The Journal Unplugged, or, uh, Replugged

I don’t need to tell my readers that my journal has emerged in my blogging more recently. What my readers might not know is that my friend Wil Fry, after reading these pearls from my pen, has been reviewing and exploring his own journal entries from years long ago. I have to say I am fairly excited about this development. Like the writing clubs in 1980, 1991, and 2000, this seems like it might be something on the verge of intellectual epiphany.

And yes, I know those writing clubs were ill-fated, but that was completely because of unfortunate romance connected to them.

For the first 20 years I wrote my journal in college-ruled Mead spiral notebooks.
For the first 20 years I wrote my journal in college-ruled Mead spiral notebooks.

A few writers who remained friends to this day are Michael, who only occasionally pens something on his blog, David, with his avant guard blog, and Frank, who is going through a period of poeticicity right now.

I was straight up with Wil: I want to see more from his journal. I think in some ways he and I and Michael and Frank and David and others are, for lack of a less-lame term, brothers of the pen.

The reasons we spent all those dark hours scratching our thoughts onto Mead notebooks are as individual as we are, but at the core is this: we recorded our intimate thoughts.

Wil described his writing recently as “mostly drivel,” but I think you will find, Wil, that 98% of the creative process creates useless, self-indulgent drivel, and that only through that creative process can we cull diamonds from our fires.

My journal started as an assignment for English II class in tenth grade…

Fantasy. There is a great enemy in my spirit. That enemy lingers on forever, never ceasing to attack and condemn. I am my enemy.

I had just turned 15, and I was the kind of kid who listened to instructions and obeyed them. My teacher told us to write half a page three times a week, which at the start I did assiduously. Within a few weeks, though, I discovered that I had more to say, or at least wanted to have more to say. By the end of the semester I’d given myself a standard of writing one whole spiral-bound notebook page each day.

Summer of '78: I was a skinny, unpopular 15 year old. At times, the journal was my only friend.
Summer of ’78: I was a skinny, unpopular 15 year old. At times, the journal was my only friend.

In 1982, I went through a period of intellectual and creative silence. I wasn’t ready to admit I wasn’t writing as much as I expected from myself, so I left pages blank in my notebooks, and filled them in later with memories of those days. I can tell where because the ink is different.

By 1998, I was beginning to travel more, and wanted a more portable form factor, so on my journal’s twentieth anniversary, September 5, 1998, I switched to smaller journal notebooks that were popular at bookstores at the time.

In high school Michael and my then-girlfriend Tina and I named my journal Lord Byron O’Malley, though the name never really stuck. For a while in the summer of 1980, we imagined I would publish my eleventh grade journal and get rich, so we typed up a few dozen pages. (I say “we,” but I didn’t know how to type, so Michael and Tina did the actual work.)

In college, I went through a period when I thought my old journal entries were an ocean of self-pity, which they were, and almost threw them all out.

When I was 24, I became nearly obsessed with my journal from when I was 15, imagining it held the key to filling the emptiness that stood before me.

As I started blogging (which as we know is slang for web log, which itself is slang for an online journal) and expressed myself online more and more (including private entries only I can read), I wrote on paper less and less. By 2008, I was only using the journals to record travels, and on October 22, 2008, I wrote my last (at least so far) handwritten journal entry…

Long, excellent hike in the cold wind down the Alcove Spring Trail to the Zeus and Moses formation. It took most of the day, and ended at White Rim Overlook Trail and Grand View Point. Great last day of the trip. Now going home; two days of driving.

I still have eight and a half handsome hardbound volumes that are blank, and I guess I am saving them for the end times when the internet is no longer available and I need somewhere to write. I will always write.

After 20 years I switched to smaller, hard-bound notebooks for my journal.
After 20 years I switched to smaller, hard-bound notebooks for my journal.


  1. “I will always write.”

    Asimov said, “Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.”

    For me, it’s therapy. Even after more than six years of writing in front of everyone (blogging), it still feels a little weird that any of you can walk past my therapy session and listen in.

    The younger me used poetry as therapy, then science fiction, and sermons, and behind all of that were the journals.

    So yes, even the drivel is part of me, and it’s therapeutic to expunge the drivel just like it’s healthy to have a bowel movement.

  2. And your “almost threw them all out” comment reminded me: I DID throw all mine out, at approximately age 15. Probably two or three years worth of stuff is gone forever.

    I’m guessing it was mostly about girls or God, which is 98% of what I thought about at the time. (The other 2% was pizza and burgers.)

  3. “Writing for me is like taking a dump. The process is okay, but you don’t want to be anywhere near the product.” -M7

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