Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Journaling Life

When I was 19 and on the verge of dropping out of university for the first time, I bought myself a small, black notebook and began to journal. It's an odd thing, journaling. It amounts to trying to capture life while living it, like our cat Mawa trying to catch her tail.

Early on, I thought it was possible, this capturing of my life. I didn't achieve what I thought possible though, because I was faced right away with the inherent impossibility of it: Like with catching a tail, it was the pursuit of something that would forever recede, at a pace closely related to that of the pursuit. It takes more than a moment to document a moment. And the effort to describe a brilliant conversation with a friend, a solitary walk through the city, the feeling that permeates the senses and the flesh when moved by a piece of music, a book or a film...all that took time, concentration, and a kind of withdrawal from the surrounding life that the journaling was all about.

I once aspired to produce a thorough record of my growth and learning: to record all the key events and characteristics of my relationships, my studies, my work, my health, finances, the places I lived and visited, the people I worked, studied, played, explored and loved with. I was never a daily journaler - already a problem - but there were periods when I felt I was closely chronicaling at least those things that most occupied my thoughts and feelings.

But it's an impossibility to record the fullness of even a single day. The only way to come close would be to literally suspend my very living, or to make the chronicaling of my life the purpose of it. I guess it's theoretically possible to live at half capacity, so as to use the remaining capacity for journaling, but how insane would that be?

So, instead of  a chronicle, my journals have mainly served as a way for me to reflect. I journaled fairly regularly from that beginning until about two years ago, when I was 56.  I have a shelf full of my journals. Writing them, and reading them, has taught me a lot about myself. Among other things, how very self-centered I am. It's amazing how little of the history of the last forty years made it into those pages, and how little of the world around me, while I devoted so much energy to deciphering myself, to trying to understand my own weirdness and what makes me function as I do.

It's interesting and embarrassing to see how little I have changed since I was nineteen. I still obsess and struggle over so many of the same things, though it's at least true that the level of engagement has spiraled upward a ways. Over the years, it's become boring to rehash certain things again and again, to have to relearn so many of the same lessons. The annoyance that comes from reviewing the self-generated evidence of my own stuckness has generated some acceptance, at least, and it's carried over into how I deal with others.

One of the best lessons from my journals is what they've revealed about my memory. What a lively and partial interpreter memory is! If I wanted to give my memory a nickname, I'd dub it Stanley, for Stanley Kubrick, in tribute to how zestfully he adapted novels to his own purposes when he filmed them. I've walked around with crystal clear memories of myself that turned out - on the evidence of my own journals - to be completely false. I might picture myself on Thanksgiving, going to a dinner with Joan, when my journal will tell me it was Halloween, and I was going to a party with Renee. And often, I remember things as happening in a particular sequence, or by a certain causality that turns out be pure creative license. It seems that my memory has its own sense of how my life should have happened.

Anyway, I seem to be done with journaling. For now anyway. This blogging business has taken its place. This has been a very different forum for looking at and reflecting on the world I live in. Still a bit too self-referential, I'd say, but I love that it's so much more interactive, thanks to those of you who respond, both here and in life, to what I'm thinking about. These days, I get to my journal about once a month, if that. It feels like a good shift. We'll see where it goes from here.


  1. Funny...Maybe you are a Stuckist writer? The Stuckists stand for authenticity in the face of constant flux & newfound fad...Being stuck also means that you know who you are & are true to yourself...Tracy Emin, while breaking up with her traditional art style boyfriend screamed at him that he was stuck stuck stuck! He decided then to call his traditionalist philosophy Stuckism in opposition to her style, which was for example a show with her unmade bed in it complete with used things & dirty panties...Which is all to say that Stuckism is a good way to go...

    1. Fascinating, Sari! I'd never heard of Stuckism, but just hit a few websites on it. I'm intrigued by the debate about authenticity, and how fashions and fads influence how we perceive music, art and style. One of the themes of the novel I just started touches on this. Lots to explore here.

  2. Kirby, this is so good to read. You are a good friend with a lot of great perceptions.