I’ve been keeping a journal off and on ever since I was about 12 years old. The earliest journals, written in hand, survive.
During high school, for a brief period, I switched to disk, and promptly lost every disk by the time I graduated. So I got smarter, and started a habit of only journaling by hand.
A recent discussion with friends sparked the question, “What is your most valuable physical possession?” (I think we were talking about e-books vs. physical books—and that I would have no problem getting rid of every last book on my shelves if I could get a digital copy with my annotations.)
I knew the answer right away, though I was half-ashamed to admit it: my journals.
It seems a strange ego problem to so highly value one’s own solipsistic (and too often angst-filled) notes on life. As an adult, though, my journals have also started to include bits of ephemera, memorabilia.
I rarely go back to old journals, except when maudlin. Or when seeking threads of thought (patterns) that span years and years, a glimpse into some core self or deeply held direction, if such a thing exists at all.
But the biggest thing they’ve taught me is how stupid I can be, how I can get stuck in little loops, chasing my own tail … all the while consciously hoping I’ll snap out of it. It is pathetic to observe one’s past self despair at a continued despair. I marvel at the unnecessary angst. I spot horrible mistakes that I even wrote about as mistakes, as they happened.
The journals become symbols—motivations—to act without angsting so much, and to stop churning the past.
Now that I’ve identified something in my life as being-too-important, I have an urge to destroy its presence and power (and since I’m still driven to journal, to burn future entries as soon as I’ve finished with them). They are an outlet for, or a release from, delusions of the mind; they are not pointing the way forward.