When I was 20 years old, I still lived with my parents two miles outside of a small Southern town. Most of my friends had left for college, and my closest neighbors were my grandparents. Nothing happened that was worth writing down in a journal.
But I wrote it down anyway—and I made it as interesting as possible.
My inspiration was Jane Austen. Her characters’ lives aren’t very exciting, but her narrative is never boring. She knew how to peer beneath ordinary life and find the deeper drama underneath. So whenever I sat down with my pen and journal, Jane would challenge me to write intentionally, in the most interesting way I could. And I was up to that challenge. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that I completely overdid it.
For instance, I waxed eloquent and witty over mysterious bug bites:
June 7, 1997: It’s Friday, and I itch. On Monday I began noticing bug bites on my arms. I scratched them liberally. I woke up Tuesday with even more bites. Wednesday ushered in more bug bites, on my stomach and chest. Finally, I concluded that it was not bug bites.
Everyone says it is an allergic reaction. Which it may well be—but to what I am reacting is a mystery. They insisted that I get some Benadryl. I did, and I apply it, and it smells weird so I guess it must be working.
Since there was nobody congratulating me for cleaning up my own messes, I congratulated myself:
October 22, 1997: An entire morning of toil and labor was rewarded with an immaculate room (except that the vacuum didn’t work exactly properly, but I just crawled around picking up bits from the carpet, so it looked good.)
And lest my biographers overstate my accomplishments, I explained the real story:
November 6, 1997: The Fiddle Fest was a moderate success, I admit. I won first place in my category. I disliked announcing afterward that I had won. Really, it was just a fluke. [My sister], the very first contestant and possibly the best musician among us, messed up. So for good execution and calmer nerves, I won a blue ribbon and $25.
My plans for the future are captured in unfaded ink and that unfortunate faux-Austen style:
June 19, 1998: I’ve decided myself that I likely won’t marry until I’m at least twenty-five, and the thought pleases me indeed. I don’t have to wonder, “Which one?” It isn’t anyone, yet. As for my own goals and aspirations, I’ve not sold one jot of my writing. The other day I walked into a Books-A-Million store and was stricken with an intense longing to see my books on those shelves.
(I married sooner than I expected I would, and my first book took much longer than I believed it should—by which time I decided on independent publishing instead of watching my book disappear among hundreds of others in a big box store. Still, I recognize myself in this young woman who was trying to find her way in the world.)
This journal ends in March of 1999, with the note, I close now the scanty record of two of the most kaleidoscopic years of my life, which I easily imagine is only an introduction to the rest of my life.As if any year could be anything exceptan introduction to the rest of my life, but I was proud of that line.
My later journals grew up along with me, mercifully losing the bad Austen pastiche. Despite the cringe factor of these early entries (which, yes, are edited to spare myself some embarrassment), I appreciate them. After all, my life still isn’t very exciting. Nowadays when I sit down to write about my day, I automatically explore the possibilities. It wasn’t just that the electrician came to check our water heater; it was that the good-looking electrician with a lisp flipped a single switch that gave us hot water after a week. Our pet rabbit doesn’t just sit at my feet while I’m writing; he “commutes to work” from his food bowl to my bedroom, avoiding a traffic pileup of clean laundry in the hallway. It’s a skill, lifting the surface of the ordinary to look for the spark underneath. I’m very glad my younger self put in so much thought and energy to learn how to do it.
I like to think that Jane would be pleased indeed.
Sara Roberts Jones is an author and blogger who writes about bad philosophies, good people, and things that deserve to be made fun of (including herself). She's published The Fellowship, a novel, and Go Right, a collection of short stories. Find more from Sara at SaraRobertsJones.com.
Sooner or later, life has a way of allowing all of us to experience loss. Whether it’s witnessing the demise of a relationship, mourning an ideal or belief once held dear, or facing physical death, grief is a journey everyone must take at some point. Journaling offers the opportunity to set down thoughts we are still processing and preserve them as we continue to work through the loss.