Journaling: Bearing Witness to your Life


I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn
-Anne Frank

“Write in this book and you’ll feel better”

It was my father who encouraged me to “write about it” when he gave me that first pink and turquoise diary when I was 10 years old. You know the kind, the ones with a little lock and key that hold a young girl’s many secrets. Diaries were simpler then and I don’t remember any glitter or unicorns on the cover  but when I unwrapped the box that it came in, I felt very grown up, proud, and important. Dad suggested that by writing about what was troubling me and journaling what was going on in my life day by day,  I would be able resolve feelings, relive happy moments and in general, learn from day to day entries. Of course, he didn’t talk to a 10 year old like that. He probably said “write in this book and you’ll feel better.”  I credit his thoughtful present and excellent advice with everything I have written since.

At First It Was All About Secrecy and Confidentiality

That diary became my best friend and it still astounds me that I was able to keep that little key as long as I did considering that these days, I have trouble remembering where I left my glasses, my car keys,  or where I dropped the phone on any given day. The difference was that  then I lived in a house full of people, and now I live alone. The key insured that the only one visiting the pages was myself and not my parents or siblings.

I was the youngest in the family and my sisters were 10, 11 and and my brother 19 years older than me and had their own separate lives. They probably had no interest in what I was writing in my diary. At their age,  they had bigger and probably more interesting things to be curious about than a young girls’  silly musings. My diary became a   very loving space that I created for myself; away from judgement or advice from family and teachers. Nobody checked grammar, punctuation or content. For my eyes only. I readily compare it to seeing a therapist and making that important decision to tell a total stranger what troubles or delights us about our life. My diary was my impromptu therapist in those days when I hardly knew what a therapist was.

Dear Diary…I’m sorry that I haven’t written for a few days…

When I wrote, I addressed the diary itself, you know, the “dear Diary” variety of writing. It was always comforting to write in my room just before bedtime. This also ensured that whatever worried me about tomorrow was less troubling after I had written it down in my journal. I could go to sleep without worries or anxiety having ridden myself of that extra luggage on those pages  before slumber. Good advice for everyone, not just young girls.

Sometimes an entry involved a disagreement with a friend,  a happy or sad day at school, growing pains and realizations of day to day things that I was experiencing. I sometimes included jokes or funny stories, little poems and reminders.  My father’s advice to write about what was troubling me, started a life-long habit of putting my feelings and what I was learning about the world down on paper.

I often apologized to it for missing a few days of entries, as if the diary was actually listening to me and caring for what I was writing. Everything that was important to me then was in those pages. It preceded the “best friend” stage, the boys, the competition, and everything that came later. When I was nearing the end, there was another little book waiting in the wings to be filled with everything that mattered and that I could look forward to – there’s nothing like starting a new page in a new book.

Bearing Witness to Our Own Lives

Journaling is important to me. Whether I write in the journal itself or grab a napkin in a coffee shop to jot down a thought, a feeling, or perhaps something funny that I observe while drinking my latte. I then include it in my journal when I get home. I save  random things in my diary, such as cards, notes, theater stubs, boarding passes, the odd photograph or even a bird’s feather that I find on the street when walking my dog. As I grew up, my diary entries became like Bridget Jones’ “notes to self,” a more accurate description of what I was actually thinking and wanted to remember at the time.

Since then, I have written journals at every important juncture in my life. When I got married and moved away from Argentina to Colombia I described my feelings of joy mixed with the sadness of missing my family and friends. The new adventures that were rocking my life at the time, the experiences that I had of being a “foreigner” for the first time in my life –  the freshness mixed with wonder of being a new bride in a strange land. The comfort that my journal provided was just part of it but certainly an important component of my motivation to keep on writing. When I moved to Spain and then to London next, I carried my journal with me as part of my daily necessities you know, like lipstick or tissues.  At the time I thought of myself as living as far away from Buenos Aires as I could possibly go, but I was wrong. Next came Tokyo.  Talk about being far away from life as I knew it.   Living on the opposite side  of the world in a completely different culture and language gave me enough material to write about.  My journal bore witness to my life as I went along from city to city.

Discovering the Joy of Art Journaling

A few years ago I found a new outlet for my musings namely, the Art Journal. This can combine writing with drawing, painting, collage, doodling and making mandalas. Whatever is on  my mind gets translated into some form of art. Often,  words are not necessary. My words  turn into pictorials that in one way or another help me express what is going on with me at any given moment. I spend time in my studio combining my two favorite things, expressing creativity and writing about it when I feel I need to use words. Sometimes those words make their way into a painting and  sometimes I am silent and let the paint do the talking.

A Little Journaling Every Day Keeps the Blues Away

A journal can be started at the drop of a hat.  No need to journal for years like I have. You can start right now. There will be no judge other than yourself and you can allow yourself the space and time to write whatever you like. If you don’t want to be judged, don’t judge yourself, simply write what’s on your mind.  All you need to do is find a notebook that you like, grab a pen and get on with it. Write your heart out. Don’t edit yourself nor burden your mind with silly things like grammar or whether you used a word correctly. Don’t censor yourself. Be free and write your life into those pages.  If someone reads your journal when you’re gone, they will delight in your stories and learn more about the real you, you know, the unique person that you are. I have no doubt that you’ll benefit from the experience.  Happy Journaling!

As featured on Sixty + Me




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