My journal has run for half my life. It began in a spiral notebook at age 15. Now I treasure that notebook, its pronouncements on God and the universe alternating with speculations on whether certain girls liked me. Teenagers sure know what’s important.
The journal has been like a dance partner, always in step with me. When I went intensely spiritual it became a diary of spiritual discipline and lore. When I was an English major in Chapel Hill, after the great poets, it reincarnated as a literary journal. Then it was a chronicle of my search for the real New Age, then of my search for myself.
One process that’s occurred over these years is the grounding of my writing. More and more, what I write is anchored in my gut, or in my heart. I start from real feelings, or I check the thoughts against my insides. The crux of all that can be said is there.
Another change: this journal is not for show. Formerly it mediated between me and the world, justified me, painted the self-picture I wanted the world to see. The underside of me had no voice. That led to crisis. I want to be more honest, accepting of the underworld.
Right now my journal has three sections. One is a day-to-day diary. The second I call “Notes and Commentaries” — it’s a home for lines of my thought and intuitive hits. I’ve found it useful to “dialogue” there with much of what I read. The third section I call “Active Imaginings.” There I’ve set aside space for an ongoing string of feeling-anchored fantasies to well up out of my unknown, my unclear depths, my unconscious.
I don’t believe there are any scriptures on journal writing, though. There is no right way to do a journal. The writer is the text.
Journal writing encourages a reflectiveness that can be useful to anyone. But I imagine the process could be especially powerful for one to whom writing is an unfamiliar medium. Where dexterity is not, there the unconscious is.
For example, I draw very primitively, like a grade-schooler. When I draw a fantasy, the unexpected creeps in from all edges — and there I learn and experience the most. I’m beginning to draw more in my journal.
We’ve been well-trained to “put our best foot forward.” That best foot is our skill. It gives us confidence, earns us sustenance. But what about the worst foot? That other foot has a lot to teach, besides being crucial to our balance. If a journal is not just for show, is instead for feeding that unclear mysterious process by which life becomes fuller and more meaningful, one must be in it with both feet.
I used to keep two journals, one for dreams, the other for recording daily realities. I carried these two little journals everywhere I went. I bought a stylish Gor-Tex briefcase to carry them in. I did as much carrying as writing.
It wasn’t a bad idea; this way I could write wherever and whenever I felt like it. Each day I had two accounts to make of realities, one in the first-person, present tense of a self who pretended not to know that he was being observed, the other in a sort of self-dialogue form, deep from the larynx of Omniscient Narrator.
One day, having gradually accumulated a shin-high stack of journals, I caught myself reading them. Captivated by my own scribbles, I became both culprit and victim in a story less coherent than a bad mystery, and all the more mysterious. I read the dream journals first. To my astonishment I found that I easily remembered every single dream of which I had made account, a total of nearly 2,000. Stimulated by the memories, I even recalled some dreams which I had failed to record. Here was an unexpected reward for journal keeping — the chance to re-experience in one afternoon four years worth of dreams. As I read each dream it came alive in my mind, complete with the fears and desires which had charged it with emotional validity.
The truly bewildering realization, though, came as I read through the other diaries. Before me were descriptions of events which had taken place, firsthand accounts of things that had happened to me, yet I couldn’t remember them all. Of the chaotic tangle of dreams I recalled something of each, but the daily happenings, the events which took place right here in what we call reality, of these I had lost entire episodes. It was a troubling realization which clammered into the left brain: for some reason the psyche cares most for its dream memories, not its daily ones; the seemingly clumsy wanderings of our dreams leave the deeper furrows in our souls. Waking life is clearly more than a string of inconsequential, forgettable events, I felt, and indeed we all experience occasional transcendent moments. But the truth of the primacy of inner experience was clear to me. I knew that the honor of ineradicable memory was granted more often not to the flesh and bone self, but to the invisible eternities of the dreamer.
