On Keeping a Journal

HandOn journal keeping, Joan 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” (“On Keeping a Notebook”).  She’s right.  I’m appalled at some of my own earlier selves – their behaviour, their emotions, their self-centeredness…they embarrass me.  People that have not documented their lives (even if only partially) in journals, don’t have to be reminded of their own earier shortcomings as they age, since there is no legible trace for them to recuperate later (aside from unreliable memories). 

It keeps one truer, more humble, I think, to know that there is a record – no matter how banal or inconsequential – a record of what was once important, what was once a central concern.  It reveals the utter fluidity of personality, the evolution of emotional maturity, the self-reflection that aids self-improvement.

Yes, that former me sometimes seems a stranger, or a quirky half-forgotten acquaintance, but I have to acknowledge her as having played a role.  Never forget where you came from or who you were.  It takes a certain lack of fear to face those creatures of youth – timid or wild, shy or extroverted, stupid or self-important.  We’re all chameleons after all.  We’re all composites, multiples.  Tolerance for others is often preached, but what about tolerance for those others that were once oneself?


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