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A journal or diary is a book in which one keeps a daily record of events and experiences. Depending on the age, world events, and/or positive or negative personal experiences while keeping a journal, it can be an amazing tool in understanding priorities and memory recollection. Not only in the moment of writing, but in the years following when you look back on who you were and where you grew from.
Disclaimer: There are so many beneficial ways to journal for the purpose of intentionally calling upon self-discovery and emotional growth. However, when we are young, we more likely cling to experiences and daily logging as we are more focused on “What fun thing I learned” or “I made a new friend today.” Childhood journals and scrapbooks are seldom about feelings and rely heavily on exciting events and fun people. With this in mind, this is my personal account of “journaling” from a childhood perspective (before I transitioned into more emotional musings and gratitude journaling).
I personally bounced around from one form of journaling to another for years before sticking with typing up my daily accounts for over 10+ years. Here is my personal, childhood journal progression:
- 2002: The Hello Kitty felt scrapbook (7 years old)
- 2008: Iridescent pink & orange journal (13 years old)
- 2009 – 2010: Two Paper Chase Striped Journals (15 years old)
- 2010 – Present: Microsoft Word Documents
- 2020: Handful Of Heather Blog
I spent a full day going back and reading all paperback forms of my journals throughout the years. This is what I have learned about the benefits of keeping a journal while young (even if only intermittently). Journals are perfect for:
Preserving Your Care-Free Child
Both in your writing and execution, your first journals eternalize the most unrefined version of yourself: who you were before you were you.
No Care of Reason. In my first scrap journal I had pictures of my dad sitting on a couch with a sticker pasted over his chest saying “Dancing Queen.” It didn’t matter that the sticker wasn’t a representation of it’s subject, “it was pretty” so I used it.
No Care of Consistency. Some pages your mom would write the date of the event you decided to paste pictures from. Some pages you scribbled the writing portion out. Some days you drew a rainbow with gel pens over a picture of Thomas the Tank Engine. It didn’t matter to you like it would now. Whatever felt right in the moment was the path your art supplies took.
No Care of Aesthetic. Words that were known to be misspelled would be etched out with deep pen pushes. Edges of the pasted pictures would be hanging out of the book. It didn’t matter that the book didn’t look great, that’s kind of the point of beginning to get good at anything.
Keeping Track of Transitions
Spelling. Childhood writing always starts with spelling everything as it sounds, then maybe circling words that seem misspelled, and then the only words that are miss spelled are “definitely” or “refrigerator.”
Handwriting. Comments on handwriting usually fall under this array:
- “Why is your handwriting so big?”
- “How is your handwriting so small?”
- “Why do you arch your “a” like that?
Our habits are perpetuated by what we repeatedly do. If the journal that you wrote in had smaller spacing between each printed line, you may have been forced to condense your lettering’s height to accommodate. Vice versa for pages in childhood, guided diaries with large spacing.
It was towards the end of my first two Paper Chase journals that I realized my handwriting had shrunk almost 3x it’s original size since it’s first entry. We form to the box we are put in, so chose your journal (and it’s line spacing) with your desired handwriting in mind.
Letter Formation. Both my lowercase “e’s” and lowercase “a’s” had changed completely by time I finished both Paper Chase journals. I even made little entries recognizing the new changes. It is so interesting to get to witness the changes you have made in the past first hand.
Logging Your “Firsts”
Do you remember every time you did something for the first time? Your diary does, because you unknowingly delegated the job of filing those moments away for you.
In “Researching” for this post, I referenced my own written memories to find the firsts I had documented over the years. I wrote about my first time:
- Riding in a hot air balloon ride
- Playing Black Jack (a quarter a game)
- Learning to play Marco Polo, Sharks & Minnows, and Chicken fight all in one pool day
- Going on the Gravitron at the Midway Carnival (“Hollaback Girl” was playing)
- My friend Sammy teaching me how to do the “Charlie Brown” in the Cha Cha Slide
- Watching someone suck helium out of a balloon
- Driving past the Eagles home football stadium
- Getting my period
You don’t realize how big of an impact these “Firsts” have on you until you can read the emotion 13-year-old-you had after earning $9 from playing 4 hours of Black Jack with your dad and his friends.
That night I did a lot of things for the first time.
Describing Obscure, Feeling-Based Memories
Have you ever went to a place and an odd, indescribable feeling rushes through you? This place either is, or reminds you of, a very powerful feeling-based moment in time, but what?
When you are a child, life is but a breeze. We are so happy to just be alive that we don’t think of memories in terms of “This is going to be a big deal to me some day; let me intentionally hold onto this one.”
This is where a journal is helpful.
I have a very fond memory of my parents bringing us kids to an event. A very misplaced event (which is why it probably doesn’t feel real). It took place on a blacktop outside of a large, 2 door garage building. On this day, I vividly remember moon bounces, loads of insistent downpour, and my parents buying me anything, and I mean anything, I wanted.
