The Journal Unplugged, or, uh, Replugged

This item was originally penned in 2011, but I updated it January 2021.

The paper piles up. By now, there must be ten pounds of ink on those pages. What did I say, if anything?
The paper piles up. By now, there must be ten pounds of ink on those pages. What did I say, if anything?

The reason 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.

98% of the creative process creates useless, self-indulgent drivel. Only through that creative process can we cull diamonds from our fires, cut statues from our mountains.

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. Our 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.

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.

These journals are so complex, I have to use sticky notes just to keep up with my own chaos.
These journals are so complex, I have to use sticky notes just to keep up with my own chaos.

By 1998, I was beginning to travel more, and wanted more portable books, 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. I’m glad I didn’t.

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. However, I have recently made a concerted effort to write more by hand.

I still have more than enough 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. Their potential is inspiring. All those blank pages are waiting to be filled.

Lately I’ve been feeling at least a little regret at not writing the right things in my journal. For example, if I had it to do again, I would write down every movie and television show I ever watched. I’m sure the list would be frighteningly long and boring, and there would be a lesson in that.

I will always write.

Am I drinking from the fountain of wisdom, or pissing in it?
Am I drinking from the fountain of wisdom, or pissing in it?

4 Comments

  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

  4. “I would write down every movie and television show I ever watched.”

    Such a list might be interesting to have, certainly. Today, of course, some tech firm *does* have such a list about me, at least everything I’ve watched via streaming services, but I don’t have access to it.

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