“For any writer who wants to keep a journal, be alive to everything, not just to what you’re feeling, but also to your pets, to flowers, to what you’re reading.” ~ May Sarton
Last night our family conversation drifted into journal keeping.
My father kept journals for about the last thirty five years of his life. I have many of them and their value to me is immense, but I saw how vital they were to dad as well. He often referred back to them to find locations, dates, names of people or when a certain experience in nature happened so that he could see if it was a single occurrence or cyclic.
My father, beginning in elementary school, taught himself Spencerian script. He wrote in it through the length of his life and examples of his handwriting were sought out by teachers, historians and calligraphers all over the country. When you received a letter, handwritten from my father, you held within your hands a labor of love and you knew it.
So within my possession are thousands of pages, elegantly penned, that speak of a life lived for nature, for immersion in the wild world, and for his efforts to share and teach what he knew. But buried within those pages are frustrations, hopes, dreams and rage. They contain diaries of vacations and memorials of those who had died. Sadness over broken friendships, discoveries of his own gifts and his utter, childlike delight in the green and natural world.
They are my father, whispering to himself, all of the things that he thought were important, beautiful or rife with meaning.
An entry from one of Dad’s journals showing his exquisite penmanship.
I journaled quite a bit. For years, dad and I would always have either our tiny notebooks or our full sized journals with us everywhere we went and you could find us sitting at picnic tables at the end of wonderful days recording what we had seen, heard, felt and learned. It was one of the things that connected us greatly during the middle years of our time together.
I had about two dozen journals of differing design, filled cover to cover with thoughts, poems, observances, confessions, drawings, pressed leaves, pieces of my broken heart and all of the other myriad things that fell into those pages. During one of my last hospitalizations, those books were destroyed by the negligence and carelessness (and perhaps callousness of others) but that isn’t what this is about.
Gypsy and I were impressing upon Erych that journaling would be good for him and in so doing, we found ourselves both bitten with the bug to begin journal keeping again.
What will a journal cost you? Depending on your needs, a good usable journal can set you back from $0.99 for a spiral bound notebook at your local drugstore, to hundreds of dollars for hand bound leather books with handmade satin paper pages, but plan to spend six to ten dollars for a nicely bound book that will stand up to being opened all the way and won’t begin to drop pages after a few weeks of use.
By the way, I discourage keeping digital journals. While there are certainly wonderful journaling apps and programs out there, I believe that it limits creativity, self-evaluation and the loss of the tactile sense of an actual book is pretty serious. I have tried electronic journaling and it left me with the same feeling that tofurkey does. It will keep you from starving, but it isn’t what you want…
What kind of journal you should buy will most likely be a journey of discovering your own needs. Do you prefer lined or unlined pages, perfect binding, spiral bound or top bound? Do you draw as much as you write, do you need bigger pages to fill with doodles, sketches or plans? Are you like me and do you only write on the fronts of pages? I do it because I have a heavy writing hand and if I write on both sides, I invariably poke holes in the pages which is a disheartening thing.
Dad wrote front and back and always in ballpoint pen. I prefer rollerball pens, but I also fall into times when I work in sharpies, felt tipped pens, mechanical pencils, crayons and colored pencils. I have also done finger paintings in my journals using my own blood. (Don’t ask, it was a complicated time.)
So for an investment of less than ten dollars, (and let’s face it, if you are reading this, you most likely already have at least the writing implements section of this covered) you have a medium and method for self-discovery and self-expression that is pretty much unrivaled in the modern world.
My current journal and one of Dad’s old ones, along with my current favorite pen.
“Okay, okay, I get it, it isn’t expensive or complicated, but why should I add something ELSE to my already full plate?”
I hear you. I get it. But here’s the thing. Journaling, especially if done with regularity will help so many other aspects of your life.
Because I believe in having people do much of their own research, I will only give you the basics here, but trust me, I have vetted them out.
Stress reduction. Writing out your pain, your frustrations, your angers and your problems, helps ease the burden of them and often helps us find solutions that were lost in the clutter of our emotions.
Writing activates the left brain, which while engaged, encourages the creative right side of your brain to be free to make connections, seek solutions and express itself within the writing itself.
Journaling is also a journey of self-discovery. We often find clues or glaring declarations of our own passions written with open honesty within our journal pages. The key there is to not exaggerate. Do not try to make yourself grandiose. Remember that the journal is a confessor, not something that is truly meant for others and so you are free to be yourself within those pages, with no call to impress or to pretend passion for something that you truly have no love for.
There is an anonymous quote that says, “When you have to make a hard decision, flip a coin. When that coin is in the air, you suddenly know what you’re hoping for.” It is the same with journaling. If you allow yourself to be honest with the pages, all the time, your truth will find its way onto the paper.
Gypsy and I have decided that we are going to take Erych out later this week and let him pick out a journal. Then we are going to have at least one evening a week (hopefully more often) when we sit for an hour and do nothing else but write in our journals. I actually got the jump on this and filled three pages this morning and it feels amazing to be back at it.
I encourage you to join us. Pick up something to write with, something to write on and see what it does for you and see what emerges from it. I do not think that you will be disappointed.
Take care of each other and yourselves.