Journalling

I have just finished watching two videos from the RootsTech Conference, which is online this year.

This video inspired me to want to write, and to encourage my children to write.  I was itching to grab a journal when I finished watching this one.

This one was interesting in a different way.  The speaker shared six reasons why she journals:
– it’s how she processes her life experiences
– no one else can tell her story
– she has things she wants to say to her kids
– she wants to give context to her photos
– there are so many things she wants to remember
– it’s simply a part of who she has become.

I really related to those reasons, and it got me thinking about the reasons that I journal.  In actual fact, I got so inspired, I abandoned this blog post and went to devote some time to my projects, and have only now returned, a day later!

My reasons for journalling are much the same as Ali’s, I think.  I’m not trying to copy what she has already said, but that’s the truth.  We journal for very similar reasons.

To record memories and events for my children

Although this wasn’t why I first started journalling, it has been a huge motivator for me since my son was born in 2001.  There were so many moments that I thought were important.  Some were ones that I wanted my children to see from my perspective instead of their own, such as dramas we dealt with when they were teenagers, our struggle to get them the education they needed and deserved, and the ups and downs of parenting a newborn.  Others were magical moments that I knew they’d never remember but that I treasured – when they were so happy with a Christmas present that they cried, a shared confidence, adorable quotes as they tried to make sense of the world around them, and more…  To me, all of those moments, the good and the bad, made up our relationship as parent and child, but also there were their interactions with others in the family that were good and bad.  Those things all came to create a whole. 

Right now, my son is 19 and while he gets on well with his father, a lot of his recent memories are of conflict with his father.  Their relationship is relatively fragile, because they didn’t cohabitate peacefully while my son was a teenager.  But the reason they can bounce back and recover their relationship now that my son has left home is because of all those moments that came before that.  Over and over, during the difficult times, I reminded my son that we both loved him.  And every single time, he replied “I know that.”  And he did.  But why did he know that?  Because of all the little moments and the big moments.  Because of the hours that his father spent with him when he was very small.  Because his father was always a hands-on dad.  Because his father fought for him against people and society that wanted my son to be a certain way or fit inside a certain box.  But my son doesn’t remember all those moments.  He just knows, deep in his heart, that he is loved.  And that’s important.  SO important.  But I had the ability to share those memories with my son.  To say “There was the time when he slept all night with you balanced on his chest because you would cry if he tried to put you down”.  To say “He was so furious with your after-school caregiver for playing favourites between you and your sister that he stood up to her and told her in no uncertain terms that we will NOT accept any favouritism and that you are as cherised and as loved as your sister.”  And he will start to understand why he knows that he is loved.

I always knew that my parents loved me.  But my father is not affectionate in the general sense of the word.  He doesn’t tell us that he loves us.  He doesn’t like to hug us, although sometimes we hug him anyway and he stands there awkwardly and pats us on the back until we back off again.  And I remember saying to someone, when I was perhaps in my twenties, that even though he never told us he loved us, and even though he never showed affection to us, I knew he loved us.  I just knew it.  It was later, when I was working on family history projects that meant reviewing my childhood, that I understood more of why I had that faith in him.  I remembered hours and hours of spending time with him on the farm, following him around.  I remember him patiently spending time teaching me and my sisters how to swim and him tutoring me in maths.  I remembered his fear for my future when he thought I was rushing into motherhood and marriage.  I didn’t agree with that fear, but I was 20 and he was seeing things from an entirely different perspective.  And it wasn’t that he didn’t like my husband or didn’t love my son.  It was a fear for me, because he wanted me to be happy, even if he couldn’t articulate that.  And my parents didn’t keep journals of my childhood the way I have kept journals of my children’s childhood, and there are far fewer photos of my childhood, and that’s okay.  And I know that if my son never reads my journals, he’ll still have memories that he cherishes, same as I do, and he’ll still know that he’s loved, same as I do.  But it’s in my power to give him those memories if he wants them.

And of course, all of that applies to my daughter too, except that she is an entirely different child with an entirely different childhood.  Same house, different childhood.  She doesn’t clash with my husband the way my son did, although there is definitely some tension in their relationship now.  Teenagers can be ridiculously selfish and self-centered.  When we’ve been at work all day and my daughter says things like “Why should I have to do the dishes, your arms aren’t painted on”, it is very easy to see why my husband gets so frustrated, because I do too.  And I don’t mean to suggest that my relationship with my children is far superior to my husband’s.  It’s not.  It was me that kicked our son out in the end, not my husband.  He tried very hard to be the voice of reason that night, but I’d had enough.  I’m just very grateful that my son forgave me for that.  But yes, seeing that night from my perspective might be valuable for him.  Or it might not, and he may never read it.  And that’s okay, because…

To process the things that happen in my life

I also write to process things.  Sometimes I get caught up in the moment, sometimes I get caught up in the details and can’t see the bigger picture.  Sometimes I need time and distance from a situation.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read back over entries and thought ‘I was so stupid.  I was so immature then, and I can understand so much better now why that person behaved the way they did.’ Sometimes it’s reading back over old entries that helps me see things from a different perspective, and helps me to move on from an event or to forgive a person for some perceived slight. Sometimes it’s the act of writing it all down that helps me process it, and I’ve had multiple entries that have started off as rants and ended up with a much more contemplative tone. 

