I realize that the idea of a journal as a companion can sound trite and possibly pathetic, but there are ways journals can fill in the functions of a companion beautifully and easily.Iím not talking about a notebook as a prop to look creative or occupied in a coffee shop and Iím not saying that a travel journal in a suitcase can prevent lonely feelings on a trip by yourself.But we all feel short on companionship at times, and if we break down what a companion provides for us, writing can be a great vehicle for us to fill in some of those functions for ourselves.
A companion shares experiences.Why does that matter?Iíd say three things:
~ a sense of constancy.It helps to feel that something with us is unchanging as we go through life.With so much changing around us and internally, sometimes it feels very reassuring to have something not changing beside us.
~ a slightly different angle on shared data.Companions are close enough to say they share a moment with us, but two people canít ever have exactly the same experience.They might be in the same scenery but viewing it from a little bit away and through a different lens.This works in two paradoxical ways.Because our companion shares many of the subtleties of our experience, we donít have to struggle to articulate the event so much.Who could really tell someone what the air feels like after youíve finished the five-mile hike up a mountain trail? But because our companion is maybe sitting on a rock a few feet away from us, he or she can add unique detail from a slightly different perspective.Yeah, but did you see the light hitting that range over there or this teeny yellow flower growing in the cracks between the rocks?
~ an extra storage place for memories.One thing our companions do for us is like backing up files.If we forget something we experienced together, they might be able to remind us.It just feels good to know that some of our best-loved memories are somewhere besides in our own minds.It gives the memories an added life, and lets us release memories we might not love so well.
A journal is not a companion in the full sense of a person, but you can see how these functions might translate to the activity of writing about your experiences.First of all, for constancy, a journal is as steady as it gets.Itís always there, receptive, and as Anne Frank quoted, ďPaper has more patience than people.Ē
Second, journals do oddly capture and modify experience at the same time.When you write, you engage different parts of your brain than when you talk or think, and writing forces a type of structure and articulation to experience that is irreplaceable.You can try on voices, you can experiment with viewpoints, you can just see how different what you notice is when you stop to write about an experience.At the same time, of course it is just you that knows the experience you describe.I guarantee you that writing about an experience will bring out something you didnít notice or expect before you started.
Writing retrieves experience with an added dash of creativity.One of the greatest diarists of all times, Anais Nin, stated this beautifully in the introduction to Tristine Rainerís wonderful book The New Diary.She said, ďWe taught the diary as an exercise in creative will; as an exercise in synthesis; as a means to create a world according to our own wishes, not those of others; as a means of creating the self, of giving birth to ourselves.Ē(If you want to read an example of what Iím describing, Anais Ninís diaries have been published in seven volumes since the 1930ís and are amazing to read.)
And finally, writing is closer to literally backing up memory than a companion.You produce your own record of your memories and the good ones can be revisited and the bad ones can be released.Journals can bolster memory in a way companions canít because they capture the past of your internal state as well as the events you encounter.
Unlike the other Journalersí Clearinghouse Exercises (see MySingleSpace.com archives), this one doesnít give you a detailed structure to work with, just an idea.Carry a notebook with you for a week and whenever you can or think of it, write down something about what is going on for you.A tiny memo pad is enough or a Blackberry can work.You can e-mail yourself your observations or write them on napkins and receipts.Just give yourself some time to really develop a writing habit and see how it feels.You may feel like a week is plenty or you might start a life-time of writing.But at the end of a week, hopefully youíll feel like writing boosts or fills in for some of the needs we all have for companionship.