The Magic of Journals

JournalingJournals are a special sort of magic. I adore those bound blank pages just waiting to be filled. I love the feel, the texture, the unlimited possibilities for imagination and creation that each one offers.

But only if you write in it, only if you actually fill those pages with thoughts and ideas, musings and memories, frustrations and elations.

For several years my journals have, for the most part, remained untouched. Not coincidentally, I stopped writing in them about the time I began dating Jim. Or, I should say, I wrote infrequently. I just couldn’t get myself to write with any consistency and couldn’t build up the desire to pick up that pen. I told myself writing online was easier and more efficient, but I didn’t journal there, either. I stopped writing anything that wasn’t related to my job with the exception of a few lengthy status updates on Facebook and a post or two in this forum.

I stopped writing for me.

Recently I’ve been missing writing. A lot. Although it doesn’t seem like it I’ve renewed my commitment to writing here. (I’ve got several drafts and notes just stewing in the background.) And I’ve started writing in my journal again.

At first it was hard. I don’t just mean that it was hard to know what to write or how to put the thoughts down, but that it was physically hard. My muscle memory had forgotten. I use specific types of pens because the ink flows as quickly as my fingers can extract the thoughts to paper – except my fingers now lagged so far behind that I’d almost forget what I was writing as my mind moved onto the next thought. Writing – the act of writing – felt unnatural. But now I was invested; I knew that returning to my roots was vital to so much of my being. So, I kept writing.

Knowing what to write, how to express my thoughts, was also hard. My internal censor was raging. “You can’t say it that way! You’re a writer – you have to sound lofty and smart.” Spelling and grammatical and punctuation errors were like slamming on the brakes because of a gapers block. I couldn’t go forward until it was cleaned up. But I forced myself to write the next word, the next sentence, and to just keep writing.

And something beautiful happened.

My creativity, which had stagnated to the point where I no longer felt like I could make any sort of non-regimented mental leap, is testing out new synapses. Focus is easier. Writing, the physical act of writing, is easier. I see things more clearly. I am happier and more optimistic and joyful.

I remember these feelings and it makes me wonder why I ever stopped. Except I know why.

When I was in my twenties I was in two awful, devastating, debilitating marriages. One right after the other. I went from mental abuse to physical. I went from “what are you, f-ing stupid?” to kicks and punches and bruises. I lost my confidence and became a symphony of bad choices.

The only thing that saved me was writing in my journal. These records of my life were entry after entry of fear and anger and doubts, sprinkled with hopes and fantasies and pep-talks and memories of who I was and who I wanted to be. They were raw and unfiltered and 100% me.

Journaling literally saved me. Without that outlet I would have entirely lost who I was, would have forgotten my dreams, my hopes. I was isolated with few friends, yet because I wrote and remembered I finally found the courage to go out on my own and to break that cycle.

Over the next decade I continued to write. It was more sporadic, but it was a constant. Then I met Jim.

You’d think my journals would be overflowing, filled with love and flowers and unicorns and other mythical creatures. Because to me, the kind of relationship we were building was mythical. This couldn’t be real. Someone who loves me and respects me and likes me and values me, and for whom I feel the same? Pshaw. That can’t happen to me. I was destined to wear mu mus and trail a string of boy toys behind me.

I ended up writing only when we fought, and as that was infrequent I barely wrote.

A few weeks ago, when I realized how much I missed writing, I picked up my most recent journal. I had gotten this particular one before going on a cruise with Celebrity over a year and a half ago. I wrote some on the cruise and a little when I got back, but even though we were planning our wedding and got married I barely touched it. I was happy, the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. A couple of times we argued, so a couple of times I wrote.

A new realization hit me: the only memories I was recording were bad. When it came to relationships, I had associated writing in my journal with the worst time in my life, and since that was a really, really long time the association stuck.

I decided that the only way to remove that association was to create a new one. We went camping for our one-year anniversary. Knowing we’d have no connection I vowed that I would write. This time, my journal would record happy memories.

Since we’ve returned I’ve continued to write. It’s not all love and flowers and unicorns, but the happy tips the scale. It’s a safe place for me to think and reflect and dream. I’m learning to turn off the internal censor, leaving misspellings and grammatical errors and illegible scribbles just the way they are. These aren’t for posterity; they aren’t for publication; they’re for me.

To use a very obvious metaphor, it’s like the dam has broken and the torrent is released. It started as a crack and a trickle but now – now I can’t wait to write first thing in the morning. I have IDEAS. Even when the cap is put back on the pen I’m hit with waves of inspiration and creativity. It’s beautiful. It’s energizing.

It’s magical.

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