Because I have a unique perspective on the history that I’m living

I have a passion for family history, and I’m quite lucky in that my maternal grandmother and my mother have both kept journals in the past that we still have.  I haven’t read them yet, my mother has possession of them, but they do exist.  My mother shares tidbits from them.  It’s not that she’s keeping them from me for petty reasons or anything, but rather that they are of huge sentimental meaning to her.  She wants to transcribe them, and that’s a slow process that she’s working through.  I also don’t think she realises how much I want to read them.  Also, I think there’s an element of privacy in there.  Although both journals (or sets of journals) are travel journals, there may be things mentioned in there that she’s not ready for me to read.  I’m not sure.  But even things like her mother’s shopping list, and how much she paid for things at the store, is fascinating to me.  It’s history, but it’s my grandmother’s unique history.  It’s the foods my grandmother bought, in the places that my grandmother lived.  It’s the people my grandmother interacted with.  And same for my mother’s journals.

I have the ability and, yes, the desire, to provide that for future generations.  None of my descendants will ever live in a time before Google, but I did.  None of my descendants will ever live through the pandemics that I have lived through.  None of my descendants will ever see London as it was in 1985 or 2014, but I did.  None of my descendants will ever know my husband before he had to grow up and be a father figure, but I did.  None of my descendants will ever know Pop or Poppa Pete or Nana Rose or Grumps or Gran or Grandma.  None of my descendants will ever see the original line-up of The Eagles live in concert, but I did.  It’s likely that none of my descendants will ever see bats in the Sydney Botanic Gardens.  None of my descendants will ever witness my wedding vows.  None of my descendants will ever know what it’s like to buy blues buns from the bakery at Te Hana or to attend the Symphony Under The Stars in the Auckland Domain, or to wait for dialup internet to connect.  These are my unique experiences.  Those things are all history, and I had a unique viewpoint of them.  My viewpoint of the Covid19 pandemic we are currently living through is different to those of my siblings and my parents and my children and certainly to anyone else living overseas.  It’s unique.  I have a story to tell, and maybe right now, while it’s just ‘life’, no one is much interested in reading it.  But one day, it will be history. 

Because I forget things otherwise

Some people think I have a great memory.  I don’t though, I really don’t.  What I do have is journal entries that I read over.  The more I re-read about an event, a conversation, etc., the more it cements my memory.  It helps things move from the short-term memory to the long-term memory.  But of course, I forget details, like we all do.  When I joined Stories.com, oh so long ago, I wrote the story of my son’s birth.  It was relatively recent at that time.  Years passed, and my Stories.com account was closed, and I lost that story.  And I lost the details of that day.  I knew some of the facts, but not the details.  And that was a MAJOR event in my life, the birth of my first child.  If I can’t remember the details of that day, how can I be expected to remember the details of a parent/teacher meeting three years later, or an argument I had with my husband, or a fun afternoon in the kitchen with my daughter?  I can’t.  I won’t.  So I write those things down. 

Sometimes I don’t write them down until too late.  I have a list, somewhere, of entries I haven’t written yet.  I wrote little prompts to remind me.  Here’s a sample:
8th August 2013 – parent-teacher interviews
17th August 2013 – Haley’s wedding day
15th October 2013 – high winds rip roof off Downtown shopping center (+photos)
17th October 2013 – Oktoberfest + autocorrect fails
18th October 2013 – talk with kids + Steve + goodies
27th October 2013 – fishing trip
2nd November 2013 – fishing trip & Orewa fireworks
24th December 2013 – Christmas Eve
25th December 2013 – Christmas Day
26th December 2013 – Boxing Day
Obviously that’s the portion of the list for 2013.  I will be able to do a write-up of Haley’s wedding day, but it won’t be as detailed (obviously) as it would have been if I’d written it on the day.  I have zero memories of the parent/teacher meeting, the autocorrect fails or the fishing trip(s).  And I might be able to use photos to remind me of the events on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, but I’m screwed if I didn’t take photos.  And that leads me to another thing…

To provide context for my photos

I bought my first camera in 1998.  Just a cheap film camera.  Yes, I still own it.  But even before then, I remember the thrill of processing photos in the darkroom at high school.  If memory serves me correctly, I was given my first digital camera when my daughter was born in 2005.  I got my DSLR camera in 2010, the same year I studied for my Diploma in Photography.  I’ve always enjoyed photography, and once film photography transitioned to digital photography, it became affordable for me.  I remember have rolls of unprocessed film because I’d rather spend the money on another roll of film than on having the photos developed.  

