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Apr 18

How do you choose a writing journal?

Just like magic wands, a journal must choose you.

As a child, I expressed my deepest thoughts, heartbreak and angst in various hardcover journals, college-ruled notebooks and at least one Dear Diary with a metal lock. Did you pour your heart out in a journal? I still journal, but not as much as I used to. I wish I could say that’s because I have no adult angst, but I can’t lie. To make sure I carve the time out to reflect on myself, “journaling more often” is one of my New Year’s Non-Resolutions I committed to with my writers group.

My old journal ended today after five months of use. In my younger days, I could’ve blown through that purse-size, 4”x6” journal in less than two months. And in my younger days, I would never have used such a small book. Regardless, I need a new journal.

I have a collection of journals ready for words waiting for me on my bookshelf upstairs. Too many, one might say, but I hold an emotional attachment. Besides, can you ever have enough journals, whatever the style?

Dancing space sheep swirl around me, complete with glitter and memories.

Dancing space sheep swirl around me, complete with glitter and memories.

As I slide my hand down the row, examining each spine and shape, I think about reducing my stack. Here’s an opportunity to donate old journals I no longer enjoy writing in, either by size or style, and toss out ones with bad karma. I’m thinking of a specific one given to me by an ex-boyfriend’s mother, but I may have used it already. I don’t recall what it looks like when a bright purple spine pops out at me. Friendly bubble letters beckon me with one word: Journal. I pull it off the shelf and cradle it in my hand, staring at the cover. At least 30 seconds pass before I figure out that the abstract glittery shapes are sheep floating in space. It’s rather trippy.

Each white, lined page of the 5×7″ book is bordered with a quilt-like pattern of muted mauve hearts and stars. Sometimes I prefer pages with lines to keep my sentences straight and even, and other times, wide-open blank pages inspire me. Sometimes I like to write on bright white to show a pen’s true color, while other times my eyes want a muted tan or yellow page. This portable, lined, white-page journal in my hands seems fine to me. The psychedelic cover makes me weirdly happy. Now to flip to the inside cover and see if I made any notes about the journal’s date or where it came from.

Karma’s a bitch.

This journal was a birthday gift 15 years ago from a friend I no longer talk to, mailed to me at a previous job that was absolutely vile.

This is the kind of karma I was talking about, so I set it aside, not even putting it back on the shelf. There are plenty of other journals here. A leather dragon-covered book is too heavy. One large notebook has a handmade cover with buttons on it, a good memory of the person who made it for me, but a bit awkward for my needs right now. I don’t want this other one with a wooden cover. That blue Moleskine is too small. The ring binding on another is too big. Nothing fits my mood except the funky sheep journal.

This empty journal is scrawled with memories. I taped the original mailing label inside the front cover, which is why I know from where it was mailed. Just seeing the company name brings back stomach-churning memories of the underpaid job with the stuffy upstairs office where I worked. I remember the two sloppy mistakes I made that make me feel uncomfortable and stupid to this day, and the disrespectful ex-boyfriend I worked with who constantly yelled insults at me.

During that time, I had my friend, that lovely woman who knew me well enough to know I’d enjoy a fun-looking journal, perhaps a dollar store find, and mail it to me at work to brighten my day. Even today, I recognize her thick, curvy handwriting from the numerous letters we mailed each other. We met during one of my most unique summer jobs. And for reasons I don’t recall now, we immediately became friends. I took my first trip to Walt Disney World with her and a friend. She and I took a road trip to Salem, Massachusetts one Halloween weekend. The last good memory I have with her is bouncing on her friend’s outdoor trampoline on the afternoon my boyfriend-now-husband called to tell me he bought a new car, the car we still drive today.

She and I lived about seven hours away. I only saw her when I drove home to see my parents, and even then, I didn’t always have the time for the extra 2-hour drive. This one weekend, however, I was home for a long weekend and my Sunday was completely open. We could meet halfway and catch up in person, so I called her.

