Friday, August 28, 2015

A Reader Asks: How do I make journaling a valuable part of my life? (Part II)

In Part I, I wrote about the importance of being truthful when writing, not censoring one's self. However, I also touched upon editing your writing, grammar and content, should you decide to publish all or part of your journal(s).

My email exchange with Marty also touched upon the audience for whom one writes. He shared with me:

You reminded me of something: the audience for my journals. When I write a journal entry, it's usually just for me, but also with an eye towards someone possibly picking them up and reading them. I remember one journal book (I have several completed) where I wrote on the inside cover something like "This journal is for Marty's eyes only, but if I'm dead, go ahead and read it. I won't care!" So there's always a lot of humor in them because in the back of my mind I have this weird expectation that someone is going to read them. Sometimes I'll write to make that mystery person laugh, or I'll deliberately put something in there to make myself laugh. It sounds conceited, and it probably is, but often I'll go back through my Facebook "Today in the Past" posts and find some silly status from five or more years ago that I'll have completely forgotten about, but it will just make me laugh. I guess that's what I do with my journals too, though I rarely reread them.

But the "mystery audience" is also a reason I will sometimes censor things, in the rare moments when my journals actually get that interesting. I'll really need to go back and read things to get a sense of what I leave out, because I think I'll be able to tell.

For those of us who consider ourselves writers, and maybe anyone who keeps a journal feels the same, it is natural to think of who may read our most personal thoughts, the struggles we are ashamed to share with anyone, or our darkest secrets. Will those readers be family and friends or strangers and what will be their reaction? Do we plan to publish parts or the entirety of our diaries? These are all considerations. 

It is tempting, when an audience is in the front of your mind, to be less than honest with yourself. I try to avoid censorship because I know that no one will read my journals—I live alone and they are stored on a shelf in my closet that the nieces and nephews are still too short to reach without a stool. Like Marty, my thinking is that once I'm dead, I won't care if anyone reads them. In fact, I like to believe that even the revelation of my negative qualities and experiences will serve to remind others that we are all human and quite fallible. We possess strength and weakness. We hide struggles and internal conflict from others, especially those closest to us. 

The downside is that someone you love may read a negative entry about themselves or some conflict that occurred with them that may not have found resolution. How will they respond to it? Hopefully, the relationship was strong enough that they understand the complexities of human interactions, misunderstandings, and hurtful behavior. I know I would, or like to think I would, be that understanding. Perhaps forgiveness, especially of one's self, can happen in this instance.

A while back, my nephew Andrew, who is now eleven, asked me if he could have my journals when I die. I laughed and told him probably not, at least not now at his young age. Upon further reflection, I am thinking maybe entrusting him with them at age twenty-five, should I no longer be on this earth then or thereafter. (I’d have to put those instructions in a will.) He was curious enough to ask, and it was flattering that he showed interest. He is curious, and I can imagine it would be thrilling to read my “secret” thoughts. (That makes me laugh, Marty.) Andrew has shown interest in writing a book, even at the tender age of nine, so bestowing my journal collection to his care is definitely something I am considering. 

Contemplating this and making a decision about it, leads me back to the audience. Even if I refrain from censoring the content, do I try to make it entertaining or provide some moral to the conflict or struggles with which I am dealing? In the end, I write for myself and make it compelling, even amusing, all while learning something from my experiences.

Nieces and nephews, Christmas 2012. This journal was a gift I received Christmas 2013 - Andrew is 2nd from the left. 

Marty returned to the idea of rereading one's journal at the end of our exchange: 

I stopped for a few minutes right before this paragraph and pulled out the journal that I keep in my bag. It's the most recent one I've worked on. The first entry is from March 8, 2009, right after Ryan came home from his 9 weeks in the NICU after his birth.The most recent entry is from Jan. 28, 2013, so I've been a bit out of the habit. But WOW! I did find this gem from March 10, 2009, when Ryan would have been home for about four days and was just over two months old:

"Yesterday afternoon I was sitting in the rocking chair holding Ryan just after a feeding. We were listening to a CD the choir gave us at the baby shower they threw for us on February 26. The song 'Puff the Magic Dragon' came on, which is a sad song anyway, but I was looking at Ryan's little face, his perfect little eyes shut in little slits as he slept in my arms, and I was overwhelmed by his innocence, the newness of his life, and the loss of innocence in the song. It could have also been the fatigue, or the reality of the past nine weeks finally setting in on me, but I began to cry for several minutes. The next song, 'Child of Mine' by Carole King, which has beautiful, tender lyrics, only made the crying worse. It was a nice moment though." Okay, THAT made rereading my journal worth it.

Yes, Marty, it is worth it. Your journal is a treasure trove of memories, wonderful and sometimes devastating. It is the story of you, and that is a gift you can leave to Ryan, should you decide to do so. Happy writing, my friend.

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