Blog – Journal – Diary – Notebook – Memoir

I try to keep a journal.  I have been keeping a journal on and off for the past 18 years . It was started after my husband suffered a stroke. That period of time was so intense that I had to write some of it down…to keep track of all the information coming to me from the doctors.   To keep track of all the different people…therapists, social workers, nursing staff…who were caring for my husband. To keep track of the drugs he was taking and the seizures he was having. I recorded who visited the hospital, who called and who helped me so I would remember to thank them. My journal was hand written to begin with but soon became digital when I typed it into my computer.  My journal is still a part of my life, a continuing record of my life and my husband’s.

My mother kept a journal.  Her journal goes back 40+ years and is entirely handwritten in multiple spiral-bound notepads.   After her recent death, and while sorting her belongings, family members were thumbing through some of these notebooks.  We would find the birthdate of a niece or a nephew and read the words our mom had written for that auspicious day out loud – it was like having her voice in the room with us.  Her journals were well used over the years as reference material whenever there was an argument about what happened or when it happened.  Mom would go on a search and come back with the answer from one of her journals:  “It was Auntie Dorothy who fell onto the luggage carousel at the Toronto airport, not Aunt Renee and it was in 1983 not 1979.”  One of my sister’s has taken on the job of organizing and archiving all of these notebooks.

My grandmother kept a journal.  Hand-written, it starts in the 1930’s and ends in the 1970’s.  Her journal is historically rich throughout, but especially when you look at her entries during those early years.  The 1940’s, the war years,  she mentions letters she received from her two overseas soldier sons, one of them my dad.  She makes reference to the news that she reads or that she hears on the radio about far away battles.  You can read between the lines, of her worry, when several weeks go by without a letter from her sons or you feel her joy when “dear Fred” or “dear Edwin” sends her a note from England or Germany.  She describes the end of the war like this…

Monday May 7 1945 – Gosh, what a day.  I had to go to the dentist (in London, Ontario) for an impression and this was the day that it was announced that Germany had surrendered unconditionally and oh gosh, the noise, racket, horns blowing and tooting that went on.  Confetti, rice was thrown, colour paper streamers and ticker tape flowed from windows, bedlam let loose, the streets were a mess.  Planes roared over the streets, saluting and tipping wings – they sure were a racket too.

In these early journals, you can also read of the Japanese surrender, national elections and local happenings and the Quints birthdays!  Of course, in later journals she mentions my birthdate and my siblings’ birthdates as well!  She writes about the weather and when she saw the first robin each spring, making her journal a meteorological chronicle.  She writes simply of her life in rural Southwestern Ontario, capturing the routine of the farm.  Fridays were ‘town day’, when she and my grandfather went into London to visit and sell eggs and cream.  Month old piglets brought in $9.50 at the Sales yard in June of ’45 and a ton of stove coal cost $16.20 in the same year.  She could not bring herself to say ‘manure’ in her journal, instead it was represented by a series of questions marks, until in the 1970’s, she allowed herself to write ‘m-pile’.  She used some words that I was unfamiliar with…what on earth did it mean when a cow “freshened”?  (it means a cow has started lactating)  And what was lumbago?  (my grandfather suffered from this low back pain after working hard in the fields).  She and the boys would dig up “mangles”…these were a root vegetable similar to beets.  I have not yet finished reading my grandmother’s journals.  While my grandmother may have thought her entries were workaday and unremarkable, they are a never ending source of family lore, historical tidbits, some poetry and many stories that feature family, relatives, friends and neighbours.

Journalling…keeping a diary…blogging.  A way to keep a record of ideas, thoughts, feelings and events that are important to the writer.  Throughout history, diaries and journals have been used to record such things and are usually meant for the author’s eyes only.  But over time these writings become valuable and have been made available to the world.  Journals, diaries and notebooks from Leonardo da Vinci to Kurt Cobain, from Lewis and Clark to Che Guevara.  One of the most famous of course is “The Diary of a Young Girl” – Anne Frank’s diary.  Mark Twain used pocket notebooks, which he filled with observations, thoughts on religion and politics and what he had for lunch!  George S Patton kept a notebook to help keep himself on track after failing his freshman year at West Point.  George Lucas, Charles Darwin, Marilyn Munroe and Virginia Wolfe all kept diaries and journals.

Explore journals here at the library. Historical journals such as “The White House Diary” by Jimmy Carter or “Scott of the Antartic:  The Journals of Captain R. F. Scott’s Last Polar Expedition” are available.  A book about a diary? That’s “Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady”. There’s a memoir about aging, “Winter Journal” by Paul Auster. For something very different, try the no-holds-barred, “My Boring-Ass Life:  The Uncomfortably Candid Diary of Kevin Smith“, the filmmaker. And for something quite funny try “Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son” by Anne Lamott – her ongoing story of motherhood and now unexpected grandmotherhood.

If you would like to try journaling yourself, the library has books that can help…

One of the best is “Leaving a Trace: On Keeping a Journal” by Alexandra Johnson.   Another non-fiction book to inspire you is “A Book of One’s Own: Turning Your Family History, Travel, Journal… Into a Book”. “The Elemental Journal: Composing Artful Expressions From Items Cast Aside”  is a beautiful book by Tammy Kushnir, that offers creative ways to make the book itself that you will use as a journal.

Write it – type it – record it.  Journaling can help you clarify your thoughts and develop the habit of being observant in all your experiences.  A journal allows you to see your progress over the years and to review the lessons that you’ve learned.  At the end you will have a record that you can look back on…and if you choose, others can look back on it too.

 – MH

Side Note: Clicking links will open the library’s catalogue, allowing you to place a hold on that particular book.

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