Musings over 30 Years of Journaling

“What are you doing now?” he asked. “Do you keep a journal?” So I make my first entry to-day.

First page of Henry David Thoreau’s journal, dated October 22, 1837 (twenty years of age)

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Preparing for Fall Semester (but first, I want to blog!)

The serene five-hour drive from Dallas/Fort Worth to west Texas early yesterday morning  avoided the triple-digit temperatures and rejuvenated my soul. Stopping at my favorite town of Thurber (population 5), I decided to treat myself to a lovely sunrise and leisurely breakfast at the Smokestack Restaurant. It was a little after seven and they had just opened.

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The Ranch Boss Breakfast Sandwich

While driving from Fort Worth to Thurber, I scanned YouTube on my phone for something interesting, and decided to listen to what people had to say about journaling. Having practiced this for over thirty years, I wanted to know what seasoned creative spirits had to say about this practice of journaling and how it shaped their lives.

I was not prepared for what came up–young people (by my standards, under thirty) who had been journaling for thirty days were posting about how it changed their lives! Post after post encouraged the listeners: journal ten minutes every day for a month and see what happens! Finally pulling over for breakfast, I discontinued the YouTube search and may resume it in the future. I still wish to hear from someone who has journaled longer than thirty days. On this note, I have decided to add my 2¢ worth, confident that thirty years of my practice might offer readers more than a one-month experiment. And if any of you readers and bloggers practice journaling, I would love to hear your perspectives on this. I just don’t meet many people who engage in this.

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My Journals, Still not Organized

I seem to recall that Emerson, by the time of his death, had accumulated 286 volumes of journals, filling an entire bookcase. I never set a goal for myself, and last time I counted, I had around 140 volumes going back to 1985. At any rate, it was 1985 when I began this practice and I haven’t stopped, nor do I anticipate doing so. I began my journals, believing they would feed my classroom performances, helping to shape lectures for the courses I taught.  But they have grown far beyond that; the journal has been a companion for life, going with me everywhere, and my daily lifestyle has included the journal, whether I am working at my desk, sitting in a coffee shop, or taking a trip. Daily, scattered ideas are scribbled in my notebooks as naturally as pausing for a bite to eat.

I choose not to compose a list of “Top Ten Reasons for Keeping a Journal”, but rather will share some of my ideas based on what I have experienced. To begin with, what exactly is the journal, for me? The journal is a map for organizing wonder. I honestly wish I had kept a journal since I was old enough to write, because from the start I have been a dreamy child. As the oldest among my siblings, I was four years old when my brother was born, and Mom was then too busy doing housework and taking care of the baby to entertain me. My recollection of that age is going outside to play. We did not live in a neighborhood, I had no playmates save for my imagination. All I had was the wide open wilderness enveloping me from the moment I stepped out that door, and it was enough. There was a paved road on one side of the house; I was not permitted to go there. On the other three sides were sprawling land as far as the eye could see, no other house in sight. I still remember a particularly chilly morning when the wind whipped through the fringes of my Davy Crockett jacket, making a whispering noise that I believed was a cosmic voice trying to tell me something. I listened, and continue listening to this day.

Bernard Berenson’s recollection of his own childhood in his Sketch for a Self-Portrait is a mirror of my own:

In childhood and boyhood this ecstasy overtook me when I was happy out of doors. Was I five or six? Certainly not seven. It was a morning in early summer. A silver haze shimmered and trembled over the lime trees. The air was laden with their fragrance. The temperature was like a caress. I remember–I need not recall–that I climbed up a tree stump and felt suddenly immersed in Itness. I did not call it by that name. I had no need for words. It and I were one.

I knew that experience from age four. As an adult, I read the same sentiments in Emerson’s Nature:

The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister, is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them.

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Site of the Old Homestead

The house we lived in at that time burned down long ago, and nature has reclaimed its property. Last winter I drove to the site and took these two photos. Beyond these trees the open landscape from which I drank as a child might still be there, but I did not get out of the Jeep to trespass and see for myself. Sixty years later, I still listen for that voice daily, and enthusiastically record what I hear.

The journal, for me, is a tool for capturing the inner dialogue that drives me daily. Thoughts evaporate quickly, and recording them in writing makes it possible to return. I frequently pull journals at random from my shelf and peruse what I have written, and am astonished time and again to read thoughts I don’t recall thinking and writing. Many of these ideas remain precious and are worthy of recall.

My journals are replete with quotes from what I read or hear daily (and I am meticulous in using quotation marks and documentation to insure I will not later read someone else’s words as my own–a practice I have kept since my doctoral studies). And, since childhood, I have been unable to read texts without dialoguing with the author from my own experience. Thus, my journals capture these interior conversations carried on daily. Living alone for several years now, I believe firmly that they have kept me healthy. Solitude for me is not a scourge. I still recall words from the film Shadowlands: “We read to know we’re not alone.”

While listening to the YouTube talks, I frequently heard the encouragement to write out whatever is on your mind, even if it is anger and frustration. I disagree sharply with that practice; negativity is the last thing I want to read when opening an old journal. If I wished to ingest anger, all I would need to do is tune in to some cable news network or AM radio talk show. For journals, I want to preserve only the worthy, edifying words (and I hope to God that is what I’m doing on my blog). If I need to unload poison from my consciousness, I resort to what Julia Cameron refers to as The Morning Pages. That practice involves writing three pages as quickly as possible to get all the junk out of the mind, and then throwing them away. The Morning Pages are where I put my negativity, and then it goes to the trash. Journals, for me, are for storing treasure to unearth in the future as needed.

