Why I’ve never finished a journal

This is my beautiful new Moleskin journal, part reward for hitting my word count last month and part indulgence that I couldn’t resist any more. Some may say these journals are overrated, but the softness of the leather, the silky feel of the pages, and most importantly, the perfect distance between lines make it love every time for me.

When it’s been a while since I’ve last purchased a notebook of any kind, I start to get an itch to visit Barnes and Noble or a twinge when I walk past the journal aisle in Target, even if I have nothing particular in mind to use it for. There is something about all of those gloriously blank pages. Each one is a new beginning. Sometimes I flip open a new journal and just run my fingers over blank page after blank page. It’s perfect without the imperfections of life finding their way there, whether through ink blots and sloppy handwriting or tales told of bad days and bad writing. The problem is a blank notebook isn’t living out the purpose of its being. Empty and unwritten we would all be more perfect as well no doubt, but infinitely less interesting, less human, less of what we are meant to be.

Being a perfectionist by nature, I love new beginnings. I love wiping out the old, the mistakes, the messiness. Over and over again I have tried to use up an entire journal. Even as a child I couldn’t do it. Inevitably I see the mess of my life sitting there in black and white and I want a new start. I can’t restart my life, so I do the next best thing: I get a clean record, a beautiful book of new pages with no mistakes written there yet. Each time I think that I’ll fill the pages with my real life start to finish, and each time the overwhelming yearning for a fresh start hits. The truth is that I want me with a blank slate, with no mistakes to own up to, no embarrassing moments, no heartbreaking days.

Some people I know are incredibly open about their pasts, sharing their mistakes and the things they have learned. I admire them and not just for their courage. They are willing to say “here’s when I was ridiculous, irresponsible, petty, and just plain stupid. I learned from me; now you learn from me too.”  I love that they say “screw you shame and embarrassment” and shine a big, fat light on it all, because 90% of the time I want to take each of those partially filled notebooks of mine and light them on fire and watch the past burn. I can forgive everyone else’s inadequacies but my own.

When I have written something about my personal struggles and mistakes for public consumption, whether this blog or school, I get the chance to craft the words and to hopefully make the picture be understandable, palatable even. (I’m doing that right now.) It is vulnerable, but at least it is edited. My journal is raw emotion, stream of consciousness. It is where I dump the ramblings of my mind and the unrest of my heart for relief and a better look. When I write about sweet moments, they aren’t necessarily any neater. My journal is the beginning of the untangling, a place to let everything out without having to analyze or figure it out and make it nice.

In grappling with this reality, I’ve fallen prey to letting what I think my journal should be prevent it from just being what I need. I think that if I write about one thing, then I have to write about everything. The truth is that my journal will never be a record of my days, and I haven’t wanted to concede that. I’m a little obsessed with remembering, or maybe it’s really a fear of forgetting. I don’t want to lose the details of my life. I want it in hard copy to look back on and remember. But my personal writing only works when I feel compelled to it (don’t confuse this with inspiration), and I have never fell compelled to record my daily moments. If I want my journaling to change, I need to accept that and deal with the fear, not try to obsess my way out of it.

But back to that beautiful new journal – this time I am doing something different, not in my practice but in my expectation. I’ve given permission for messiness. In fact, I’ve planned on it. This new perfect book with its wide open possibilities is for the mess, the grunge, the chaos, the ugly, and the unwanted. It’s for relief and breakthrough and joy so private and deep it splinters you open to let the light out. From beginning to end, this one’s for real life.

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