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Journaling a Life: forty-four diaries and counting

By Terresa Wellborn

When I turned eight I wanted white leather roller skates with bubblegum pink wheels. The gift box was hefty enough, but no luck. It was my first journal.

My early ones were red leather from Deseret Book with Journal embossed in gold on the front. If Napolean Dynamite owned a diary, it would be one of these with a side of tots. Heck yes. Over the years I filled diaries boasting unicorns, florals, or petite metal locks (easily pickable by my siblings). Now, my favorite journals are hardcover, lined, and spiral.

“On some days the need to write lodges itself in my throat like a cry that must be uttered.” -Jane Bowles, “Emmy Moore’s Journal” from The Paris Review’s Object Lessons

You can confide in a journal when there’s no one else. Journaling encourages reflection when, months or years later, we revisit our life in pages pressed away.

Journals show our beginnings. Mary Shelley confided in her diary, from an entry 1816, her first reference to what would be a fifteen year process of writing Frankenstein:

“July 24: Write my story.”

Journals show our musings. Before her passing, photographer Francesca Woodman wrote in her journal (1975), “Does it read as a book one wonders.” A fan of her work, I’m curious what her journal contains.

Journals show our poetic flair or economy of word. Whitman, Thoreau and other greats wrote often and much. My favorite:

“I milk the sky and the earth.” -Henry David Thoreau, Journal, 1817-1862

What captivated me about journaling? I had plenty of bff’s growing up, a multitude of siblings, church friends, neighborhood friends, student body buds, cheerleaders, track team, goths, preps, jocks, nerds. I didn’t lack a confidant. But in a family of seven, I did lack solitude, a page of my own.

The poet, Susan Mitchell, describes journaling as a messy endeavor, one which allows free thought:

“What do I care if some entries are stacked like canvases in an artist’s studio, if they lean in ill-fitting frames against a wall. And what does it matter if another entry resembles an overstuffed sofa with broken springs and lumpy wads of filler poking through worn aqua velour. That’s where I do my thinking.”

Now, as I finish journal #44, I wonder, as Roland Barthes in Mourning Diary, “Who knows? Maybe [there’s] something valuable in these notes?”

The poet, Basho, in preparation for a month-long walk across Japan, gave away all he had including his job, his home, and his clothes, except two things: a bit of food and a journal. 

“I do not want to know where this journey ends,” Basho wrote in the first journal he carried deep into the north. “Otherwise why call this action journey?”

What are we giving away in order to live? To write? Whatever our journey, keeping a record of our thoughts, doings, and dreams may help us map the way.


Do you keep a journal? Why?

About Terresa Wellborn

Terresa Wellborn has been published in BYU Studies, Dialogue, and several anthologies including Fire in the Pasture, Monsters and Mormons, and Dove Song: Heavenly Mother in Mormon Poetry. She has a BA degree in English Literature and a MLIS degree in Library and Information Science. Her joys include her four children, books, and chocolate babka. She reads faster than she hikes, runs faster than she writes, and has often been mistaken for Miss Frizzle. When not on a mountaintop, she prefers to dwell in possibility.

5 thoughts on “Journaling a Life: forty-four diaries and counting”

  1. Terresa, I don’t keep a journal, I haven’t for years. I have often felt conflicted about this but mostly I have felt uninspired. Your post, however, has inspired me . Thank you. I am going to take the plunge.

  2. I kept those same volumes for decades. And now, what to do with them? I don't want them read after my death, I'm not sure they're worth scanning or transcribing. Nowadays I keep a personal blog (which I love because I can tag and search things_, but I have enough fondness for those old entries–and the occasional reason to search through them–that I can't get rid of them.

  3. Journaling has never worked for me – but what has worked is following President Eyring’s inspired counsel to ask at the end of each day: “Have I seen the hand of God in the life of my family or myself today”? And write those down. That has become my “journal” and a divine experience- over and over again. And those I do want my children and grandchildren to read. So in a sense I am journaling – but not in the traditional way.

  4. Great collection of journal quotes. Like you, I have kept a journal always and that probably marks the heart of a writer. I love to read my old journals and have a goal to edit into some topics and publish for my children. Two years ago I did a slim volume of “epiphanies” as a Christmas present.
    A Sunday school teacher when I was 12 or 13 said the scriptures were someone’s journal and our journals could be scripture for ourselves. Mine have been that, with my important insights and inspirations about life recorded so I can review and remember.


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