These were the only details I remember but the feelings associated with this memory (without any knowledge of it’s origin) could make my cheeks pinker and my belly lighter. But why? I had so many questions surrounding this beloved, mystery day:
- “Why were we allowed to stay on the moon bounces even when it started to rain?
- “Why were my parents buying me whatever I wanted, no questions asked?
The Day We Helped Kids, By Being Kids
When looking through my 5th grade journal, I found it. The “missing memory” to attach to one of my most frequently visited feelings.
It was a “Make A Wish Foundation” event. It all made sense.
We were allowed to stay on the moon bounce in the rain because this may have been the last time these boys and girls could do so at all, rain or shine.
I now remember the ride home, questioning my mother on why we were allowed to buy whatever we wanted and she told us of how the money was going to get used. My mom and dad said yes to everything we wanted because all the money was going towards the kids we were jumping with.
That feeling that consumed my chest whenever I thought of this day was the same feeling I got while reading about the event in my journal. It was one of those happy/sad feelings of “I’m glad we got to share this moment, even if we never get to share it again.” I smiled once again when the entry ended with:
I had 3 desserts and I didn’t get sick.
Witnessing Technological Differences in Real-Time
The handful of pictures your mother gave you to practice “scraping” with could have taken on many forms:
- Polaroid of your mom wearing a crab hat beside your laughing dad or you in a clown costume in a highchair Halloween night
- I-Zone print outs of your Mom Mom blowing her nose on Christmas
- A picture of your uncle leaning up against a 1957 “Drink Coco-Cola In Bottles” vending machine
Reminding of Old Fads
In a world of constant connection through social media we are inundated with “What’s hot” or “What’s in.” With so much falling in and out of popularity on a fairly consistent basis, it can be hard to pin which “fads” really resonated with you unless documented. Some of the fleeting fads that I lived by in my pre-teens were:
- Lip gloss dog tags
- “My Twin” doll
- 2002 Britney Spears Live From Las Vegas DVD
- Creating things with Duck Tape
- Silly Bandz
- “The Mean Kitty Song“
Attaching Your Perspective to Other’s Form of Memory Keeping
When flipping through the scrapbook’s that my mom has beautifully creating for us kids, I am immersed in pictures of my childhood from the perspective of my mom behind a Nikon. It is something quite unique to see both pictures from behind a camera and words from in the mind of its subject.
My mom took pictures of the day I made my Build-A-Bear, a sassy kitty, named Paris and I wrote about how special I felt having time with my mom, dad, and Grandmom alone to talk and create new memories.
My mom saw a fun day and I felt an active attempt to make me feel special as 1 of 5 children.
My mom took pictures… and I wrote.
My mom saw… and I felt.
It is an indescribable, superpower feeling to have the means to attach to all aspects of a memory.
Understanding The Root Of Certain Thoughts, Actions, & Values
How many times have you asked an elder a question that requests a time stamp and they responded with:
“As long as I can remember.”
Does that answer ever lead to even more curiosity on the subject? Perhaps, what fear provoked a trait that has never seemed to leave that person? Or what realization of “self” led them to live by a value from that point on?
Root of Fear Around Scary Movie Soundtracks
Every time I watch a scary movie, as soon as the music fades in, I plug my ears. It never fails. It doesn’t even have to be the climax of the song (which usually signifies when the “jump-scare” is most likely). My friends and family will watch, eyes wide, ears open, and only show physical fear when a fearful event physically happens. Why don’t I follow their lead?
After skimming my journals, I found an excerpt with the “answer.” One night, my dad had taken us to a few haunted houses and I confessed:
The scariest part is the music. That’s the thing that makes my heart jump the most.
For anyone who has not experienced one, there is menacing music to set the scenes within the fields / woods. Because groups of people come through intermittently, they must jump out at the time that works best to startle the ticket holders stumbling through. Because of their “jump scares” being timed around the unpredictability of people’s gaits, the music could just be starting and then “AHHH.” It’s on a continuous loop with no awareness of the people interacting among it. There’s no cues to know when to prepare for an unexpected interaction.
My family owns a farm which opens every October for its own haunted attractions so we always venture out to see others in the “industry” September through November. Between watching a scary movie and going to a haunted house, I have done more of the latter. That means, despite a basic understanding of movie producing and purposefully timing pieces of music, I’m more likely to subconsciously view music in a scary movie as just careless, looped tunes since I am more familiar with that use of them.
Alas, this simple journal entry solved the mystery of the “Ear Plugging Problem.” I can’t trust the music to be accurate in telling me when to invest in my fear, so I try and block it out and listen to more trustworthy cues like facial expressions or dark corners the camera decided to zoom in on.
This realization wouldn’t have been met had I not written of the scariest part of a haunted attraction to a 5th grader. Think of all the self-evaluation that can occur once you have a base-line to consistently reference.
Keeping the Memory Of Lost Loved Ones Alive
In the time between me starting journalling and today I have made (and documented) beautiful memories with my G.G., Mom Mom, Pop Pop, and others.
