All of my life, I have wanted to keep a journal. I’ve started one at least 35 times. When I was a pre-teenager, nothing would do but a diary with a key. My mother had a 5-year diary. It was dark green with gold lettering, and she wrote in it sporadically starting at the age of 11, from 1934-1936. I still have it.
On June 16, 1934, she went to see “The Thin Man” with William Powell. She noted “I spent most of the time to-day [sic] writing. I am writing a jungle story. I think I will call it ‘The Killer Camera Expedition.’” Sounds like a promising title, but I doubt if she ever really wrote the story. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I once thought I should try to publish a book full of all the great titles and first lines I’ve thought of, and nothing else.
As life rolled on, I kept buying journals that I never kept up for more than a week. Friends gave me beautiful blank books, covered in suede or tapestry, which I was afraid to write in. When the word-processing age began, I typed journal entries with enthusiasm and a sense of fulfillment until the long vacation weekend ended, and then I was back to sleeping, eating, working, chores; sleeping eating, working, chores. Sometimes I jotted quotes and tucked clippings into yet another lovely journal. Cheaper, spiral-bound notebooks turned into pages of to-do lists and scrawled phone numbers. Nothing became a steady practice.
A year or so ago, I read Phyllis Theroux’s wonderful book The Journal Keeper, and Sheila and I even went to hear her talk at the Library of Virginia. Ms. Theroux was incredibly inspiring, and I seriously thought about buying the same blank books she uses and the same Sharpie pens. I didn’t, though. And I didn’t begin another journal.
In September, I signed up for a small group at church called “The Seeker’s Path,” which I wrote a little about here. One of the suggested spiritual exercises was journaling in the manner described in the book The Artist’s Way. That journaling method sternly recommends writing first thing in the morning, without any coffee, for three pages every day. No typing, either. However, I’d tried that over a decade ago, and it didn’t work for me. I was working ten-twelve hours every day, and I sure as hell didn’t have time to write three pages. Three words, maybe. Plus, no one is going to tell me I can’t have coffee if I want to, or order me to write three pages.
But some of the questions we were asked to respond to in a journal intrigued me. In Week One, we were asked to describe our most profound experience of God; and what one thing might we commit to pursue over the next nine weeks that might significantly enhance our spiritual lives. I decided to commit to journaling. It was just nine weeks, but even that would be beyond any regular writing I’d ever done.
I went to the grocery store and bought a black and white cardboard-covered composition book with lined pages. I decided that I would get a cup of coffee and drink from it while I journaled. I would use a plain old ballpoint pen that moved smoothly over the pages. I would not attempt to answer every single question or prompt posed by Sam, our group leader. And I would definitely write only until I was done, whether that was one page or four pages. I decided to sit in the wing chair in the office, with the afghan over my knees. Miss T decided that she would sit with me, on my lap. And we promised we would do it every day, come hell or high water, for nine weeks.
That was September, and this is the middle of January. I’m on my second black and white composition book. I’ve made an entry every single day, except for two of the days we were in Philadelphia. I don’t grapple with theology or the concise issues of my “spiritual development” on a daily basis, although I think more of our lives than we realize are directly related to our spiritual paths. I do write about what my place in the world in relation to others could be, what I do and do not understand about a person or a situation, what frightens or saddens or angers me, what I found beautiful or moving or important or funny the day before, and what that spark of the Divine inside me may be trying to tell me or show me if I will but listen. Some days I have written only three quarters of a page. Some days I have gone on for four or five. I know when I am done.
Sheila has read a few things out loud to me from her book of the diaries of Dorothy Day, the great social activist and advocate for the poor and underprivileged. Dorothy Day said that for her, writing was like a prayer. Right on, Dorothy. She said "The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart." Yes.