When I first started scrapbooking, it was relatively simple.  Just photos with pretty papers, and cards and things we’d received.  But someone told me something that stayed with me.  “Scrapbooking is designed so that someone can look at the page and know what you want to tell them, without you having to stand over their shoulder and tell them.”  When someone looks at a photo, they have questions.  Where was this taken?  When?  Who are those people?  Why were you there?  Why were you doing that/wearing that/laughing/crying?  Those are questions I have when I look at photos.  Scrapbooking allowed me to put the answers to those questions on the same page as the photo and provide context to the photos. 

Unfortunately, although I loved scrapbooking, it isn’t a great hobby for someone who is time-poor, money-poor and space-poor.  And I was all three.  I worked fulltime, but we were a very young couple who didn’t earn much and we had debts, and we lived in a tiny house.  My husband used to get quite frustrated with my scrapbooking stuff constantly taking up the entire dining table for weeks on end.  It actually resulted in my stuff becoming known as ‘Mummy’s crap’ after my daughter mimicked him one day when he referred to my scrapbooking stuff.  I switched to digital scrapbooking, which took up virtually no space and where I was able to download loads of freebies so it cost less too.  I much preferred traditional scrapbooking, but it was a matter of finding something that I could incorporate into my life at that time.  And eventually, I left digital scrapbooking behind too, and moved to a disorganised state where I had blog posts and photos and memorabilia and never the three shall meet.  But the plan was always that eventually they would be combined, and I’m working on that project now.  I’ve merged the 2001 blog posts, photos and memorabilia in a sort of smashbook and I have every intention of doing the same with the others. 

So whereas my mum has photos of my childhood and of hers, and the only person who knows what was happening is her, my children and their children will be able to look at my photos and know who is in the photo and where it was taken, and the story behind why we were there.  And as someone who is passionate about family history, that’s important to me.

And finally…

It’s part of who I have become

I started my first journal when I was 14, in 1994.  That’s the same year I started writing poetry.  Life, for me, was starting to expand beyond the farm I grew up on and the small farming community I’d lived my entire life in.  I was attending high school, I had my first boyfriend, my friends were having dramas, my sister was just about to leave home with her boyfriend….  Things were happening.  Big things.  Important things.  I only wrote entries sporadically, with a journal typically taking me two years to fill, but I kept going back to it when I felt like I had something worth saying.  When I moved away from all my friends, at age 17, keeping a journal became more important.  And when I met my future husband, even more so.  But then….  When I was 20, I found out that I was pregnant, and shortly after, in January 2001, I was introduced to Livejournal.  I kept plugging away with my paper journals for a while, but as the mother of a newborn, the convenience of digital blogging was key.  I could snatch a few minutes, or occasionally type an entry one-handed while he slept in the crook of my other arm.  I didn’t lose the book, I didn’t have to find a pen, I didn’t run out of pages…  But (and I think this was critical back then) I had interaction with other adults.  I was a stay-at-home mum for a year after my son was born.  For a short period of time we alternated between living with my parents and my in-laws, then we got a flat of our own, and then we moved far away from both our families and all our friends.  I had no friends and no family, and a baby that I was still adjusting to.  When I posted a blog entry about having a shitty day, or about some new milestone the baby had achieved, people responded.  Sometimes we had whole conversations in the comment section.  I became friends with other bloggers, including one who is still in my life to this day although we’ve never met.  I had connections, and for someone who was isolated and struggling with both motherhood and poverty, that was amazing.

Eventually, all the people I interacted with on Livejournal left the platform.  As far as I know, none of them blog regularly anymore, but some I’ve lost contact with altogether, so I have no idea.  Maybe some returned to their paper journals.  Maybe some use other platforms.  It didn’t matter, because by that time I’d found Stories.com (now known as Writing.com) and I was able to forge connections there using the same method – post a blog entry and exchange comments on my blog and theirs.  It was a winning formula.

Now, I’ve been blogging for 20 years.  TWENTY YEARS!!  *Mindblown* Yes, twenty years.  That is literally half my life, although I do turn 41 next month, so it’s just shy of half my life if you’re being really pedantic.  But still.  I started blogging when I was 20 and I’m now 40 and still blogging.  It’s kind of mind blowing.  I sometimes go through short periods where I don’t blog much, but I always come back to it.  Why?  It’s a part of me.  I’ve been journalling in some form or another since I was 14, and I’ve been blogging since I was 20.  I can’t see that aspect of my life changing now. 

Soon (in the next three years or so), both my children will have left home.  I will have documented their entire childhoods in my blog.  I won’t have daily interactions with them to blog about.  But I will still blog.  Maybe my life won’t be so interesting anymore.  Maybe it will far more interesting!  I guess we’ll find out.  But yeah, I can’t see me stopping now.  It’s part of me.  It’s who I am.  I journal.  I blog. 

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