The lost art of journaling

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Journaling is a good way to set aside time for introspection. Photo by Annabelle Nicholas.

Journaling is ubiquitously defined as a mere evening pastime; at best, a recreational activity taken up after the death of a relationship or a childhood pet. Even the word “diary” is increasingly taboo, associated with elementary school girls and absurd amounts of glitter glue. 

So impressed is this conception into the collective mind of society, that it seems an impossible task to restore the dignity. But when asked to convey the value of journaling, students responded with such eloquence that their answers are themselves an argument for the practice. 

“There is something beautiful,” reflected freshman English major Petra March, “about a thought being confined once in graphite, existing nowhere else in the world, belonging only to oneself.” March once wrote in one of her own entries that journaling was “a knitting net,” catching all her treasured fragments of knowledge before they could be lost forever to “time’s sneaky fingers.”

Natalie Pecha, business major and March’s fellow freshman, loves the chronological detail of journaling. All you have to do, she told me, is narrate your day and somehow you’ve emptied your soul and acknowledged yourself. 

It’s almost as though your journal has asked you: but why did it affect you in that particular way? By answering this question, a “maturity of mind” naturally develops. 

Grace Burleigh, a 2021 graduate now pursuing her masters in English, uses her journal like a time machine. For her, it’s not just about the writing, but the revisiting.

 “To look over any previous entry,” Burleigh said, “particularly an older one, is a sort of spiritual experience; you are effectively revisiting a past self . . . There are particular entries in my journal, too,” she continued, “which serve as a metaphorical Year Zero: before this date, life was this way, and nothing was the same following it.” 

I asked myself what was so vital about the involvement of paper and pen in this time-traveling, soul-emptying knitting net. Why is paper such an enticement? And why am I drawn to every empty black notebook like a moth to a flame? 

My answer: the handwriting. It may seem too simple, yet it’s anything but. The physical act of writing in one’s own unique and unrepeatable script has the power to intensate self-discovery.

Journaling provides coordination between the immaterial thought and the physical action. In that way, a journal images the human person not only by expressing feelings, but by mimicking his composite nature.

Burleigh, too, sees handwriting in this revelatory way: “Was it shaky because you were riding in the car? Smooth because you bought a new pen? Were the pages dry and crinkled because you spilled coffee on it that one morning in March? Did you write in print or in cursive? Is it legible? If someone were to find this journal, would they know it’s yours from the handwriting and style of writing alone?”

Our generation needs diary-keepers in the broad sense — people who can recognize the patterns of their handwriting not just on the page, but in their actions and interactions, in their choices and expressions. Informed and creative, journaling fits like the last piece of a puzzle into the university’s Core curriculum philosophy. 

Students receive intellectual formation at the desk and moral formation at the kneeler. But letting a pen and paper work out the kinks of thought and feeling can form in the individual the vital skill of self-possession.

“I keep these journals numbered,” March said, “and shelf them when they become full, moving onto the next” until one evening in the distant future, she will stand in front of them. In that moment, she will not only exist as herself, but possess a whole lifetime of her developed being. 

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