Journaling as Art

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.
— Benjamin Franklin
The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.
— Gustave Flaubert
Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers
— Isaac Asimov

I have always loved to write.

I’ve spent my whole life writing. Unfortunately, a lot of journals from my childhood were maimed or destroyed. And I’m the only one to blame. When I read them later in life, I was embarrassed about some of the things I wrote. Knowing I would be mortified if anyone read the words I penned, I scribbled out things and tore out pages. I know I’m a different person than I was back in those days, but the world will never know about the conversations that shaped my current thinking, the people I loved and hated, and the unfounded worries and fears that colored my early years.

In an old hope chest of my grandmother’s, I discovered one of her old journals. It begins with these words, “Today I turn 20. Gee, but I still feel just 16!” There’s a couple of months of truly boring entries that read like an agenda and then seven full years of radio silence. She probably felt a lot like me—either she didn’t think her life was interesting enough to write about or she didn’t want to remember a reality that was painful at the time. My grandmother has been dead since 1987, so I’ll never know for sure what the 1920s meant to her. I do know this, though. If you want to really understand a person, all you have to do is look at what was going on in the world when they were in their 20s.

Maybe that’s why I have five journals now. Maybe it’s my feeble attempt to be known and remembered by all who come after me. Maybe it’s how I make sense of a world gone topsy turvy.

I was in my 20s during the 1990s, a time rife with terrorism scares and the Gulf War, when grunge was in and the characters of Friends and Seinfeld seemed to be having all the fun. My 20s included the Oklahoma City bombing, the explosion of TWA Flight 800, the Centennial Olympic Park bombing, the Columbine High School shooting, Y2K, and of the course the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. No wonder everyone my age is so afraid of everything.

I thought getting older would take longer.
— Heather Burton

Once as our family was on our way to Hilton Head, our best friends and neighbors were coming home from their vacation in Hilton Head. The kids in our car were texting the kids in their car, making sure that we waved as we passed on the interstate both going 70+ miles/hour in opposite directions. It was a blur, all hands waving frantically out of the car windows on both sides, the kids in our car screaming, “They’re coming! There they are! They are!” But really it was just a whoosh. There they went.

It is the sound of our everyday, as we cook and drive and clean and care for our families. Time marches on, whether we acknowledge it or not. We count down the days until vacation or graduation or Christmas or till the kids are out of the house. "It’s almost here,” we shout, and then it’s gone, and before we know it we are 25 and having our first baby and 33 and having our last, 40 and everybody’s in school and suddenly our firstborn is in college.

I don’t like to talk about getting older because at my age, the trend is to play a game of Who’s the sickest? The most tired? Had the most surgeries? Sleeps the worst at night?

I don’t mind getting older.
I just don’t want to look older or feel older.

So maybe that’s why I write. I write because writing is so firmly grounded in the present. It’s right now and it’s write(!) now.

I write to remember, but also to dream.

In between graduating from college and building my family, I wrote it all down, and apparently (from what gleaned from a recent re-read of an old journal) I was really, really tired. So very, very tired.

Today, I keep five separate journals. They are stacked on my desk, scattered on the couch, stuffed in bags.

Prayer Journal: where I write down a favorite Bible verse everyday and keep track of prayer requests. (I love to look back and see how God answered those prayers.)

Dinner Journal: where I write down what I cook every single night of the week. (Boring? Maybe. But when I’m feeling stuck, I can always look back and go, “Oh I forgot about that recipe!”)

Book Notes Journal: where I write down things I want to remember from books I’m reading. (A book is never a waste of time, and how else would I be able to internalize all those nuggets of wisdom?)

Creativity Journal: where I write down questions I’m thinking about and interesting things I’m pondering from articles I read or people I meet. (This is the one journal I’d be devastated to lose! It’s how I make sense of everything happening around me.)

Line a Day Journal: Where I write down what’s going on with our family, sometimes an interesting quote, or even a note about the weather. (This book is the condensed Readers Digest version of the story of my life.)

It might be nice to have just one journal where I could keep everything neat and organized, but I don’t write in every journal every day, and I don’t fill up the journals at the same rate. Plus, my life isn’t neat and organized so why should the recording of it be that way? My life is messy, but beautiful in all the best ways.

I know a lot of people that don’t keep a journal because they just haven’t found one that works for them. I’ve never understood that argument. We are not consumers; we’re creators. The act of creating a system that works for you is cathartic in itself. My journals feel like art to me, each one an unique symbol of the life I’ve both created and lived.

Multiple journals are way better than my old system—a labyrinth of sticky notes scattered all over the house—jammed in books, stuffed in drawers, and attached to the insides of cabinets. Finding those notes later often left me wondering if I were drunk or crazy when I wrote them. Let us not confuse laziness for art.

Get a journal. Write it down. You are an artist.