Every Day I Write the Book

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.

Romeo Juliet
14-year-olds: notoriously even-keeled when it comes to romance.

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.

This is obviously not a notebook full of crazy.
This is obviously not a notebook full of crazy.

 

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.

a limpet. I think that this is a fissurellid. ...
So strong. So misunderstood.

 

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.

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26 comments

  1. Deepa

    You go girl! You keep that journal!!
    This brought back so many memories. I actually had made up my own alphabet (it was really just each letter rearranged), and used this to write names of people I was writing about. I’m still secretly proud of that :-)

  2. melissa

    Ha! Love it!

    My record for keeping a childhood diary was like your early years–buying them and ignoring them. In high school I turned to writing dreadful poetry instead of keeping a journal. Sadly, I tended to give my poems to friends one of which is, apparently, a hoarder and not a particularly nice person. Mockery has occurred. I fear blackmail is next.

    When I read The Artists Way I tried the whole 3 morning pages thing for many months. When I came across those notebooks in a recent move, I destroyed them. I’ve learned my lesson.

  3. Debs

    I have a cat named Winston too! Also, I recently found seven half-finished journals from my childhood and read them all. It was quite a laugh!

  4. Atiba

    Haha really so funny! I also had a sort of journal, in which I recorded all the crazy stuff you’ve mentioned (and more). I think I’m gonna go read it again now to have some good laugh!

  5. chaitanya

    Hilarious! As a person who’s had a diary since 10 (incidentally, I call it a journal now that I’m 31 and want people to think I write more serious stuff than bitching and complaining), I completely identify with this! Right now, I’m in the one entry a year mode as well, probably because like you said, blogging and FB status messages are taking the punch away from my journal entries.

  6. Farid

    Reblogged this on Crimson Soul and commented:
    It’s very true that when I tried to write diary, the initial days go with the momentum of thoughts. Then goes the relaxation period. Sometimes it lingers for a week or sometime it uproots the interest to pen down my own thoughts. This post gives the different perspective and triggers thee urge to bring back the hobby.

  7. Farid

    Very interesting read. It’s almost everyone’s challenge to keep a diary or a journal. The consistency is a biggest threat every day. Nice post !

  8. whackywriter

    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.

    *boooooom* you are the my mirror! :D

  9. Miriam Joy

    I kept a journal in early 2012, but stopped when I finished the notebook and didn’t have another of an appropriate size. I started again in September and I’m on my third (or fourth if you count the 2012 journal) cream map-covered notebook. For some reason I just have to have that type of notebook? I don’t even know. But it’s important to me to be obliged to put my feelings into words, otherwise I bottle them up and explode. Also, having the past nine months documented — every day, every anxiety attack, every existential crisis, all of it — is useful when trying to work out when a particular feeling started or whatever. Which is great when I have a billion health issues. :) I’ll probably hate myself reading back through them in the future, though.

  10. Yashluv Virwani

    This may sound rather cheesy but for the last two days, every now and then I end up looking at your display picture of Listful Thinking out of nowhere and with no reason. I don’t really know why I’m writing this to you but guess your articles, those one liners out of nowhere keep running in my head like forever. I also dunno whether you would ever read this but again, I dunno why I am typing…

  11. Zainub Javed

    Haha! This is so relatable! I used to write so regularly in my teens. It helped me so much. And it came out so fluent, no matter how stupid. This judging my writing by the standards of coolness has rendered me useless.

  12. L. Donsky-Levine

    I still have my first journal. It’s a red, three-ring notebook and obviously quite worn around the edges. But the pages, yellow as they are filled with the most unbelievable dribble. But then again I was just a teenager and that’s what teenagers write: Dribble.

  13. amberleyanglican

    You write so amusingly on any topic, I always enjoy your blog whenever I call in. Unlike you, when ‘something strange and interesting is happening’ and I try to write about it, I turn it into something clichéd and banal. Keep writing, the world needs you.

  14. Lorna's Voice

    I love reading my old journal entries–good fodder for an eventual fictional character (a screwed up one, yes). But there is a danger in writing to the bone. No matter how clever you are at hiding your pages, someone could read them. It’s happened to me and the consequences were life-changing (and I’m not overstating the case (another idea for a story plot…). ;)

  15. emisformaker

    This makes me think of two things. First is a phenomenon called Mortified, which involves curated, staged readings of people’s adolescent diary entries (there is a docu of it on Netflix). Second is this:

    You’re welcome.

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