This insight came at a good time, for I was getting tired of toting two journals. Enough segregation. It was time to juxtapose realities, time for re-introducing long forgotten friends: “Dreaming Self, this is Waking Self; Higher Consciousness, meet Lower.” At the request of both shoulder and psyche I agreed to unite the two journals. It would be a symbol of new awareness. No longer would one self awake only to find the other snoozing. I was determined to somehow dissolve the illusion of opposites. I wanted to think and feel beyond casual misnomers like “consciousness” and “unconsciousness.” Just as space knows nothing of up or down, I knew that the selves themselves did what they did without heeding our trendy theories of opposites.
Now, in my single journal, I’m poised awkwardly between selves and mirror images of selves, consulting my entries like some folks consult their I Ching or bag of Runes. Who knows, next month it may do a bit more shoulder dangling. And that might not be such a bad thing. Sometimes when life is full, truly sloshing out over the sides, when joyful activities and events tie one hour into the next, in those times when the waking self is having too much fun to sit and write about it, well, that’s when the journal fills with empty pages. Post-mortem eavesdroppers beware: perhaps the times your hero (on whom you’re currently concocting a doctoral dissertation) wrote were too often concurrent with the times he grieved.
Johnson City, Tennessee
Maybe writing my journal makes me more neurotic, more focused on my superficial ego and personality so that I confuse them with the eternal part of me.
On the other hand, this chronicling of events, thoughts, memories, fantasies, and dreams may make me more, not less, aware of my ego’s posturings.
My personal, inner voice often sounds cynical and acerbic, with the accent and syntax of a New York Jew — which bewilders me, as I’m from a small Southern town, and lived in New York only two years. When my inner voice isn’t hardhearted, it’s gushing and effusive.
I pray that an overdose of introspection in my journal will result in greater extroversion, as the antidote. Oh, you can straighten out a lot of tangles in your journal. Or make them worse. Much of the writing is distraction — running away from myself, from what’s really important. And much of it is running toward it.
I haul around hundreds of pages of my journal in boxes, sure I’d die if they were lost — and then I’m so careless some of them are destroyed by rain leaking through a roof. Probably some pages approach brilliance — about my New York dramas; Proustian vignettes of meeting and kissing Woody Allen in Elaine’s; the schizophrenic landlady who pretended I was her dead daughter; living in a “Y” with 300 women; why Hindus and Moslems killed each other. But probably most of what got lost was asinine complaining.
Maybe I should burn it all to avoid hurting others, and possibly one day being revealed as an airhead. I blush at the idea of my relatives reading the endless depictions of me as an innocent and saintly Cinderella, while they get to be the wicked stepmothers. In fact, the whole world often becomes The Wicked Stepmother.
I love my journal. Sometimes painful ignorance is revealed, but sometimes a rare treasure of goodness is too, and I know I’m not a total turkey — despite all the greedy gobbling.
Yes, I cry “I” too much in my journal — “I me mine” — but the “I” reiterated will eventually become the “I” in the background; to lose myself in other people, sights, things is the goal.
These days I don’t even keep a journal, except to keep records of the tree business, the daily take, and so on, for Uncle Sam.
I didn’t send a piece to The Sun last month on Hiding Places but if I had it would have talked about how God is my hiding place. It says in the Proverbs that the name of the Lord is a strong tower where you can run and be safe. And Moses, in the oldest Psalm, writes: “Lord, through all generations you’ve been our home.” Yes, I’ve learned to dwell in God. He is my hiding place. I don’t need a secret journal somewhere. It’s all written and videotaped in Heaven. I remember once writing over some of Kahil Gibran’s stuff, “You just wanted to be famous.” Honestly, I sometimes think that’s the only motivation for a lot of journal writing. We all have this desire to want to be heard, to be profound, to be famous. That’s human nature. Now I lay that on God. God hears me. I’m famous in Heaven. I’m on stage before a loving God. Isn’t that audience enough to please me? Must I still seek the approval of men, even if it’s hip men, counterculture honchos such as brood in The Sun? There may be good reason to record things in a journal; I’m not bottom lining in my explanation for why I don’t. I might even start again. David wrote the Psalms. But mostly I’m content to let each day work its course and when it’s gone let it whoosh down the drain of life. It is folly to look upon the city of the past as Gibran says. God is living, not a fossil, and it’s the now in which real life takes place. A journal is chronicling what has gone by. If a journal is to record journeys then my journal-less present situation is where my journey has taken me. I’m trying to be true to the calling God has given me. My journal is my life. The neighbor just called and I was friendly to her and am going to get the mail. I am not going to write about being friendly to her and about getting the mail. I am going to be friendly to her and get the mail (except for this one little writing for the purpose of explaining to you my present journal-less circumstance).
