Reflections on Journaling

I hate it when something gets labelled as a hobby, because then it get lost in a list on a resume or Facebook page or a lame introduction. Who likes to read, “My hobbies are hiking, reading, swimming, going out with friends, and reading the occasional book?” It has nothing memorable and expresses none of the depth in each of those. But two of my hobbies that do have a lot of depth behind them are writing in my journal and cooking. Cooking I’ll have to go into another time, but my journal is going to get a full treatment here.
I started writing in my journal pretty much as soon as I could write. At my school book fair—an occasion I could never miss—my eyes were caught by a small book with Garfield on the cover. What should I find inside but pages and pages of empty sheets! What kind of book was it that let you write it? All that I knew about journals was that you were supposed to write what happened in your life. Well, that’s exactly what I did. But I didn’t write just the important things. I recorded everything. Bathroom trips. Boredom. Fighting with my brother. Even my mom swearing. Later, when my old journal was discovered by my high school friends, it became a regular joke to pull it out and read the well-documented history from a second-grader’s perspective.
Later, I was introduced to the diary style of journaling—I think from Arthur, the kid’s show, if I’m nto mistaken. As it the frizzy-haired girl who wrote in her diary? I also look back on this stage as a little embarrassing. I wrote poems to my journal and all sorts of nonsense. That phase didn’t last long. I probably only filled the first ten pages of that one.
My parents got me a nice journal with a beautiful maroon binding when I was probably twelve. That became the image of a journal to me. I would write in it on and off, but I had a hard time being a regular. It was only when I needed to fulfill a requirement for a Duty to God that I actually wrote in it for a whole three months. I knew that it was a good thing, because I enjoyed writing in it. But when it felt like a chore, I would eventually give up.
By the time I graduated high school, I had filled two journals—matching color of course. But there were so many things I didn’t write, and I was already feeling a little sad I hadn’t written down more memories from high school. As I lost contact with friends, their faces and names began to fade away. Things I thought were too funny or too serious to forget? I did. Or they became dim. When I got ready for my mission, I made it a serious goal to write in my journal every single day. It didn’t matter how boring the day was. I was going to write in it.
And I did. I went through several phases. While I was in the MTC, I mostly wrote in the form of letters. This time I avoided the vague reader usually used in the diary form, and decided to write to my best friend that I felt I had lost. Jake had been my best friend since junior year. We started studying together in physics class, and we soon became inseparable. There were deep conversations that sometimes led to conflicts over religion because I was strictly Mormon and he hadn’t quite decided what to believe. Some things were in jest—whenever he swore, I would suggest strange alternatives, some in German. But one day, it got very heated and he just stopped talking to me. I tried to find him on campus. He would be there, but he wouldn’t make eye contact or talk to me. Finally, he snapped, and I didn’t see him anymore. I was distraught, and scared that I had lost what I felt to be the only real relationship that I had had with someone. As I was preparing for my mission, I sent him an inviation to my farewell and he did show up. It was awkward, but I felt that he had forgiven me. I promised him that I would write to him every week of my mission. And I did. But I also addressed all of my journal entries to him, because I thought it would give them more meaning if I had an actual audience I was addressing.
Eventually, once I was confident enough in my German, I tried recording the events of my day in German. This was pretty hard, but I thought it was good practice. My only concerns were tha that I wouldn’t be able to fully express myself in a second language and that anyone who was going to read my journal in the future wouldn’t be able to understand. I settled with switching on and off between German and English.
There were times when I started to waver. The structured days of the mission made it easy to get into a good habit of writing, but sometimes it did become nothing more than a chore. I found renewed confidence and energy when I started to serve with Elder Hymas. Elder Hymas had written in his journal every day since the time he was twelve. He told how he offer the winner of family board games the opportunity to read one entry in his journal of their choosing. Imagine being able to remember every day of your past! Perhaps not in perfection, but you had a record of every single day. I wanted that. So I continued to write.
Now that I’m back from my mission, the situation is a vastly different. But I still feel that these times are just as important to record. So many life-changing decisions! Graduating from college, choosing my career. Dating, and all the pain and issues of self-consiousness that accompanies it. Choosing my companion for the rest of my life. These are moments that I am going to want to remember! I’m going to want to remember what was going through my head, the hard decisions that I had to make, the things that I worred about, the epiphanies that I had. But I’ve been so busy! More stuff in the day means that I should be filling pages and pages of my journal every day, right? Well, there’s less hours in the day to get it done. I have to settle for some kind of medium. I will write in my journal when I can, which usually happens about once a week. I still feel it’s inadequate, and I can tell I’m losing the determination on my mission. But I had a renewed sense of it’s important this winter break. And here’s where I’m writing about the present—or at least the near-near past.
My purpose on writing my journal is—as Stefan Salvatore in Vampire Diaries expresses it (sorry, had to make the reference. A recent TV show I’m watching with my wife)—memories are worth too much to forget. A common barrier to my continued writing always seems to be that I lose a sense of its importance. The days seem to be uneventful or not worth writing down. Why do I get into this false perspective? Again and again? I unconciously reduce the events of my days to a travel log. Once you do that, it is no longer important. You don’t feel that your life is as exciting as it should be—like other people’s lives seem. (Oops! Comparing! Pride. Always leads to bad places). This winter break, I found myself doing a mental exercise at the end of the day that I had never tried before. I tried to conjure up the events of the day in my mind so that I could relive them. I don’t know what the motivation or the spark was. I was feeling particularly sentimental—we had looked at photos from our marriage, and I had gotten some candles for Christmas. And I was listening to Kurt Bestor CDs. I was already reliving memories. And it worked. I was able to reflect on the events of the day. I thought about the things that I had learned, and I thought about the people I had met or worked with. I thought about what I felt, but also about what they felt. It has helped me with some of the things that were on my mind and some of the themes of my life I had been focusing on—being close to my wife and loving her, helping the poor and making meaningful memories. This was the closest I could get to Dumbledore’s Pensieve. If you want to get me a great Christmas present, that would be it.
This new epiphany of sorts started to show me that I needed to rethink how I live life. I needed to get rid of meaningless activities. I turned Facebook off, so I wasn’t getting endless buzzes from my phone. But I also started to notice small moments that I regarded as boring shouldn’t be boring. If I’m at home with my wife and she wants attention, I don’t need to feel useless. I can use that time to get to know her and to make our relationship stronger. I can try talking to her. If I’m doing a fairly monotonous task at work, I can start a conversation with the guy next to me. There’s a lot you can do to make your life feel deep. You don’t need to get lost in the lives of others on a TV show. Your life does have meaning.
Over Christmas break, I did have one thing on my agenda. I wanted to read the entire Divergent series (in German of course). I did. And I was boring during that I time. I read non-stop for a few days. But in that time, I tried doing the same thing I had done with my memories. At first, I was trying just to recall what I had read. But that I began to piece together events of the book, as if I had lived them. I thoguht about the choices the characters were confronted with and their worries. I thought about hwo they dealt with pain and tough moral sitautions. Reading too became a way to build empathy. After reading Divergent, I felt more understanding of my wife, and I felt a deep desire to love her. Isn’t that weird? Yes, it’s because Veronica Roth is an excellent writer and she has excellent characters, but if I hadn’t learned to get beyond reading just to read the adventure story, I would have missed a lot of lessons.
So. Read. Ponder. Live. It’s so beautiful to be alive!

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