Journaling is one of those things at which I am really bad. This past week, however, I brought a notebook on our last biennial family reunion, because if there is one thing I am worse at than journaling, it is remembering specific events and ideas. I did not want to forget a thing. During the course of recording things in my notebook, I had some thoughts on writing about life in general. The words “journal” and “diary” signify very different things, at least in the sense that I use them.
A diary is a log of the most significant events of the day, and, perhaps, one’s feelings about them. I have never understood why some boys want to steal their sister’s diary besides the obvious purpose of tormenting her. Apart from that this theft is an over-popularized stereotype, the diary is actually very dangerous to one who reads it, because one might begin to agree with the writer once one has seen their point of view. (Experience prevented me from reading someone elses’ a diary more than once.) The diary, then, sometimes works like the point of view gun, which, incidentally, prevented the earth’s destruction. Diaries are dangerous. I do not diary since I tend to ramble, and also because my entries make me depressed when I read them later. I do, however, journal.
I see a journal as a scrapbook of newspaper-style columns, quotes, notes, addresses, and sketches. (Think Amelia’s Notebook.) It is a book of thoughts I
would like to save. This blog is something of a public journal for me, although I generally do not research enough for my posts to qualify as “newspaper-style.” In my “formal” journal, I log a little; but when I do so, I am verbose, so I do not do log often. One of the most freeing things about journaling is that one can skip days. Granted, diaries allow skipping days in too, but since journals are oriented toward saving important thoughts not recording important days, it doesn’t matter how many important days one skips in a journal as long as there are no important thoughts happening. Anyway, one or two words can record important ideas, while details of important events need a few more. (Journals don’t tend to have as many embarrassing details in them, either.) Journaling eliminates the trying to-catch-up-and-failing syndrome. However, unlike a diary, one must have a journal on hand at all times, or else a good head for remembering things. If I was good at remembering things quickly, I wouldn’t be writing them down.
Finally, I like writing both journals and diaries for the same reason my sister cited some years ago: I can write what I feel and no one can read it or make me be quiet, but I have another detail to add: when I write, I can create a new world that I can understand and maneuver in the midst of one I cannot and, eventually, use that world to understand my own.
Update: This post by the Anchoress inspired my return to journaling last year and summarizes my definition of journaling.