Friday, February 14, 2014

The Journal (My Letters to a Post-Apocalyptic Generation)

Here's a confession: I've always had trouble with journals.

Some people have trouble journaling because they don't have enough imagination; I have trouble because I have too much. Inevitably, in the course of detailing my everyday life, I get the notion that I'm narrating my quaint and historic story to a future generation. This future generation is nearly always post-apocalyptic, and since they don't know the slightest about their past, it is my solemn and noble duty to inform them, not only of my own life, but of every fact of relevance in today's world.

Then, someday my charred and yellowed journal shall be found, and the inhabitants of that future world will gather round in wonder as their history is unveiled before their eyes.

This gives my journals the weight of bored historian. My life is interesting; otherwise I wouldn't be living it. Things outside of my life, things that would be considered important to a post-apocalyptic generation, are the things that I find boring—and those are the things I find myself writing down.

I've gone through this process many times. The weight of mankind's history always brings my pen to an awful stillness, and the journal is put on a secluded shelf or in a dusty drawer, and I never look at it again. School assignments have gone to this dreary death; even self-imposed journals bow beneath this weight.

My perspective changed a year back when I started a journal—not out of a sense of duty to a post-holocaust race, but because I felt I needed a way to keep track of when and where I did the significant things in my life. When I did that, I wrote down only the things that I found important or notable, and as a result, I was actually interested in what I was writing.

Even this journal fizzled out, however—even the weight of the everyday was too much. It took me a half hour or an hour to write down the events of the day, and soon the days began to pile up. I couldn't find the time for it all.

By that time I had resigned myself to an existence devoid of journals—I didn't have the time, energy, or responsibility to write consistently.

Come October, I went and had a birthday. I received two bound notebooks: one brown and black with yellowed pages, one gray and brown with white pages, and both with all sorts of useful information—in Chinese.

Now, in spite of all the complaints I have lodged against journals, I have nothing against notebooks. They are among the most wonderful things of the world, full of blank pages waiting to be filled with anything you like—with lined paper to guide you and covers that smell like fake leather and office stores. There are few things in the world as magical as an empty page and a pen.

I sat on my gift for several days. What might I do with these great and marvelous gifts? The trouble with the blank page is that it ought to be filled, and I didn't know what to fill it with.

I got rid of one notebook easily enough: I decided to consign my poetry to this yellow-bound wilderness. (It worked out quite well; nearly all the poems I write today are first written in the notebook with my favorite extra-bold gel pen.) The second one gave me more trouble. After a long while, I decided to give journaling another go—but with a twist.

You see, I have a page on my blog devoted to a list of my projects. I give the date on which they were started, the date on which they were finished, their current status, and so on. This page has never ceased to fascinate me, because time to my consciousness is like an alarm set for some early hour—it goes in one ear and out the other. Dates and figures never seem to stick in my head like they ought to.

This means that every time I visit that page, I get to rediscover all of my own writing statistics. June 2009, you say? Marvelous! If I had followed my gut, I would have felt sure that I wrote that particular piece three years back, give or take a year.

I decided to apply this principle to the concept of journals. What if I did a sort of auto-biography, where I kept all of my writing statistics in one place? I would compile all that I knew about the time, place, and circumstances under which I wrote my novels into one notebook, in the form of a mildly sarcastic narrative. (If you want to know, the writing style of my notebook is very similar to the writing style of this post.)

The idea took off. It required some research; to this day I can't recall if my mom bought OYAN in summer of '08 or '09, since all I can remember are snapshots of warm stone, the Wild West, and downtown Wichita all running together like hot molasses. Keeping all that information in one place was an excellent idea, because otherwise I'd forget it all. This way, I get to rediscover it once or twice a week, and enjoy how my extra bold ink looks on the crisp white paper.

I started out narrating my past successes and failures, with a humorous and objective eye. Twenty-five handwritten pages and dozens of heartwarming statistics later, I brought my notebook up to date, and I thought it good.

My notebook and my favorite pen.

To keep my notebook current, I established a custom. Every time I finished writing, I would write of my exploits in the notebook. Sometimes I just wrote the date and what I did, how many words I wrote, and so on; sometimes I talked at length about this or that character and my personal opinion on how the story is coming along.

And really, it's an invaluable resource. In the future, I will be able to find the exact date on which I finished a particular novel or short story, how many words I had written, how long it took me, and so on. It's miles better than forgetting everything or keeping it up on a blog page.

If you're cursed with perpetual absentmindedness, like I am, or you just wish to keep track of your work, I'd suggest you try it. At the very least, write down the dates and numbers in one place.  

And since it's the only method of journaling that's stuck with me, I think I'll keep it.


Bluebelle said...

You always make me laugh, Jake! But I found this to be a fascinating article. I also tend to spend hours on any given entry, especially when I don't journal consistently. But I love the chance to spill out my thoughts and practice the art of writing in a non-public spot. Plus, it's so much fun to see how far I've come in certain areas. This idea of yours caught my attention, though. A journal about your writing? Hmm, I just might have to try this. :)

Keturah Lamb said...

I actually have kept a journal regularly since I was 11 but I love this usual :b

Pathfinder said...

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” - C.S. Lewis

Robert T said...

I use that exact same kind of pen too. Best. Pen. Ever.