I was sitting at a café balcony doodling in a notebook the other day. This kid I know passing by sees me and comes over to say hello. He glimpses my notebook and says, “What are you doing out here? Writing in your diary?” Then he doubles over laughing like he’d said the most hilarious thing in the world. I don’t laugh. I say, “Yes I am.”
I wasn’t actually writing in my diary but I have never understood why writing in a diary is considered something to laugh at. After the guy left probably vowing to himself to never attempt a joke in front of me again, I sat down and thought about the whole thing. I even googled it. I learned a few things. I now know the actual difference between Journal and Diary. A diary is a daily record of events while a journal is not necessarily daily entry. It might also incorporate more than a record of events. Things like poems, ideas, lists and anything really. There’s never a rule for these things.
The Amharic word for Diary is ማስታወሻ which if you ask me sounds too ambiguous.
I think journal-ing or writing in a diary, like literally everything else in the world, is deeply misunderstood. Many think of diaries/journals as a juvenile thing about crushes and hating mothers. When we think diary, we usually tend to picture princess themed notebooks and sparkly pens. I blame pop culture for that. It doesn’t bother me that people laugh, really. It bothers me that they don’t get it.
When I was younger, I thought I was going to go to university to become an historian. That didn’t happen and it seemed to me for a while like I’d failed. But it turns out maybe I haven’t failed because I have kept a very emotive account of my last eleven years which I believe qualifies as recording history and would make for an interesting piece of shit for maybe a hundred years from now. I know I would kill to get a firsthand record of one of my ancestors.
Stationary has always been my go-to gift. Friend talks about depression? I go and buy him a notepad. Friend is dealing with breakup? I buy her a cute diary. Cousin is graduating? I buy notepad and wrapping paper. Secret Santa? Notepad and more wrapping paper. If I were a psychiatrist, I’d probably just prescribe writing all the time…. I read somewhere that journals are sometimes used to treat sleep disorders.
Toni Morrison said in one interview that writing is a thinking process and I so deeply wanted to high five her through the screen but it is generally not a good idea to high five a screen. When people tell me some of the difficulties that they go through, I always tell them to go write it down in the most uncensored language they can manage if they want to feel better because I find that many of the problems we deal with usually just need a deeper contemplation. A regular writing habit helps in that area. Writing stuff down helps put the insane jumble of thoughts into order. Sometimes I recognize how things I can’t figure out come into a clearer focus once I have written them down. I know for a fact that I would be dealing with a very serious mental problem if I didn’t write often.
The most common excuse I get from people to not keep a journal is that they generally don’t think they have anything to write and that their lives aren’t interesting enough or whatever. I think of Anne Frank who lived in a hiding place with a bookshelf for a door for about two years in the time of war and still managed to find interesting things around her and in her thought process to write about. Like how she felt about the war and her relationship with her family members and a weird sort of crush thing she had with a guy. I’d like to think that many of us today have at least the luxury of going outside to see the sky. We all have a few experiences that will probably never happen to us again. Reading past entries after some time helps to see how far we’ve come.
You see, journal-ing is not juvenile at all. A lot of important people keep journals and although it’s usually not written intended for publication, when discovered it’s often found to have a lot of interesting ideas and personal philosophies that the diarists were probably too modest to share. It’s not just writing. I personally believe that records are really important. Perhaps that’s because I really enjoy finding records and think that we should maybe keep around cool, authentic records for the next generations to find.
Google says the earliest actual diary found goes back to 1605. We now live in the digital age where journaling has left the paper and developed into computers. We can make videos now, we can use blogs, we can use photographs. There is no limit as to what one can do with this.
If it’s not meant to be shared, we can always burn it after.
If you are interested in keeping a journal I promise you, you will not be disappointed by how helpful it is. The effect is not something I can quite explain. It’s something you have to experience firsthand.
p.s TIPS IF ONE DOES NOT WANNA SHARE: If you use a notebook, make the notebook as uninteresting as possible. You can’t have a glittery notebook lying around and not expect people to wonder what’s in there.
A friend gave me this next tip. To hide your private stuff on your computer, you can always put it in your recycle bin because not a lot of people will check there. Although, you have to make sure that you don’t empty it by accident. But then again there’s passwords.