I was a dreamer as a child; always with these grandiose ideas of how great it was going to be when I was an adult. All of the things that I would do. All of the jobs I would hold. All of the adventures that I would have. Childhood was a time of wonder and freedom for me, even if it was only in my head.
When I was in the first grade, my librarian (who also happened to be my favorite teacher), encouraged me to write a book. She taught me how to create an outline of what I wanted to write about. Then she taught me how to research my topic. She taught me how to place my ideas down in a cohesive manner.
Through these processes, I realized (as did she) that I had so many questions. Many questions had nothing to do with writing my book but rather, about life and the universe and learning. She encouraged me to start a journal so that I could write my ideas, my thoughts, my processes, my heartbreaks down… not for the world, but for me. For my own reflection. For my own learning. My own understanding. She explained to me that when writing a book, I needed to write linearly, but for writing in my journal, I could write however I pleased.
So I began writing in a journal almost daily. Obviously, in first grade, you have simpler problems that seem huge. But it was through the beginnings of these journals that I began to free myself. I could write down everything that I felt and put it in a safe place. I could write down problems I was having and then write out my thought process until I came up with a solution. I could doodle. I could draw. I could paint.
As I neared eighth grade, I discovered that poetry and song lyrics were the best way to express what I was feeling. I would pour myself, my hurt, my confusion, my anger, my deep sadness into my journals and they were the friend who accepted what I was going through without any judgment. In eighth grade, I didn’t have enough insight to see what I was going through, but my English teacher did. She had us write for five minutes at the beginning of every class. Sometimes there were prompts. Sometimes there weren’t. Because I was used to pouring myself onto paper, I poured myself into the prompts and the 5-minute entries. As I poured myself, my English teacher watched, and then she recommended that I go speak to the counselor about what was going on.
So I went to the counselor, but I was used to writing my thoughts out, not speaking them aloud for others to hear. They were safe on paper, but when you speak your fears aloud they become true. So I was quiet and for the first two meetings, I said nothing. Then she recommended that I bring in some of my writings.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I would like to hear you talk about them.”
I did as she asked and I brought in my blue striped journal, and I began sharing with her all of the feelings that I had and why I wrote them down. She began teaching me how to step back from my writings and see the patterns. She taught me how to see the thought process. She taught me how to match up my emotions on paper with my rational thinking.
I’m not saying it was immediate. It took me years and many years more before I felt comfortable with my way of doing things. Pour yourself empty on paper then step back and look at what is really going on. Break down every part. Figure out the ‘why’. This was my way.
But somewhere into adulthood, I traded out my journal for trusted people. My journal went untouched for several years and my safety net did as well. We all have rough weeks, months, years… the ones where I abandoned my coping mechanism were hard. Painfully hard.
I was cleaning my closet out one afternoon and I found my box of journals. As I read, I began to sob. Oh, how small my problems were but how overwhelming they felt at the time. I could see them clearly now and I was reminded why it was so important for me to place my thoughts onto that paper. I went to the bookstore and purchased a beautiful journal and pen.
Now, I would love to tell you that I use the journal every single day, but the truth is, I have a hard time carving out the time to sit down and write. No, that beautiful journal sits on a bookshelf in my bedroom amongst an entire line of empty journals.
I had to make an adjustment. In the age of technology and immediacy, I went the tech route. I have a journaling application on my phone. It allows me to add photos, write, draw, attach things to a calendar. It is password protected and I can access it on my laptop if I want. I can write from anywhere.
Journaling has changed so much from the time I was a child, as have my problems. Putting my thoughts down allows me to see my brain in its natural state- a rubics cube in a tornado. But when I see it there, I can make sense of it all and problem solve and release my energy into the world. This includes my joy and my thankfulness and my curiosity and my adventurous nature.
And I did finish that book in first grade. It was published and it even won an award. I have the only copy, with its Dewey Decimal label on the spine, sitting on my bookshelf next to those empty journals. My dreams and thoughts have changed from when I was a young girl, but my processes have not. I am ok with doing the same thing because it works for me, and when it no longer works, then I’ll make adjustments.
Sue Vest is the Weeklies Bureau managing editor. The name of her column, Running Without Shoes, comes from the idea that sometimes you are unprepared for what life sends you, but it’s guaranteed to be an adventure. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.