What were you doing the summer you turned 13?
I was on an American President Lines cruiseship, on a 26-day trip from Manila, Philippines (where I lived from 1966-1969) back to the United States, with stopovers in Japan and Hong Kong. I remember the ship had a swimming pool, and more than one restaurant, and a lot of kids around my age. I remember that I foolishly hung my three-quarters size guitar on the wall of my stateroom, where it got cracked on the voyage.
And I remember buying my first journal at an immense toy store in Hong Kong, beginning a lifelong habit of recording my thoughts and feelings and saving my memories of people I’d met, places I’d visited, events I’d witnessed, and experiences I’d had on my travels. My mom, a’h, suggested I buy the journal, as I was already a seasoned, intercontinental traveler, experiencing different cultures all over the world. Keeping a journal has become a cherished practice.
Since we’re all living through a unique period in time, during this coronavirus pandemic, I thought I’d encourage each of you to take up journaling. Think of the stories you will have to tell your children and grandchildren! There are many ways to keep a journal, and I’ll share some ideas with you here.
Selecting a Journal
Yes, in my opinion, journaling involves writing with a pen—or sketching with a pen or pencil—on paper. What you write online requires electricity to access, and it may not be available to share the way your analog journal entries will be (although I do admit I sometimes print out letters I’ve typed and insert those loose pages into my handwritten journal). I promise you the experience will be well worth it! So, the first thing you’ll need to do is choose a journal.
That first journal I bought in 1969 had a soft fabric cover in pastel plaid. The fabric cover stained easily, and I outgrew my fondness for plaids and pastels. My next journal had a plastic cover. That was even worse: it got hot and sticky. Now, I use a journal with a cover that has a pleasant feel and moves smoothly over a desk, table, or lap. My journals are always easy to carry with me, with a flexible binding, good quality paper that takes fountain-pen ink, and built-in pockets for ticket stubs or other small mementos. Some people use plain school notebooks, but I like the Moleskin Classic, lined, soft cover journals (they make unlined versions for those inclined to augment their words with pictures).
This year, I tried using an environmentally-friendly, stone paper journal. I love the idea of it, and the paper takes fountain pen ink beautifully, but it’s too heavy to lug around and has a fabric cover.
Once you’ve gone through the process of choosing a journal type, start writing!
Tips for Novice Journal Writers:
- Keep your journal with you, so you’re ready to write or sketch at any time
- Keep the first page blank; start writing on the second page (trust me on this)
- Date every entry (day, month, year): you think you’ll remember later, but you won’t
- Don’t edit your writing or feel you have to write beautifully, just jot down your thoughts
- Write a little or a lot—it’s up to you
- Write when you want to and don’t feel obligated to write every day (it’s not a chore)
- If you have a hard time starting to write, just make a bullet list of the day’s events
- Write lists of your favorite things, like books, quotes, films, or recipes
- Although you don’t have to write everyday, try to make writing part of your routine as your get ready in the morning or wind down at night
You’re living through extraordinary times, on a personal and communal level. Consider sharing with your journal what you share in conversation with your friends and families—or the thoughts you’re thinking but not expressing.
Your journals are just for you. Don’t feel you have to make a compete record of your experiences, with photos, or pressed flowers, or theater tickets. Some days you might feel like scrapbooking; other days, you may want to use the bullet-point method of jotting down your day’s activities to use to jog your memory later. Your journal writing doesn’t have to be perfect, grammatically correct, or demonstrate your calligraphic handwriting skills.
Keeping a journal helps you articulate your thoughts and feelings and can be a therapeutic “safe space” to record your emotions, preserve your memories, and reflect honestly on how your life experiences are aligning with your life goals. The act of writing is a useful technique for self-awareness and personal growth. It’s true: sometimes you discover what you’re thinking or feeling as you write!
For inspiration, explore these diaries from famous authors and regular people, which can be found in the TCL catalog or for free online:
- Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations
- Ballard, Martha. Martha Ballard’s Diary Online
- Bunkers, Suzanne L., Ed. Diaries of Girls and Women: A Midwestern American Sampler
- Llewhellin, Winifred. Wynne’s Diary
- Orwell, George. Diaries
- Sarton, May. The Journals of May Sarton, v.1: Journal of a Solitude; Plant Dreaming Deep; Recovering
Happy reading—and journaling!
This post was contributed by Aviva Adler, Librarian, Touro College Israel