Hear the word "journaling" and you immediately imagine either an angst-ridden teenage girl scrawling out maudlin poetry in a composition book, a middle aged housewife scrapbooking the family trip to Oregon, or a self-indulged hipster typing away at his/her laptop in a conspicuous corner of Starbucks.
But, believe it or not, journaling isn't just for angst-ridden teenage girls, middle-aged housewives, or self-indulgent hipsters sipping Starbucks. Really, it's not. It's a powerful yet simple and inexpensive practice, dating back centuries and centuries. Throughout history, journals and diaries have been privy to the most personal confessions of some of the world's most fascinating individuals: Leonardo Da Vinci, Mary Queen of Scots, Ulysses S. Grant, Charles Darwin, Virginia Woolf, Bob Dylan, and Kurt Cobain kept them. Soldiers and generals, courtesans and ladykillers, musicians, politicians, poets, philosophers, actors, and businessmen as well.
But the fact is, you don't need to be a famous war general or rock muscian to write one hell of a journal. In fact, journaling can have the uncanny capacity to show you just how interesting your life actually is. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke once gave this advice to a young man who had asked him for advice: "If your everyday life seems poor, don't blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor, indifferent place."
You don't even need to be a good writer. You just need to be honest. Be honest about yourself, and you'll be rewarded for it. This is harder than it sounds. You need to write about the things in your life that make you angry, sad, or frustrated. You need to write about the people in your life that get you horny, hot, and bothered. In other words, the journal is a place for you to be hardcore. What does that mean?
1 a: of, relating to, or being part of a hard core <hard–core poverty>
2 of pornography : containing explicit descriptions of sex acts or scenes of actual sex acts — compare soft-core
3: characterized by or being the purest or most basic form of something : fundamental hard–core French provincial style — John Canaday>
Source: Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition
The closest definition for our purposes would probably be 3. I want you to be your complete, pure, unadulterated self. Not the you your mom and pop expected you to be. Not the you your girlfriend, boyfriend, domestic partner, boss' wife's uncle's great grand-niece thrice removed wants you to be. Not the You your current life situation is threatening to turn your into without your consent. I want you to be you, to the best of your ability.
Who are you? Well, it's sort of like St. Augustine's answer to the question "What is time?" - "I know, but when you ask me, I don't." You know who you are because you feel it every minute of your life. That joy you feel when your favorite song from sixth grade comes on the radio is you. That resentment you feel when your boss gives you the "I know you can do better" lecture for the umpteenth time is you. That euphoric excitement you feel when you finally meet someone who gets you... that's you.
This all involves being accepting of all parts of yourself - the noble, loving, and intelligent part of yourself, but also the angry, the infantile, and the insecure. Most of us don't want to see these aspects of ourselves memorialized permanently before us in black and white in a book or on a computer screen. Many of us actively ignore or repress them, which can lead to depression, substance or psychological addiction, or compulsive shopping or overeating. But, if you're willing to put up with yourself, you'll be rewarded.
I know I personally have found I get "stuck" a lot of the time, when there are certain topics I don't want to write about or certain things I regret writing. But, then I remember: a journal is not real life. It's only practice for the real deal. It's these these very imperfections that make us human and interesting. And it's our ability to overcome, understand, or heal our imperfections and wounds, that make life worth living.