Refine the Define – What’s in Your Journal?

Monkey Mirror
“For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face:
now I know in part; but then shall I know, even as I am known.”
1 Corinthians 13:12

Not long ago I stumbled upon a brilliant quote that read:

“Those who do not keep journals will be defined by those who do.”
(OK, I didn’t really stumble upon it because I authored it, posted it, and then went back and stumbled upon it.) (Link here)

I’ve actually thought a lot about this idea, and still believe it to be true – but I think that I need to add a corollary:

“Those who do keep journals will define themselves – for good or ill.”
So you may think the corollary isn’t as wildly profound as the original quote. Possibly, but let me explain. I won’t waste your time, and you just might thank me later…

Over the past few weeks, I have spent some time looking through my old journals. I was surprised to discover that I have had a miserable life, full of sadness, sickness, loneliness, and frustration. At least that’s what you would think if you read my journals. It turns out that my most prolific journaling times in my life were when I was going through important periods that had a higher degree of difficulty. And I was failing.  Two periods stand out as the best examples:

 1) When I was a teenager, my dad got a job transfer and we had to relocate. I was miserable. I hated my parents. I was sullen, angry and depressed. And since we moved at the beginning of summer, I had nothing to do – except write in my journal about how miserable I was, and how my parents were destroying my life.

 2) On my mission I was a faithful journal keeper – as long as I had negative things to write about. I faithfully wrote down each time I was sick, when my companion was a jerk, when the weather was bad, or when we weren’t having very much success.

 Here’s the problem:  I have had a great life! I had a happy childhood. I had a wonderful, successful mission. So what gives? Why the deep, dark version recorded for my posterity?

I think I have the answer:

When I’m happy, and things are going great, I don’t bother writing it down, because I am too busy enjoying life to stop and write about it. I may well have written about my companion who drove me crazy, but when the work was good, it was very good, and I just never felt compelled to stop, take a breath, and write it down. In high school I stopped grousing about how unfair my teenage life was about the same time that school started and I made some new friends. But that part, mysteriously, never got recorded.


The best, but saddest, case in point is that I have rarely written in my journal since I got married. Because I am happy. Ridiculously happy. All of the wonderful experiences that have given my life richness and meaning are undocumented – leaving behind a history that paints me as a poor, unfortunate soul, in pain, in need. (courtesy Ursula)

So, I have volumes of life history that paints an entirely inaccurate version of what my life has been up until now. Sure the dour snippets are accurate in their context, but they were the exception, not the norm.

What do I do? How do I go back and correct the record without looking like I am trying to “shine my halo” for posterity’s sake? Here are some thoughts:

 1) Compile my missionary journal with the letters I sent home to create a more balanced view.
2) Scan my old journals and annotate them with comments as I feel necessary.
3) (Shudder) Actually write a personal history that my posterity can look at as the de-facto version of my life.
4) Work some of the positive experiences from my life into my blog, but not with too much detail.

Yikes! They all sound so daunting.  So, I raise this voice of warning: Make sure your blog entries and journals are not just repositories of angst – because one day you will look back and wish you had documented the joy along with the pain to really be known as who you really are. And if you don’t I will be there to mock you for not paying better attention to my warning.

One of the most difficult parts in writing a personal history, or keeping a journal is how much “filtering” goes into the endeavor. I don’t want to make it look like I have spent my life carrying a harp and wearing a very shiny halo, nor do my grand-children need to know every sordid detail of what I did wrong in my life – we still believe in repentance, right?

 I know people who have thrown away journals from their youth because they looked back and thought they were embarrassing. I find that quite sad.
There are a lot or real writers that read this blog – and many of you just returned from a writer’s conference, brimming with motivation and ideas. Thoughts?

This past week I have been immersed in Family HIstory as I never have before. It has been a fascinating endeavor, and I am grateful for those people who bothered to write things down and keep track.
There is so much to do. I realized the abject silliness of the claim that “All my family history is done.” Even if Aunt Martha has taken every family line back to Adam, and you haven’t written a personal history, you ain’t there yet.

Nothing better than a Sabbath day to sit down and write in our journals…
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(This is a revision of a post originally published May, 18, 2011 – it just seemed extra applicable to me this week.)