For My Eyes Only

private, secrets thoughts

Keeping a travel journal has been a life-long habit for me.  The pandemic has, however, not halted this delightful occupation. In fact, many times in my life I have kept a journal for weeks or months at a time whether I was traveling or not.

Typewriter w "Diary"
Photo by Marcus Winkler

Journaling is a pastime we often associate with another era, a slower-paced time. The diarists of the past give us fascinating insights into personal life in the centuries before our own.

Now, however, the pace of life may seem too hectic for journal keeping. With all the social media out there, aren’t we leaving enough of a record for the generations that follow us?  Who has time to sit down and actually hand write words into a blank notebook? It is my guess that most of the

Journals in bookstore
Photo by Tezzerah

beautifully bound journals that book stores and gift shops sell are received with gratitude, then sit on a shelf for an indeterminate period of time before being shipped off to a thrift store.


Yet, for me, it was in the years when I had the least amount of “free” time that I was the most prolific journal writer. One whole summer I journaled when I first woke in the morning before I even ran to the bathroom (I could never do that today!). I sincerely believe that journaling saved the integrity of my intimate relationships as well as my sanity.

an alternative life

When I examine what famous diarists say about journaling, I find a close resonance with my own experience.

Girl in front of fireplace
Photo by Marco Paulo Prado

Noted essayist of the late 20th century, Susan Sontag wrote, “In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself.”  Like Sontag, I often tried to create a better world through constructing it on the page. In my journal from 1987, I recorded my final struggle to find a program tailored to the way our Johnny learned so that he could be “normal,” rather than labeled “disabled.”

gaining perspective

Unlike the diaries of Samuel Pepys,, English diarist of the 17th century, who provided us with such a wonderful eyewitness account of the historical events of his time, my journals more closely resemble those of Franz Kafka.

Silhouette and journals
Photo by Recovery Ministries  He highlighted the perspective on can gain from keeping a journal. “We may be wiser because we are able to look back upon our former condition, and for that very reason have got to admit the courage of our earlier striving in which we persisted even in sheer ignorance.”

Following the crash of 2008 and the loss of our life savings, I see myself meet the challenge of a drastic change in lifestyle not necessarily with dignity, but with a certain amount of courage.  I wrote, “I hate the ‘camping out’ at the homes of others. Yet, that’s what Jesus expected his disciples to do – go and depend on the hospitality of others. . . In a way it is a witness that allows others to practice the virtue of generosity.”

never mind the stumbles

Like Virginia Wolfe, I write as an avocation and like her, I enjoy the freedom that journal logging allows. Wolfe says, “The habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and the stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do, I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus must lay hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink.”

It’s a fun way to compose. Where else but on a page, I wrote only for myself could I write as ridiculous a sentence as, “I think I’m going to have to be very disciplined about everything in the weeks to come. I’ve made too many commitments, none of which can be dropped. So, I need to find a way to accomplish them all. It need not be forever – just for the next eight months, sort of like being pregnant – except that I feel like I’m giving birth to quadruplets!” I’m so glad I didn’t have to edit that for any publication.

illusion of acceptance

Wolfe enjoyed the creative freedom of journaling, Anais Nin found acceptance

Candle and journal
Photo by Naemi Jimenez

in her diary. “Writing for a hostile world discouraged me. Writing for the diary gave me the illusion of a warm ambiance I needed to flower in.”

My journals are my confidants. I share with them feelings and thoughts that I don’t dare reveal to another human being. They are my rehearsal stage for relationships. Before making important decisions or taking significant actions, I assess them on the pages of my journal. My mother, famous for pithy sayings, always proclaimed, “If you can’t say anything good about someone, don’t say anything at all.”  Sometimes, biting our tongue is difficult and putting the complaint on paper helps. One of Love’s best Lessons is knowing what not to say.

sometimes sensational

As much as I rejoice that my journals are not for public publication, they still entertain me. Oscar Wilde once claimed, “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.”

