For Sanity’s Sake: The Art of Journaling

(Credit: waltstoneburner via Flickr)

I’m a journaling evangelist. I probably started writing — seriously writing — in my first journal in my early high school years. In reality, the notebook was more of a day planner than a journal, but I scribbled my daily goings on dutifully in its pages. Mostly these amounted to laments over how strict my mom was for not letting me drive with my newly-licensed friends (sorry mom), or what crush was sending my heart aflutter (or, at times, breaking it). Journaling, as I knew it, became a respite for my wandering, teenaged mind as I tried to navigate growing up.

Fast-forward 20-plus years, and I’m still navigating that winding road known as life, facing joys and triumphs, fears and self-doubts. And still, all these years later, I’m writing them down, sorting them from my head to the page, by hand.

The stacks of notebooks I’ve saved over the decades tell the story of my life–and the tales of my travels. I’m most diligent at journaling when I’m on the road, and intent on capturing the details of all I’ve seen and absorbed and learned and found hilarious.

I laugh my head off at my study abroad journal from 1996, which is filled with stories of karaoke bars, Eurail adventures, new friends and young love. Seeing Paris for the very first time through my 20-year-old eyes makes me catch my breath. I was so awed by every little thing to cross my foreign path.

In my 20s, I went so far as to teach a journaling course as part of a study abroad program for American university students studying in Italy — begging them to capture all the beauty they were experiencing for the very first time.

Later, as I wound my way through my early 30s, ¬†journaling became a chance to work through a lot of things: self-doubt, being hard on myself, relationships I wished I had known better than to pursue. Those difficult entries are my favorites. I was so very determined (I still am) to look my stuff in the eye and embrace it, not run scared from it all, but deal with it, good and proper. I wrote so many of those entries from my apartment balcony in Philly — which truly became my absolute solace.

Those evening acts of journaling became a soothing ritual: I’d wait til dark, slip onto my 11th floor balcony, light candles, turn on Elvis Perkins or Alexi Murdoch and let what needed to pour forth slam onto the page, looking up occasionally to see my city that I loved and that healed me sprawling and twinkling into the distance.

Last summer I was introduced to the book, The Artist’s Way, the crux of which honors the act of writing “Morning Pages,” slightly different from journaling, but very similar. The idea is to wake up and write, first thing. Letting out absolutely everything that’s in your head while you’re still barely awake — before you’ve checked your email or Facebook or read the morning news. Ideally, writing all this minutiae out on the page frees up your mind for creative acts.

I was dedicated to my morning pages. I was waking up at 5:20 a.m. so that I could have time to write the 3 pages the book suggests prior to starting my day’s work by 6 a.m. (A schedule that, thankfully, has changed)

Today, I still write regularly, though without the strict “rules” I’d set in place last summer. Getting my thoughts onto the page, and doing so by hand, rather than typing, slows me down, forces me to really think through my world and whatever circumstances and thoughts are swirling in my brain.

The act helps me stay present–in my travels, in the mundane, in the confusing or frightening moments. And that, I believe, is the goal.


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