Dear Diary: A Response and Reflection

31 01 2011

On his blog, “Somber and Dull”*, my friend Randy Greenwald has posted two articles on diaries/journal keeping.  In the second entry, Randy shares thoughts on whether personal diaries or journals can be considered accurate portrayals of the lives of their authors, given the pressures of writing for posterity or self-improvement.  He finishes with this reflection, “My own journal keeping occurs early, early in the morning, when sometimes my soul is as dark as the sky is outside. It’s not necessarily an accurate description of my whole view of life!”

In the past couple of weeks, I have been reading random diary or journal entries I’ve written over the past 30+ years, with the intent of sharing some along with my “Flashback Friday” photos. As I’ve read them, I’ve been struck by several thoughts. Most prevalent is the wish that I had written more detailed content.  Many entries are quite descriptive of my emotional response to specific events, but leave out any facts about the events themselves. At 15 or 25, I apparently believed that the daily occurrences that shook my world were all memorable enough that I would only need access to the momentary emotional condition to bring them back. I clearly had not reckoned with the effects of age and immoderate alcohol consumption in my late adolescence on long-term memory!

Second, as I have looked through the assorted spiral notebooks, bound blank books, and record keeping folios in which my journals are written, I have been struck by the repetitive nature of many of my reflections. It is humbling to realize how the particular challenges of my personality in relationship to the world have been ongoing and relatively unmediated by age, experience, wisdom. In her book, The Work of Craft: An Inquiry Into the Nature of Crafts and Craftsmanship, Carla Needleman says that she used to labor under the illusion that, once she learned something, it was hers forever. But that now she sees that the things worth knowing are difficult to grasp, and must be learned over and over again. (Sorry, I can’t put my hands not the exact quotation, so I’m paraphrasing from memory here.) My journals prove Needleman’s conclusion, by showing that I cycle through the same life issues, relearning the same insights. I like to think of it as an upward spiral, because I do inch along to greater understanding each time. But it is an incremental improvement.

The third thing I’ve discovered in rereading these notes is that I have no difficulty telling the difference between when I was writing from my heart and when I was striking a pose for the benefit of some “future reader”.  I have actually laughed aloud while reading some of my more pretentious entries.

Perhaps the most surprising thing I’ve stumbled upon while reading my journals, though, has been the compassion I feel for my younger, less mature, self. Life happens, and we do our best to stay a step ahead of the tidal wave. Sometimes, we manage pretty well. But at other times, we stumble and get wet as the wave rushes past. I had no clue how to stay out of the water. Writing in my journals has been one way I’ve tried to learn from my missteps. I have often said that I know when I haven’t been writing in my journal because I feel untethered. That the time to reflect is as necessary to my life as taking the time to eat…well, ok, maybe as necessary as taking the time to exercise. I can go days, even weeks, making excuses. But I don’t really feel well without it.

At this point in my life, I find my need to reflect in prose is greater than ever. I write this blog, and keep two journals: one for normal daily reflections, and one in which I write about a specific set of life issues with which I am wrestling. Like my friend, Randy, my tone changes to reflect the moment in which I am writing, and individual entries cannot always be trusted as a true reflection. However, taken as a whole, the disparate parts tell a coherent story of one woman’s life: mine.

*Check out Somber and Dull if you’re interested in a thoughtful, well-reasoned and well-read Christian perspective. The blog’s name is meant to be humorous, and does not reflect the site’s content!

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