The docent at the bookbinder’s shop in Colonial Williamsburg asked us to guess the most common book historically we thought might be bound in the shop. I think I guessed the Bible, but the correct answer was a blank journal. A nice hardback book of blank pages to record the events for a business, a farm, a ship, or a person. Unless a journal records an item of notoriety, journals are read by a small number of people. Sometimes a page is written, never to be revisited. It can serve as a way to organize one’s thoughts on a matter, an aid to memory, or process emotions. Journaling is largely writing for self.
While stationed at Fort Campbell, KY in 1986 I took a course on introduction to computer science in order to earn college credit at the education computer lab. The system the computer lab used was called PLATO. PLATO stood for Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations. A black background screen with green text and line graphics characterized the user interface which hosted courses on diverse topics. I took my computer science course on a computer. My initial interest was computers in education. Educational use of computers at the time was either presentation of course content, drill on the content, or testing. This seemed reasonable. When I bought a computer in 1988, I bought an Apple II GS since it was the premier computer for education, well at least that is what the articles I was reading said. My wife and I bought many educational programs for that computer, but we also bought games. However, something happened to me which was largely unplanned and undirected by anyone else. I started writing a journal in the word processing program called WordPerfect. I have been and am an avid lifelong learner. Writing notes in WordPerfect became a part of my learning process. I read and wrote broadly on theology, Bible, missiology, technology, agriculture, history, economics, psychology, and organizational leadership. (I never set out to correct my poor spelling, but spell check worked as a feedback mechanism that gently improved my weakness.) While everything I read about the use of computers in education was focused on those areas of presentation and drill, the most important use of the computer for me was the accident of learning how to journal on a topic. Journaling was my happy accident.
I journaled not only my learning process, but I also processed my own emotional life. I was working through issues of meaning, purpose, direction, and guidance. I was exploring all those things that a materialistic worldview often relegates to the illusions of the mind. One of the things I noticed after several years is that when I went back and read my journals, many of the emotional, subjective processing issues I wrote about were repeated many days later. I noted that sometimes I was not progressing but stalled on my life questions. I did not always like what I was seeing. For me, it was easier to process Tom Peters book In Search of Excellence than it was to process the meaning and purpose of my own life. By writing, I was becoming more fully aware of my own broken experience. Eventually I mixed both journals on the computer and journals in a notebook.
In 2004 my journaling took a public form by publishing my blog. However, rather than writing for myself, I started writing for an audience. Perhaps some bloggers are just writing for themselves, but I was writing for others. I neglected something I needed. I also was doing a lot of writing for my seminary studies and for my job. Journaling took a back burner and then the burner got turned off.
In 2020 was a renewal of my journaling journey. The first thing to kick start my journaling renewal was wandering onto a Pinterest feed on bullet journaling. Since I am drawn to graphics and information, I was fascinated with the art form’s trajectory. The bullet journaling displayed on Pinterest was beautiful graphically and something I can only aspire towards and never arrive at. However, it caught my imagination. I started one of those online courses on Bible journaling on Skill Share. Justin Brown, my son-in-law, is an avid practitioner of bullet journaling. In the reverse mentoring concept (younger teaching the older) Justin taught me the foundations of bullet journaling and even bought me the book that began the movement as a gift. What I learned is that bullet journaling is about 1) developing strong habits and 2) planning. Tracking habits helps us move towards unconscious competence in life. Then early in 2020 I started listening to Coffee and Creatives. I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron because eavesdropping on the book club wonderfully disguised as a podcast (or is it a podcast masquerading as a book club?) called for action, engagement, and thoughtful practice. As the women shared their journey, I was challenged to begin all over again in the journaling process. Rather than creating artifacts of my learning, or processing my life, or working on habits or on planning, I started just processing my emotions by writing. Often, I wrote prayers to YHWH. Some days I wrote whatever crossed my mind no matter how chaotic. About six years ago, my general level of anxiety increased. One of the most helpful remedies has been the journaling in earnest of 2020. My anxiety has gone way down, but is not entirely gone. I have not had any ocular migraines in about a year at the time of this writing. If I have anxiety the two activities which help the most is running and journaling. I found tension in my previous practices with my newfound emotional processing of life. I think I have settled on having two journals, one more free flow (new practice) and one more organized (old practices). Having a mind which lacks concise organization means I aspire and never achieve an orderly page. I have even dreamed about the disorganization of my journaling. I am more comfortable with that than previously possible. It is my intent, as long as I draw breath, as long as my mind can engage in the process, as long as my hand will hold the pen to not retreat from the treasure of journaling. (By the way, that is a blue pen which is bright and flows smoothly on the page, but not so much that the ink smears.) I am still trying to figure out how to write the perfect journal entry. If I get close to that perfect entry, no one will likely read it because I will be writing for me.
Terry Pruitt is a writer, contractor, and pastor at Dayspring Presbyterian Church, PCA. He is a marathon runner, prodigious linguist (being fluent in Arabic, Biblical Greek, and Biblical Hebrew), voracious reader, master gardener, world traveler, and father to five daughters, including both Beccah and Noelle from the podcast. He lives in Anne Arundel County, MD with his wife Barbara when they are not traveling to see their ever-increasing number of grandchildren. Check out his blog to read more thoughts and journals by Terry.