The depths of winter are a place of stark realities. Last week, winter nearly froze me in place. It works like that for those of us who live deep in winter country, literally and figuratively. Snow banks the size of Volkswagen beetles tag team against us alongside the insurmountable obstacles of our psyche. Winter is a mental season as well.
Last week’s post sparked some conversation about the “nature” of “winter,” where one friend pointed out to me that when we are isolated from others by all that is winter (single digit temperatures, 8 inches of snow in 8 hours, dusk at 4:30pm), there is no place to hide from yourself. That got me thinking about self-awareness, introversion, and unabashed navel-gazing. I think of my journal.
It is a cold January morning when I am nine years old making my first journal entry, starting with “Dear Diary…” It was a small hardcover with a tin lock and key. I say “was” because all that remains is the first nine pages ripped out and tucked into the inside cover of the next journal book.
Those nine pages, penciled in atrocious chicken scratch, span about 2 ½ years – I was not prolific . But even then, as now, a large portion of my journal entries are dated during the winter months. Because apparently I have nothing better to do except think and write during the annual glacier creep. Winter isolates, and in isolation I turn to my journal. I am grateful to my past selves for taking the time from hibernation to set down my thoughts.
I’m my own voyeur
A journal is a first person account of your own life; a gift we give to our future self in a set of experiences freshly recorded. I am a voyeur looking in on my own past life. More accurate than memory, self-help from the Self.
Without my journal, I could not have come to understand the truths of why I do the things I do when I do them. I could not have been able to trace my path of unrest, seeing the patterns of my reactions to job experiences good and bad (both the experiences and the reactions). Being the only place where I have consistently written during my entire life, I have, in essence, all along been writing my own guidebook for changing my life. On the gratification spectrum, journaling is long-term.
The seventeen journal books on my shelf are varied in size, shape and color – a couple of basic Composition notebooks from the college era, fabric-covered bound books, over-sized tomes, and then the basic black Moleksine brand I have been using for the last six years. Periodically, I run my hand over the spines of my journals and open to a moment in time from the last 28 years of my life. I read randomly, or look for the same month and day to reach back exactly 5, 10, 20 years in my life.
Grab a pen
During these winter months, spend some time keeping a diary. It’s never too late to start a journal, just like it’s never too late to start exercising. You will get out of it what you put into it. Write about what you ate, who you talked to, how you felt. Chronicle your comings and goings, emotional and otherwise. Be brutally honest with yourself; express every insecurity and every joy in words that come out naturally. Do this as often as you feel like and eventually you will fill a book, and then another. Then you can start time-traveling.
A pattern of gloom between November and March may urge you to get tested for Seasonal Affective Disorder. Frustrations with failed relationships might shed light on your roles in situations, and how to avoid it in the future. The breathless joy of falling in love will be forever preserved. With a journal, you whisper all these to the most sympathetic, non-judging ear: your own.
A real scorcher
If you’re going to be snowed in literally or figuratively, you might as well try something new. January offers me few comforts, but I can open to journal pages from summers ago and read about how I felt and what I did during a particularly scorching heat wave…priceless.
Have you ever kept a diary? Do you want to start?