I’ve been journaling since 1994, and the unrelieved banality of my journals not only disappoints me, it lances me, makes me realize how crushingly uneventful, how downright nondescript, my life has mostly been.
Or has it?
Of course there are highs and lows recorded in the reams of pages I clutch and possess with paternal jealousy, some on paper, such as Moleskin notebooks, but most in digital files stored on my well-backed-up laptop.
That much verbiage can’t be all bad, and some of it, I humbly admit, is pretty all right. I’ve lived loudly. I’ve loved amply. I’ve travelled widely. I’ve won awards. I engage my myriad interests. And my friends and family are tops.
Rereading some old entries has triggered surprise and delight at a deft phrase, a funny observation, a jolting memory, or a nostalgic or sentimental rush. And none of it is performative; it’s for me and me only.
I have perused past journals raptly, and felt a strange exhaustion afterward, as if the words exhilarated me, hauling me through a woozy time-warp. Like: getting violently ill twice in Thailand in ’95; the great break-up of ’01; being shortlisted for a Pulitzer in ’06; Mom’s death in ’19; Dad’s passing the following year; and so much more.
I’ve done a decent job filling life’s canvas and, with equal fervor, filling pages about it all. This is starting to sound like a valediction, like I’m in hospice or something. That’s hardly the case. I’m merely musing, and that’s what journaling is about — navel-gazing, woolgathering, reflection and introspection. It’s capturing the milestones and the millstones, the highlights and the lowlights.
Almost always it’s simple recording, dull, everyday stenography. Like this I typed yesterday: “I lie in bed, trying to wrest another hour or so of sleep from the morning, and all it amounts to is tossing and turning and amplified anxiety, ugly thoughts and visions. It is torture.”
It can be dark, indulgent, meaningless, like the above. Even so, getting it down is the heart of the process. Journaling is purging, an irrigation of the brain and pipes of the soul. If lucky, it provides fuel for future scribblings.
A famous writer says to “mine your journals” for essay and blog material, something I’ve taken to heart. Dreary daily bulletins can be spun into content, stories, little narratives. Sometimes they are inspired, like gold; other times (too often), they’re gruel.
So now when I return to this post’s opening graph, I think it’s all wrong. My journals aren’t reserves of the uneventful and the nondescript — the banality of drivel — but contain just enough substance of a full life.
I’m no journaling master. And I obviously haven’t mastered this life thing. Last week in the airport, on the way to Scotland, I did some journaling. I’ve plucked a snippet from that entry, a sentiment that holds true for that trip, for writing, and for life as a whole:
“I still don’t know what in the hell I’m doing. I really don’t.”