A few weeks ago, I was back east in Boston and New York, and had time to make pilgrimages to Orchard House in Concord, and Green Gables on Prince Edward Island. I say pilgrimages, because these places were the homes of women whose writings were more than a little autobiographical, that have shaped my own life.
Louis May Alcott is most famous for her books based on the March family. Like her heroine Jo, Louisa came from an impoverished but genteel family, with three sisters who participated in all manner of progressive learning experiences. Louisa worked outside the home, to help with the family finances, as a teacher, seamstress, governess, domestic helper, and Civil War nurse before gaining success as a writer. Louisa grew up in a home where journaling was a family practice. The sisters would write in their journals, and their mother would read them and leave them comments and encouraging notes.
In 1845, Louisa and her mother corresponded in Louisa’s journal,
LMA: I told Mother that I liked to have her write in my book.
AMA: I often peep into your diary, hoping to see some record of more happy days. ‘Hope and keep busy,’ dear daughter, and in all perplexity or trouble come freely to your Mother
LMA: Dear Mother – You shall see more happy days, and I will come to you with my worries, for you are the best woman in the world.
Lucy Maud Montgomery’s mother died when Maud was 21 months old, and Maud was raised by her stern, maternal grandparents. Like her heroine Anne, Maud gained top honors for academic achievement, and took her teacher’s degree in one year instead of two. Maud always dreamed of becoming an author, and faithfully kept her own journals and scrapbooks. However, sometimes it is difficult to verify what it true. One journal entry tells of a post-midnight romantic encounter with a man that she loved passionately. Maud ended the interlude with great inner conflict, before they went beyond the edge, and recorded that the only thing that kept her back was the fear of his later contempt. However, much later, her friend (and his sister) discounted the relationship saying that he was engaged at the time to another woman, and could not have been courting Maud.
Both women achieved fame in their lifetimes. Both women, knowing that their lives would be scrutinized for generations to come, systematically reviewed their journals and even burned pages to ensure their privacy. Louisa even added notes to hear early journal entries.
I was cross today, and cried when I went to bed. I made good resolutions, and felt better in my heart. If only I kept all I make, I should be the best girl in the world. But I don’t, and so am very bad (Sept 24, 1843, age 10).
Poor little sinner! She says the same at fifty – LMA
I’m compelled by these women who used their pens to record, retell and shape their worlds. Throughout the ages, women’s words, thoughts and deeds have taken a back seat to the accomplishments of men. Their stories have not been lauded, but many survive in the form of letters and journal entries. Is is these women that I look to as a source of inspiration when it comes to keeping a journal. Other heroines include Laura Ingalls Wilder, Anne Frank and Carol Lynn Pearson. Someday, I will travel to Rocky Ridge arm and the Secret Annex, to stand where their feet stood, and see if I can catch another whisper of their lives and times.
President Spencer W. Kimball was a firm proponent of journaling. Speaking to the youth of the church, he said,
Your private journal should record the way you face up to the challenges that beset you. Do not suppose life changes so much that your experiences will not be interesting to your posterity. Experiences of work, relations with people, and an awareness of the rightness and wrongness of actions will always be relevant. Your journal, like most others, will tell of problems as old as the world, and how you dealt with them.
As for myself? I’m a very inconsistent journal keeper. I love the promise and allure of blank books, and have many of all sizes and shapes on my shelf. There are many times when I have despaired over these half (or quarter) filled books. There are times when I find it impossible to condense the immensity of feeling into mere words on a page. Nevertheless, there are times when I have felt compelled to do so.
Sometimes I can get by with alternative journaling methods. I keep a small notebook and pen with me whenever I travel, to jot down notes and impressions. I keep copies of important correspondence (paper and email) to and from family and friends (both new and established). I have a variety of scrapbooks, and have compiled a few photo books from travels abroad. I’ve even blogged to keep distant family and friends updated on my doings.
Taking all this into account, however, there is nothing like a journal. In a private journal,I am free to express myself without reservations regarding who is going to read it. I may not get as much feedback and discussion as when blogging, but at least I don’t have to worry about how others will take what I write. I can shine light into the dark spaces of my character and work through my weaknesses without heckling from the crowd, sharing judiciously with the few that have gained my trust. It’s my story, and I’ve decided to own it.
What about you? Do you keep a journal? What has and hasn’t worked for you? Do you have any special experiences with journaling? If you have children, are you encouraging them to keep a record of their lives? What have you found most effective? Do you respect their privacy? Have you been able to read the journals of your ancestors? Are there writers whose journals you’ve found great satisfaction in reading?