“I can’t,” she said. “I watch football with my boyfriend on Sundays.”

I never knew her to be a sports fan, but I was a far-away friend in town for the day. “What’s it going to hurt, taking one afternoon off?” I asked.

“I can’t. We watch football on Sundays.”

I understood that sports aspect with guys; my boyfriend-now-husband watched college football on Saturdays. He liked it when I watched the games with him, but if I wasn’t there one weekend–like this weekend I was currently away for–his life didn’t end and we didn’t break up. I’ll be there to watch games with him weekend, but I will not be within driving distance of my friend next weekend.

“Not just this one Sunday?” I asked her, hearing my voice rise in a pleading tone.

“We watch the game together,” she replied.

I never met her boyfriend, but I got the sense he was a demanding man.

Maybe it was just my imagination, but my friend was always independent. If she hadn’t been dating him, I was sure she’d make the time to see me. I told her how hurt I was, how I thought he might be controlling and I was saying that because I was looking out for her, as a friend should, but in the end, I lost the argument. We spoke once or twice on the phone after that, but she stopped returning my calls. I lost my friend.

I was surprised to receive a sympathy card from her when my dad died. She must have been on the overall distribution list when I emailed the news out. That was a nice gesture, really touching, but I didn’t know what to say, where to begin again. I don’t recall mailing a reply to her.

Now this journal calls me. I don’t know why. Does the journal want me to fill it with good memories, turning something positive out of a bad memory? Is its purpose to just fill the pages and “git ‘er done” and out of my life? Does my journal want some closure for me? Some reminder of better times, or is it a nudge to do something more?

All I know is that the two floating cosmic sheep make me smile, and I have to choose this as my next journal. Maybe with a wave of a metaphysical wand, I’ll figure this out by the end of the journal. Or maybe the last page will be just a last page.

8 comments

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  1. herheadache

    This is really very beautiful writing. I am glad for the throw-back link ups that introduce us to a post we may have missed, as is the case with me and this post you’ve written here.
    I can’t see to write in journals now, but I love them still. You express that reason perfectly here. Thank you for making my Sunday morning a little bit brighter again, reminding me of memories I don’t see now, but that I will never forget.
    I also know how it feels to lose a friend. What are journals for but to write about just such life experiences.

    1. dwhirsch

      Awwww…what a sweet comment, my dear. Brightened my day. Journals are or can be someone’s lifeblood, therapy, memory, compulsion, daily activity, trusted friend…all of which speaks about my journal love. But treasured memories are just that, whether they’re written down or not. Its simply a matter of pausing to remember them. I’m so happy my words inspired your own precious memories. Priceless.

    2. dwhirsch

      These Thursday Throwbacks are delightful not only to new readers, but to me as well revisiting my old thoughts and feelings.

      Journals are friends, too, be they on paper, computer screen or spoken into a recorder. A friend years and years ago had her car broken into. The window, the purse, she didn’t care, but her journal…she almost cried over that. (I did too. Heartbreak.)

      Thank you for your kind thoughts and words, and for popping over to share them with me (and all of us).

  2. Corina

    I have so many writing journals but it seems that I can’t really keep only one. I don’t pick them well enough. I start one and a few days later I decide it’s not right so I start stay different one. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

    1. dwhirsch

      I think that’s delightful! The fun of indulging in new experiences. I’m too linear a person to flit between journals, but what a delight that must be to pick up a journal and experience random thoughts. Don’t worry about hurting their feelings; those journals are always there for you when needed.

    2. dwhirsch

      That just means that different journals are fighting for your attention. Popular you! This means you have lots of paper friends in your life!

  3. Sue Remisiewicz

    I understand the emotional connections to objects. Sometimes I see something and the memory is sharp as a knife and others are fun and make me smile. You have both in your little sheep journal. Good luck on your cosmic journey!

    1. dwhirsch

      On the inside back cover, I found a post it note from my husband. Its a “humph” emoji face. I have no idea why or what, but I saved it. Thats more the curiosity.

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