When I was 14, I was crazy about my boyfriend, Josh. (Josh, incidentally, carved my name into his forearm with a compass point, so it’s safe to say that if he wasn’t crazy about me, he was at least crazy.) I was also pretty sure I hated him.
Sure that no feeling in the history of emotions could compare, I dug out an old composition book and recorded the phenomenon for posterity, as well as some strong opinions on walruses and Ringo Starr.
I began the whole thing by writing, “Time for my yearly diary entry”. For the first 14 years of my life, I was bad about buying cool-looking diaries, writing one entry about my annoying little brothers in gel pen, and then abandoning the notebook forever. I guess that time was different though, because the next day I wrote another entry and I just kept going.
I kept a journal pretty religiously for the next five years, and I was very particular about it. I don’t know if everyone’s journals have rules, but mine sure did.
Journaling: Check Yourself before You Wreck Yourself
1. What are you going to call your notebook? You can’t call it a diary unless you’re 10 and you’re writing all your entries in one of those feathery pink pens. Diaries ≠ cool. Calling it a journal on the other hand? Cool. Calling it a commonplace book? Even cooler (if technically inaccurate).
2. Who is allowed to read your notebook? If you just named another living human being, you’re not ready for this. Journaling is intensely private, particularly if you’re the kind of person who writes cruel (if technically accurate) things about your friends and family in there.
3. Where will you hide your journal? From experience, I do not suggest hiding it in a homemade pocket attached to the back of your nightstand with packing tape, as it will fall off in the night and terrify you. I also do not suggest trying to carve out the inside of a large book. You could always disguise the cover to throw people off.
4. Which song lyrics will you write all over the back of the book? Don’t write anything on there yet! Wait until you’ve had a particularly rough night. Cry into your pillow while a classic rock station plays on your boom box. Think, The Talking Heads really get me, and then write the lyrics to “And She Was” all over your notebook in red Sharpie with crazy handwriting. Wake up in the morning with the words stamped onto your sweaty face. Find out later that the song is about dropping acid.
5. Will you use your real name? For a while, I refused to write my name in any of my journals. I’ve read Harriet the Spy. I know what happens when people read your notebooks. If I had to refer to myself at all for the first two years, I called myself Mrs. Hazel P. Frognut. I wish that was a joke.
I put everything in there — fights with my parents, crushes on unfortunate boys, short observations, long rants. It was a good time in my life to keep a journal, because besides slowly recovering from puberty and slogging through high school, I was also getting punched in the face by weird life stuff. When I was 15, my mom was hit by a truck and spent a month in intensive care. Two years later, my middle-aged supervisor started using my nickname as his computer password and obsessively drunk-texting me late at night. It was a strange time, and I don’t know how I would have handled it if I hadn’t had those silly notebooks.
I stopped journaling as frequently when I was 19, maybe because I felt angst was too high school or maybe because I finally had hobbies. It certainly wasn’t because I magically got my life together. I still open the current composition book every so often, but it’s taken me more than two years to fill it less than halfway. I used to be able to knock one of those suckers out in six months.
I Avoid Journaling Because…
1. My brain used to think, Something strange and interesting is happening! I should write it in my notebook! Now my brain thinks, Something strange and interesting is happening! Can I tweet this? Is it more of a Facebook status? Do I have a full-fledged blog post, here?! and I write those things instead.
2. My writing is always hit and miss. Two years ago, I wrote a pretty strong essay about existential horror and sex that no one is ever allowed to read. Two months ago, I wrote a pretty crazy essay about limpets that no one is ever allowed to read for very different reasons.
3. I could write in a journal for 10 minutes before bed, or I could turn my brain off and watch Netflix with Winston until we both fall asleep and drool on each other.
4. I’m not a writer. I’m a person who writes things, but I don’t feel like a writer. Journals are for writers, not people who spent the day at work and came home to watch Orange is the New Black and drool on their cat.
But when I read those old journals, they blow my mind. Some of the stuff in them makes me hate myself — Is that how I used to write? Is that who I thought was cute? Am I still that petty? Some of the stuff impresses me — my mom recovered and I finally got the guts to tell my boss to step off, but I didn’t know how those things were going to turn out when I was in the middle of them and my dumb teenage self kept plugging along anyway.
I have an incredibly colorful record of five years of my life, and I regret that the record of the next five years is spotty and sepia at best, so I think I’m going to start a journal again.
And I’m not telling any of you where I keep it.