Reasons to Journal

journaling

(This is not a Moleskine journal, it’s an old picture, but it is a Bic pen)

One of my very favourite books is Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster. One of the reasons I think I enjoy it so much is that most of the book is written in the form of letters that Judy Abbott writes to her mysterious benefactor. Now yes, I want a mysterious benefactor myself, but it’s the slightly naughty delight of reading someone else’s mail, of seeing right into Judy’s mind, that’s the thing I love.

Another such book is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, and Welcome to the Working Week by Paul Vitos (written in email rather than letters, with a fair bit more cynicism and swearing). And then there’s always The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.

All of them have this fun feeling of reading over someone’s shoulder, of seeing a new insight through their eyes.

I’ve been getting the same feeling lately through reading back my journal from last year.

I’m not being totally self-indulgent – I’m writing a book about 2017 using my blogs and I thought it would add some interest if you all (dear readers) had some insight into how I was feeling as the year went on. Ok, maybe I am being self-indulgent but I’m getting a lot out of it anyway.

Journalling is important to me. I don’t remember why, but I do remember that in grade 10 I decided to write a journal entry every day. I remember very clearly sitting in bed in the dark at 1am (I shared a room with my sister and couldn’t turn the light on) writing a few lines on a new page knowing that I would not be following the lines, I couldn’t see the lines, but I had to complete my journal entry for that day before I went to sleep.

I tend to follow rules like that. If I’m journalling every day, then I’m journalling every single day. No excuses.

I’m easier on myself now, I don’t make myself write every day, but I write most days because it’s so helpful.

Sheridan Voysey has some tips for journalling. He says that you don’t have to write every day. That you must not let anyone else see what you’re writing – it is just for you (write in code if necessary). That you date each entry (he records the time as well and I’ve started doing that too). That you write freely and honestly. That you keep it simple and that you write anywhere. His podcast on reasons to journal is worth listening to.

Why do I journal?

I mistrust my memory and love to have a record of my life. I think that part of me feels like I’d lose my life if I didn’t write it down.

I find that journalling slows me down enough to know how I’m feeling. I can be running around (either literally, or inside my own head) and stop to journal and write: ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know what I’m feeling. Oh boy do I feel tired.’ And then I go nap. Journalling gets me in touch with myself. It helps me to see if the problem I’m experiencing is physical tiredness, or just my own narkiness, or whether I have an issue I need to sort out with someone else. In other words, it stops me snapping at Moz when the issue I need to deal with is my own tiredness.

Journalling stops the hamster wheel of thoughts inside my head. Once it’s written down, it’s written and I can move on. If I leave the thought in my head then it can swirl around and never get dealt with.

And finally, I can look back on my journal and see where I’ve been.

I tell many newlyweds, especially those I know who marry young like Moz and I did, about how comforting it was to read my journal from our first year of marriage. You see, no matter how bad things were in the next few years, it never got as bad as the first year. (Our first year was hard work, but worth it).

And looking back at last year I can see objective evidence that the days were hard and busy but I can also see the record of cosy nights in front of the fire, peaceful walks along the beach, little pockets of peace and joy through the hard times. It gives me strength and encouragement for what I’m walking through now. Which, by the way, is nowhere near as bad as last August.

It doesn’t take much to journal, you don’t need a fancy book or a fancy pen. I have a very fancy Moleskine journal at the moment – a Christmas present from my parents – but I have a motley arrangement of journals on the bookshelf to my left, all colours and sizes that I’ve used through the years.

The pen I use is a Bic biro. Nothing fancy there! But I like the way it writes. But you know, you can use anything. Some people like to use a really fancy pen, a fancy journal, do drawings and so on and make it a special part of their ‘me time’ and others like me just like to get the words down on the page. Whenever and wherever I find myself.

Some people like me keep all their journals. I hope to go through my boxes soon and find the one I wrote in in grade 10. I think it will be interesting to read. Others like my mother-in-law destroy them. That can be really cathartic. A nice journal fire when you’re saying goodbye to some particularly dreadful part of your life could be an excellent symbolic gesture.

Words are my thing, obviously. But I think a lot of us can find joy in journalling.

Do you keep a journal? What have you found best or worst about it? Or have I tempted you to try? Let me know in the comments.

