I have been journaling pretty frequently lately and that is not normal (for me).
I occasionally save random thoughts on Evernote, clip articles I’m interested in, and write full blown pieces for this blog, but journaling? It has always been something that I’ve feared a little.
Why, you might ask? After all, I don’t think writing your thoughts in a private notebook is usually on people’s lists of scary things. But to me, it is terrifying. Believe me, I’ve tried to keep a consistent journal so many times over the years I’ve lost count. I even found several notebooks that I filled from middle school and promptly put them through a shredder and threw them away.
That is precisely why I’m so scared of journaling – it’s only intended audience is myself. I was horrified to see the vapid things I cared about as a thirteen year old. The people I admired from afar, the angsty music I listened to, how badly I wanted to fit in – it was all recorded for me to relive. It’s easier for me to embellish or glamorize the past if I don’t have evidence of the world as it really was.
But recently, I’ve enjoyed journaling more than ever. I think I’ve grown a lot in terms of knowing myself. I realized that journaling doesn’t have to just be a history of my life, but can instead be a history of my thoughts. Thoughts are fleeting, and if I don’t record them, they’re gone forever. Maybe I disliked journaling before because I didn’t value my thoughts. I didn’t think they were worth keeping, even for just myself and no one else.
Yesterday, I watched one of my favorite French films, Vivre Sa Vie (1962), or My Life to Live. Directed by Jean Luc Godard, a legend in the French New Wave film movement, and starring one of his long-term muses, Anna Karina, this film is nothing short of magnificent. It is said that Quentin Tarantino paid homage to Vivre Sa Vie in several ways when he filmed Pulp Fiction, and that is a movie that shows up on “best of all time” lists, every time.
Vivre Sa Vie is split into twelve short pieces, vignettes, that portray the story of an aspiring actress Nana (Karina) who eventually becomes a prostitute.
In the eleventh tableau of the film, titled “Place du Châtelet – A Stranger – Nana, The Unwitting Philosopher”, Nana is sitting in a cafe and strikes up a conversation with an old man. She doesn’t know that the man happens to be a philosopher, played by real life philosopher Brice Parain. They begin a quick, back and forth dialogue about the relationship between language and thought, only slowing down to have Nana break the fourth wall, staring straight at the camera with her melancholic doe eyes. Anyways, at one point, Brice says this (translated from French):
“It’s always struck me, the fact we can’t live without speaking. We must think, and for thought we need words. There’s no other way to think. To communicate, one must speak. That’s our life. Speaking is almost a resurrection in relation to life. Speaking is a different life from when one does not speak. So, to live speaking one must pass through the death of life without speaking. I don’t think one can distinguish a thought from the words that express it. A moment of thought can only be grasped through words.”
That dialogue alone is a good reason to watch this film if you haven’t, but I digress. Brice’s words showed me the importance of converting my thoughts into tangible language while also not feeling guilty about my spotty journaling up until now. As he said, I needed to understand how it felt not to speak to be able to write with the voice I have now.
Not only is journaling meditative for me, it’s also a lesson in forgiving myself. When I create something be it writing, art, music, or otherwise, I want to be as close to the final product as possible. It’s difficult for me to allow myself room to start with something rough around the edges and this often leads to procrastination, apathy, or paralysis. Yes, I know that it is naive to think that I can improve at my crafts if I don’t allow myself to make mistakes. Trust me, it’s not a good trait and I have all the projects I have started but never finished to remind me. Journaling teaches me entry by entry that I need to allow myself to have truly rough drafts so that my final drafts can shine. There’s a little part of me that still fears people reading my rough, untidy innermost thoughts one day but I’m becoming more and more okay with it. Baby steps, right?