The summer of 2003 seemed to be the beginning of many things. I had returned home from a year-long exile in a distant city, one where neither the city nor I belonged to each other. I carried with me the strangeness of that place, that year, along with my luggage and a fistful of words.
My dad, being my dad, was unsurprisingly psychic when it came to his teenage daughter: as a welcome home gift, he gave me a handsome, hardbound journal with a pale yellow cover and a dark green spine.
The pages were thick and off-white, perfectly ruled with subtle brown lines. Like most teenagers of the early 2000s, our cell phones were still uncoloured 8-bit wonders; our internet connection still running on prepaid cards, where you were forced to get offline when somebody wanted to use the phone. The notebook my dad gave me then was a welcome companion at a time when I needed it most.
I was 12 years old, turbulent as a typhoon, when I started keeping journals.
There was something magical about empty notebooks, as if somewhere along those blank-faced pages was an invisible incantation that invoked for one the ancient ritual of storytelling. I suppose that, back then, I fancied myself a storyteller, though perhaps not in the way The Diary of Anne Frank had a story to tell.
My memory of Anne Frank’s diary, which was read to me in parts by my dad, had always been intertwined with a long hospital stay where I subsisted on a diet of cup noodles, IV drips, and the Erap trials on TV. What was happening in and outside of my life was far from being earth-shaking and historically significant, but I did occasionally entertain the thought of aliens discovering my journal at the end of the world, and finding something remotely of interest before obliterating the nonsensical debris of my otherwise mundane existence.
I began to write with no particular direction, no overarching theme to tie the loose ends of my thoughts, and without the hope that my journals would ever be read by people aside from myself (although I suspected that my dad would take a peek every now and then, driven by that parental nosiness about their child’s potentially manic-depressive musings).
I wrote about school, the hypocrisy of social cliques, about beloved TV shows, about books, bands, little things blown to dramatic proportions for personal entertainment’s sake, my erratic mood swings, the desperation of trying to be cool, scenes from stories that would remain unfinished, the silence of solitude, self-loathing, losing lovers, hopeless romanticism, inebriated nonsense—everything I felt I could not reveal to anyone, not even to my family or the closest of my peers.
The act of writing in a journal was an exorcism of sorts, raw, violent, and unapologetic when one writes in the lost language of the longhand—uniquely liberating because living in one’s own world was far easier and less harrowing than sharing it with others for fear of judgment or persecution.
It was in the world of the blank page that I ran to when nothing made sense anymore, and I would view its senselessness from a precipice, hoping that perhaps I would be able to see the horizon.
And sometimes, I would.
In this day and age, where one could share to the world in 140 characters or less one’s experiences as it unfolds, the sacred joy in keeping secrets seems to be lost. So many avenues are available wherein one could reveal to an audience the happiness or sorrows of one’s personal life, through words, pictures, and videos, that somehow it ceases to be personal anymore. It’s bare for everyone to see, to mock, to celebrate.
Believe it or not, there is something delightful about a little restraint, of not constantly sharing one’s experiences with everyone else. It gives one ample time to be introspective and not be merely reactive, unburdened by the opinions and comments of others.
In keeping journals, I have learned to deal with myself first, to challenge even my own ideas before I question those of others. It is quite tempting to validate one’s thoughts and perspectives through the opinion of those who care to listen, or even those who care to criticize (intelligently or otherwise), but the act of writing in private encourages one to first wrestle with personal demons, to be completely naked in front of a mirror—the object from which many people seem to hide.
In a world of carefully-crafted social personas, a journal is where one can see one’s own ugliness, the scars that we all try to keep hidden away or obtain masochistic enjoyment in letting everyone else see because one cannot gain sympathy in isolation. But sometimes, in sharing these things, we do not find forgiveness, least of all from ourselves. What sometimes echoes is the voice of others, and not our own.
It takes a different kind of courage to listen to one’s voice because it can be uncertain, devoid of the bravado we envision ourselves to hear.
I’ve been keeping journals for the last fifteen years. Stained the pages with ink blots of memories, good and bad, exciting and mundane, completely rational or downright crazy, and while most of the stuff I wrote I’ve found foolishly immature or laughable at best, or perhaps even heart-warming or oddly painful, they’re nothing if not true.
It isn’t always easy to write about the truth, least of all the truth about oneself, because it means fighting a battle which one might not be able to win. But in an age where lies are constantly peddled, and even glorified, perhaps keeping journals, writing in private, is what we need to make sense of ourselves in a world that’s slowly going mad.
Rachel P. Salud is a writer, illustrator, gamer, and coffee-guzzler. She used to work for a Canada-based publishing company as a proofreader and associate writing coach. She currently manages her freelance proofreading and editing website at pinkpencilproof.wixsite.com/home.