On Journaling

Photo by Puuikibeach

Photo by Puuikibeach

My daughter got me a snazzy new journal recently. Its designers cleverly titled it “My Dysfunctions,” and its funky yellow cover carries further explanation (less we be unable to figure out what it’s for!): “A journal for chronicling my immeasurably fascinating dysfunctions, neuroses, emotions, inner children, moments of shame and doubt, projection, self-loathing, misanthropy, and completely normal insanity, because the only difference between me and the rest of the population is that I acknowledge how crazy I am and they’re all in mind-numbing denial.” Hilarious and so apt!

While I’ve always wanted to create the kind of journals or diaries you can pass on to loved ones after you die (You know the kind I mean—leather bound beauties, filled with perfectly formed lines, a.k.a. legible ones, that share deep thoughts and entertaining tidbits that somehow manage to speak of the “human experience.”), one only has to flip one or two pages into my scrawls to realize my actual journals are the furthest thing from those daydream ones.

They’re completely random, messy, meandering things—half rant, half . . . boring.

Entries are inconsistent blurts of this and that. I do record small stories about my days, but more often I just vent—journaling to get things out of my system and process (deal with!) things that are going on around me-and/or in my head. And all that’s very valuable—just not something you want your family to stumble upon when you’re gone.

Or maybe it is.

I have a couple of my mom’s old notebooks. I was thrilled when my dad gifted them to me. But then I read them. And was . . . disappointed.

Only the beginning few pages in each were filled out. And there wasn’t a personal vignette to be found.

They were sermon notes. Now don’t get me wrong. I respect (and share) my mother’s faith. And I know the value of note taking—how it aids comprehension and retention. But there was nothing of her in the notes.

I poured over each page, hoping for a tiny visit—a whisper of her voice, her opinion, her humour, her angst, her . . . anything. I’d thought there might be snippets about my little toddler brother, tales about her and my dad, thoughts on parenting . . .

But these were not that type of journal.

What her journals aren’t, however, makes me think mine are okay. Maybe more than okay.

What if I’d read some never-before-guessed secret in my mom’s notebooks? I’d have been delighted, intrigued, curious, not incensed. What if I read her no holds barred inner response to a fight she and my dad—or she and I—had had? Would I be devastated? No. I’d grow from it, learn from it . . . And what if I read about unfulfilled dreams or came across scribblings about things she’d like to do in the future? The words might bring some pain, yes, but mostly they’d bring joy.

We often waste time hiding ourselves—or trying to, anyway. We try to disguise the darker sides of our nature, and strive to avoid what we perceive as “burdening” to others—the sharing of any sorrows, or questions, or doubts. Journaling should be an attempt to bust through that self-censor. A fight against the lonely notion that we can’t—or shouldn’t—say what we honestly feel and think, lest we offend, lest we unintentionally wound, lest people, really knowing us, cease to like us.

I’ve read extremely personal things taken from miscellaneous journals, and I’ve never thought less of the author—just the opposite usually. Uncensored details or observations about love, hate, confusion, beauty, ugliness, relationships—heck, about tea and simple pleasures, make me think, Ah, so that’s what it’s like to be him. To be her. And, perhaps ironically, help me understand myself better.

Someone famous once said something like, “I never worry about what someone might think of my diaries after I’m gone. I’ll be dead.”

Wise words. I wish I could fully embrace them—but the idea of someone reading all my journals makes me cringe. After all, I burnt all my childhood diaries when I was 13. I couldn’t bear the idea of someone perusing me. Sometimes I assure myself that’s what I can do with my spiral bound notebooks, too. But I don’t think I will.

While I can’t imagine anyone ever wanting to wade through my impossibly messy, navel-gazing cycle of snooze-inducing blah-blah-blah, my journals are part of me and I’ve made tenuous peace with them. And if someone does page through them when I’m long gone . . . Well, perhaps I should decorate each one with warning labels, similar to the one on my new yellow journal. . . .

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“On Journaling” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, April 24, 2013 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”