I became a journal keeper by accident. I was 30 years old, sitting in a windowless cubicle, unhappy. My in-box was piled with two feet of paper, layouts, project folders, and message slips. The phone rang incessantly. I had to do something fast.
I considered walking out the front door when I spotted a white stenographer’s notebook. I picked it up and started writing. I wrote about how my boss was indifferent and cold. I wrote about how advertising was not how I pictured it. I wrote about how I wanted to escape the corporate world.
I wrote about how I didn’t know what to do with my life, but didn’t want to spend it in a box. I wrote and wrote and wrote and when finished I had filled six pages, both sides. Going back to work, I felt cleaner, better, even saner.
If I’d known the journey I was starting that day, I would’ve paid more attention, lit a candle, chanted poetry, anything to signify this new passage in life. A passage that would help me set goals, clarify my thinking, and most important, become a writer.
At first I thought I’d keep my journal till I left my job. But a strange thing happened. After I got out of that world and into another, life went on. New problems replaced old ones, new ambitions and fantasies cropped up. Okay, I thought, once I become a mom, surely my need to keep a journal will end. I’ll be too busy.
As luck would have it, I became pregnant over the next year and found that once again I was wrong. Putting my newborn son to bed, I realized there was so much left to say. I wanted to write about how it felt to feed him late at night with the wind blowing outside and how sometimes I felt overwhelmed and scared.
I wanted to write about my three harrowing days in the hospital and how I was stronger than I knew. I couldn’t say goodbye to these notebooks as surely as I couldn’t say goodbye to an old friend.
Thirty years later, I’m on my 85th book. They’re prettier these days, nicer than the stenographer’s notebooks I used to use.
Now at this point, I have to state most of my journals are boring. I compare them to what they say being a cop is like. Most parts are mundane, some are exciting, and others are downright scary. I’ve had people say, “I can’t keep a journal. My life’s too dull.”
Yet what makes most of us interesting is not what happens outside but inside. Everyone has dreams, hopes, and fears. These are what make us unique, not the job we have or the role we play. And getting in touch with that inner person is what journals are about.
People ask if I’m afraid others will read my journals. And I have to say after all these years… hell yes. There are secrets and private moments and rants that are downright embarrassing, if not incriminating.
And yes, I’ve considered burning the lot a couple of times. But every time I come close to lighting that fire, I chicken out. That’s my life in those pages and who’s to guarantee I won’t pick up another book and start again?
The best solution I know is writing messy enough so only I can read them. I also know people who buy lockboxes.
But something else stops me. Sometimes I picture myself an old woman, sitting in a rocking chair, turning the pages with gnarled fingers. I’ll relive that first corporate job, the times in my marriage, becoming a mom, maybe a grandmother, the relationships and people who have come and gone.
Having a journal saved me from a world I didn’t belong and steered me toward what I love. Its been my friend and ally for thirty years. Its absorbed my pain and deepened my joy. How could I ever throw that gift away?
As I came to realize so long ago, my journal and I are in this life together.
Should you keep a journal? Do you already have one? I’d love to hear. Comments are always welcome and if you’d like, please share. Thank you.
(Published in H.E.R.S. Magazine, 2000).