Saturday, March 23, 2013

Blogging vs. Journal Keeping

Three years ago, I wrote a post about the nature of blogging as I'd experienced it. In it––amidst some rambling speculation about the human condition in time and space––I touched on some reasons why I preferred keeping a blog to keeping a journal. More specifically, I talked about why I'd sworn off journal keeping altogether in my mid teens. The reason was basically that when I wrote just for my own eyes––without an audience to maintain appearances for––I tended to become extremely introspective and depressed. So, since I was sixteen, I'd never written another word in a journal. Until ten months ago.

Finishing college put me in a somewhat retrospective mood for a few weeks, during which I started to wish I had some better record of the things I'd done in the past few years. Sure, my blog had the actual events, but I started to wish I could recall what smaller events and decisions caused them to happen, what I thought in the time leading up to them, where I thought they might lead... etc. I also figured I was old enough now to be able to not project my emotions into it too much. So, with the commitment to write faithfully for a year and remain as objective as possible, I went to Barnes & Noble and bought an Italian leather-bound journal.

That was May of 2012, and in just two months now, I will have a year's worth of entries. I also feel like I've been at least somewhat successful in not letting my entries be controlled by my emotions in the moment. And you know what?

It's still really freaking depressing.

At first I didn't understand how this could be. I'd been careful not to let how I felt dictate what events I included, and while I hadn't completely omitted all reference to my emotions, I'd gone out of my way to include some positive things to balance the negative.

Now, it's possible I've just had a really bad year, but I feel like there's more to it than that. Today I was reading an old post from my blog, and it caused me to think about what a hugely different experience reading old blog posts that I've written is from reading back in my journal. Just jumping into my journal anywhere leaves me feeling disillusioned and depressed within a few pages. Reading my blog, on the other hand, tends to have a very re-focusing, confidence-restoring, if not quite up-lifting effect on me.

Why is that? I was asking myself that yesterday afternoon after finishing up at work, and I had a thought that I don't think I'd had before. Even though my journal and my blog are both about my life, they offer completely different perspectives, and so completely different narratives of the same thing.

When I write in my journal, I tend to record things that I'm working towards. Things that I'm hoping to do. If I'm planning on going on a vacation, I'll write that I'm making plans for a vacation. If I'm applying for a job, I'll write that I'm applying for a job. If I meet someone and hope to get to know them better, I'll write that I'm hoping to get to know them better.

Contrast that with my blog. When I write about my life on my blog, I write about events, aka things that have already occurred. When I climbed a mountain two weeks ago, I didn't write a post about how I was planning on climbing a mountain; hoped I'd climb a mountain, had expectations for climbing a mountain. I didn't even think about writing something on my blog about climbing a mountain until while I was on the mountain.

So basically, and without my conscious intent, my blog and my journal become two very different stories about the same thing. My journal becomes a records of my life as I'm trying to make it; my life as I hope it will be; my life as I plan it. My blog becomes a record of my life simply as it has been.

The problem with the first record is that––for me anyways––it inevitably leads to despair. Most of the things that I work toward, plan and hope will happen just don't happen. So reading about them in the present, when I can see how they didn't happen, not to mention see what happened instead (which often tends to be insultingly ironic in light of what I'd hoped) is really depressing.

When I read the second record though, i.e. my blog, I see only the progression of events that have actually happened. When I see that progression––completely removed from the fact that most of it's not what I expected, planned or hoped for––it doesn't seem nearly as bad. In fact, it's almost easy to look at it as some kind of great and terrible adventure.

Failure, it seems to my anyway, only exists within the context of expectations. And the same life that looks dismal in light of what I'd hoped it would be actually looks pretty grand by itself. I'm not saying I understand how that can be, but it seems it is.

And that's why I'll probably stop the whole journal thing at the one year mark in a couple months. The blog, I think will stay around a bit longer.

I want to remember my life––but only from a certain perspective.


Lindsay said...

I'm always interested to hear reasons why people Don't journal. I have journaled religiously since 2006 and have gone through prayer journaling, This Was Today writing, and journaling out of obligation. Journaling has been the most helpful for me when I find myself with feelings or ideas that I want to keep private but that I want to express or articulate. I'm a verbal processor, and writing helps me think. I also enjoy looking back on what was going on during my life, but I hate having the stories I'm not proud of written in ink. I still think they are valuable, though, because they show where I've come from.

Your experience is different from mine, and I think the conclusions you came to about Not journaling is an obviously good idea. And I'm glad you have the format of your blog to use as you do.

Thanks for sharing and for making me pause to think about if there are any unhealthy trends in my own writing.

Andrew said...

That's great that you've been doing it for that long Lindsay, and I can definitely see some ways that it's helpful. (I want to be really clear: I didn't write this to try to convince anyone they shouldn't journal or that it's bad or anything vaguely like that).

Now that you mention it, I can actually think of a few times when journaling has helped me think through something and see connections I'm not sure I otherwise would have. Maybe a better approach for me personally would be to keep a journal, but never read it, lol.