just call me bridget jones, without the massive knickers and hunky boss
I’ve been journaling for the better part of the past three decades. My first entries were recorded in a red faux-leather diary, the size and thickness of a deck of cards, with a little lock on it for a very small key. I saw the diary on a Bazooka comic strip when I was 10 years old. “Get your five-year diary free for 250 Bazooka Comics,” the strip said. I could have gone for a telescope, felt baseball pennants, a gold-plated ring with my initial on it, a magic magnet set, adventure novels, a sheath knife, or any number of prizes advertised on those strips, but I had my heart set on that red diary. Over the summer and fall of 1985, I ate a lot of gum — 250 pieces of pink, green and purple flavoured rubber. Of course, it wasn’t really the gum that I wanted (nor the cavities that came with it, but I wasn’t about to throw away a perfectly good piece of 5-cent gum), it was the cartoon strip that I was after, which was about as funny as an Archie comic. Eventually I collected all 250 wrappers, counted them twice, mailed them in and several weeks later, my prize arrived by post. It was probably one of the most exciting days of my life.
Once I got it, I wrote in it religiously, each letter in tentative cursive. Each page had five rows on it (one per year) and each row had five lines. Most days looked like this:
Today, Yellow Cat got into a fight with another alley cat. He now has a big scratch on his head. Then my friend Isabelle came over and we played elastics and I made it up to WAIST level. Then mémère called after dinner and asked me to scare the toads away from her doorstep.
The end. No drama.
Eventually, my daily scribblings turned to biweekly entries, then weekly, then monthly until eventually I stopped (I can see a pattern with my blog posts here).
It seems now that five lines couldn’t possibly hold enough space for all the life of a 9-year-old. But maybe things were simpler then.
When I reached my teens, I moved on to cahiers, the kind used to take notes in school. In these cahiers, I spent an inordinate amount of time obsessing over my grades and boys. You can turn the pages to any given day in 1989 and you’ll likely fall onto something like this:
I’m so upset. I only got 87% on my math test. On the plus side, today, Benoit looked at me at the cafeteria. I’m so in love.
The end. Le drama.
Note that Benoit had to look at me because I was the lunchtime cashier at the cafeteria, something I did in exchange for a free hot lunch and two bucks. Ah yes! Was this social suicide? Probably. Whatever! I was already at the bottom of the popularity totem pole. Still, it was a step-up from the previous year, when I worked as a dishwasher with my sisters and cousins. I’d empty trays (trying not to make eye contact with my fellow students… there was inevitably always some joker who took the piss) and load them into a piping hot commercial dishwasher, my crimped hair all frizzy from the hot steam. Needless to say that my life in high school was a prime example of unrequited love.
The journals from my twenties are filled with a stoner’s ramblings. Really deep stuff that doesn’t make any sense now but was so meta and inspired then. These journals are tucked away in boxes, the smell of pot wafting from the pages, in my sister’s basement (sorry, sis) so I can’t regale you with a load of self-indulgent shite today. I sometimes wonder what would happen if I were to smoke a big doobie and start writing, but nowadays I’d probably just end up pulling a whitey and getting paranoid that Wren can read my thoughts.
In October of 2010, I found a copy of The Artist’s Way in a used book store. That’s it, I thought, I’m going to become a writer. I started to write my morning pages with gusto, three full pages every single morning before going to work. But after a while I noticed that most entries ended like this:
I just hit a big fat fucking wall and find myself staring at the crumbs on my plate, looking at my text messages. Ick. I don’t want to write another word today. I don’t feel like pushing through. I’m bored of hearing myself talk. I have better things to do than to waste my time writing crap on paper. Every morning I sit to write. Every morning, my shoulder aches. The right shoulder specifically, the one attached to the writing hand that can’t write. I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write.
By December I’d quit.
I then went through an intermittent dream journal phase from 2012 to 2013. This coincides with my move to London. I suppose I was trying to gain access to my subconscious and extract clues that might help me make sense of how confused I was feeling at the time. Reading these journals just makes me feel more confused. What does it all mean, people?
Words trailed behind her head like the string of a kite, a ribbon pulled by the wind. Letters fall to the ground, dead. My dreams last night seem to be passages of a poem being built by my subconscious in the night. Words whispered into my ears by a muse who hoped I would remember what she said by morning. I do not.
Ice. Lots of ice. The roads were covered with it and I was sliding, always sliding down.
I call my first couple of years in London the lost years. Journals filled with angst and angry rants and indentations made by ballpoint pens that surely didn’t need to be pressed so hard into the page.
Today is the eve of my 38th birthday. When did I become so angry and bitter? I hate my London self. I’ve never felt so alone.
Everyone is so god damn healthy, casually jogging to work. One guy is even running in his suit and tie. His glasses keep sliding down his nose. I used to be like that. Keen. Now I’m sitting in the park, downing a double espresso and smoking a cigarette. It’s 7am. My marriage is falling apart. I don’t want to go home.
Even though I’ve lacked consistency over the years, there has always been a journal lying around the house, waiting to be filled. The common threads from those first cahiers to this current yellow one are fear, laziness and a fair amount of self-deprecation and overall negativity. If you’re looking for a feel-good read, don’t ever pick up my journals.
Having said that, the beauty of journaling is that you can see where you are progressing in life and how far you’ve come and the places where you’re stuck. If you’d read my journals from 2013-2014, you could easily have placed your bet on our divorce, and the odds would have been in your favour. Hence why I hardly blogged during those years. I’m not one to shy away from what’s real but I’d spent so many years writing about our beautiful love story… for it all to come crashing down. I was so ashamed.
But we worked hard. We worked bloody hard to make this marriage work and it’s when I read those journals that I see how far I’ve come, how far we’ve come. And now we have a beautiful, happy daughter and a healthy marriage for it. I’m not saying we’re not going to hit rough patches again. We will. Such is life. But our foundation is so much stronger now, it can take a few hits.
I guess what I’m saying is this, one journal doesn’t tell the whole story. If you feel like you’re in a rut, that you keep banging your head against the same old, tired wall, that you’re a failure, that you’ll never get to where you want to be, that you’re not growing… chances are you’ve actually come a long ways, kiddo. Give yourself some credit. But if you are stuck, start a journal today. Start with these words: I’m stuck. And write where you’re stuck. Then start getting unstuck. And keep writing for a year. If you’re still stuck, try again, try differently.
I started writing morning pages again recently. These days, most of my thoughts are on Wren and motherhood in general and the never-ending question… what will I do with my life? An obsessive thought that was momentarily squashed when Wren was born but has reared its ugly head again with my search for work. Today I feel stuck with the fear of going back to work and separating from Wren and looking for a new home and juggling all the things. But if I look to the past and all the times I’ve felt these types of fears and all the times I’ve overcome them, all the times I’ve broken through to the other side, I know it’s all going to be OK in the end. Sure, it’s a bit of a shit show right now but it won’t be like this forever. I find comfort in that. And because I have a memory like a sieve, I’m so grateful that I have journals to remind me.