I’ve been keeping a journal for more than 25 years. I should say “mostly keeping a journal” because there have been periods of time where I haven’t written in a journal regularly – though probably, I was writing just not in a journal.
At the pace of one page per day, that’d come to 9,132 pages or some 2,283,000 words. I’m sure I’ve written five times that.
My father suggested I keep a journal of a Eurail trip I was taking after college. Since I knew I’d be spending time alone on trains, in foreign cities, and since I wanted to write professionally, I started writing in a blue lab notebook back in mid-1980s and pretty much never stopped.
Keeping a journal became a habit pretty quickly. It’s not something I think about, I just write. (Unlike blogging which I do in fits and starts and am much more self-conscious about.)
I wonder how much that particular point in my life – my early 20s – motivated the writing. I’d just finished my formal education, hadn’t written much more than school papers and a few stories, and knew the only way I was going to become an author was to write. How much was motivated by being in that funny place between graduation and still trying to figure out who I was and what I would do. And how much was motivated by my father’s suggestion that I keep a journal.
Over the years, the journal became my the place where I’ve documented my marriage, the birth and growth of my three sons, my life in Brooklyn, and the ebb and flow of my businesses. It’s where I’ve given thanks for the blessings that fill my life, admitted my jealousies, fears, and shortcomings, celebrated successes and worked out anger and conflicts. I’ve also explored ideas for businesses, stories, novels and articles, analyzed dreams, made predictions, lamented the loss of friends and money, mourned the death of ideas that I’d finally grown out of, confessed and complained complained complained all in the confines of the written page.
The journal has taken many forms. From the blue-covered lab notebook to soft-cover oversized lab notebook, spiral-bound and hard-bound blank-paged sketch books, and loose leaf sheets of paper from companies that changed names or went out of business, canary-colored legal pads, to black-, green-, mango-covered Moleskines decorated with skateboard brand, band and random decals, I’ve written everywhere I’ve lived my life: in dens, kitchens, bedrooms, dining rooms, offices, hotel rooms, on boats, in trains, on planes, in cars. In every city I’ve lived in and visited in North and Central America and brief visits to Europe. It would be rare to find me without some kind of journal to write with.
I have tried keeping a journal on a computer, used Penzu for a couple of years, even have a secret email account that I will on occasion send notes to, but I prefer writing on paper, mostly with a fountain pen (a Lamy 2000).
The poet, Allen Ginsberg, founder and frequent lecturer at The Naropa Institute, warned me that the wrong ink, particularly ballpoint pen ink would destroy the paper. He also warned me that my journal would accumulate and that at some point, if I was diligent with my writing, I’d have to contend with quantity. It’s true, I have several plastic containers in my basement, a suitcase in an attic, and a shelf of my most recent scribblings in my bedroom.
(I’ll continue this post later.)