Journaling in a crisis

Tuesday, March 31, 2020 - 12:57pm

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Design by Noah Finer

By the Thursday of our first week of remote classes, I was already bored out of my mind. Time seemed no longer relevant; My days weren’t broken up by things like club meetings, office hours and trips to the dining hall. My classes were still being held at their original times, but everything else had abruptly ended. At first, I found myself filling the empty space with Netflix and YouTube videos, but they too lost their color quickly. 

One afternoon, out of sheer boredom, I decided to go through the bookshelf in my bedroom to see if I could find anything interesting to read. I started from the bottom shelf, which had collected a slight amount of dust since I left for college last fall. It was mostly full of books I’d read when I was younger, a large majority of them either The Boxcar Children or Magic Tree House. For some time, I sat there, studying the remnants of my childhood until I came across a stack of brightly colored spiral-bound notebooks — my old journals. 

I first started journaling when I was little. My parents had encouraged me to write so I could improve my handwriting. One of my first notebooks dates as early as 2005, which means I would have been around age five. I wrote very simply — I listed how I was feeling at the time of writing and why, like “Today is Monday and I feel happy!” — accompanied by a self-drawn “Sketch of the Day.” In other entries, I decided not to write about myself; In a rainbow-colored notebook from 2008, I’d chosen to write about a cool glitter pen I’d found. A couple pages later, I told a story about a made-up princess. 

My journal entries varied in length, too. For example, one simply reads, “In a few days it will be my birthday!” while an entry a few pages before it reads, “Dear Diary, I am bored!” and then details exactly why for three whole pages. 

Regardless of the length or simplicity of the entries in my journals, it was clear that journaling was something I enjoyed doing. In many of the notebooks, there seemed to be an entry for nearly every day. Without fail, I had taken the time out of my day to write, reflect or say whatever else I wanted. 

By the sixth grade, with tennis and orchestra keeping me busy, I was starting to fall out of practice, and by high school, I’d dropped it entirely, with most of my time devoted to academics and extracurriculars. While my life was certainly full of more things I could’ve written about or worked through — crushes, failed assignments, disagreements with friends — it felt like there was just no time. My social life filled the gaps when I might’ve had time to write, and without my journals, I found myself feeling overwhelmed at times. 

Not only did I yearn for the ability to write down and reflect on my thoughts but I also missed the sheer art of journaling. To me, there had always been something relaxing in the act: It was comforting to write with a nice pen and see my thoughts unfolded before me in ink. 

Toward the latter half of high school, I attempted to restart my habit, a big motivator being the rise of the self-care movement. Journaling, thanks to its potential mental and physical health benefits, became a staple of self-care — and in the midst of it all, the bullet journal surged to popularity.

It’s very easy to see the appeal of bullet journaling, a practice in which one numbers their journal pages, creates an index and organizes their tasks, calendars and weekly logs from there. With one quick search on Google Images, you’re faced with a plethora of notebook pages covered in beautiful cursive letters, neatly written to-do lists and weekly schedules. In my eyes, the sheer amount of organization that went into a single bullet journal was both aesthetically pleasing and something to be envied. 

But, even after I did some research, which basically consisted of me skimming through articles and watching bullet journal setup videos on YouTube, I never successfully started my own bullet journal. While I definitely wanted to, I couldn’t bring myself to actually plan a whole notebook out. To be honest, I think I found the “aesthetic” part of bullet journaling too intimidating, too much of a commitment.

Instead, I tried another method: digital journaling. After typing those two words into my search bar, I came upon an article titled, “Think you’re too busy to journal? These apps let you do it on the go,” which detailed a list of five journal apps for iOS and Android. 

Journaling apps seemed like the perfect solution to everything I wanted — I wouldn’t have to set anything up if an app already did it for me. It seemed more efficient. An app on a phone, after all, is the epitome of efficiency. I could already see myself writing entries as I waited for orchestra practice to start. 

After trying several of the apps suggested in the article, I still wasn’t satisfied. Typing away on a phone, while quick and easy, didn’t feel the same as journaling. Not only was it a bit strange to not have a physical journal to write in, but it completely lacked the intimacy of handwriting. As far as I know, there is no digital way of accurately recreating the feeling of pressing pen to paper. 

Until I came across my old notebooks, I hadn’t thought about journaling in a while. As I sat in my bedroom flipping through pages, home from college two months early because of a global pandemic, I realized that now more than ever would be the best opportunity for me to start again. In the middle of this sudden, chaotic crisis, writing down my feelings and thoughts could be one of the best ways to mentally process the situation we’re all experiencing. 

Now, a new notebook sits on my bedside table. It’s a far cry from the colorful notebooks of my childhood: It’s a pale cream color with an exposed spine and softcover. I started it very recently. Its organization is practically nothing compared to a bullet journal. Instead, most of its entries are a stream of consciousness — all of my joys and sorrows bundled together in threaded binding. 

Each time I pick up the notebook, its pages still mostly empty, I feel no pressure to draw in colorful headers or write in neat, organized lines. I just write, with a simple black pen, and let the thoughts tumble from my brain and onto the page.