Every night I take a few minutes to write in a journal. This is what happens and why I’ve taken up the habit, again.
At first, every mark is a scratch, as if the pen were tearing the paper. As the words slow and the thoughts form more completely, the strokes take on a rhythm. It becomes less like unrestrained aggression and more like the movement of skates on ice or skis slicing through groomed snow.
Every night, I sit down for a few minutes to write in my journal. I haven’t always done this, or to put it more precisely, I haven’t always been consistent. I started again over the summer, and as the days have shortened and cooled, the habit has solidified.
I even bought a pen for the job. Well, not only for the journaling, because as I get more and more disillusioned with life online, or really with a life lived through digital screens, I enjoy doing more things in low-tech ways. So, every night I pick up my Pilot Custom 743, loaded with iroshizuku ink in fuyu-syogun colour (literally “old man winter”), and start to write.
My journaling tries to answer two simple questions. My goal is just a page of A5, though sometimes it spreads onto a second page. I’m not trying to record every detail of every day. And, I’m not trying to examine every aspect of my thoughts and actions. I’ve done both in the past, and they have their place, but now I tend to record my life more through photos than words and examine the big creative and ethical questions through my daily writing, much of which you see here on this blog.
The first question I try to tackle is how well the day matched up to the theme I had planned for it. Inspired by Mike Vardy, I have recurring themes for most days. Some days are more like days in the office, doing email, logistics and administrative chores. Other days are more focussed on learning or planning. And some days are purely for making and crafting, with not an email or social media account in sight.
So, at the end of the day, I ask: “How well did the day match its theme?” It’s a question about harmony. Did the rhythm and melody of the day make sense together? Some days just feel right and others are off-key. Some days, it’s hard to improvise because it feels like we are playing the wrong song in the wrong key. So, I write a few words to put the day in perspective.
Then, I ask myself: “How good was I today?” The question is framed this way because it has a certain moral implication: was I at my best? Which can mean did I bring my best to the day, as a calm, reflective, well-prepared person. But, it also means did I make the right choices, was I kind, was I generous, was I following my values, rather than just getting things done, ticking chores off the list.
I have a tendency, perhaps one of my most crummy, to judge each day by the worst thing that happened to me. Sometimes all it takes is a moment for me to write off the day as terrible. It’s so easy to lose perspective. Our memory places landmines all around us. It just takes a second of feeling conspicuous or disrespected, a thoughtless action, or some comment, online or in passing, and the explosions wreck the day.
So, I journal to diffuse the memories, to put them in their correct place, to approach sleep with a better sense of what the day really was, what can be learnt from it, and what problems still call out for solutions.
When I look back, the times I did journal regularly were times when I was more productive and had a clearer sense of purpose in life. Knowing this, it’s hard to explain why I ever stopped journaling, why I allowed days and months and years to pass without having a pen and paper at hand every night and why I didn’t ask myself a few reflective questions.
Perhaps this is the question we all need to come back to again and again; why, when we know something is good for us, when something clearly lifts our soul and helps us appreciate life more deeply, do we still manage to let it slip away?, only to rediscover it years later as we ask ourselves, “What was I thinking?”