Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Journal Paradox

I have tried several times in my life to keep a journal.  The idea appeals to me so much, to chronicle my thoughts and the moments both big and small that shape who I become.  Events and people I'm convinced I'll never forget fade from memory, and having some record of all of it to refer to later is reassuring.

Blogging has been my most recent stab at keeping a journal, and arguably my most successful in that I do it regularly, but it's not the same.  I like putting a pen to real paper and having something to store on a shelf that I can pull down and page through.  I often take a blank journal with me when I go on an interesting trip to jot down my adventures and to have a place to store things like ticket stubs or park passes, and reading through all of that later is incredibly satisfying.

But here is why keeping a journal always falls apart for me:  The moments when you have time to write are seldom the moments most worth writing about.

When I read through any of my journal entries from when I was in school they are all a depressing ramble about being a lonely misfit.  My plans fell through and I was stuck at home or in a dorm room feeling sorry for myself and there was lots of time to wallow in that and get it all down on paper in excruciating detail.  But what about the nights I was up with my friends laughing until I couldn't breathe?  Or exploring something new on campus?  Or working hard on a great project?  No time to write about any of that.  I was too busy living it.  And then it slips away and seems like old news by the time there is a moment to get it onto paper.  Even those trip journals skim quickly over any experience of the Eiffel Tower to go on about doing laundry in a youth hostel.  Finding the time to write skews what you write about.

Same thing happens with blogging now.  Between the kids getting out of school and Ian leaving for a couple of weeks of Army duty I've had no time to write.  And there has been so much to write about!  In my head I've started about a dozen different posts, some of which are on topics that will keep, but most of which seem time sensitive and are lost if I don't do something with them.

For instance, writing about Father's Day after Ian gets home and I have time to write about it is weird.  That will be around the 4th of July, and at that point I'm sure I'd rather write about that.  So, without any great detail, here is a shot of Ian and the kids on Father's Day on the bridge in front of the Milwaukee Art Museum where I was performing with the Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra before Ian had to rush off to Ft McCoy:

I could write a whole post about the museum.  Or the art fair.  Or what the kids made for Ian for Father's Day.  Or whine about how the Army took Ian away on Father's Day.  Or playing mandola on stage.  Or how cool Lake Michigan is.  Or how Mona complains about squinting in the sun.  Or Quinn's butterfly shirt.  Or the state of the kids' shoes.  Or eighty-gabillion other things that I find interesting but I have no time to reflect upon.

I plan to write a post about Quinn's new Australia map that we made:

And I really want to write a post about my brother Barrett trying to give my kids a lesson in climbing trees:

But we'll see.

I'd rather enjoy a life well lived and forgotten than a worthless existence of navel gazing that is carefully documented.  Socrates may have thought the unexamined life was not worth living, but trying to keep a journal has taught me otherwise.  Self-reflection is a bonus, not an end in itself.

I have more to write, but a full day ahead.  I hope I find some time to tell you all about it.


  1. I too would love to keep a journal, but find I'm terrible at it. I have so many lovely, beautiful journals with one or two entries (maybe three!) that are then left abandoned it doesn't bear thinking about.

    I turned to blogging because it was something I could do fairly quickly (I'm a fast typist), and could share with my family. I wanted to create an online scrapbook of sorts and think I have done so for the most part.

    But, yes, you are absolutely right, the moments to write about are those moments in which you have no time to write because you are too busy living them. That's what memories are for. :o)

  2. I know exactly what you mean! Sometimes I have so much to say (and I am writing it in my head) but not a moment to blog it. Other times, I have nothing worth writing about but the kids are sleeping and I have time to write!

    "Self reflection is a bonus, not an end in itself." You are exactly! right!

  3. Does this mean that you will write a blog post about navel-gazing?

    I believe self reflection is incredibly important, but intermittent self reflection. Self reflection that doesn't serve as a surrogate for living and experiencing new adventures.

    I share your journal-writing dilemma.

  4. It can be tough finding balance when blogging or journaling. Something has to give. For me it has been TV, I almost never watch anymore

  5. This is so true! I make all these mental notes: I should write that down! But then I don't want to stop playing with my kid to go write about playing with my kid. That would be silly.

    I've never journaled - I imagine a journaling habit would make for a stronger blogger.