Part One: Why Keep a Life Journal?
“In the diary you find proof that in situations which today would seem unbearable, you lived… We may be wiser because we are able to look back upon our former condition.” ~Franz Kafka (from his personal diary)
Last week, my wife and I were trying to remember the chain of events in our turbulent premarital dating relationship. We knew we’d broken up twice (it turned out to be three times, actually), and that something had brought us back together each time. And we knew that the last time had been different, that some invisible barrier had been removed. But what had happened when?
So I dug through my old journal volumes in order to get some quick clarification. What I got was a rediscovery of who I was and, in the process, how I became who I am. I saw the chinks forming in the wall of Self, making possible an Us that could never have otherwise existed. In other words, in writer language, I saw the dramatic arc.
“What am I to do? I must have some drug, and reading isn’t a strong enough drug now.” ~C.S. Lewis (in A Grief Observed, regarding journaling after his wife’s death)
Most “Why You Should Journal” articles emphasize the therapeutic benefits of dumping your unpublishable secrets onto a nonjudgmental sheet of wood pulp (or a nonreflective laptop). And I heartily concur. But every time I re-read my old journals, I’m also struck by how beneficial they are to me now. Perhaps it’s because, as the saying goes, only hindsight is 20/20. Only now can I see the whole Homerian epic as it plays out. As I re-read those real-time accounts, I see vital truths I would eventually embrace first struggling to break through, and I cheer the protagonist on. I also see insidious lotus-eating notions threatening to block the way home, and I shout, “No! Put that down, you don’t know where it’s been!”
“Cheap paper is less perishable than gray matter. And lead pencil markings endure longer than memory.” ~Jack London
In short, I gain an understanding of who I was and am, both individually and in relation to others—an understanding that memory alone cannot provide (granted, it’s through the eyes of Former Me, an imperfect witness, but a first hand witness, nevertheless). And as a result, I stand a better chance at taking the right next steps toward that happy ending. The one in which the preacher says, “He was a good man,”
And actually means it.
To read Part Two: How to Write a Life Journal, click here.