Michaeline: Journaling

Old time romance comic cover: Sweetheart Diary. Carol has just received a letter and is holding her head in shock. Next to her is "My Diary."

(Image via Wikimedia Commons)

The first thing I have to say about journaling is that I suck at it. I can write in a little book about the minutiae of my life for a few days, and then I get inexpressibly bored. I’m lousy at conflict: anything I can’t minimize I’m very good at ignoring. Character development? I’m sure there must be some but I develop far too slowly. Plot? Ha! And let’s add in a sad lack of explosions, magical battles and strange creatures (aside from Yuta, the cat, who eats lettuce like a carnivore and likes a ride on the stationery bike) . . . you get a written record that’s far too boring for my tastes.

But while I feel my life isn’t worth the documentation, I admire people who keep a diary, and it seems to me that this coronavirus conflict is going to encourage a lot of people to do so. I might give it a whirl.

Here are a few ideas.

Japanese school children often keep a vacation diary in a special notebook. The top half of the page is a blank square, meant for drawing a picture. But, photos could be pasted there, or movie tickets, or anything. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. The bottom half is lined for the child to write in the details. The teachers often recommend the kid start with the day and date (it can help one keep track of days spent at home, where all the weekdays tend to blur into one another), the weather and temperature, and how the kid is feeling.

The three-line diary is an assignment I’ve given to my English learners. The idea is that anyone can write three sentences a day in English. If worst comes to worst, sentence one is the weather (which practices the be-verb and a common conversation starter), sentence two is what one ate, and sentence three is “nothing new.” It’s OK to write more than three sentences, and often, just getting started means a writer has more to say than they thought they did. Sometimes, the hardest part of journaling is just finding a working writing utensil.

Menus can tell a story. I have, at many points in my life, created weekly menus according to the season, in order to streamline my shopping and prevent that 30-minute rumination at 5 p.m. about “What in the hell am I going to make for supper?” I take a piece of paper, fold it into half and half and half to get eight segments, and assign a day of the week to the first seven rectangles. The eighth is the shopping list, divided into a Wednesday run and a Saturday run. Memos can go on the back – what was good, what was bad, why things didn’t work out. It’s better than nothing.

Still, I don’t have a lot of confidence that I will actually carry through with these things (except maybe the menu idea). I think I’ll take the lazy way. There’s a forum I belong to which carries my comments in a nice, screen-shottable format. We talk about all sorts of issues of the day, and it’s easy to click over to the whole conversation for the context, if I need to. I think I’m going to go back and screenshot my comments, and keep them in a Word file called The Time of Corona; I could update it every weekend with just a little effort, and have my thoughts in one place.

Title page of Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year being Observations or Memorials of the most Remarkable Occurrences as well Publick as Prvate, which happened in London During the last Great Visitation in 1665.

Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, also kept a diary during the Plague years of 1664 and 1665. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Do you keep a diary? What kind, and what makes you stick to it? What have you found it useful for, so far? If you don’t keep a diary, what do you think would work?

For inspiration, I’m going to start reading Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year which recounts a plague in London, beginning from September 1664. The first two paragraphs have me enthralled. A Marina Hyde piece in the Guardian first brought my attention to it; you can read it online at Gutenberg.org.

2 thoughts on “Michaeline: Journaling

  1. I don’t keep a journal of myself—I seem to run out of time, patience, or interest after just a few days—but I have a friend who has kept a daily journal since she was in high school. She lived through some interesting times, and I always thought she or someone else could make an interesting memoir or fictional account of that chronicle.

    I really like the idea of the notebook for the Japanese kids, with the room for the picture at the top and the writing space at the bottom. One of my most dreaded exercises as a kid was the inevitable “what you did during the summer” essay that was assigned the first week of school. It was so hard to make that interesting! And my memory often failed me when I tried to fall back and describe a single event.

    I think it would be interesting down the road to read the diary of what it was like to live through the coronavirus pandemic. It does seem like it would’ve been valuable to start six weeks ago! But it’s never too late. Give it a go, Michaeline!

    • My memory fails me all too often, too. That’s why I think keeping a diary is a great idea! But like a lot of things I admire, I can’t seem to pull it off. I probably will do the “record my comments” thing, though.

      My mother has written to my sister and I nearly every week since we left home, and those letters and emails would probably make a good way to remember things . . . but I never go back through them, and I haven’t bothered to save them to something. I’ll probably regret it some day.

      But, I just finished the Defoe, and I think I’d like to give it a go! Even reading back on the blog was quite interesting; I’d forgotten some of those feelings and events from a mere three weeks ago.

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