View from the backside of someone writing at a desk. Their hair and wind is blowing around them.
Design by Avery Nelson.

I love journaling, but I don’t know if it loves me. 

I’m sitting at my desk, or in my bed, or in a park, pouring over my journal and wondering if it can feel the words that I am writing down. If all of my grievances and stress and hurt can bleed through the paper and into the spine of the Leuchtturm that I have decided is my journal of choice. I wonder if it is annoyed that it only ever hears the negatives in my life — if it wonders when the hopeful, happy giddiness will come back. Journaling is a way for me to escape my thoughts — but I wonder if my journal sometimes needs to escape my thoughts, too.

Journaling wasn’t always like this. 

Since I was young, I have always kept a journal. From my pink leather journal to my bedazzled, Paris-themed one gifted to me by my Nanna, little me carried around journals before she even knew she had something to say. What once started as a small interest turned into a desire to be the youngest author of the next Great American Novel (I was 12 and got a page in). I quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen, and my journaling turned into organization and thought-catching. Journaling was not only a hobby, but a way to express myself in the rawest form: No one else would see what I had to say, and I loved that. What once consisted of ugly sketches and small journal entries from my adolescence turned into the control I desired in my teenage years. My class schedule, niche interests, paintings, practiced signatures, lists of gifts, books I wanted to read, ticket stubs from dates, things I was obsessed with (hopes, dreams, aspirations and world peace) were all outlined on those dotted pages. If you wanted to get to know me, the most efficient way would be to take a look at my journal.

When COVID-19 hit, my journal became a history book. I needed to keep track of the absurdity of daily life before I assumed it was all a dream — I knew I was living through unprecedented times that needed to be remembered. I wrote down everything that was happening and didn’t miss a day. It gave me something to keep track of. On the days when school was pretty much nonexistent, it gave me a way to exercise my brain and connect with my own thoughts; I was able to work through all of the confusion of the times. It was then that journaling turned from something I enjoyed to something I needed to do. 

I think about my journal as an asset that will gain interest, or perhaps as an investment for later. It is not only about keeping track of my life but remembering it. I want to look back fondly at what happened to me when I was younger. I want to reminisce, I want to understand and share these memories with those in my life now and in the future. I don’t want to forget who I am now and who I used to be. 

When I got sad, journaling was there for me. It turned from organization to letters I never got the chance to send. It was for saying the words I could never say out loud and writing about things I couldn’t yet admit to myself. I would sit on my favorite bench at the park in the middle of December with my red Leuchtturm and write down everything in my head. Having that place to put those thoughts made me feel like everything was going to be okay. It was for confusion and fear but also for acceptance and hope. It was for moving through things while not yet being on the other side. It was for sifting through and ruminating and then walking away the second those pages were shut. 

One of my best friends told me about “worry stones”: We can put all of our sadness, stress and fear into one stone and then throw it away when we need to be free of those feelings. I never got into the practice of worry stones, but I realized that mine are my journals. I scrapped my red Leuchtturm before it was finished and bought a new one. 

Journaling has always been a part of my life — but recently it’s been pretty nonexistent. It’s helped me grow up, become my own person, organize my stressful life, soothe my sadness. I jump to journaling when I need to think things through, when I’m confused and when I’m angry; my journals contain the ugliest parts of me and the most intimate. I see my reflection between the pages of tear-soaked poems and songs I cried to, nestled between the memories of friendships long gone and places I’ll surely never go back to. Journals hold my memories and happiness alongside the heartbreak, the lessons I have learned and the people I have loved. 

I used to journal every day, but now I can’t get myself to start a new one. I have walked away for now, but I’m sure a pink leather notebook is anxiously awaiting my return. 

Daily Arts Writer Logan Brown can be reached at loganvb@umich.edu.