I’ve had so much pressure put on me these days I think if I write them down I’ll feel better.The first line from Book One: Christine’s Diary 2/20/80-6/20/80
February 20, 1980 – I’m 15 years old at the time
I am a huge advocate for journaling. I find it to be a great way of downloading and organizing my thoughts —a way to work out all the crazy details of what life throws at me. It gives me to have the space and time to sort out things. I have been journaling on and off for the last forty years. My mother hated that I kept a journal when I was a teenager. She read it, invading my privacy, betraying my trust. She felt it was for my own good. She wanted me to destroy my diary but it meant too much to me, I was 16 years old and gave it to my boyfriend at the time for safe keeping. It was ‘our diary’. He kept it for twenty years or more and returned it to me, still in the same manila envelope I had sealed it up in two decades earlier. He never opened it. Reading it today is hysterical and I am so glad I have those memories preserved, I had forgotten so much.
I journaled very little in my twenties. Gun-shy that my privacy, my trust would be betrayed again by those around me. I tried to start again when I had children in my late 20s, early 30s – I wanted to have at least a record of some of the milestones they were experiencing—a sentence here, a paragraph there is all I could muster. I was blocked. Mom’s voice echoing in my head telling me that it was dangerous to write things down. Someone could read it.
During a particularly difficult time in my life, little by little, I turned to journaling to quiet my mind. I began writing more in my notebooks. I had finally unlocked a part of me that had been closed off. The dam that was keeping me from being able to express myself on paper was beginning to weaken. Thankfully it burst. That was close to 18 years ago and for over a decade, I have kept the same routine every morning.
I am an early bird who enjoys waking up when it’s dark, no matter what time of year. I head straight to the kitchen and brew myself a cup of coffee when the time is four something a.m. The dogs get a morning snack while we wait for my water to boil. For the last 10 months, I have been using an AeroPress to make my coffee. I used to use a Keurig, but we discovered too many times the minerals that built up in the reservoir, and sometimes something green looked to be floating around if we forgot about rinsing out the reservoir…So now I boil water in a small teapot with a thermometer so I can achieve the perfect temperature for coffee. I love coffee and don’t ever want to live without it, but that’s another blog article waiting to be written. After the coffee is made and the dogs have had a treat or two, we head into my den, my sanctuary.
I sit at the desk that was once my Nana’s, it’s an old secretary that would close if I ever cleared enough of my clutter away. Nana would be shaking her head at my constant mess and the look of her old desk. Usually very little of the dark brown wood is exposed on the writing surface, my journal sits upon a few notebooks, catalogs, mail and my calendar book. The few times I have cleared my desk, the clutter appears within hours much like magnets are attracted to ferrous medal. It’s organized chaos, I know pretty much where everything is when I need to retrieve things from the pile. The idea of keeping the desk clear enough to be able to shut it up when I am not using it seems absurd to be since I am always using my desk.
Journaling Helps Mindfulness
Journaling, for me, has become a form of meditation. It’s one of a couple of ways I meditate besides my time on the cushion. This may seem contrary to what most people see meditation being. Many believe to meditate they must have a clear mind. Many don’t attempt mediation because they think they will never be able to stop the rolling thunder of thoughts they constantly have. I am able to help quiet my mind by writing my thoughts about what’s on my mind first thing in the morning, so I don’t drag that load of thoughts with me throughout the day. There is no turning off of our brains, but you can learn how to control the volume.
I am trying to be more present as I go through life in these very distracting times and I find that journaling helps me to be more mindful. There is something about putting my thoughts down and seeing them visually that I find helpful. I am always encouraging my children to journal, even if it’s an artistic journal of daily drawing or a combination of words and drawings. Sometimes drawing when you can’t find the words will help.
My children are all adults now and came to visit us recently; everybody had their heads in their phones. I miss the days when you left the house, and your phone didn’t come with you. It didn’t used to be like this when I was raising them, the technology became more invasive since they moved away from home over 5 years now. You could focus on what was around you and not be so concerned with the distractions that our phones present today. Again that’s for another blog post.
There was a time when I was trying to get back to writing in a journal but was afraid to write down my thoughts. My mother’s voice in my head, saying that someone would read them and use my words against me. I tried to type a journal and use passwords to lock the entries. But now I have no idea what the password is all these years later, which is just as well. Some thoughts may be better off forgotten.
I never liked typing my journal out. It seems so impersonal. I prefer to handwrite things out. The first draft of my memoir is handwritten in three notebooks. I love the feel of pen to paper. The sound it makes as I carve each letter out into my notebook. Sometimes in the silence of the morning that is all I can hear, a sound which I find soothes me. I have a specific pen I like to use too, the Pilot G-2 .07 in black ink. The ink flows smoothly and never pools. I have had that issue with other pens. This pen feels nice and comfortable in my hand which is important since I can write for hours. When I was writing my book I would write for three or four hours at a time without a break; however morning journaling is usually an hour, sometimes two. I also have a certain style of journal I prefer to use over others: Pen+Gear. It is the perfect size and has a decent number of pages per book. It takes me anywhere from three to four months to fill one of these journals. I also love to decorate my journals the way I would have in high school or college. I don’t know what I will do with all my journals one day. They were helpful to me while I wrote Xine’s Pack of Strays & Others , helpful reminders of certain details here and there. Perhaps I will have a bonfire in our wood furnace, so as not to burden my children with their mother’s leftovers one day.
“In the diary you find proof that in situations which today would seem unbearable, you lived, looked around and wrote down observations, that this right hand moved then as it does today, when we may be wiser because we are able to look back upon our former condition, and for that very reason have got to admit the courage of our earlier striving in which we persisted even in sheer ignorance.”Franz Kafka
If you want to start a new routine of journaling. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Write as much or as little as you feel comfortable with. I would recommend trying to set as side at least two minutes of your day to start. You would be amazed at what a busy mind can write down in two minutes. And if you can’t think of anything, write down what the weather is like outside. Every one of my journal entries begin with the day, date and time that I started writing. I usually also note the time that I end but not always. I also write down the weather outside. I have a weather station that sits atop my desk so I record the temperature and wind speed if there is any. We can gale force winds on the mountain. All these little details get my pen flowing and my mind starts to spill out onto the page.
When journaling don’t worry about how say things or sound. What is important is getting the thoughts – however raw on to the paper. We carry so much with us on a daily basis, It’s a challenge to be in the present in the moment with distractions so in our face, an overload of information being thrown at us and worries about the future playing on a repeated loop in our minds. Taking a few minutes for ourselves is more important than ever. Sometimes you need to be able to vent and not have anyone judging you. Sometimes just writing down what’s bother ing you can help.
Burning your thoughts can be extremely cathartic. When my mother was really upset she would sometimes write her thoughts but then she would burn them. Her old boss at the Stork Club, Sherman Billingsley always advised her to never write anything down and if she did to burn the pages and the pad she wrote in. I haven’t burned anything in years however, I have a letter that I plan on writing that I don’t expect to be very nice. I will burn that letter in a cathartic ceremony to free myself of thoughts that no longer serve me. The recipient is dead so it’s really the only way to “deliver it”. I don’t wish to carry these things in to the future with me. Writing things out certainly helps in being able to not only work through things but to also help in letting go as well.