One of my entries referencing a special moment with my Great Grandmother on my dad’s side writes:
My Mom Mom is here, and she had to pull me aside to give me a butterfly necklace and bracelet because she only got me something. And she wrote this little note to make the gift so much more meaningful. I love my Mom Mom so much. She understands me and doesn’t pass judgement.
I bet you can understand how important that note is to me now that she has passed.
Helping With Speech Formation
To go hand and hand with keeping the memory of lost loved ones alive, a journal or diary can be a super useful tool in making a speech or poem for loved ones in a plethora of situations:
- Eulogy honoring the life of a loved one
- A Best Man / Maid of Honor Speech
- A love letter to your significant other on a holiday
To have a stockpile of memories to reference in these times makes formulating a written piece, whether hard because of recent sadness or inability to remember moments in time, much easier.
Having a Laugh With (Or At) An Old Version Of Yourself
To bear witness to your own immaturity and backwards values at a younger age is such a fun thing. You get to see where you came from, how you’ve changed, how you haven’t changed, etc.
On the Topic of Fear.
Depending on factors such as sneaky siblings, hovering parents, or the locations you tend to bring your journal, you may write things about certain days as a reminder to yourself without fulling writing about them.
I had an entry start as so:
Today I went to Dutch Wonderland with my cousin Gavin and his family. It was a long car ride but we made it count.
I could have written out that, during that car ride, we kept busy by each wearing an earphone playing the explicit album “The Eminem Show” on my CD Player that we brought in a Gwen Stefani case. But had that part been extracted from my little pink book, both Gavin, me, and my Uncle Bobby (the purchaser of our at-the-time favorite album) would have been in a lot of trouble with Aunt Cookie. So I omitted it out of fear, while writing just enough to re-trigger the memory for myself.
On the Topic of Boys.
We all get a little embarrassed when we think about ways we used to talk about and interact with boys. Imagine the laughs you would have if you could read what you were specifically thinking on the topic of “boys” at a younger point in time.
I went to a Fall Dance on Veteran’s Day in the 5th grade and I recounted the night with:
I tried to impress boys by dancing right in front of them. So daughter, if you’re reading this, it doesn’t work unless you’re really pretty.
I couldn’t help but laugh at myself. Not only for the obvious failed attempt but for the shout out to my future daughter. Why would 13-year-old me be giving parental advice to my future 13-year-old about how to dance near boys? I wouldn’t. And, for that reason, I laughed all over again.
Simply Writing About Days You’ll Never Forget
Perhaps the most obvious of reasons to keep a detailed account of your memories is to never forget your favorite ones. During my backwards flipping, these were the memories that brought me the most joy to recount:
- Dad brought home three new cats that we named Mittens, Oreo, & Gloria (two boys and a girl). We cared for them in that jungle gym cube that almost all of us had as kids
- Philadelphia Folk Festival; any memories dealing with this place will always be a favorite
- My dad taped lights to the front of my quad since it didn’t have any built into it & we were night riding
- Swimming in clothes because I forgot my bathing suit
A Reason to Reconnect With Old Friends / Family
There will undoubtedly be portions of your journal that you may not feel comfortable sharing. There will also be some that remind you of a person or the dynamic of a friendship in the past. When that occurs, you may want to call that person up or send a quick snapshot of the page that served as a motivator in doing so.
Nothing wrong, with using “Past You” in patching what “Present You” may have messed up by forgetting what a person meant to you for so long.
Becoming a Better Writer (Unknowingly)
The best way to become a better writer is to write. You become a better storyteller by telling stories often (if only to yourself). In the book “On Writing” by Steven King, he talks frequently about this throughout his memoir of the craft of writing.
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.Steven King, Pg. 145
Even if you’re goal isn’t to become a writer, the proof is in the pudding, you will become a better one by exercising the craft.
Realizing a Desire to Place Purpose in Your Writing
Over the years, I have found myself writing my journal entries as if I had to describe who each person and place was to others. It wasn’t until I got a little older that I realized I was subconsciously writing as if, in the future, my writing would be shared.
It has always been a dream of mine to either start a blog or write a book. I think journaling each day helped cultivate this decision to start “HandfulOfHeather.com.”
Starting Wherever You Are
If you enjoy writing or practicing self-awareness, please do so.
Pick up a journal, diary, scrapbook, or a laptop. You will either become a better writer, learn new things about yourself, and/or grow your writing into a purpose. No wasted time there.
If you have young children, buy them a little journal or scrapbook with their favorite character on the cover. It’s the best thing my mother ever did for me.
Buy them fun gel pens. Make documenting how they feel and who their friends are something they look forward to. When they finish a book, keep them safe somewhere so little Wreck-it Ralph won’t rip what is potentially a really cool, imperfect thing for him or her to look back on. This is all you have to do. Simply try it; some kids will naturally enjoy the suggestion and continue doing so on their own (even without you knowing).
My mom just planted the seed. I decided to keep it growing.
When did you start journaling? How was it beneficial for you?