Better You: How Journaling Hones Self-Awareness

Every time you remember, you move away from the truth of the memory. 

Details, littered in yellowing diary pages and post-its, stitch together and fall apart. Each time, they come out altered—if only by minor changes in the folding of light as it refracts in the fluid surface of your mind machine.

We adjust like a dimmer switch, tune down the noise in areas where we wish to hear more clearly what was said and by who and why it suddenly matters. In Joan Didion’s 1968 anthology, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, she writes:

“Why did I write it down? In order to remember, of course, but exactly what was it I wanted to remember? How much of it actually happened? Did any of it? Why do I keep a notebook at all?”

Portrait of Joan Didion

The whole idea of keeping a journal started in grade school. It was a form of homework back then, and like any self-respecting grade-schooler, I had to try my hand at being one of the cool kids who went on snappy weekend family trips. Like, say, bungee jumping in who knows where.

It goes without saying I may have stretched the truth in those journal entries.

I’m better at it now, I think. I’ve given up what Caitlin Moran labels as ‘ultimately less satisfying things.’ I find myself returning to the questions shared with fellow notebook keepers and, to my bashful admittance, the genius of Joan Didion.

Questions like who is all this writing for? And if we write so much about others—a joke we heard from a friend or a stranger’s gaze in passing—whose notebook is it if it’s filled with everyone else?

And Didion answers with unveiled honesty:

“Our notebooks give us away, for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable ‘I.’”

Notebook-keeping is a way of preserving memories. We write about the self by writing about all the things that gather around it. The abiding people watcher. We write to remember what it was like to be us in that moment—a record of the endless iteration of the implacable I. In Didion’s words, “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.”

So we do, as faithfully as we can. The many of me run into one, and so do the many of you. In the notebook, we re-witness the simultaneous birth and death of selves. Paper then is no mere mirror but vessel, too. We bleed into the lines, into the words that make up the white space of what it is like to be us—us in ourselves, us in others.

We bleed into the lines, into the words that make up the white space of what it is like to be us—us in ourselves, us in others.

P.s. Do you know what people dream about in Bhutan? Couple this article with Ruth Chan’s tender visual translation of what grief is like.

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  1. Pingback: How to Keep a Journal: Guide for Beginners + Free Template

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