When I was ten years old, my family took a trip to Nova
Scotia. I decided to bring along my new diary. It had blue and orange stripes
and the all-important lock on the outside. The pages were gold-tipped, and soon
the sparkles were flaking onto me and the backseat of the car. When we stopped
at a local restaurant to eat, my Mom spent the first part of the meal wiping
the endless sparkles from my nose.
The thing that I treasured the most about my new diary was
all the empty pages waiting to be filled. Do you know that feeling? With the
right pen, the sky was the limit. Pages were awaiting my brilliant thoughts and
recorded memories. For three days, that dream was a reality. I wrote about the
beauty of the Cabot Trail, the Bay of Fundy, a nice retired couple I’d
befriended, and the cozy inn where we stayed.
By Day Four, I
decided to take a break. I’d start up again the next day. That was a promise
but, by Day Five, that promise was broken.
I was only ten years old, after all, and covered in sparkles. Not to
mention, I’d discovered something about diaries. There was a lot of pressure
attached to this daily recording. So,
the rest of my diary remains empty to this day. Crisp, clean, boring.
Not until I became a writer did I realize the trick to the
art of journaling: a journal is different than a diary. A diary is something
that includes the date on each page. Some folks love this method. My Uncle
Warren is a Civil Engineer. In meticulous fashion, he logs in every day, things
like the weather, the barometric pressure, the day’s highlights. He would be
the perfect witness at a trial. The problem is that many of us lose our drive
to write when we are trapped by the “rules” of daily recordings.
Journaling is a whole different experience. Journals can
have various subjects or themes: a travel journal, a baby journal, a memory, an
idea journal. The latter is what I do best. My journal entries aren’t chronological
or neat or profound or earth-shattering. Well, at least not all the time.
Sometimes I glue in a picture or a postcard. Sometimes I scribble an idea onto
a receipt from the gas station (I have a lot of those) or a torn paper bag.
Then I’ll tape or glue that idea into my journal. To me, a journal captures moments and memories and
ideas, all without guilt. Guilt-free.
It was my own love of journaling that compelled me to share
this art w
ith others. I’ve led many journaling workshops
over the years, but I have one that I truly treasure. With a nudge from Pam
Chubet at Norwood Housing Authority , I began to lead a journaling workshop at
the Walsh Housing over a year ago. We meet on the second Tuesday of the month
and we explore memories.
I bring a
simple canning jar with a pop lid, and from the jar I pick out a few prompts
for the day. It’s amazing where these questions take us. We write for several
minutes and then we feel free to share. I’m blown away by the detailed memories
that my participants recall: the ice man coming up the street for deliveries,
the day President Kennedy was shot, the boy who greeted his neighbor every day
while she was healing from an illness on her front porch. My prompts are
simple, but the responses are always unique.
As with any art, we can find ways to improve our technique
with time. Over the years, I have found several sources to guide my journaling.
My own desire to journal was fostered when I took a class with Alexandra
Johnson. A teacher of memoir writing and creative nonfiction at Wellesley
College and the Harvard Extension School, Johnson won the James E. Conway Award
for her distinguished teaching . Her
book, Leaving a Trace: On Keeping a
Journal, serves as a guide to enriching “your experience of recording your
thoughts and impressions of the world around you.” By examining the journals of famous writers,
such as May Sarton and John Cheever, Johnson is able to coax others to try the
For those journal keepers who prefer to mix art with words,
there are two other useful sources.
Visual Journaling: Going Deeper than Words by Barbara Ganim and Susan Fox
demonstrates how this combination can be extremely powerful. Sometimes we can’t
find the words to express ourselves, especially when we are younger. Visual journaling
uses art to reduce stress, release anger and give voice to your soul, all
within the confines of a journal. You don’t have to be an artist to record your
memories in picture form.
For those who are artistic, there is another book entitled Artist’s Journal Workshop: Creating Your
Life in Words and Pictures. Cathy Johnson draws on her own insight, having
used this process for structure and inspiration in her own life. However, she
also shares pages and advice from 27 international artists and their journals.
Of course, it is up to the journal keeper to decide who will
read her words. Journaling may serve as a cathartic process and that may be
enough. On the other hand, the journal keeper may discover a book waiting to be
written after unearthing unique and captivating memories. Author Phyllis
Theroux did just that with her memoir, The
Journal Keeper. Well-known for her essays, Theroux takes her reader on a
journey through six years of her life as a writer (from 2000 until 2006),
revealing topics that occupy all of
us—love, finance, death, loneliness.
And really, at its best, this is exactly what journaling
should accomplish: your thoughts, your words, your memories, captured for time.
Only you can record your story as you see it. As Holocaust survivor and author,
Elie Wiesel said: “That is my major preoccupation --memory, the kingdom of
memory. I want to protect and enrich that kingdom, glorify that kingdom and
serve it." After all, the human story is your story, too. Don’t be afraid
to write it down.