Should You Journal? My Life on Paper

In 1981, at the tender age of nine, I was given my first diary.

Here’s what it looked like:

My First Diary

Dear Diary

And check out this clever message written on the side:

Message on diary side.

It reads: You are a sucker if you believe this. Carolyn’s diary key is hidden in music box. Ha ha!

This, unedited for your amusement, is my first entry (Here and throughout, names are reduced to initials to protect the innocent.):

March 3, 1981

Dear Diary,

Today I had a nice surprise. This diary and an autograph book. I’m Carolyn Perpetua, 9, in 4th grade and have 2 brothers, P. & T. T.’s 20 and P.’s 23. My Dad is 56 and my Mum is 54. P.’s my Godfather also. Their all wonderful people. Today I had gym and made a dumb decision I’m going to try to correct. I enjoyed basketball practice.


Scintillating, huh?

I have two full brown bags of bound journals in our attic. My first burst of enthusiasm for journal-writing petered out in less than a year, only to be resumed in 1985 with a dedication that kept me penning daily entries for more than a decade.

Sometime around my engagement or marriage, the entries stopped. In the last nearly eighteen years since I’ve married, my journaling has been sporadic at best. Why did I stop writing when I married? A variety of reasons, I think. My life was not my own anymore. In a good way. Many of the reasons I had journaled had changed. Why pour my soul onto lined pages when I could share my joys and frustrations with my husband? Time became short between work, our home, and time spent with my spouse. My free time was spent in joint pursuits rather than a solitary experience like writing. (Not coincidentally, I read very little during the early years of marriage as well.)

As I picked up journal and pen over the last decade, my reasons for writing had changed. As a child and young adult, I kept a record of events, friendships, and crushes. As a married woman and mother, my journal became not only a sporadic record, but cheap therapy and a spiritual companion. Entries recorded less of what happened externally and more of what was happening internally.

There are many good reasons to journal, whether you consider yourself a writer or not. Michael Hyatt shared some good reasons, and there are some others at Lifehacker.

While there is a steady stream of external piety recorded, there was an internal rot that sickens me.

One of the questions becomes what to do with those filled journals. As I peruse them, I’m ashamed at some of what I’ve written. Yes, I was a child, but perhaps because these entries were unedited, unfiltered, adolescent emotion, what strikes me most is sin. While there is a steady stream of external piety recorded, there was an internal rot that sickens me. Nothing scandalous, really, but no less vile. (That is not to discount the externals. They may, in fact, have aided in converting the internal.)

My adult journals, while more mature, would play as the ramblings of an unbalanced housewife.

My adult journals, while more mature, would play as the ramblings of an unbalanced housewife. Because I wrote only when I needed to write, when I had  no one (I thought) with whom to share my frustrations, they portray a less-than-accurate picture of my marriage, highlighting the lowlights and ignoring the moments of contentment and joy.

What do to with them? Ultimately, I’d like to destroy them. For now, I ‘m keeping them around, hoping to mine some kind of wisdom – or at least humor – from them.

Thirty years ago today (Am I really old enough to write that?), I was confirmed. The following day, I participated in and won a local spelling bee. To illustrate the skewed perspective of a thirteen-year old, here’s an excerpt of what I recorded:

” . . . I went down to school around 7:00. Everyone – boys and girls – looked nice. B. & R. looked real sharp. Bishop McDonald had the Mass. He should be a comedian instead of a bishop. He didn’t ask any questions either. We saw B. there – he’s gorgeous!! Mrs. S. knows K. & I like B., and I can just see her jagging around [Pittsburgh slang] with him about us. ”

It goes on to highlight the celebratory meal I had with my family (shrimp, French fries, and a pecan ball) and  the money I received.

Okay. I had just received the final Sacrament of Initiation into the Church. I had experienced an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and my takeaway was a couple of cute boys and a funny bishop? Sigh.

The next morning, I participated in a local spelling bee and won. There’s no introspection about anything, just a play-by-play culminating in, “We spelled words back and forth until I won with ‘hagiography.’ I’ll get a fifty-dollar bond in the mail and go on to the state [it was regional, I believe] spelling bee on May 11.”

Where’s the nail-biting tension? The nervousness? The pride in my accomplishment or the joy in winning? Uh, lost somewhere in a day that ended with me cutting pictures from a magazine (most likely Tigerbeat) and taping them onto the back of my door. (I’m guessing photos of Ralph Macchio and Rob Lowe, among others.)

Over  the last two months, I’ve resumed journaling with regularity primarily as a way to meet my thousand words per day writing challenge over at 10 Minute Novelists. The benefits I’ve found are the ones I’ve always enjoyed, and don’t differ substantially from the ones linked above or lists you can Google.

  • Venting emotions, frustrations, and joys in an appropriate manner and working through difficult feeling and situations.
  • Organizing and clarifying thoughts.
  • Keeping a historical record.
  • Reflecting on the day’s events or spiritual prompts to find the deeper meaning and purpose of things.
  • Putting pen to paper. I blog and write novels at a keyboard. I journal with a pen and paper. There is a difference in the physicality.

Do you journal? Why or why not?

What do you do with old journals?

5 thoughts on “Should You Journal? My Life on Paper

  1. I’ve written many diaries over the years, and they virtually all got found by someone; I stopped, years ago! The worst time was when a guy I was having a ‘thing’ with, when I was about thirty, read mine and discovered that I wasn’t so cool and enigmatic after all, but was actually borderline obsessed with him. Kind of ruined my cred!

    • Oh, Terry. I cringe just reading that. Now that a couple of my kids are old enough to read, I’m thinking of putting some old journals under lock and key until I dispose of them.

  2. I journal any chance I get. I’m not so good at setting a time each day to write, but I am working on it. I journal about writing, family, all facets of my health, whatever subject speaks to me at the time.

  3. Pingback: Top 10 Tuesday: 10 Ways to Increase Your Daily Word Count | Carolyn Astfalk

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