Spring confession: my regular journaling practice has lapsed. Piles of full notebooks attest to years spent dutifully writing daily—not just accounts and takes on this one life’s plot, so to speak. Also fragments of overheard conversation, excerpts from books, found language from our text-heavy world, quirky idioms people say, poem or essay ideas, directions, lists, you name it. Since college, my journals have been hybrids of commonplace books and “journals” (in the “diary” sense of the word, though I never call them that). Often, first drafts of poems and the occasional essay first spark into being in my journal.
But I’ve let the habit lag. I still depend on my notebook for writing toward poems, but less so and much less often for straight “journaling”. The computer, that new, weird appendage with its attendant quasi-senses we’ve evolved in my lifetime, too often supplants the hand-writable blank pages. Not that it doesn’t come in handy. There’s something important though about the thinking—and hoarding—that I’m learning can sometimes only happen on a real page.
Spring and early summer, for me, often stir two effects: 1) an almost incredulous and renewed crush on the sensory world and 2) the inclination to look back, mark time, reminisce, and compare nows with thens. “Today last year I was at that book launch for the Make it True: Poetry from Cascadia anthology in B.C. and now I’m driving down the McCarthy Road toward home.” Or “Today last year I watched my cousin get married in Idaho alongside family and my ex-girlfriend; today I’m kicking it at the cabin and haven’t seen anyone in a couple days.” Et cetera. Boring “journaly” stuff, but the kind of benchmarks that give a little order to headspace and create perspective, even if just in a private way. Who was I informs the question who am I.
Thinking back is one thing, but looking back through old notebooks can really crystallize what has changed. It can't happen if you don't create some kind of record, though. Looking back at old journals can resuscitate old moments or thoughts that could have been lost, otherwise. Sure, some residue of our experiences or ideas remains no matter what, but the details we write down (whether they're personal or not) can really ripen, instead of atrophy like memory, over time.
I did start stockpiling compelling or intriguing miscellany in a folder on my computer at some point the way I used to do more in my journal. We spend enough time in front of the screen that sometimes it’s easier to squirrel away reminders or found items digitally than otherwise. I still need to get back in the actual “journaling” habit—maybe that’s my springtime resolution.
Since they speak in some way to the need to get back in journaling shape—by hand, in notebooks, in my case—I offer up a couple digital scraps torn from the “pages” of what I might optimistically call a commonplace folder on ye ol’ hard drive. Take them or leave them, but consider taking some time to write today—a journal entry, a letter, a blog post (and a comment on this one, maybe?), if not the next thousand words of your memoir or the next sonnet in your crown.