The other night I was inspired to write a bit in my journal (currently a lovely, if scratchy-papered, leather-bound affair with an owl on the front). I was shocked, and somewhat ashamed, to find that I hadn’t written for almost two months. Flipping through the pages I realized that for the last few years I’ve been journalling, on average, once a month (or less). And the few entries I have written haven’t really been massive epistles to make up for lost time either–just little blips here and there, a note about Christmas, a paragraph about a recent disappointment or a recent triumph. I feel like I’m growing apart from an old friend. And it makes me sad.
I used to journal at least a few times a week. In grade 6 it was a bit of an obsession–trying to get through journals as fast I could, MAKING myself write at least one page per day, even when I had nothing to say except “Only 26 more days until this journal is done and then I can write in the new one with the tiger on the cover!”, etc. I’m not entirely sure why I was so obsessed with my next journal, as opposed to the one I was currently writing in. I think the sight of those blank pages made me feel that SOMETHING, something better than now, was waiting to be written in that next journal. Usually, it was just more of the same silly poetry and over-abundance of exclamation marks and musings about how close I was getting to the final page. I always finished a journal with a humorously wistful “Last Page” post (humorous because it usually involved me summing up the wisdom I believed my 11-year-old self had gained and finishing, as I often still do, with my signature).
Once I hit junior high and high school and became confused and insecure and angst-ridden, the tone of my writing was decidedly less positive. My childish indignation about popularity politics and boys I thought were icky (or cute, depending) gave way to a deep and abiding conviction that these things mattered–that being popular was a worthwhile goal, that whether or not any boys liked me was a measure of my value as a person. That my clothes mattered and my bra size mattered and that I was helplessly alone (even when I was loved all along). Receiving only 75% on my grade 8 science final necessitated a long walk in which I cried in the forest and wrote of my disappointment in myself. Envying my best friend her boyfriend resulted in pages of self-loathing. Arguments with my sisters or my parents were chronicled in capital letters with multiple exclamation marks immediately followed by regret. Often, I turned to my journal not for silent understanding but to say I was sorry.
It wasn’t all bad of course. I wrote about whether the boy I liked had talked to me that day. I told the story of my first kiss (and several weeks later, my fun fun time with mono). I could detail exactly the intensity of eye contact in a “romantic” situation, or what it felt like to have a boy reach for my hand for the first time while we watched a movie in the dark. I seemed to remember each and every electron that fired when everything I was experiencing was so new. I recorded my dreams, and wrote about vampires (which were a thing for me, I guess when I was 15), and Peter Pan, and my best friends, and all the places I was seeing, and what I wanted to do when I grew up (writing or theatre, depending).
When I revisit my old journals I always expect to find them funny, and instead I find that I am sad. Sad that the girl I was didn’t love herself more, or see how much she was loved. Sad about some of the not-so-good situations she got herself into due, in part, to her low self-esteem. Sad that I wasn’t always respectful to my parents, or understanding with my sisters. And sad about good things too. Sad to read about a school chum that isn’t here anymore. Sad to read about best friends that live so far away now. Sad that my hometown keeps changing without me, and for the beautiful places I have been that I can’t properly remember.
Which is why my journals are so important to me. They aren’t great literature. But they are a record of a life, unexceptional as it may be. I don’t want to forget how it felt to be those other people I have been, but I do forget, and, when I need them to, my journals bring those other Laurens back.
But only if I write in them. I know that I journal more when I am sad than when I am happy. I journal more when things are new than when they are routine, even though I know that life does keep changing in slow and subtle ways. And it’s too bad. In the sad times I’m always dismayed to look back in my journals and find I had little to say about the happy ones–I was having too much fun, I guess, or taking my happiness for granted. I read once that “misery stains backwards through the pages of life”, and it’s so much easier for that to happen if I neglect to write about the good times.
In a weird paradoxical way (familiar to procrastinators everywhere, I’m sure), the guilt I feel about neglecting my journal actually makes me want to write less. Opening my journal makes it obvious how poorly I’ve been keeping it up lately and it makes the guilt worse. So I cart my journals around with me like reproachful bricks until I FINALLY make myself write, at which point there is so much to say that my efforts are merely perfunctory.
I know there are other reasons I’ve been terrible with my diaries. For example, as mentioned above, I write less when I’m happy and in general, I am quite happy nowadays. I also am not as self-centred as a I used to be. I’m not saying I was a selfish teenager, just that the things that bother me the most nowadays aren’t necessarily personal insults or failures (the kinds of things I used to exhaustively record in high school because I was not as good at coping with them), but broader issues like violence, Canadian politics, and misogyny. (I don’t know how to journal about being afraid of the MRA movement, and the recent massacre in Isla Vista, for example. I don’t know how to bring that into my record of my life and I don’t know if I want to.) And, of course, I don’t have the free time I had when I was 13 (it turns out my parents were right–taking care of a household, even a small one like mine, IS a lot of work, and having their children help out without complaint WOULD have been very useful).
And then there’s this blog. It’s like a journal, in a way (and here I do attempt some larger issues), but it’s changed the way I write for, and about, myself. Instead of being honest with myself in private I’ve been presenting my emotional life in a public forum, and using my journal merely as a log of achievements and setbacks. I try to be truthful, but “presenting” is definitely what I do in this blog–it’s not, and can never be, a replacement for my journal. It’s glossy, it’s vague, and it’s CLEAN. Much cleaner than my emotions really are. I admit my confusion to myself less and less nowadays, and instead take a solid position because a solid position is easier to blog about. Sometimes, that kind of writing is necessary and useful and for that reason I continue to enjoy this blog. It’s a great new friend.
But blogging is not the same as my journal. My journal, truly, is singular, an entity that spans multiple handwritten books (a dozen? Two dozen?) written and collected over the past 20 years. My journal has been with me since I was a child. It has never left. It has always waited patiently with blank pages and the promise of better things to write about. I have neglected it and I am sorry.