Journaling Your Life

The above video’s first few words, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that somehow the dots will connect in your future…”  How do you do that clearly? Read on.

People are often amazed at how I remember things that had happened far back into the past. It’s because I have kept a journal ever since I was 11 years old, which I refer back to my old journals probably every couple of months. Does that make me self-absorbed? I guess so, but it’s my life, and I want to be cognizant of every part of it because in the end, that’s all we are—our memories and actions. Also, it’s a way towards extending my memory past my lifetime… perhaps my grandchildren’s grandchildren will know who I am and where they came from.

Some events have happened lately that, frankly, surprised even me. You’ll forgive the vagueness, but it’s a highly personal situation with problematic consequences. That said, I asked myself “How did I erupt into doing what I was always too afraid to do?” Then, after meditating on it, I went back through my journals and traced the journey that led me to it… and realized that it was an inevitable outcome. My thoughts, defined by others actions, gave rise to my own action. I goaded myself into action- one I would regret had I not done it. While I stand by what I said to the other person mentioned, I was most surprised by their surprise. How could they not see it? And I realized that perhaps I was fully aware of the entire scope of our interactions, while they had only regarded it one day at a time, often forgotten in memory but still had an emotional connection.

My point is, if you’re on a life journey, or simply trying to self-improve, you need to keep a journal. Journaling is the best way to track your progress, it gives you insight into yourself and into others you’re close too. It’s not unlike being a historian giving detailed clues to your future detective. It also gives you leverage when you know you’re right in an argument, and answers questions when you discover you’re wrong about something.

This one feels oddly as straightforward as it is tricky. If you’re a visual artist, chances are you keep a sketchbook. I sketch, and date the sketches in the corner. I will also write notes to myself about what I like that I’ve improved, and what I dislike in my evolution as an artist. I treat a sketchbook as a drawing journal. Sure, it would be nice to keep something pristine that others would enjoy, I have no responsibility to them. Leonardo Davinci wrote furiously in his sketchbooks- it was surely a peek into his genius. While I am no genius, I certainly emulate my heroes as much as possible and keep notes- ESPECIALLY with the successes. It’s an attempt to bottle lightning… and weak attempts are better than no attempts at all.

Seems redundant, doesn’t it? Well, I also keep a log of “Writing Prompts”- pieces of unfinished prose that helps me work on my writing style. They’re completely freeflowing, often only reaching five or six paragraphs, a bit more beefy than an excerpt from a novel. They can be considered FLASH FICTION, and I enjoy them because they don’t really require commitments. I can kill off characters or make them demigods, and it doesn’t matter because it’s a quick ‘sketch’ of prose. Sometimes, the entries are bits of evolving stories and I find as I go through a few months of writing, there are connections that could be puzzled into a larger story. It’s a non-linear way of writing and conception, but it requires a lot of patience and a fair amount of time tending to it.

Sometimes, between writing prompts, I’ll write notes to myself about what I liked, what I don’t like about the evolution of my writing. I might also find I am having a hard time with prose and I’ll just list events and reactions of characters that I might choose to flesh out later. It’s also a self-perpetuating idea machine- sometimes when I am hung up on something, I’ll refer to either my journals, sketchbooks, or writing prompts to get myself unstuck.

Ah, the hardest thing to do in this technological age we live in. I am writing in Word right now, sometimes I use Celtx, I have many hardbacked journals lying around that I write in manuscript (handwriting all caps) or cursive, and I have two manual typewriters that gives me a more tactile feel. The stack of papers from my typewriting sessions have a distinct, robust voice that I don’t see with my ethereal computer bits… It’s a different way to work. You make a mistake, it’s there to stay even when you xxx it out. The only alternative is to throw it away.  I am more mindful when I use the typewriters, but I am also a bit more constrained. The other thing is that it’s a real, physical item. They might outlast these digital musings… you never know.

Unplugging gives me a chance to really get to the meat of a problem. No distractions, no immediate self editing. I do the same sort of thing with my sketchbooks when I sketch with a ballpoint pen- it’s the same idea- permanence as soon as my brain- through my arm, dislodges ink out of a pen and creates symbols and instances of my thoughts. It’s truly a wonderful, mystical, and spiritual way of experiencing the world.

