Friday, February 5, 2016

Confessions of an On Again/ Off Again Passionate Journaler

My name is Todd and I am an on again/off again passionate journaler.

Every once in awhile my wife nudges me to consider the very large stack of books that sits next to my nightstand.  At one time they actually fit in the bedside table drawers, but now they’ve been annexed to allow for more books to reside in those places of comfort.  They are a mix of classics I’ve read multiple times and some that I’ve had for decades but haven’t read yet.  I’m reminded of an article I read by Scott Berkun with the title: “Why it’s ok to buy books and not read them.” Berkum lists several notions that resonate with me.  Buying books is hopeful.  It is like a trip you can take whenever you want.  “It provisions future curiosity since in 3 months or years I can easily read that book.”  There is even a Japanese word for buying, but not reading books.  It is “Tsundoku.” Somehow, that elegant word soothes me.

Recently, I ‘made some room’ for a few new books and actually passed on a few of my treasures to friends who I thought might enjoy them.  Believe me, it wasn’t easy.  In the process, I uncovered a stack of journals I have kept on and off through the last thirty years.  Like those ‘favorite and very special’ books, these journals have the magical ability to transport me through time and space.  

I opened the first, a neat and tidy black book. As I ran my fingers over the intricate ivy doodle I had put there I read:  “August First Day 1993 Vanstory Hills Elementary.  I arrived early at about 7:00 a.m. and I was really anxious today and tired.  Erica and I stayed up until 3:30 or so this morning.  We were working on things for the students…”   And just like that, the faces and names of those students rolled through my mind.  I could feel the incessant heat and humidity that was a constant in North Carolina that fall.  

Another, much bigger journal with a spiral comb binding was next.  Nearly a decade later:  “August 24, 2001, My hope is that I can make entries in this book at frequent intervals.  I’d love to commit to once a day, but that can be tough to keep up with, so I’ll try.  Life is going to get kind of messy soon.  Joyfully we are anxiously anticipating the birth of the newest member of our family.  Our ‘due’ date is exactly a month ago as of yesterday…”

“9-11-2001 OH MY GOD!  New York City has been attacked.  Two airplanes (American Airlines) were hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center in NYC.  Both towers have collapsed and thousands have been killed.  Another hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon in Washingon, D.C. All aircraft have been grounded.  NYC is in chaos…”

A thick, bound book was next.  Rubberbands held race numbers, snapshots, concert and movie tickets within.  “August 25, 2012, First day of school 2012!”

I lovingly paged through these powerful pages.  Three hours later, I noticed it had gotten dark out and I was struggling to read in the dim light.  I switched on a light and made myself more comfortable, and I continued to read.  

Entry after entry, sketch after sketch, photograph or dog-eared concert ticket, boarding pass or travel map; each was a tiny ‘trip’ in my mind.  I re-experienced the struggle of those beginning years of teaching. I saw the unsteady and messy hand of a frustrated and sleep-deprived new father.  I looked with pride at the sketches and watercolor paintings I had made through the years.

Melissa Tydell speaks about the power of writing:  Writing Helps us, Heal.  In this article, she elaborates on the healing power of writing.  It:
  1. Allows us to make sense of things.
  2. Helps us let go and accept that we may never find answers.
  3. Improves our mental and physical health.
  4. Changes our outlook.  

Jackee Holder, in her fantastic Journal Journey Guidebook, guides beginning journalers in the art of exploring the power of journaling.  She gives many, but these are the three that spoke most strongly to me:
  • A safe and private space for you to vent, emotionally and mentally
  • An easy and accessible way to release mental clutter
  • Where negative and emotional feelings shared on the page eventually create space in which you can connect with your natural flow.

In an article on Psych Central, Maud Purcell nails, what I think is the best reason to journal: “Through your writing, you’ll discover that your journal is an all-accepting, nonjudgmental friend.”

Dominique Browning and I disagree on what is best to do with your journals.  In her article, Burning Your Diaries: First Person, she talks about how intensely personal her diaries and journals are to her.  She has a point. However, there are very few things I’ve written over the years that are truly things I would not want to share with my children or wife.  Of course, there are some yucky moments.  Some I’m not so proud of, but all in all, I think my stack of journals is exactly like me: unique, imperfect, filled with snapshots, drawings, paintings and little snippets of who I was along the way.  I hope someday my kids WILL read them and see that I was a passionate, dedicated husband, father, teacher and multi-faceted human.

Jackee Holder, in her Journal Journey PDF inspires me and I bet you will be too. It is a terrific primer on the power and value of keeping a journal. This beautiful 'gift' is available for free to download.

Two of my favorite elements are her 'juicing exercises' and 'simple writing prompts.' Both are sure to inspire and motivate you to start or continue journaling.

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I hope my 'journey' inspires you to jot down your thoughts.  It is only in hindsight that we truly see their power and worth.  I know it has inspired me to be a bit more disciplined with my entries.  


  1. Great post, Todd. I like that Japanese word! I used to journal and now my journaling has turned into a list of thankful blessings at the end of the day.

    1. Tina,
      Thank you. I think the beauty is that whatever you write can transport you back; we just have to remember to write!

  2. Excellent article! Thanks for all the links.

    1. Thank you very much! You are most welcome. It was a fun post for me to create.

  3. Excellent article! Thanks for all the links.

  4. Great post - and good reminder of why we keep on doing it... Thanks for some prompts.

    1. You bet Sue. Thank you for the kind words. Keep writing!

  5. Thanks for this, Todd! Very helpful and inspiring. . .

    1. You are most welcome Jarm. I am glad to share and hope it encourages others to dig out those old journals!

  6. I don't journal, but I wish I did. I have a diary that I kept when I was in high school (long time ago). I have recently went though all my books to make room for more - tossed some and rearranged the ones I had left. It makes you feel good to get organized.

  7. Janet, indeed it does feel good to purge and remember some of those old 'treasures.' I think the point of the article for me is that even if it just a list of what you are thankful for each day, week, month, etc. you just need to get it down. Then you can be 'transported' back to that time and space. Keep writing!

  8. Wonderful post, Todd! I love that Japanese word -- I think I will have it engraved, multiple-times, and posted above my still-to-be-read piles. I so wish I was a more diligent journal-writer, but I just can't seem to sustain it. Maybe this will give me encouragement.

    1. Amen. I understand. However, the value isn't in doing it everyday, but in doing it enough that you can capture your mental state throughout time. I go years sometimes from entry to entry, but each is special, meaningful and powerful. Just do it when you can! Thanks for the kind words!

  9. Gives me comfort to know that others are intermittent journalers, too--and that it's OK! I tend to journal to help process some emotional reaction or to reflect on some historical event. Otherwise, the daily? Not so much. Thanks for this trip down your memory lane, Todd

  10. I love that our word "sun" is in Tsundoku - appreciations for this new word & this new way of approaching journals, Todd.

    I am with you about keeping them, as I have long regretted that I jettisoned some diaries & journals. Since our daughter was born I have kept all of them. This makes me realize it will be fun to go on a scavenger hunt & find them & open the potential treasury memory lane.

    You artwork rocks, by the way. And I look forward to following the links.