“There’s an awful lot of writing going on that nobody knows about.” – Edward Gildea, publisher of The Diarist’s Journal
When I was about 8 years old I received a journal as a gift. I felt grown up and responsible as I wrote in it, and I filled all the pages. I kept writing as I grew up, and through college. But not surprisingly I wrote with less frequency the older I got. Eventually I all but stopped. Then when my son was 2 I discovered blogs and started my own, recording in posts his life and the lives of his parents. Blogging had replaced my journal. But the trouble with blogs is that they’re made for public consumption and there’s some inevitable self-censorship that goes with that.
A private journal has the advantage of, well, privacy. It’s a place where a person can put down what happened and how she felt about it, with the thought of someone else reading it being remote enough so as to almost not matter. Think of this journal entry* from Eleanor Coppola, wife of the filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola:
“A few days ago I got a vision of a house that I would feel at home in. It was made of eucalyptus, glass and adobe. A contemporary structure in a natural setting. I would have to build it. I walked up by the old water tank today, looking for a site.
Through the years, Francis and I have argued over and over again about our house. He has said all he ever really wanted from me was to make him a home. Once, in a crazy argument in the Philippines, he told me that he would spend a million dollars, if necessary, to find a woman who wanted to make a home, cook and have lots of babies. I could never tell the truth, even to myself, because I thought it would be the end of my marriage. I am not a homemaker. I have always wanted to be a working person. But the kind of work I have done over the years hasn’t earned any money, so it looks like I am playing and lazy.
Right now I am feeling a giant relief. I am off the hook. The other woman in Francis’s life is not the ultimate homemaker either; she is not dying to step in and take over the mansion.”
-Eleanor Coppola, 1977
There is information in the entry: she had an interesting daydream, she repeatedly has the same argument with her husband, and her husband is apparently having an affair. But what makes it so interesting to me is the insight into how she feels the lack of a home, or at least a home she can comfortably and authentically occupy. A place to rest and be herself. I don’t know anything about Eleanor Coppola’s life, but I’d imagine understanding her inner homelessness would go a long way toward understanding her life in general.
That is the kind of thing I’d like my kids decades from now to understand about me, and the kind of thing I’d like to understand about myself. I want a journal as a history, and a journal as therapy. In some sense journal-keeping is a selfish, or self-absorbed way to spend your time. But I think selfishness isn’t always bad. I think there should be another word. Self-care, maybe? Writing in a journal is caring about your life enough to think it’s worth recording, and caring about your feelings enough to think they’re worth remembering.
Do you keep a journal? What’s the format? Do you write daily, according to a schedule, or just when it seems important to write?
* Eleanor Coppola’s journal entry comes from The Assasin’s Cloak: An Anthology of the World’s Greatest Diarists, Irene Taylor and Alan Taylor, editors. It’s a fabulous book. You should put it on your Christmas list.