Journaling Jogs Memory

My Life Compressed into Journals

Although I resisted forever turning the practice of keeping a journal into a verb—journaling, for instance—I like the slight alliterative value of the above title.

Whether you journal or keep journals, as I have since age 11, they can help you retrieve details that would otherwise fade into the ether, or into pocket lint that gets lost in the wash. And they can unveil the tricks memory plays. I’ve been caught more than once.

Both were the case for my personal essay on a famous writer I had met pre-fame (which I wrote 26 years after the facts). The details and dialogue were there in the written journal, as well as the texture of my feelings and attitude toward the country bumpkin.

Happily, I began to date my entries, not only with month and day, but also year. As the years fly now with centrifugal force, they fade into a kaleidoscopic smear. At one time, I was able to date each and every memory by the seasons of NJ where I grew up. At age 22, I moved to San Francisco. Despite what natives say, there are no seasons to speak of here. To speak of, no.

The other value of journaling, um I mean keeping a journal, is that it puts you in the practice of writing regularly, of noticing your surrounds, of developing awareness (not just sensory, but emotional too), of being present for your life, of living your life twice (the second time as you write it down is sometimes better than the first time), of tapping into nuances of feeling you hadn’t noticed before. It puts you in the zone where words follow experience; or should I say where the unbridled experiential begins to precede the confines and limitations of words. Silence precedes wisdom. (Therein lies a skill to develop—cultivate the ability to explain that which transcends words.) Sit in silence with your journal—preferably pen and paper. And tell a story about what happened. Something is always happening. The more you dig into the moments where you think nothing is happening, the more you develop your writerly muscle and muse. Try it. Try it now.

We’ll probe this more in the Memoir class. Sign up here.