I’m so excited to introduce my friend, the lovely and talented Carolyn Koesters. Carolyn is a journaling pro and she’s written a post about how she uses journaling in her everyday life as a mom, non-profit coordinator, and all-around awesome human being. I think you’ll love it! You can learn more about her professional background on our bios page here, or catch up with her at www.wordcatching.com. She will also be teaching this November at Life is a Verb Camp.
by Carolyn Koesters
We space betweeners, we sure do wear a lot of hats, don’t we? And I’m just thinking about the hats I like wearing- those I’m comfortable with, that explain my relationships to a point, or, that have suited me all along. What are some of the hats I currently juggle in my many-splendored life? I’m so glad you asked. Proud wife of 20 years; mother of a Hamilton-quoting, teenage percussionist; deeply devoted, but long-distance daughter; running-around-like-a-crazy-person non-profit coordinator; semi-committed meditator; coffee enthusiast; labyrinth aficionado; and most recently- owner of the cutest therapy dog you’ve ever seen. But of all these, there is only one hat I have worn proudly since second grade: journaler. Not a journalist, but someone who writes in a blank book, with some frequency, with the intention of being curious about their inner life (and outer life, too). Let’s break this down a little, shall we?
I write in a journal to keep me sane. Regularly. At least weekly, sometimes daily, and in all manner of styles, settings, speeds, and sizes. Sometimes my journal writing is very formal process, selecting a journal and a pen, an empty table, either at home or out and about, usually with a coffee, and a set aside amount of quiet solitude. However, I have been known to scrawl wildly for 6 minutes in a pocket notebook I’ve stashed in the glovebox of my car, waiting for a train to go by.
The most recent entry I wrote was last night, in a thick, sturdy journal with an image of Alice in Wonderland on the front that says:
“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then”.
I share this journal with the aforementioned teenager. She and I swap journals each night, and we write our thoughts on the day– usually a record of people, places, events, sometimes emotions. But breathtakingly, sometimes there are blurts of honesty that can only be written, about thoughts that cannot yet be spoken.
Over the years, I’ve completed and archived over 100 journals that I have filled with my handwriting, mostly since the age of ten. These prized possessions include: sketchbooks, diaries with dates preprinted on the top of every page so there are 365 pages, prompted journals that are themed- dreams, future, yoga, garden… you get the idea. Additionally, there are a ton of cheap, college-lined, spiral notebooks (in fact there are probably more of these than any other) with various doodles on the cover. I have several fancy-schmancy journals, some of them besmirched with my writing only on the first 10 pages or so, and then abandoned. I can’t keep up the façade of writing cold, hard truth on golden-edged pages, lace-thin parchment and a sewn binding too delicate for the kinds of abuse, and ok, yeah… language, I use in my journals.
I recently had the opportunity to face these relics when a professional organizer came to my home right after Christmas. I had won her services at a silent auction and I was absolutely thrilled with her efficient organizational presence in my home. Her energetic whirlwind of de-cluttering reminded me of Mary Poppins snapping her crisp magic fingers while cleaning up the nursery on Cherry Tree Lane. She unleashed her powers on my “craft closet”. A few hours in, I found myself face to face with my tub o’ journals, and also the pointed question: “What are your plans for these?” I was flummoxed.
Knowing that my professional organizer would not only allow me to throw all the books in the bag labeled “recycle”, but probably encourage it, I made a new goal on the spot. I told her, “I will read them all when I turn 50, keep what I want, and let the rest go.” Anyway, satisfied with my improvised plan for future self-indulgence and deep reflection, she quickly moved on to my tote of dusty knitting. I, however, keep opening the door to that closet, anticipating a wave of memories and insight that I’m almost ready for now. Almost.
Writing is the one activity I have continuously kept in my life for my last 30+ years, and it has provided me the most consistent results in my quest for answers. It also fits into my life no matter what hat I’m wearing. It helps me figure out which roles I’m focused on right now, and where I’d like to be in 6 months, or what I’m letting go of. I ask myself questions, and then, I tend to know what I need to do next.
When I’m teaching workshops on journaling and personal writing for healing, I repeat the following to beginning journalers:
Whatever the question is, the answer is “yes”.
“Can I write in a journal and never show it to anyone?” (Yes.)
“Is it okay if I can’t read what I’ve written because my handwriting is terrible?” (Yes.)
“Can I complain in my journal even though it sounds like whining from a petulant and tired-cranky-hungry 5 year old who only wants ice cream for dinner?” (Absolutely, yes!)
Having a journal practice means trying to look at what’s going on inside you from different angles, writing yourself through the space between, and giving yourself the permission to really delve into those gray areas.
When you start to resemble the Caps for Sale guy – thinking about all the mom things while you are trying to get work done and you forgot to take out the trash, stressing about the work deadlines while you have to deal with the dishwasher guy and the child that needs lunch, dreading the phone call that you’ve scheduled way too soon because you are in no way prepared to sound as expert and awesome as they think you are… it may sound crazy, but this is when I journal. If I’m trying to do too many things at once, I can do very few of them well. Journaling lets me set down a plan, or a rant, or just a series of what-ifs, in as much time as it takes to drink a cup of coffee. Or cabernet. No judgement.
Use your journal for understanding what’s important, what comes next, what you’ve been through, and even the questions you have about the spaces between. Rather than spend yet another sleepless night imagining the ensuing chaos… roll over, grab a notebook, and write what’s in your heart. Just write.
Thank you, Carolyn!
Carolyn and I met when we were both working in the social expressions industry (read: greeting cards). She and I became moms in the same week and went through the working-mom-newborn-baby challenges together (challenges doesn’t seem like a strong enough word…). A few months in, we decided to swap journals on a weekly basis. The journal entries are a prized possession for me. They are full of first-time-mom ramblings, fears, and rants, all squeezed between photos of our babies and much gratitude. I have stacks of journals as well – though not as many as Carolyn – and while I love beautiful, expensive journals, I sometimes feel bad about dropping so many f-bombs in them. But then I write some more and feel better!
It’s amazing how your vision becomes so much clear once you get all those thoughts swirling in your head onto some paper. If you’re trying it for the first time, remember Carolyn’s great advice – YES! There’s no wrong way to journal!
As a half-assed journaler (which I define as a person with multiple journals of the 10-pages-filled variety and recurrent good intentions that lack anything more than quarterly follow through), I want to thank Carolyn for telling me the answer is ‘Yes.’ I needed to hear that. Maybe now I can face some of those blank pages – therapy waiting to help me through the uncomfortable spaces and to celebrate the cozy ones – without cringing at the thought of what I might think of my ramblings (and handwriting) should I decide to try to read them when I’m 50. (My question: Can I burn them after writing?) Because Carolyn is so right with her last line. As an author, a blogger, a mom, a human – I know that writing continuously astounds me. It inspires me, it energizes me, sometimes it brings me back from the brink. So Thank You, Carolyn, for the permission and the community!