You NEED experiences as an artist to have something to birth as you create. Going back to the situation from the last week- I suddenly have plenty to put into my stories. However, living your life means you need to deal with your fears. Fear keeps me form finishing projects, or experiencing life. Fear keeps me from dying prematurely, but ironically, too much of it can keep you from living. It takes a purely courageous person to walk away from a bad relationship, to step up the game of current one, or to explore and discover (or rediscover) new paths and hidden talents.

I’ve had this conversation with many of my friends. One very, very old friend of mine in particular is discovering that he doesn’t need to create for the market to scramble for money, but if he truly looks within himself and create art based on his own desires, he will find an audience for it. Your mind is like a garden- it can grow nourishment or poison, it doesn’t care either way… so it’s up to you to be aware of what you put into it.  He has so many creative outlets, but I see in him the same thing I see in myself- you want to do so much because you feel like you’re bursting at the seams, it can lead to prolific work if you focus and finish. Otherwise, it’s a tangled mess of unfinished works, anchors that can leave you feeling resentful and sorrowful if left to rot… again, like a garden with overgrown weeds- and journaling is a way to tend garden. He’s now narrowed down his path to two options on how to keep living, and either way- if he sticks to his guns- will be very successful.

Another friend, who got a Bachelor’s in English when she was younger, had stopped writing because of the constrictions of her life. Now, twenty years later, she’s using her experiences to really dig deep and use her talents to blossom. I know she’s dealt with plenty of life situations, and I can only imagine the incredible tales she’ll yarn. Though I’ve yet to read any of her work, through knowing and talking to her I see such unbridled potential… and coaxing that passion will take time. It’s only natural to be fearful and want to give up because she sees others work and may feel intimidated… but she’ll need to realize that she should never compare herself to others. Her voice is incredibly unique and even if she has very little writing, like a small white star, one teaspoon of mass has the gravity of entire planets- and that comes directly from what she’ll have to say. I’m excited to see it come to fruition. I strongly believe that keeping a writing prompt journal and regular life journal will help her ten-fold.

The last person I’d like to talk about is certainly no friend... though he pretended to be to get what he wanted. I found this out after the fact- and only looking back, connecting the dots, could I see a pattern of how he treated others the same way I was treated. He had put out the peace treaty- lots of history with this guy… but even after he had apologized for all of what happened so long ago, and things seemed like they were okay, I immediately recognized the same modus operandi when he started asking for things again… and then after writing for him within constraints of another’s work, put forward my work to an industry professional who ripped it to shreds and tainted my name a little bit. I was judged on someone else’s merit and another’s idea- and that so-called friend took no responsibility for it. (Huge run-on sentence there, so you can tell I feel rather strongly about this situation).

You discover through your history and journaling that there are those who are just simply creeps. They might not think they are, and genuinely believe they are good people- wife, kids, good standing in their church, etc etc, their actions had consequences. Their thoughts and actions are who they are- if not to the world, definitely to their dealings with one person. It’s a matter of character. I could go on and on about this person, and I am admittedly bitter. But I am more mad at myself for letting him have real-estate in my head. Dealing with him defined how I dealt with all future creeps and people in general, it is a huge challenge, a big wall I find I have to climb once in a while when I have lack of motivation. That wall was in there way before he came into my life, but because of his actions, his face is plastered all over it. I don’t blame him for anything, because I take ownership of all my shortcomings, but it’s nice to know because I journaled all the facts (through my lens of life) I can spot a scumbag when I see one. I have dealt with plenty worse ones since, but you always remember the first that popped your cherry ;)  Because of my dealings with him, I let the poison grow rather than tended to the garden. It’s because of this person that while I am more cynical and bitter, I am certainly stronger. The last instance I had with him, he wanted more work from me- often attached with promises of awards. I simply told him I couldn’t with a new baby in tow. All I got was a “Okay… Okay. Thanks.” Hang up… and haven’t heard from him since. I unfriended him on facebook… I don’t even know if he’s still doing what he’s doing and haven’t given him much thought until I came up with this article. My whole point of it is this: Journaling saved me from being duped again.

In the end, journaling is a lot of work, but it's just a little each day. It helps dump all the garbage your brain accumulates, and helps you see things in perspective once the lens of intense emotion fades.

Let me know what you think, and what your experiences are in the comments below!