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The person you were built the person you are. The person you are now builds the person you will be.

Why writing about it helps that journey.

The boyfriend of many years moved into my basement in 2018, which was one of my dumber life moves. By that time we'd been around each other for ten years, albeit only as brief one hour rolls in the hay punctuated by BYEIGOTTAGO WORK.

That summer tore me to shreds emotionally and spiritually. By the following January, on my birthday, his last dropkick (I found someone else bye bye) reached me as I woke up in a Bali hostel. That ruined my trip, which I spent in and out of six different hospitals. Emotional damage often leads to physical trauma. Please see this review of the book The Body Keeps the Score:

The Body Keeps the Score Book Summary by Bessel van der Kolk
The most detailed book summary of “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk. Get the main points of “The Body Keeps the Score” with Shortform book summaries.

Not long after he moved in, I stopped journaling. I had been journaling since 1974, some forty-four years. Mostly handwritten, then a gradual shift to digital. I have untold boxes of that stuff. Each time I move I hang onto the handwritten material. It's golden.

Instead I turned to Medium. That perhaps was part of the problem.  Medium became a public journal, rather than the safe, private space to talk to the unhinged and often unhappy self which rises regularly and needs to be addressed. I lost years of journaling, my comforting habit imprisoned by deep pain.

Today those years, full of tumult and change and transition, the house sale, terrible car accident, many surgeries and the like are without record. I have always enjoyed being able to call up a date on my computer and check in, at least from 1998 forward, what I was doing on this date in -—.

Four terribly important years are gone from memory. Google photos will fire me pictures, but what's important are the words I write to the self. The published articles aren't the same. What I write privately and only to the self is far more revealing.

Last night, Maria Popova's Marginalian published a piece which linked to this Joan Didion quote:

“We are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.”

I am of course horrified at times about who I used to be, for that person continues to reside inside me, as do all my previous incarnations. Anyone who has ever loudly proclaimed to the Universe at large:


...sends the Goddess into paroxysms of hilarity. For we are who we are, driven by so much training and subtle suggestions and the habits we barely even know we embody.

However, there is another, greater truth. I honestly believe that there is terrific value in pouring our hearts out. True, what I wrote back in 1979 is vastly different from today, not just because I'm older but also because I dedicated my life to growth.

Growth is measured in millimeters, most particularly Deep Work growth. While it's most certainly true that terrible loss, trauma and other life transitions create areas of new blank canvas onto which we can write better versions of ourselves, too many of us don't truly notice the gains we've made. That is particularly true if we don't write about them.

Writing about our daily lives is like an MRI of the heart and mind: a revealing snapshot of a key moment. Not indicative of the whole, but a terribly important window on the world we are inhabiting, and what we feel is most essential then and there. Terribly important only to us, in a world far too busy with its own distractions and troubles.

Didion writes:

...We are brought up in the ethic that others, any others, all others, are by definition more interesting than ourselves; taught to be diffident, just this side of self-effacing. (‘You’re the least important person in the room and don’t forget it,’ Jessica Mitford’s governess would hiss in her ear on the advent of any social occasion; I copied that into my notebook because it is only recently that I have been able to enter a room without hearing some such phrase in my inner ear.) Only the very young and the very old may recount their dreams at breakfast, dwell upon self, interrupt with memories of beach picnics and favorite Liberty lawn dresses and the rainbow trout in a creek near Colorado Springs. The rest of us are expected, rightly, to affect absorption in other people’s favorite dresses, other people’s trout. (author bolded)

Journaling reminds us that we are indeed interesting, we are writing the story of our lives, however mundane or irritating it may feel at the moment.  When I dip a spoon into the person I was a year after meeting the BF, I hardly recognize that woman. His name, voice and presence no longer cause me that same intense vulnerability and vibrating adoration. These days, I am helping him as a friend through a rough time.

These days I am also getting ready to launch myself into a brand new life at 70, the promise of which boggles the mind. He is still in my life, but not as the brass ring I was trying so hard to win.

None of this was imaginable ten years ago. But here we are. In a changed world, demanding a changed woman. When I go back and stir up old memories I can see who I was back when, and compare where I am now. What I see, tolerate, what I can do as opposed to years before.

It is both deeply validating as well as deeply frustrating, for I repeat life themes embedded in me long before I could talk. We all likely do. Those are the swim lanes we chose, and it is us to master them as best we can.

I have written since I was five. Wrote science fiction stories for my fifth grade class. I was always a writer. However, writing privately was and is as much a mental health exercise as it is a discipline. It was only very recently that I returned to journaling, like calling up an old, old friend, to rekindle the conversation. It's harder than it used to be, but I am back at it.

You can Google all the benefits of journaling yourself. As a writer, it's an imperative. For as I move towards a very different kind of life and ask what do I keep and what heads out with the Friday trash, I have to decide whether or not the past writings are worth the trouble to slog them along.

So far, yes. For in this life, proof of even a snippet of self-awareness, a bit of personal growth when I despair of ever finding any kind of wisdom is enough.

Finally, Didion writes:

I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.
It is a good idea, then, to keep in touch, and I suppose that keeping in touch is what notebooks are all about. And we are all on our own when it comes to keeping those lines open to ourselves: your notebook will never help me, nor mine you. (author bolded)

There are a child, an adolescent, a young woman, a middle-aged woman and a late in life high-achieving woman inside me who most regularly hammer on the mind's door at 4 am. I have to wonder if that is indeed why I wake up at that time: all those me-people are at the door demanding to know when I am going to live up to my life's promise. That's more terrifying than a Category Four hurricane.

I cannot speak for you any more than my journals and piles of notebooks can. However what I learn from them speaks to the greater humanity, which is why I keep them. They help me make sense of a life full of senseless brutality, and remind me that there have been just as many brilliant, life-affirming moments which put such angst-ridden, wallowing depression to shame.

Calling forth those moments when the darkness gathers outside the door is only one reason why my journaling has returned. For as I sense the end of the runway ahead, and times coming when perhaps there will be even more time to sit, think and read, it might be deeply helpful to see how this life journey has spat out the woman I will become at the other end.

My journal gives me endless reasons to weep in gratitude. For my writing dollar, that reason alone is enough to keep me writing. We rarely value what we handily forget. Journaling keeps me both honest and humble, for while it allows me to celebrate how far I've come, it also reminds me of how far I've yet to go.

Photo by Nuril Ahsan / Unsplash

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