For centuries people have recorded their own history in journals and letters. When we want to know what somebody was thinking about during the Civil War we go to the original source. We descend upon the National Archives or our local historical society so that we can read what was happening in their own words. The loopy script can be difficult to read, but it makes the experience more personal.
In a few years, how are researchers going to look into our lives? Will they have the journals to read? Nope. Will they have the letters to find and open? Nope. Today most of our communication is electronic. Sure, the government is building a giant facility in Utah to store everything that we ever send electronically (hello Mr. Federal Agent who is reading this post!! *waves*), but will we have access to it? When people blog are they being honest with their feelings? No offense to anybody reading this, but I never completely divulge all of my feelings to you. I have to be careful and hold back information that I don’t want others to read because it will cause problems. I save my emails to certain people, but what happens to the electronic record when I stop using the account? Unless I want to print out every single email that I’ve ever sent or received, anybody trying to find out more about me or this culture will not have access to them.
I love to write. Obviously I keep this blog, but I also have three journals that I write in periodically. I’m not a daily journaler because I don’t have the time, but I love to sit down with my journal and write. There’s just something about a pen that smoothly rolls across the paper as you’re setting down some of your innermost thoughts. The handwritten journal is the only one where you can put down your fears or secret thoughts and you only have to worry about a few people snooping into it. You don’t have to worry about it being flagged by the government because certain phrases pop up in it. You don’t have to worry about offending anybody because if they are reading it, then they are the ones who are doing wrong by trespassing where they aren’t supposed to be.
A journal introduced us into the life of a young Jewish girl during the Second World War as her family was hidden from the Nazis. Millions of children have been able to feel what Anne Frank was feeling through her writing that she did in her journal. Do you want to know what it was like to work as a nurse during the Civil War? There are many journals that were kept and have been published on this topic. Do you want to know what it was like to be somewhat affluent in the South during the Civil War and how you would have been affected? Mary Chestnut did a great job of keeping a journal so that we can read exactly what she was going through, including the bombing of Fort Sumter. Soldiers weren’t exempt from this, either. Some of it might have been embellished, but the book, “Co. Aytch” (pronounced like the letter ‘H’) by Sam Watkins is a great book to read.
We are losing our history by not keeping a good record of it. Electronic records can so easily be manipulated. “A picture is worth a thousand words”… or is it? What does it say if it’s photoshopped? Are we doing a disservice to the generations coming up behind us? Maybe.
I’m not saying to keep a journal for this reason alone. Did you ever have anything passed down to you in your family? When my grandmother passed away I received her family Bible. In this Bible are notes of deaths, births, and marriages. It connects me to those who came before me. It’s something personal and special. I guess that maybe I’m keeping my journals for that reason. Actually, I keep a dream journal (when I remember to write in it) for my own entertainment. I keep a regular journal to chronicle some of the bigger events in my life and how they make me feel. Then I’ve recently started keeping a journal where I write to my husband. This last one is because we don’t have handwritten letters. If something were to happen to me I want him to know just how I felt about him, or the various thoughts that I want to share with him. If I’m gone and he wants to feel close to me again, I want him to have something where I’ve recorded my words in my own way of turning a phrase. I don’t know if he’s found it, but it’s there for his eyes if he wants to read it. Sometimes when you talk with your spouse you want to hold onto their words, but life gets busy and you forget the exact way they were phrased. It’s nice to be able to read the sweet words that are meant just for you. So that’s why I’m doing it. Maybe it’s silly and maybe he won’t ever read it, but it’s one of my many offerings of love to him.
Give it a try. If you don’t like it, then that’s fine. You don’t have to write about your every day life. You can journal about anything that you want. Do you have a hobby? Keep a journal about your thoughts on that and what you’re currently studying. Do you have wacky dreams? Write them down so that you can look back and laugh. Do you have kids? Write down your history so that when your kids are older they can see you through an adults’ eyes and better understand the decisions that you made.