Journals, Art, Journeys

When I was young my oldest brother Jeff showed me what an amusing pastime it was to keep a journal. I’ve found this essential. Without keeping a record of the day’s events, we forget most of the coincidences, oddities, and revelations of our lives. Even when we remember the facts of our experience, it’s impossible to recapture the exact feel of events. Most of my life I’ve kept some kind of book on the go, whether it’s just funny lines or ideas or scenes from movies I’d like to see.

It seems important because of this main fact: memories are not real. When you think about an event in your past, (spoiler alert) your brain does not magically go into the past. Our brains attempt to reconstruct our reactions to that experience, but our brains are different now, so the reconstruction is imperfect. Plus, memories can be bent and changed.

Regular journal entries give us a window into our state of mind at the time. This is crucial if you want to understand your life as a journey or narrative, or if you want some sort of proof that you’re getting closer to your goals or developing intellectually.

The same can be said, on the macroscopic scale, of art and science in culture. Art expresses the zeitgeist while science improves our understanding of each moment. We could never have had The Wire without ancient Greek literature, and we could never have invented smartphones without first understanding how radio waves work. This only works when people write it down.

Occasionally an artist makes a conscious effort to draw our attention to cultural development by retelling ancient, fundamentally human stories with current language and culture. The best example is Ulysses by James Joyce. The story is not about a guy named Ulysses in ancient Ithaca, but a man named Leopold Bloom in 20th century Dublin. The title and structure of the novel showcase thousands of years of human values in flux.

“This race and this country and this life produced me…I shall express myself as I am” – James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

It can be great to read old, embarrassing journal entries because it means you’ve grown. Without writing it down we have no proof. And without a record it’s sometimes impossible to understand how we could have believed the crazy notions we’ve outgrown. This blog is likely full of ideas I’ve outgrown. I’m fine with that. Years from now I’ll be glad I was observant, honest in my assessments, and most importantly, that I wrote it down.


P.S. There will be no blog post next week because I will be busy eating food. Happy Holidays everyone.

2 thoughts on “Journals, Art, Journeys

  1. Hi (I’m a little late),
    I have read through a great deal of your posts and took interest to many of them. Yet, for some reason this one stood out for me. Rightfully, no one cares about what I have to say in terms of my own beliefs and opinions. I’m neither a celebrity nor nearly as insightful or intellectual as I would need to be for those grounds. Additionally, I truly appreciate the rarity of privacy and I’m quite the introvert. The problem is I’m also blessed and cursed with this very conscious and observant mind. It is a complete mess in there. Writing things down has always offered me some sort of relief and I’ve always found beauty in journaling- you don’t have to be good at it or care what anyone might think, because it’s just yours. Although I will admit that my entries have been sparse as of lately, I do still keep a journal today…I just use it a bit differently. I’m not a particularly singular-thinker. My consciousness and observations are mostly relative to humanity, to others. And while personal, leisure journaling is a good enough outlet for my personal problems and ideas; when I started studying international relations in university, I realized that the highly political and very structured essays weren’t going to offer me much relief in the realms of my other less selfish thoughts. I am not the kind of person who hears that something horrible has happened and says “oh, that’s sad” then goes about with my day and I refuse to consume or produce news that desensitizes people through little headlines running past the screen reading “school in Pakistan bombed, 160 children dead or injured” followed by celebrity weddings, and replaced by some other tragedy the following day. Some people mistake this for me being sensitive or weak or maybe it’s me being naïve and young-minded. Journaling today helps me organize those conscious thoughts and observations, and I am finally learning how to creatively channel them into mediums like film. If at least one other person finds relief or something good in my efforts then that’s where that mess of a mind of mine becomes a blessing. Journaling has also been a platform for pen paling, which for me has essentially been like sharing your journal through building trust with another individual. For example with people incarcerated unjustly. I have learned so much and have formed extraordinary friendships with a couple of incredible people through these journaling-inspired interactions.
    Furthermore, I’ve certainly found nostalgia and rhetoric in journaling. Not long after my grandfather passed away, I found an entry in that $30 journal that as I mentioned I use sparingly now a days (partly because I will never spend that much money on lined paper bound together in moleskin again). Anyway, it was a brief reflection I had made about a year before of this moment when I looked up and noticed my grandfather staring at my grandmother, smiling in pensive thought and rapture, it was as if he was watching a movie of their lives together, and looking at him I didn’t have to see it to know that it was imbued with love and bliss. She was cooking, she never noticed at the time. If I hadn’t written it down that day I’m not sure that I would have been able to describe it to her in a way that provoked comfort, let alone recalled it at all. On a much less melancholy note my sister and I were recently going through our old journals. My sister was much more happy making sketches than writing it seemed. We came across this one, which she drew when she must have been about 8 years old… C:\Users\Shanice\Pictures\2014-10-14\IMG_3368.JPG I am not sure if you can access the photo, but in short she drew some sort of “gangster” looking character displaying exposed boxers, wearing a chain and with such detail as to place a tooth pick in his mouth. Clearly, my parents missed the signals for the necessity of a shrink. It was incredibly funny.
    I credit journaling with acting as a measure of time. As embarrassing as some of the things I once thought were, those thoughts have evolved and will always be a part of who I am becoming. Humans do this thing where they tend to learn how to live backwards in regards to time. As we learn about life and what’s important, we lose the time we have left to live it. I think self-reflection is one of the only tools I’ve found that can sort of alter that.

    • Thanks for leaving this comment. Unfortunately, I can’t see the photo you posted, but I get the idea.

      I’m with you that keeping a journal acts as a measure of time. Days tend to blend together and flow by really fast if you’re not paying attention. Writing down daily events helps reflect on each day as it’s own chunk of experience. Having yesterday’s entries right there helps keep my days paced out nicely too. And it is great to have a record of moments you can never recreate. Memories are full of holes, and journals can patch some of those holes.

      Lately my entries have been pretty damn boring, if I do say so myself. When I feel busy (like most of the time), I tend to jot down mundane details without reflecting on interesting hypotheticals or interactions I had through the day. I think I need to change up my routine.

      Thanks for reading. Nice to hear from you.

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