Somewhat the opposite is true for me. Cooped up in my own office/bedroom on a rainy November day in Portland, Oregon, I delight in reading, “Today, Nancy hired a driver she met in the street and while it rained all day, that didn’t stop our adventures as we drove up into the hills of Bali to visit charming

Rice paddies
Photo by Sam Bayle

villages, each of which specialized in a different ancient art from woodcarving to silver jewelry making.” In an instant, I’m back on those steamy mountain roads as our jeep rolls back almost as far as it inches forward. We get out in mud up to our ankles.  The driver enlists the help of several village boys to free the jeep from the mud. Soaked, but happy, we hop back in and are off to the next amazing turn in the road. Without my journal, I might have forgotten that wondrous moment.


inspire wisdom

Ralph Waldo Emerson kept diaries for fifty years.  These tomes are filled with nuggets of wisdom. If he hadn’t written less, what he did write might be less inspiring works. A willingness to write regularly and frequency develops a habit of reflection, he believed, that expands the mind and can lend itself to the expression of profound truth.

I hear him. Everyday life is filled with thoughts about what we are to eat, drink,

Dog and journal
Photo by Alexandra Lammerink

and wear. We engage in ongoing conversations with others to work out the logistics of the home/work life balance and individual relationships.  Ordinary discourse doesn’t often lend itself to deep contemplation. But journal keeping does. It can give each of us an “Emerson moment.” That’s the theory anyway. In pursuing my own journals, however, I have not uncovered such a moment. Some important love lessons, yes. Profound wisdom, maybe not.

resistant rearrangers

I fit, perhaps, more into the Joan Didion mold. Didion writes, “Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.” There I hear an echo. Many, if not most pages of my journals, reveal struggles, fears, and challenges. Such a perspective comes back around to Sontag.  “Rearrangers of things” try to recreate, make over, or undo. Such attempts fill my pages in my diaries, mostly in the form of promises to have fewer expectations of others and more of myself.

Gratitude journal
Photo by Gabrielle Henderson

So bad was this habit that five years ago, I began keep a “gratitude journal.”  It’s not the only one I keep, but along with any other recording I do, this little purple, bond book requires that at the end of the day, I log one thing for which I was grateful that day. Sometimes, I’m really stretching, such as “Discovered ‘Yukon Vet on TV with Evelyn; much better than teen comedies.”,_Yukon_Vet  Other entries smack of complaints in disguise, “So glad Nancy encouraged me to swim laps in the pool today. Always enjoy it more than I think I will.” This journal, if nothing else, is good for a reality check.

fahrenheit 451

Are these diaries and journals just for me? Will I burn them before I die? Hard

Piles of journals
Photo by Julia Joppien

to think of all of that going up in flames and yet, weren’t they for my eyes alone. Henry David Thoreau thought otherwise. He claimed, “Is not the poet bound to write his own biography? Is there any other work for him but a good journal?”  Thoreau makes an interesting point, but I think he mistakes journals for memoirs. The life narrative I wish to share with future generations unfolds in my memoir, which, while honest, is not all revealing. The musings of my diaries really do need to be buried with me.

the good place

As you read, you read a journal of sorts. That’s how blogs originated. People began sharing the thoughts they had formerly casually record in leather-bound or paperback lined notebooks online instead. The first blogs were “bio” + “logs.” Now blogging is an industry. Most blogs intended to inform or to sell. The fragile connection to journaling has grown tentative.  For me, though, writing this blog conforms to John Steinbeck’s dictum about journals.

Journaling in a coffee shop
Photo by Tyler Nix

“In writing,” Steinbeck noted, “habit seems to be a much stronger force than either willpower or inspiration. Consequently, there must be some little quality of fierceness until the habit pattern of a certain number of words is established.”  Because this blog is a promise not just to myself, but to those I hope will read it each week, it provides the writing discipline of which Steinbeck speaks. By establishing writing as a strong habit of mine, it sets in motion the wheels that turn my other creative endeavors.

Do you keep a diary or a journal?  What do you most like to record in it?  How frequently do you entries?  Let’s compare notes.

“The happy-go-lucky Anne laughs, gives a flippant reply, shrugs her shoulders and pretends she doesn’t give a darn. The quiet Anne reacts in just the opposite way. If I’m being completely honest, I’ll have to admit that it does matter to me, that I’m trying very hard to change myself, but that I’m always up against a more powerful enemy.”

Anne Frank's Diary
Photo by Dessidre Fleming