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Saving your time

Pumpkin time

Saving money is really hard. I mean really saving money – for the future. Not for a holiday or for next week or for the next time that we run out and need to buy something, but for the long term future. It’s hard. I find it hard. But it’s necessary. It’s a good thing to do. It’s good stewardship, delayed gratification, healthy and wise.

In the same way, I need to put aside time to rejuvenate myself. This is time where I have nothing booked, time just to be. Time to invest in myself and my energy so that I have energy in the future.

It is difficult to block out time for this because it doesn’t have a label attached to it. It’s not exercise, or doing something for someone, or cleaning the house, or working. It’s rest time. Just rest.

It’s easy to eat into it – “Yes, I can do that – there’s nothing booked into my calendar.” Maybe there should be “Nothing” booked into your calendar so that you don’t book anything else in. I plan to do nothing. Just to be. To read, to think, to write in my journal, to go for a nice walk, to sleep.

It is investing in your future.

My husband Moz has found that this principle applies very well when it comes to sleep.

A few years ago you would have found me heading to bed at 9:30pm and Moz would be an hour or a bit longer behind me. I have to go to bed at 9:30pm – that’s when I turn into a pumpkin.

One evening a few years ago now, I came home from work, totally fruited, at about 7:45pm, and Moz heated up my dinner and served it to me on the couch (home made pizza – yum!) and at first I didn’t want to do anything but watch the box and chill out. But after a little blob time I was ready to surface and we both decided to turn off the box and connect with each other. We talked about the day – how his work went, how mine went, interesting things that happened, interesting things people said. Then we started talking about our plans for the future, little bits and pieces, lovely conversation.

Then, in the middle of conversation, DH looked at me, read my body language, looked at the clock and said, “Yep, it’s nine thirty. Pumpkin time.”

You see, I need a lot of sleep. About 9 1/2 hours a night does me beautifully. I am probably more of a morning person than an evening person but I’m not the kind of morning person who wakes at 5am refreshed and happy and ready to  start the day. No-siree-bob. I am the kind of morning person who wakes very slowly and becomes an intelligent being by drinking a cup of coffee in bed. I am so incredibly privileged to have a husband who is happy to get up in the morning and bring me a cup of coffee in bed. Perhaps it’s because I’m just totally useless without it.

Moz used to see me to bed once my brain stopped functioning and then he would stay up for around an hour, playing on his computer, learning things, reading articles, and then he would come to bed at 10:30-ish and – here’s the thing – try to immediately fall asleep so that he could get his 8 hours before the alarm went off in the morning.

Have you ever tried to immediately fall asleep? It adds a little stress to the scenario. Each ten minute interval that you’re not sleeping is a drama. You know that waiting ten minutes to get to sleep means you’ll want to wake up ten minutes after the alarm goes off next morning and you’ll therefore wake up groggy and grumpy.

When Moz was coming to bed at half past ten, woe betide me if I asked him to head back up stairs to turn the heat pump off, or to check if my phone was plugged in. He needed to fall asleep right then. Straight away.

A little while ago he decided that this was silly. Now, when pumpkin time hits and I go into the study to say goodnight, he says, “Is it bed time?” turns off his computer, and heads to bed too. We turn off the light early and he gets his eight hours. Actually, he’s worked out that he needs seven hours and fifty minutes sleep each night.

So he sleeps for seven hours and fifty minutes and wakes up naturally between 5:30 and 6 am. He gets up, heads to the study, and does the things that he would have done at night. He plays computer games, reads interesting articles, and learns things. At 6:45am when the alarm goes off he makes us a cuppa and brings it down to wake me up. He’s accomplished something already and he’s had a restful night’s sleep.

They used to say about daylight savings time that it’s daft to cut one inch off the top of the blanket and put it on the bottom and say that you have a longer blanket, but it looks like that very strategy has worked for Moz. He’s a happier, healthier person because he is investing his time in sleep.

I have another friend, Trish, who blocks out an entire month of every year to go on a retreat. She is a minister, and this is her way of investing in her growth and prayer life. She goes away, stops all of her commitments, and spends the month reading, writing, praying, retreating. It’s saving, investing in her future.

