On Keeping a Journal
It started when I was eighteen with a rather simple sentence: “On the plane for my year in Israel.” I penned that sentence in a sprawled handwriting, and then left the rest of the page blank. A rough start, but now, two years later, journaling is an integral part of my day.
Prior to keeping my first serious journal, I, like most people, had dabbled in keeping one. It was always on one list of resolutions or another, but never really stuck as a habitat. But once I had committed to writing a page a day during the first months of my year in Israel, I found that I couldn’t stop. At some point, I started bringing my journal with me everywhere and wrote down little bits of overheard conversation and silly observations. At that point, people began to ask what I write and why. What’s the point of keeping a private journal if I never plan to share it?
I never felt that I had a compelling answer to that question until I read Joan Didion’s essay “On Keeping a Notebook” in my creative writing class, in which she writes:
I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind's door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.
When I journal, I remember the little pieces of myself that I would otherwise forget. The little bits of my life that I cannot hold onto, but that I can revisit. Our lives are so full of moments and memories that we inevitably lose “the things we thought we could never forget.” Returning to my journals lends texture to the hazy past. It’s been only two years since my year in Israel, yet I don’t remember the details of that year. I remember the big things, but not the little details or what I was feeling for most of the time. But with a journal, I can return to the thoughts that troubled me, the questions I obsessed over, and the new joys I experienced. Journals have an additional advantage in their total privacy. In modern life, the detritus of our pasts are almost inescapable. Phone camera rolls, Facebook pages and our search history all give insight into who we were, but they lack the quality of total privacy. When I write in a notebook, aware that no one else will read it, I am forced into complete honesty. In order for the journal to be worthwhile, I must come to its pages without delusions of the life I want others to see. I keep a journal, and equally, it keeps me because it is the grand repository of my life. I have been keeping a journal for two years now and I am surprised by the things that I have forgotten. I wonder what it will be like to read my current journals twenty years from now. Our lives are short, and our memories are frail, but by writing our thoughts down we give ourselves the ability to revisit memories that would have otherwise faded away.
Photo Caption: Two years of journaling
Photo Credit: Rivka Krause