What does a journal mean to me? by Subhadra Jayaraman

Traditionally, the word ‘journal’ has always been in the context of a scientific publication to me. I am more used to the word ‘diary’ to signify personal everyday writing. A ‘journal publication’ is a common everyday language in my work life that refers to a descriptive scientific research article. Journals are the lifestyle and news magazines for the scientific community. Some very popular ones that even the common public knows about are Nature, Science, The Lancet, and The New England Journal of Medicine. To me, journals are a mode of education, information, and knowledge. They bring me joy and enlightenment. In contrast, the concept of journaling (what I referred to as diary entries earlier), ignites the exact opposite feelings within me. A sense of grief, baggage, and remorse. I may perhaps be over-analyzing this, but I believe there are at least a few out there that share my opinions.

When I talk about journaling here, I am not referring to activities such as planning, tracking, or organizing. I write something in a lab notebook every single day in my life as a scientist. I record experiments, results, data and make specific notes about them. Charles Darwin, Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein, all kept journals and recorded their observations on them. Those are a few of the antique, invaluable records we have today of the birth of art and science and the transformation of human perceptions and minds. And those are not the journals I am referring to.

My tirade about everyday journals henceforth in this article refers to the penning down of everyday feelings, occurrences, and impacts on a person on that specific day. I remember reading in an article what planning-guru Michael Hyatt said about journaling – “What happens to us is not as important as the meaning we assign to it. Journaling helps sort this out.”. According to the internet and people who advocate for everyday journaling, it helps us gather our thoughts, improve our writing, relieve stress, boost our memory, inspire creativity, and so on and so forth. And fair disclaimer from my end, I do believe that the act of writing itself does help us all achieve these things. What I do not believe is that everyday scribbling of thoughts and happenings and feelings in a notebook will do the same as thoughtful, organized writing. I believe that writing with a goal or an agenda can move mountains of personal improvement goals but pouring out thoughts on a page will only help organize them and prove meaningless unless reinforced with some actual objectives.

Moreover, – and I have said this before – writing is permanent. The journals we write on paper will forever be physically present unless we shred or burn them. And our minds will always want to look back and reminisce. And for this exact reason, I have always felt suffocated and limited when I have to write anything personal. I believe I am blessed with selective and sometimes broad loss of memory. This dulling of past phenomena is my brain’s way of cushioning intense emotional turmoil. Whether it is extremely happy or woefully tragic memories, my brain remembers only fragments of it, and its incessant activity does not provide me with many chances of dwelling or wallowing in those intense thoughts. I am happy to forget. I remember vaguely that I was thrilled when I walked up the stage to receive my PhD certificate. I remember vaguely that I was wilting in anguish when my mother passed. Even photographs of those times stir feelings associated with those occurrences, imagine having a descriptive rendition of what I felt, what I was wearing, what my face looked like, or who else was there! For the happy scenarios, that is unnecessary; and for the sad ones, it is pure torture.

I believe in living life to the fullest today. I believe that we should work towards adopting ideals that would bring us the most peace. I refuse to be tied down by my past achievements or tragedies and not embrace my life as it is today. I cannot bear to read what the 12-year old or even the 27-year old me would have written about her life that day. It is not a refreshing stroll down the memory lane to me, it is more like a stifling scramble up a mountain with rocks tied to my back only to reach the top and find there is no view but a dark gaping schism. Hence, by the extraordinary power of forgetfulness vested in me by my brain, I declare everyday journaling evil and vile.

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