Thinking out loud
I never really kept a journal until my M.Ed. program. We were encouraged to write about our experiences and observations and ideas. The concept was "reflective practice," that we'd reflect on our days and make connections as we looked back over things. I had written a little before I began that program, but it was sporadic entries about interesting things that had happened to me, and most of the time they weren't very reflective, just narratives.
When I started writing again, I really stuck with it for a change. I wrote a little bit every day. When you're writing about your life and thoughts, you are re-playing an event by viewing through an observer's eyes instead of those of a participant. You need not concern yourself with the "fight or flight" reflexes which always ask, "What do I do next?" Instead you are there to interpret experience rather than generate it or be a part of it.
My journal began as another bunch of narratives, but it gradually evolved to a kind of "thinking out loud" experience. Writing meant that I was able to carry my thoughts much further than I had before. My typically attention deficient brain tends to bounce from one thought to the next, so ideas aren't carried to any kind of a conclusion; they're more like general notions.
However, when I began writing, I had a record of what I was trying to think about, but I couldn't move on to another thought without having a physical (well, electronic) version of that thought dangling in front of me, uncompleted. I was in a medium that almost demanded that I complete a thought, so in gels literally right in front of me. Writing happens to be the ideal environment for me in some ways. For others, speaking is adequate as with AA or traditional psychotherapy.
Meaning comes out of words, even though it's supposed to be the other way around for the writer. I mean, I think I'm communicating my ideas into text, but I instead find that meaning emerges from what I'm writing. I often find that I understand things better as the text comes out of me. And it isn't just that I've revisited the material so I "learned" it more deeply. Instead, the process of assembling things I've thought about allows me to see patterns that I hadn't noticed previously.
So many of the surveys that get passed around on MySpace actually aren't half-bad prompts for journalling exercises. However, far more often than not, they're missed opportunities for learning about oneself if the responses are limited to "yes/no" or brief answers.A different kind of time travel
Some years ago I went through a phase in my life where I found a need to do discover who I was. I found that simple questions like "What are your favorite movies?" can reveal far more about you than what you're going to add to your Netflix queue or recommend to a friend. I made lists of my favorite things (e.g., movies, music, books, subjects I read about, people I liked, etc.), and began to see not just my preferences when I looked at the commonalities across or within categories, but rather the patterns that defined *me.* My past that helped me find reasonable options for the future and allowed me to immediately disregard things that were appealing but weren't "me." Doing a retrospective in any form has the effect of placing your selves side by side by side to examine, compare, and contrast. If you're reading this, then you're the type who can do this as well.
Listing isn't journaling exactly, but I found that it concentrated me on specific areas to work on . Specifically, one of the sets of lists was the things that were good about me and what was bad. Areas included: Academic, behavior (outwardly exhibited things), intellectual abilities, and attitudes (among others). I knew what was good so I could emphasize it and what was bad so I could address it. I had a portrait of me that I had sketched in words. That's a different kind of a mirror, and one that's less superficial than the ones we're used to looking into.
I relived sections of my life recently by working my way backwards through all these files where I went back through the early months of writing Dani, then through my previous relationship, through my on-line dating phase (or mostly writing phase, to tell you the truth; stories about that some other time), through selling all my junk on eBay, through fostering dogs, through my split with my ex, through grad school, etc.Plundering the past
It was amazing how much I had forgotten about from just a few years or so ago. I was like, "Who's this 'Kim' chick? She actually sounds kind of interesting." At the moment I'm working through my old emails I had the foresight to save from my undergrad years and the aforementioned master's program. Those are from at least a decade ago, and I find I recognize myself in them, but I don't remember the people or events I was writing about much of the time. Whole sections of my life are fortunately crystallized, even if I don't recognize all the ingredients.
Writing is detached from time. Not only can you stop and think for as long as you like about how you want to say something before you put it on paper (or disc; something you can't do with the spoken word), you can always go back and add more to a piece if you have a new thought or adapt an existing piece of writing for another purpose.
Although I initially used my journal as a meditative practice, I've plundered my past writing for interesting bits to cannibalize. Not all of it is journalling, of course, but many of the things I've written have served similar purposes. For example, most people consider email a throw-away medium, but any form of correspondence has the potential to capture a snapshot of your life full of information like an insect in amber.
Much of the content of MySpace posts or my own web pages started out written for other purposes. If I feel something I've written could stand a larger audience, then that text gets adapted. My journal is sometimes me thinking "out loud" (of a sort), and sometimes those thoughts turn out to be worth sharing. The important thing to remember is that I probably wouldn't have thought them in the first place had I not taken the time to journal them.
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