The Visual Journal (a Lifelong Process)

Twenty-six years ago, when I started to keep a journal, I  broke in that intimidating blank page with this quote: “The personal life deeply lived always expands into truths beyond itself” (Anais Nin).  You see, the only people I knew that kept journals (which to me sounded loftier than the teenage-tinted word “diary”) were literary figures like Anais Nin and Virginia Woolf.  Only later did I discover Frida Kahlo’s diary along with those kept by many others.  And only recently has visual journalling entered the mainstream, becoming a staple of blog entries, how-to books, and web pages.

My very first entry, in April 1985, when I was twenty-three years old, reads: “I will now begin my journey to the spiritual island within myself…”  I laugh at this line.  To think that I once believed this was possible, or that the process, which has become lifelong, would be “spiritual” in nature, rather than intellectual or emotional.  That it could ever have a destination.  If I were to use one word to describe myself now it would certainly not be spiritual.  Perhaps I would use the word curious.  At other times I might use the word troubled or contented or engaged.  Such are the ups and downs of the daily and the quotidian.  I approach everything by absorbing it cerebrally; feeling only comes later.  Because for me, older and wiser (?) now, it is only knowledge that will save us.  Because only action informed by knowledge is responsible and effective when faced with the incomprehensible.

I’ve included a photograph here of over two decades worth of visual journals, fifty two of them!  What on earth will I do with these as I get closer to old age and death?  Have them buried or cremated with me?  It has always been the writing of them, not the reading of them, that has been significant.  The creation of a place for reflection, for venting, for processing, for writing poetry, drawing pictures, making collages…I really don’t know if I’ll ever read them in any systematic way, if I read them at all.

The past always impinges on the present; there is no escaping it.  Events, trauma, joy – all find their way into these pages.  The need not to lose anything is strong, if unrealistic.  So strong, in fact, that if it didn’t get written down, it’s almost as if it didn’t actually happen.  Is that the appeal of this almost daily ritual?  The documentary impulse, the fear of emptiness or of an imprecise and/or degraded memory?

Have these books become more of a burden than a relief?  Excess baggage?  Or do they still serve that purpose of helping me gain access to a deeper, more complex, more interesting world?  I oscillate between viewing them as an encumbrance and a treasure trove.  But I know I cannot stop filling them.  They are now inextricably wound up with my sense of self, they have ensnared me as if they were an external force compelling me, rather than a trajectory I am responsible for setting in motion with purpose and strong intent.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. sheryl mcd.
    Jul 23, 2011 @ 15:32:33

    I love those journals!! They make me happy just looking at them! I would also feel ambivalent towards them, my own collection, small in comparison, holds hardly a scrap of personal information in the form of text so I can freely look back and mine them for creative information without getting pulled into the past. I get a bit freaked just looking at old photos – or maybe it is looking in the mirror after I look at old photos.

    If you can leave the past where it is, then what a treasure you have – and never burn or bury them!! What does it matter when you are gone?? They are actually your meditation on the Now, where we live. All of us leave some kind of trail as part of our humanness – yours is just very concentrated and centralized. We are creatures of written language, we must write… just don’t mistake the old now for the new now….ha.

    The unlived life is not worth examining, the unexamined life is not worth living – your journals are the solution. And there is a funny thing about purpose and strong intent – it often leaps out of our hands of its own accord…. let it be. Who knows where it will take you?

    Reply

  2. Sandra Seekins
    Jul 23, 2011 @ 17:05:47

    You’re right of course. Your idea books are fantastic and a source of creative projects. Whether they get realized or not (some do, some don’t) is less important than the documentation of your imagination at work!

    Reply

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