March 27, 2005


Praise to journal keepers: by journal keepers, for journal keepers

Supported by: Leaving a Trace: The Art of Transforming Life into Stories by Alexandra Johnson




Thousands of personal journals were coming from every state and several countries. Dream journals, idea journals, journey journals, travel journals, sketch journals, war journals, anything else journals. She read them, analyzed them and discussed of them with their authors, know or unknown.


Leaving a Trace is praise to personal journals. It's a compilation of all personal journals that Alexandra Johnson read over time. Why people are writing in personal journals? How most famous personality of our history used journals? How to keep your personal journal? What type of journal are people creating? It's the question she asks and answers with his personal love of journaling. She do her demonstration with thousands of quotes took in personal journals of know and unknown writers.


I had doubts when I received the book by Amazon but it was a revelation. Every page is a pleasure to read. It's a travel through personal and collective history. What I remind of the book? The power that journals and diaries have to help us to clarify ideas, create inspiration and inflame creativity. Do I recommend this book? Yes, to any human being.


Bellow are some quotes, extracted from the context of the book, wrote by Alexandra or other journal keepers cited in it. It will give you an overview of the richness of her work.


Through these citations, I'll say things; things that tell you what a diary could be for me; how I see it... the essence of it.


"There looms ahead of me the shadow of some kind of form which the diary might attain. I might in the course of time lean what it is that one can make of this loose, drifting material of life; finding another use for it."

                                                - Virginia Woolf


Personal diaries are a multiple purpose toolkits. They help you to find your path, to tame your creativity:


"[...]how others used a diary to deepen a life, or negotiate the obstacle course of creativity."



It's a way to talk to you... in the future. You fill it with thoughts and feelings. You project yourself in the future and wait until these thoughts fade in your mind. Then, you reread your entries and remember all things you were thinking about... but now... you know the truth about these old assertions. You do it in hope to find something new; something that you didn't expected to know before that time:


"What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose knit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace any thing, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking. I should like to come back, after a year or two, and find that the collection had sorted itself... into a mould, transparent enough to reflect the light of our life."

                                                - Virginia Woolf


"'Who are we really writing for? ' A future self, usually. Journal keeping is that rare activity centered in the present, contemplating the past, yet aimed for a future self."


"Gail Godwin [...] I write for my future self, as well as my present mood. And sometimes, to set the record straight, I jot down a word or two in old diaries to my former self; to encourage, to scold, to correct, to set things in perspectives."


There is a paradox: you create a personal diary. You want to keep it for yourself, prohibiting others to read it. But, in the deepen your, you want to leave a trace of your apparition on earth; of your living. While you live, you don't need others to know you but once you know you will die, you want others to know everything about you:


"The past, Virginia Woolf noted, urges us to leave a trace."


"Yet no matter how incomplete of fitfully kept, journals honor that most human of instincts: our need to leave a trace."


Journals are a way to clarify your thoughts. To organize them in a way to keep your foot on earth:


"Mansfield, who'd burned 'the huge complaining diaries' of her childhood, kept journals for process: to practice craft as much as to clarify thoughts."


It's also a way to help you to know things that you didn't know you know. It's a way to look at things differently, from another point of view: to see things with new eyes:


"Once I begin the act of writing, it all falls away; the view from the window, the tools, the talismans, and I am unconscious of myself... one's carping inner critics are silenced for a time... there is always a surprise, a revelation. During the act of writing, I have told myself something that I didn't know I know."

                                                - Gail Godwin


"Proust [...] The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."


It's a way to bind together your two self: the conscious and unconscious ones. It's a way to see new things; things that were there without being aware of them:


"Journals allow one to reflect, to step outside oneself. They create a third space, an invaluable pause between the conscious and unconscious self. Above all, journals are a way to let the world be reconsidered not taking in the habitual. They're a master switch on tracks, moving us from the familiar, from not seeing, to seeing anew."


"[...] record of conscience."


"[...] sharpening consciousness."


It's a tool to observe; to take time; to be aware of your environment; look at it trying to understand it:


"Today, sitting for even five minutes with a journal offers a rare cease-fire in the battle of daily life, a time when we're not graded, not performing. It's a time when one attempts some truth, silencing those carping inner voices."


"The deeper benefit of keeping a journal is that it offers a way to be consistently aware or mindful. As Katherine Mansfield note, her journal became a way 'to lose all that is superficial and acquired in me and to become a conscious, direct human being.'"


"Samantha Harvey [...] The diary helps me weigh thoughts and opinions about life [...] For me, the diary is the outward expression of this inward quest; to understand my relationship to myself, to others, to the world, to the spiritual [...] I'm making coherence out of the chaos."


"Jim Cummings [...] To me, a diary is a record of verification. It is a proof that one has lived and that one has cared enough about a precious life to describe it."


"To keep a journal is to learn how to play. Deeply"


"The journal is the ideal place of refuge for the inner self because it constitutes a counterworld: a world to balance the other."

                                    - Joyce Carol Oates


It's a tool that gives hope. Hope to have something to work with that will eventually lead to something significant:


"The scene rings true for other reasons: our image of writing in a journal, the necessity of privacy, out fear that someone might read it, and, secretly, the hope that a diary will be the start of significant work."


Keeping diaries is a discovering process of the inner you:


"The secret of keeping a journal is seeing it as a draft, a stepping-stone, a process."


You always have a voice in you. This voice always tries to stop you writing and saying what you really want to write and say. Everybody have it; it's hidden deep in each of us. We need to work with it, around it, against it. Passing over it could help you to express you, to being you, to create great things:


"You're not the only one with these voices homesteading in you brain. Da Vinci, a terrible perfectionist, kept journals for forty years as a way to generate work and outwit his Censor. In the morning, he recorded his dreams. In the afternoon, he jotted notes for ideas. In the evening, he recorded passages from his reading. He did each with lightning speed, his goal solely to map out as ideas as possible before his Censor could veto them."


"A journal is how memory and meaning finally meet, finding a core image that begins to unlock important connections in a life."


Writing about something is observing it, trying to understand it:


"Seeing is of course very much a matter of verbalization. Unless I call my attention to what passes before my eyes, I simply won't see.... It's all a matter of keeping my eyes open."

                                                - Annie Dillard



It's a way to invite inspiration to knock at your door:


"'Inspiration, ' says poet David Lehman, isn't something 'to sit and wait for. ' For him, it comes when you invite it."


It could be a diagnosis tool:


""When I find I'm not writing in my journal daily," says Cindy Riede, "I know I'm shut down in some way and that I need to wake up and pay attention.""


It's a tool to find the shape of the connections between your thoughts:


"Writing is one way of discovering sequence in experience.... Connections slowly emerge. Like distant landmarks you are approaching, cause and effects begin to align themselves.... Experiences.... Connect and are identified as a larger shape."

                                                - Eudora Welty



Journals and diaries take all forms. From the traditional Italian handmade notebook to the toilet paper; from printed email to blogs; from sketch book to home movies; everything can be a journal.


This praise to journal keeping is intended to anybody. From the writer to the business manager. Anybody, who cares about himself; who wants to know more about him and his environment; who create things. As a computer scientist and human being I keep journal for these exact reasons.


I keep many journals: Blogs, Moleskine notebooks, binders full of lined sheets, writings and highlightings in books. All these journals have their place; each try to cope with a specific task; all are priceless.


Someone could think that I ripped the essence of the book with those citations but it's nothing like this. This is only an overview, a snapshot of the inspiration and creativity enclosed in the book. Buy it, read it, think about it and re-read it.


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