Glen Ellyn, Illinois
My journal has all my secrets in it. I keep it in a secret place in a very plain cover, so that it looks like accounting or old school notes. But inside it tells the story that needs to be protected from the eyes of the world . . . until just the right moment.
When I was growing up, I kept a box full of “sacred things”: a penny with the Lord’s prayer on it; a letter from my third-grade teacher saying, “Have a nice summer, Kathy.” If I had a special friend, on Sunday I would clean out my box and show it to her. But only if I knew she’d understand.
My journal is full of secrets about other people, too, real people who live real lives and love and cry and get angry and have their feelings hurt.
At the hospital last week another embryo was moved from the egg lab and successfully put inside a very expectant mother, so that in about nine months a baby can be born. It will be the second in vitro baby from Chapel Hill. In my journal there’s a page which says: “Once upon a time. . . .” and it tells the story of the baby book we made in our office. The baby’s book begins at the beginning of life and shows a photo of an egg surrounded by sperms and then the sperm that wins and how the cells divide. Dr. Talbert says, “No one really knows why the egg admits only one sperm.” And he turns the page. It’s still a secret.
My journal is full of threads that are weaving a cradle for what is to come. Here’s a quote from St. Catherine of Sienna: “Knowledge must precede love, and only when the soul has attained love, can she strive to follow and to clothe herself with the truth. . . .” Last week a tree fell over in my backyard. I could have been killed. I go on writing, babies are born, we grow old and no longer remember what once we loved.
Until one day we share a dream with a friend. And remember how to understand.
“Would you like to see my journal?” he asks. And sitting down he begins to read. He took a trip across Afghanistan in a truck. At night he can see the moon on the mountains. He stands up behind the cab and the wind blows his long golden hair back in streams. He drops his pack. The woman below pulls on his coat. She wants him to sit down with her.
“Do you want me to read this?” he asks, choking up. “I never told anyone about this before,” and he starts to cry without looking up. “This is my journal,” he says.
I nod. “I know.”
It’s been waiting all these years. I close the curtains, turn on the lights and make some more coffee.
“I’ll read this to you,” he says, more self-possessed, straightening up and smiling. “You’ll like it. I should write a book. It was really cold. I have a map somewhere.”
“What about the woman?” I interrupt, pointing at the page.
We move ahead in life and then, having forgotten, return to collect what we left behind. The threads that dangle are crossed and tied to weave a whole, a universal awareness that is unending. In my box of secrets you will always find a letter from my teacher which says: “Have a wonderful summer, Kathy.” Some things from the beginning remain until the end. Moving forward we come to realize that what we have found in life is what we looked for, nothing more, nothing less. I turn my own page and dare to remember . . . if only for a day.
Chapel Hill, N.C.
My journal is a pilgrim, walking along a red road. It stops to look at a tiny, spiked flower, and to watch the ravens fly overhead. A river runs along the road, and makes a tortured, distant sound. My journal stops and eats under a tree. It eats brown crackers. Then it falls asleep and dreams. In its dreams it is a great journal. It is read and admired by kings. People stop singing when it enters the room. With a wave of its hand it rules nations.
My journal wakes up, and continues along the road. The road winds up a mountain. From the top of the mountain, my journal can see seven more mountains, and seven valleys. It sees no human beings. It looks straight up into the blue sky. The sky has no depth; it seems to be perched on my journal’s nose.
My journal feels itself filled with words. It wishes it could rid itself of all these words. It wishes it could throw itself in the river and let all the words wash away.
I must keep myself closed, it thinks. I must not open my covers. I must protect myself from all these words.
New York, New York