I dug through my garage the other day and unearthed a stack of journals from my late 20’s through my 40’s. I brought them inside and labeled each one with the date it began. Then I sat down and started to read. I’ve occasionally re-read parts of a journal, but never re-read the entire library of journals! This can be exactly like getting caught in a riptide. I swam out with my life jacket in place, determined to use it if necessary.
I kept extensive dream logs in my 30’s. If we’re talking strictly entertainment value those yield the least interesting material. I ended up throwing away binders full of detailed dreams. No trauma there.
The journals from my late-20’s to mid-30’s were a real shit show. I might chuck some of those this week. I’ve thought of getting rid of the whole bunch, but that feels too final. One thing’s for sure, there will be no benefit from re-reading those when I’m an old coot. I have to take the mental health of my future self into account here. She may be less able than I to navigate herself out of a riptide. I was a less reliable narrator in the past than I am now. More liable to focus on the bad than the good. There are a lot of ways to be truthful and not all of them involve gut wrenching psychological poop storms.
My late 30’s/early 40’s were more interesting and quite funny. I had developed the ability to know when I was being neurotic or pathetic. I kept track of shining moments too. Poignant memories. Direct quotes from people that I appreciated having the forethought to record. Detailed accounts of experiences that brought me joy. Sketches of my cats or outlines of their paws resting on the pages as I wrote. Little notes I jotted down about their antics at the time. Passages from books I read. An occasional poem. Some kvetching.
I’m going to be 51 in a few days. I’m being deliberate about the kind of stories I want the next 20 years of journals to tell. When reading all of the old stuff I took mental notes of things that felt good to re-read. Things that felt inconsequential when I wrote them, but now I can see their value. And of course I paid attention to the sorts of things that I read with one eye shut. I’m writing a story for my future self after all. Too much existential angst and the whole thing turns into a dull repetitive read. Too much processing and analyzing and it becomes a self-help manual. Too much drivel and there’s nothing to sink your teeth into. Too much ranting and it’s a manifesto. Too much positive thinking and you’ve got yourself a toothache. I’m developing a map of ideas. If I’m still here in 20 years I’ll let you know how it goes.
I want to know about your journals. Talk to me (in the comments).