Sometimes our innermost thoughts aren’t for public scrutiny, which is a good thing

luluI notice that I have been very negligent with my journaling of late. That negligence could be symptomatic of either one of two things: 1) that my life is so boring it’s scarcely worth mentioning in actual words or, 2) I’m extremely lazy.

I suspect the latter. I’m just no Samuel Pepys who used to note everything including intimate details of his encounters with the chambermaid he was boffing at the time, and also pissing into the fireplace late at night when he was in his cups..

Well, we don’t have a chambermaid, more’s the pity, and we have a gas fireplace that probably wouldn’t lend itself to a unrinary dousing.

But, at various periods in my life I have kept a journal, and I still do. It’s just that it’s currently lacking in daily entries. They say journaliing is healthy and it’s good for a body to keep an account of his thoughts, wants, needs, desires, and (tough for a guy) ‘feelings.’

For the past sixteen years I have been fairly (sorta-kinda) consistent with my journaling, and rarely go as long as a week without giving at least a summary of what is going on. I was advised to start the venture by a counselor I was seeing, and who was helping me to get rid of some of the angst and self-loathing that the breakup of my marriage had evoked many years ago. It was good advice.

“Be absolutely candid,” she said. “Write whatever you’re wrestling with and be totally honest. Don’t censor yourself at all.”

Great, that meant I could write dirty stuff, too. Incentive indeed.

What I found, however, was that dirty stuff was easy (isn’t it always?), but feelings were really difficult. I almost felt like I was intruding on myself be putting down assorted items of ‘honesty.’ But, the advice was well founded. I found myself exploring areas of ‘me’ that I’d never truly looked into. Why did I do that? Why did I think that? Eventually it became like a jigsaw puzzle in which you start out with a mass of meaningless bits but then, as you persevere, a picture begins to form and take genuine shape. That was what began to happen with me via my journal. It was like home-brewed psychotherapy and ultimately produced a number of ‘aha’ and ‘of course’ moments.

Now, I periodically look back at earlier entries from however many years ago and can either feel good because I have moved on, or feel like shit because I seem to be stuck in a particular area.

I keep my journal on disks, but I also print it out. In theory anybody could go into the home office and pull it out, read it, and come to the conclusion that I am maybe beyond hope. So be it. That is what a journal is all about.

But, then there remains the question about complete candor. You know, personal items, sexual musings, sexual musings about people I might not actually be married to?

Would I want somebody (like, oh, my wife, for example) to read such intems? So, I might hesitate to put them down. But if I do so hesitate then am I being completely honest and is the journaliing fulfilling its funciton? Obviously not. But, to me having somebody else look at such musings would be like being intruded upon in the bathroom; just not a situation open to public purview. We all have our private selves.

Is a journal the same thing as a diary? Probably. It’s just that diary (Pepys notwithstanding) sounds kind of 11-year-old girl, sort of Little Lulu – you know, one of those little pink tomes with a lock and key and in which each entry starts: “Dear Diary …”

When I was about 17 I actually started to keep a ‘diary’. I still have it. Once in a while I’ll look at it, and it’s a bit like exploring an alien universe, on the one hand. But, on the other, there are entries that are chillingly reminiscent of much more recent journal entries.

“Today, when I went to my locker, Susie Schwartz smiled at me and said “hi.” I didn’t think she knew I existed. I think I’m in love with her.”

An entry from today might be: “Went to the supermarket and that adorable Melanie was working one of the tills. Made a point of going through hers even though others had fewer people in line. Such a nice young woman. I think I may be in love with her. Must dispel such thoughts.”

See, other than the grown-up word ‘dispel’ it’s not all that different. By the way, that wasn’t a ‘real’ entry, but it wasn’t all that far removed from reflections of the odd weak moment.

On a final note, I have found my journal can be helpful in some of my other writing, especially in my odd foray into fiction where I want to set mood and explore emotions. I think it’s a good thing to do and will likely keep doing it. “The unexamined life is not worth living,” said Socrates. I think maybe he was right.

On the other hand, the ‘explored’ life may be a bit of a bore, especially if complete honesty is held in check.

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8 responses to “Sometimes our innermost thoughts aren’t for public scrutiny, which is a good thing

  1. I enjoyed reading this post. It brought back a lot of memories for me. There have been times in my life when I have kept a journal, and recently times when I have, like you, questioned if it is fulfilling its function if I can not write down all of my musings in an open and honest manner. A journal can be powerful. It is a bit like having a soul mate that you can share your deepest secrets with, and know that no matter what information you share with them you are accepted and safe. Everyone needs a sanctuary.

    • I like the idea of personal journal as sanctuary. And something I try to get away from is self-censorship because so doing defeats the purpose of journaling. And indeed a journal can be powerful.

  2. Love this post. I’m always telling people to write a journal – that the hand is and extension of the heart, etc. When I have kept one, it has been so helpful and when I look back at them I can often learn about myself both then and now. However, in spite of all my preaching, I rarely write in one now and when I do, it tends to record where we have been or what we’ve seen or a story I’ve covered. I can only put it down to fear. Fear that it may be discovered by my children and if I write really honestly, what they read may upset them but even more, fear of what I really feel or who I really am. The longer it takes for me to go back to it, the more likely I may never write one again and like you, I think Socrates may well be right

    • Thank you for your comments. And yes I, like you, too often resort to the mundane rather than what is really happening with me. And I do understand the fear aspect. Then again, if Pepys could be as candid as he was, why shouldn’t I be able to.

  3. I haven’t kept an official journal for years, but my blog used to act very much like one. Then…I told my mother and my sister. And started becoming friends with the once-strangers who read my blog. And now? Now I filter a lot more. Another friend of mine and I talk frequently about losing the privacy our blogs once gave us, but then wonder why we feel the need to filter, to present only a specific way once people know us. It’s a conundrum and I’m still no closer to an answer…

    • Yes, dear BP, I am on the same page about the loss of privacy and I guard mine with a passion and only let very few and carefully selected people in, as you know. When I find a simpatico that permits utter candor I am very happy. So, my blog could never be a reflection of my journal to go out to all and and dundry.

  4. I began keeping a journal/diary at 12 and at 52 I’m still at it. There’ve been times when I went for months without writing, and times when I’ve written 2-3 times a day. Anyone who actually was tempted to read the 40+ volumes would be bored to tears and quickly conclude that I’m a depressed annoying whiner. Because that’s what gets put down.
    Oh, and for the record, I read somewhere recently that a diary is more of a “today I did this, this and this” thing whereas a journal is more introspective. Who knows. All I know is that mine saves my sanity on a regular basis.

    • I think most people would be bored senseless with the majority of my journal entries. And yes, as you indicate, a journal is more than a mere accounting of the little happenings of mundane nature. And mine too has helped my sanity — a little at least. I still have a few bats in my belfry, journal notwisthanding.

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