If you’ve found your way over to my blog, you may have noted that I’m embarking on a study abroad trip to England in less than a month. One of the main purposes of this trip is to develop a collection of personal essays–a glorified journal, basically. As a result, we’ve been discussing the elements that go into writing a journal. We’ve basically come down to two opposing forces of journal writing, both in terms of style and content.
First, my professor, John Bennion, believes that journal writing should be wildly experimental and uninhibited. He wants us using unlined journals, venturing into sketching and doodling, writing experimental things that we’d never let anyone see (either because they contradict the face we present to the world or because they are possibly heretical to The System). His journals from past trips are voluminous, unpolished, and–as a result–unreadable.
Opposing that we have his wife’s journals, which would make any blue-blooded Relief Society scrapbooker proud. They have neatly trimmed pictures and ticket stubs pasted in, with trim prose wrapping squarely around the edges. It’s not just a “we did this, then this” laundry-list type of journal. She does record her feelings about her experiences, but the way in which she does so differs from John’s as much as the form of their journals. Her journals are meant to be read by friends and family: they are a vicarious experience of what she did on the trip.
I’ve been feeling this same dilemma–experimental versus historical journal writing–ever since the Wilford Woodruff lesson on journal writing last year. The chapter talks a lot about our journals as an official record, that we ought to record blessings and other official Church acts. Our journals are a history–something benefitting “ourselves, our posterity, and the Church.” Wilford Woodruff’s journals, the chapter quotes B.H. Roberts as saying, were a valuable source in reconstructing the events of the lives of other prominent members and the Church history of the time period.
But this seems to contrast with one of the main reasons I keep a journal, which is on a more experimental level: I keep a journal to cope with life. I try to write down events, but most of my journal writing is spent determining how I actually feel and what I ought to do. Journaling helps me to sort out what’s wrong and what’s right, and create action plans, which don’t always work. Can I do this freely if I feel the pressure of future generations reading over my shoulder? Can I admit to them I doubt, I fear, I am imperfect? (Well, they probably know that last one.) In this way, journaling for historical reasons seems to limit authenticity.
Now, unlike my professor, I’m not going to make a judgment on which is better or worse. And of course I haven’t personally read Wilford Woodruff’s journal, so perhaps he does feel free to be experimental and admit doubts and fears. Maybe this historical pressure is all in my head. But I think not. We’ve been commanded to keep a journal, but what exactly do you write? How much is censored or falsified by historical pressure? And how much historical detail ought we to include?
I ought to mention that I feel oddly hypocritical writing about this issue on a blog.