I remember my first journal, a diary actually, it was a gift on my twelfth birthday and was red leatherette with a closing band and an honest-to-goodness lock and key. I do not have that journal but I have more than seventy others, the story of my life in composition books, purse size wire bound tablets, cloth covered mini books, art embellished sketch books, embossed leather treasures, and more recently, Moleskins of all sizes. There are travel journals, fitness and workout journals, journals from weekend professional development retreats, a journal of my time with my mother as she was dying, and journals filled with deep pain as I weathered the storm of my husband’s betrayal.
I am writing a memoir and have begun to mine my journals for details and memories and have made a beautiful discovery. In the past, while I would occasionally seek a journal to check a date or bit of information, I had not sat down and read them like a book or a story. I realized that as I opened each of my journals and began to read, I was transported to that moment in time. Reading the words on the page brought back the feelings, the details of the place, the weather or season, the faces of people with me at that time even if I had not written specifically about them.
I had a habit of writing quotes onto the pages, fragments of conversations overheard, reactions to personal and world events, and pasting in bits of ephemera like ticket stubs, business cards, articles torn from magazines, and photographs. These too add authenticity to the recall.
My journal from a trip to Ireland is covered in a silky textured fabric that brings to mind the island’s thousand shades of green. It was exactly the right size to insert 4x6 photos and as I wrote I snapped a photo to accompany that entry and noted the date and place. When I returned home and printed the photos, they dovetailed with and expanded upon the story of my journey. The photo of the pub sign where we had lunch and my notes on our food and the crowd transport me to that smoky pub: the pungent smell-like-no-other of the peat fire, the cheery barkeep with the twinkling blue eyes and ruddy cheeks, full of stories for the tourists, the coarse brown bread with Irish butter, creamy and richer than any butter we have at home, and the stew in a deep bowl, steaming hot. I feel again that same sense of belonging that I felt most of the time I was in Ireland, genetic memory perhaps?
There is so much more than the words on the page. I am back in that moment in the most visceral way. And opening that door leads to other memories revealing themselves. It is as if the page houses a room full of water and when the door is opened a river of sensation flows forth. The words become feelings and images and the images twist into places and then people appear. I hear their conversation and feel the energy of the moment. I float on a sea of remembrance. It is magic in motion.
Tapping into this richness is providing depth and detail that mere memory could never supply. I am right there, right now and that is a gift.
Jude Whelley lives and writes in Dayton, Ohio. In addition to journaling, she writes memoir, fiction, and poetry. She loves travel, reading, cooking, and being with her tribes, both family and fellow writers. Follow her blog, Writing Now at www.judewalshwhelley.com.
Here are some of Jude's favorite journaling prompts:
Randomly open an old journal and read that page. What feelings, senses, memories, or visuals appear? How are you different or the same now?
Consider adding a constant start to your journaling. Perhaps note your specific location or the weather or a current event from that day? You will be surprised at how much more than what is on the page this might later evoke.
Do a monthly or yearly challenge. For example, one poem or haiku a day or per week. Choose something out of your comfort zone. Perhaps note your most sensuous experience of the week. Maybe learn a new word every day? The possibilities are endless!