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My Current Journal

For two years now, I have used the journal pictured above, and I absolutely love what it provides. It came from Little Mountain Bindery, and was a retirement gift from Sandi Jones, my all-time soulmate.  As you can see, it is durable. It floated downriver a considerable distance after I capsized a kayak two summers ago. As I chased after it, I witnessed a sight similar to that in the film Dances with Wolves.

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The inside of the binder holds a pair of Moleskine notebooks, and includes a pair of pockets for storing small papers as needed. Every time I fill one of the Moleskine’s, I remove it and replace with a new one. Because I like to go back and read recent entries, I usually do not remove the filled notebook until I am about halfway through the second. When I’m on an extended trip, I always carry an extra pair so I never run out.

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Returning to an Old Practice

Above, I have posted a pair of very old journal entries. I told my sister recently that I was dissatisfied with the quality of my journals of late. Her response was: “Running out of words?” I still laugh at that one. What I tried to explain was that in former days I combined sketching with journaling and still believe that my journals from those days have far more quality than the ones of late. So, I am trying to move more in the direction of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks in hope of producing some kind of hybrid “sketchbook/journal” in my daily practice. More on that in another blog.

Returning now to the words of Thoreau’s first journal entry: The question “Do you keep a journal?” was put to him by his mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson. When Thoreau replied “No”, Emerson inquired “Why not?” In response. Thoreau began his first journal at twenty. By the time he died twenty-two years later, Thoreau had poured out over four million words of publishable print. I am still inspired by that story.

So, I close by completing the first entry from Thoreau’s journal, following Emerson’s question and his response:

To be alone I find it necessary to escape the present,–I avoid myself. How could I be alone in the Roman emperor’s chamber of mirrors? I seek a garret. The spiders must not be disturbed, nor the floor swept, nor the lumber arranged.

The Germans say, “Es ist alles wahr wodurch du besser wirst.” 

The translation of Thoreau’s closing remark is: “Everything through which you are bettered is true.” In looking back over my life, I believe with all my being that the journal has bettered my life, and the practice of daily recording is true.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

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9 Responses to “Musings over 30 Years of Journaling”

  1. Michael Lovette Says:

    Thank you for such an inspiring post! Sharing your years of journaling is both an inspiration and a unique opportunity for your readers. I’m especially grateful that you included photos of your own journal entries.

    Myself, I have had an ‘on again, off again’ relationship with journaling. I have started to keep a journal multiple times with the intention of ‘keeping at it’ but, it seems that I eventually loose the commitment and stop making journal entries. I still have all the incomplete journals from my past. I occasionally become inspired and re-commit myself to the journaling habit. I am experiencing one of those times now. Your post may be the catalyst that pushes me over the edge and gets me journaling again. Perhaps this time I can string together 30 years worth. Haha.

    Thanks again for providing another pleasant read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • davidtripp Says:

      Michael, thank you for posting that! I hope the journal activity works for you, and even more so, hope that you will let me know how things go in that regard. As a child, I frequently failed at keeping Diaries, but once I started journaling ideas, I began taking my thoughts more seriously and recording them. I am really happy to have a library of my own thoughts that I can peruse whenever I choose. Thank you again so much for your response.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Michael Lovette Says:

        Thank you for your reply. I will keep in touch and let you know how I am progressing. I too would like a library of my own thoughts and experiences with the intention of, someday, passing them along to my children.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. sedge808 Says:

    now i’m hungry…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Cheryl Rose Says:

    David, I don’t know why, but reading your blogs transport me to a place of such tranquility like that I felt when watching the father and sons fly fishing in the movie, “A River Runs Through It.” You project the feeling that you and nature are one. I get to be a part of that through your travels and writing. Thanks for taking us on your journeys.

    Liked by 1 person

    • davidtripp Says:

      Cheryl, thank you for such a kind word of encouragement! I do love those intimate connections with nature, and incidentally, I am a passionate fly fisherman as well! I have watched A River Runs Through It so many times! I am very happy to see my journal tribute developing a readership, and hope it can be an encouragement for others to pursue. I appreciate every time you respond to my blog, and can never thank you enough!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Sigrun Says:

    Dear David, I’m in no way as industrious as you are, but I have been keeping journals/daybooks/notebooks on and off for more than 30 years. I have kept them all, but never re-read them. My guess is there is about 25-30 of them, I’m not sure as they are stacked away in the attic.

    I use my journals mainly for two tings – I write about books I’m reading and ideas these give me, and I have an ongoing dialogue with myself in these books, as a way of clarifying my mind.

    I’m not sure why I keep my journals, since I have no intention of ever reading them … maybe it’s out of politeness for my former self?

    Love to see how you combine sketches and text. I am also a sketcher & drawer, but keep separat books for visual art – and contrary to the written journals, I often visit me own old drawings.

    Best,
    Sigrun

    Like

    • davidtripp Says:

      Thank you for sharing this! I’m always thrilled to learn of what others do in their journals and sketchbooks. I wish I had been more attentive to my sketchbooks over the years. High School and College professors always insisted on their importance, but I never took heed. Now I am trying to correct bad habits, and hope that my journal and sketchbook will mesh into one activity.

      Liked by 1 person

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