What do I do? I make sure that I don’t block up every time window in my schedule. I make sure that I am not out in the evenings more than twice a week and that Sunday evenings are kept free so that I can use to get my head together for the week ahead. And I only work four days a week. I give myself half a day to visit with people, and half a day to be by myself, to do whatever needs doing to rejuvenate. Sometimes that means writing, sometimes reading, sometimes I lie on the couch and watch TV, it’s time to invest in me.

I couldn’t always do that, of course. When you have small children there is not much chance of time alone. Sometimes life circumstances just do not allow the space that you need. But sometimes we bring it on ourselves – the busy-ness.

Is there something in your schedule that you can cut out to allow yourself some time just to be? Is there some time-savings that you need to make for your future?

The good book says, “Be still and know that I am God.” This time-savings idea has been good advice for a very long time. I highly recommend it.

This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail.

You’ll notice some special art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42

Memories

I don’t have the world’s best memory. I am not one of those writers who can remember everything that happened to me through my childhood. I forget great chunks of happenings and I’m dreadful with people’s names.

I was part of  a science panel the other night on the radio and the announcer asked me why I chose chemistry. I said that I remembered my grade 12 chemistry, how much I enjoyed it, and that was the major factor in my decision – the decision that has led to my career in chemistry. So the announcer (naturally) asked what it was that I enjoyed. I couldn’t really remember. Then she asked what was the teacher’s name – the teacher that has had a major influence on my life. I couldn’t remember. I still can’t. Dreadful.

My daughter can remember details about the house her grandparents lived in when she was two years old. Actually, I remember that when she turned two I suddenly got really stressed. I was pretty sure she’d be able to remember things from then on, and I knew I wasn’t doing great at this parenting gig, and that now she’d be able to remember what I was doing. It added a whole layer of pressure! (We coped alright though, I now realise that everyone struggles with the parenting gig, I think she’s grown up to be a well-balanced and healthy young woman, and brilliant too, of course).

When the kids were younger I blamed my shonky memory on the number of things I had to keep in the front of my brain: who had eaten what and how long ago, when the sunscreen was last applied, where the socks were dumped, and where the favourite toy was last seen. There wasn’t a whole lot of room in the head for anything else.

Now I don’t have those sorts of excuses. I still have the same memory issues though.

Instead of trusting my creaky memory, I hoard. I have journals that reach back to 2010 sitting on my bookshelf in my study downstairs, and I’m hopeful that somewhere I have the journal I wrote back when we were married in 94 and the journal I remember writing in grade 10. They are important to me, though I don’t go back and look at them often, they store my memories, my feelings, my struggles and joys of the years. And I’m hoping they will be a great resource for my writing too.

My email is another place where I hoard. When the IT guy set up my new computer it took ages, simply ages, to load up properly.

‘How much saved email do you have?’ he asked.

‘Heaps.’

‘That would be it.’

It is.

Every so often, I go to the ‘sent’ folder and I copy email after email to a word document I have set up for this purpose. I’m up to 2005. Emails I set to my parents while they were in the USA. Emails to my sister when her life turned upside down. Emails to my brother, thanking him for the flowers he sent. Work emails, school emails. All of them documenting my life.

Last night I read something about ‘my rat dying on the operating table’. I had forgotten about the big biochemistry project I did that required operating on rats and changing the nitrate levels in the blood to see how that changed the blood perfusion. It’s coming back to me now but without the email record I may have never remembered.

On the subject of rats – or rather mice – there was an email about the mouse plague we had in our old house. About a mouse that dropped onto our bed in the middle of the night, ran across DH’s face and ended up in my slipper. You’d think an experience like that would stick in the brain but until I read it in the email, I had completely forgotten.

I think there are just too many memories to keep them all in the front of my brain at one time. I have forty three years of experiences. Living with them constantly would be much to great a burden to bear. I’m already absent minded enough without all those memories swirling around me. But it’s so much fun to go back through what has been written down and relive the memories just for a while.

Sometimes I would like to keep only the good memories and delete the bad ones, but that wouldn’t be my life. My life is the good memories, the bad, and the things that I can’t even remember but that have shaped me on the way through.

I read somewhere a long time ago that the most boring real person is much more interesting than the most interesting fictional character.

But don’t ask me where I read it. I can’t remember!