The Power of the ‘Alternate’ Journal:
Create a journaling solution for the negative rants and another one for finer thoughts that bring more clarity.
I’ve kept a journal a long time. I’m also a writer and even though writing is my day job, I’m blessed with an excess of too many thoughts and appended verbiage. In short, I have more to say than kind listeners or safe places to share it with so keeping a journal makes total sense.
My first journal era was from ages fifteen-twenty. I only stopped journaling when I got married because I thought I had arrived at ‘happy’. Journals (in those days) were called diaries and they weren’t a trend as they are now and I probably dismissed my diary was a teenage angst thing. For the two decades that passed, I did indeed write (and published) ‘officially’ as a freelancer writer and author of cookbooks. The next era of journaling was launched in my early forties and continues until the present time.
I tend to journal daily. That habit began, as it does with many people, with prescribed Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages, which for me was therapeutic but quickly (alas) became a wordy barf bag that sometimes went around in circles . Soon enough, I gave up the morning pages and segued to journaling as much or as little as I feel but usually every day. If I don’t, I feel backed up. Ditto for when I don’t meditate. Journaling and meditating take the air out of my inner tires and a bit of deflation is not a bad thing; on a good day, it’s a surrender.
Usually my journals are rather pretty ones with beautiful paper and leather covers; I always write with a fountain pen. My default journal is the one-stop-serves-all emotional pit stop. It’s where I jot down some gratitudes, the minutia of my day (was it good, bad or neutral), and of course, my journal has been a place to vent. I’ve vented the same old stuff for years and at a fever pitch that is unbecoming (at least to my own retrospective view). The outpouring (at the time I spew it out) has been however, heartfelt and real.
But a few months ago I began to re-read a few of my journals of the last three years. Most of them include an interesting resume of this or that incident: a bad dream, a nice incident in a store, a good tango class, something nice my sons did or said, or a hard moment with a friend, a sibling or work. But the more I read, the more I also saw a refrain of the same old hurts and many, written in the heat of the moment, were exaggerated. I saw an unacceptance about people and about life and some of it wasn’t uplifting. I’m not saying that to be uncompassionate to myself but in recognition my resistance to accepting difficult or simply imperfect moments. I wondered if I didn’t take things too seriously and for that, I’m grateful for my journal for pointing that out. But I also began to wonder about the efficacy of journaling the same thing repeatedly. I probably, in some cases, could have just as helpfully turned that energy into cleaning a cupboard. So I took a page from my own journals and became a bit more sedate in my entries and wrote a bit less. I simply didn’t want to re-read my own stuff later and seem like a whiner.
But in tandem with this more sedate approach, I also inadvertently censored my safe place. It both made for more ‘pretty’ writing but also less authentic writing. It was a homage to my life’s perkier highlights vs. the yuckier spaces that needed light and healing.
The thing is, as most journal-keepers will tell you, the more you vent, the closer you get to finder the deeper stuff that really could use some benevolent attention. That is also exactly where illumination, even healing, might come from. In an effort not to seem negative, I was short-changing myself of that other gold, which to me, is the more profound point of journaling.
So, as an experiment, I began an ‘Alternate Journal” — the one that is less pretty and the one that I don’t hold back from. It’s a plain spiral notebook, not homely but not too special. The Dollar Store sells them. This is the safe place for the rants, tears, pettiness, hurts that won’t take their leave and minutia that somehow wants its due.
Since I began the Alternate Journal, I write more freely. I write until I’ve written myself out. A day or so later, I crumple up the pages (which a mere 24 hours later no longer resonate with how I feel) and throw them out. I feel relief. I feel I’ve faced things, they’re ‘out’ of me and ‘onto’ the page and then they are set free. The alternate journal is the venting place but I have no need to archive the vent. Then I can turn my ‘better’ attention, my other writer’s voice to my regular journal (the pretty one). This is where deeper, more real stuff happens. Here I am unfettered and I can reach higher ground that might teach me a bit more about life and other perspectives.
So far, the two-tiered journal approach is working rather well. I’m freed up to write and enjoy more personal changes and growth. I’m no longer bogged down by the negative splat .
I started the Alternate Journal because I reached a point that I was frankly hesitant to write any more negative stuff and I assumed it would be temporary. But it’s eighteen months in and I’d say (alternate journal and I) we’re an item. I need to write what I need to express but I don’t need to make all of it into a monument. With a two-journal system I found a certain freedom via the ephemeral half-life of one of them.