholic and recovering from the resulting disease. Again, thanks.

haykind said...

Great to hear from you Heid. At times I've looked back on my journal in my own journey and found it more honest than my memory.