One sultry, no-name day right after school let out, we were at Barnes & Noble to get activity books when I veered suddenly off the path. Over at the wall of blank books, feeling inspired, I decided to make my kids keep a summer journal. As this is the way I usually parent (do nothing I planned to do, announce grandiose parenting scheme on a whim), my kids were not surprised. They actually seemed excited. They each picked out a blank notebook, completely different from one another and personality illuminating, and we sat in the cafe where they started putting their lives onto paper immediately.
In the middle of this scene, I took a sideways glance and a blank notebook caught my attention. It was light blue and had colorful birds across it. Those birds sang to me. They wanted my secrets. They looked at me sideways, each with only one eye, and wondered what I was hiding. I wanted to tell them; they seemed so accepting. So I wondered why I couldn’t start a daily journal, too?
I bought the birds, sat down next to my kids in the Barnes & Noble Cafe, and decided I would spend the month of June journaling every day.
The benefits of journaling have some scientific backing and are much discussed.
There is increasing evidence to support the notion that journaling has a positive impact on physical well-being. University of Texas at Austin psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker contends that regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes. Other research indicates that journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.
I don’t know what T-lymphocytes are, but big sciency words always convince me.
The University of Rochester Medical Center had this to say:
Keeping a journal helps you establish order when your world feels like it’s in chaos. It helps you get to know yourself by revealing your innermost fears, thoughts, and feelings. Look at your writing time as personal relaxation time, a time when you de-stress and wind down. Write in a place that’s relaxing and soothing—maybe with a cup of tea. Look forward to your journaling time, and know that you’re doing something good for your mind and body.
I HAVE CHAOS! Clearly, I needed this.
I found this entire challenge appealed to me in many ways (beyond just the cute little bird book). First, I have been in a creative dry spell lately. Not writer’s block, just writer’s lack of motivation and writer’s lack of time. Second, I wanted to see if sharing my thoughts with myself daily would help me find peace and less stress.
As someone who strives to be a writer and to unleash my creative side more often, journaling every day feels like the thing to do. Many authors, including one of my favorites (Anne Lamott), swear by the write-words-every-day-even-if-they-stink method. I have lots of words that stink. Maybe I just needed to get all those out to find the good ones? Plus, David Sedaris published his journal entries and it flew off the shelves (and it’s not even that engaging, to be honest). If Sedaris can be brave enough to publish his thoughts, why can’t I at least try to figure out what mine are?
I gave this a hearty try and even had some journal entries I felt proud of. They were raw and immature, but fun nonetheless. They were a surprise when written but cherished now. Like this one (keep in mind these are unedited for you, these are honest):
I love it when life feels opened up, more luxurious, bigger and deeper. Days start to have depth and meaning because there is time to explore and create, not just merely breathe and survive. This summer feels bigger somehow, full of more promise than I can remember in a long time. Certainly since before kids, ergo, the first Wide Open Summer I know to appreciate. When life isn’t dictated every single relentless minute, there is time to feel more. It’s summer. I can absorb the heat from a screaming black pavement into the soles of my feet, seeing how slowly I can walk before the scorch makes me run on tiptoes. I can look at the welt of a bug bite and remember summers as a kid settling dry, skinny, scabby legs between cool, clean sheets late at night. There is more opportunity to just exist. I could be doing…more…better..larger…anything else…anything at all. I could be writing more essays, blogging. I could have more credit to my name. Write a book. Read a book. But summer makes me feel calmer. Happier. When I can pick a blackberry and tell my kids about the blackberry bush in our back yard on Marco Drive, how we would fight over who had to get the soccer ball out of the prickly limbs. I love those moments. I love these moments. I don’t want to do or be more. I want to dive into the heat of the day.
Some days, I just wrote words. I don’t do poetry, so I won’t call it that, but they were words that captured the day:
big wad of Big League chew and itchy dried sweat days
days of remembering youthful glee and
forgetting the day of the week
a day of trying to wrap knobby knees and scabbed elbows into the newborn snuggles of yesterdays
wear your heart on your sleeve days
asking, “was that really just yesterday?”
the day ended in a grand slam
even though I was not up to bat
a drama day
a dragging day
a summer day
a perfectly exhausting summer that will soon be a day forgotten
But as much fun as I was having, most days, it was ultimately too much for me to continue. It felt like another chore in a long line of too many chores already. I began to get resentful that I HAD to do this when I already felt so far behind in just daily existing life. My journal time was not an idyllic moment of sitting on the porch with my tea and learning about myself. It was an “ugh, I still haven’t journaled yet today” feeling.
Maybe that’s where the learning begins and the art happens. But I couldn’t keep going. I found I needed to stop making this a demand of myself in order to save myself.
This is the last entry I wrote:
Writing every day is becoming monotonous – it feels like a chore. I ask myself why I do this?
Am I too boring now? Am I too unintelligent?
Do I not need to spend hours in self-reflection and time analyzing the minutae of my life anymore?
Am I a vast gaping void where emotion once lived? A Black Hole that had too much heat and intensity for too long and imploded? (NOTE: Google whether black holes implode or explode. And is it from too much of something, like gravity? I fear this analogy is rotten.)
Am I irritated because I need to be productive, to get through my to-do list, to have things I can point to and say YES I DID THAT, I DID SOMETHING TO CONTRIBUTE TO LIFE TODAY, THE EARTH NEEDS ME and journaling is certainly not that?
My hand is cramping from real writing…with a real pencil.
My mind is a vapid space.
I can’t even remember enough science to recall anything about black holes. Except that they don’t waste time writing down their thoughts every day. The universe notices them simply because they exist large.
They are too busy being who they are and living out their destinies to need to justify it with words.
They accomplish something.
Does this make anyone else feel sad? As someone who swears by writing, who feels compelled to share every iota of experience she has with a larger audience, writing words every day felt overwhelming to me. It was a challenge that beat me.
Maybe if I was better at time management, had a better planner system, or said ‘no’ to something else, I could get more of this in.
I am going to try regular journaling again, but I think I will approach it differently. Instead of looking at the journal as a place to confront myself and my emotions, I would like to use it to practice word creation or record a moment in the day. I think there would be a benefit to using prompts or questions to get me going. Instead of relying on something in my heart being big enough to inspire a journal entry, I can take the pressure off myself and use a question to see what is in my heart.
Maybe when whatever brain::heart::pen blockage I currently harbor is healed, topics and words will come freely. But right now, trying to squeeze in creative writing during days planned to the 15-minute increments felt more like resentment and frustration than space for me to reconnect with myself.
But I don’t want to give up on this.
So, friends, tell me: have you journaled every day? regularly? If so, what’s your advice? And how did it work for you?
This challenge was designed in September 2015 by me, to push myself outside of my comfort zone. I wanted to force myself to try new things, to learn to embrace my life, to take a situation where I was feeling sad and lonely and force a new perspective. I was feeling stagnant but I realized it was my own fault. There is way too much fun, adventure, laughter and good people in the world for me to feel sad. I didn’t have true goals when I started: just to get out of self-pity and to get in the middle of the road and rush straight forward. Is it working? Yup.