On journaling and past and future selves

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In my bedroom at my mum’s house there is a cardboard box filled with my journals. Over the years I’ve filled (or partially filled) at least 40 notebooks. I started keeping a journal when I was 9 and my grandma bought me a page-a-day diary with a floral patterned cover. Perhaps I would have started a diary at some point regardless, but that diary catalysed my love affair with journaling and I’ve never stopped since. I don’t write in my journal everyday. At times I go months without writing a single word, at others I write two or three times a day.

Whenever I’m home I can’t resist opening that cardboard box, pulling out a few notebooks and reading them. The diaries I kept as a young child are full of school, my best friend and riding my bike. I drew a lot of pictures in my diaries too. Perhaps, whilst I was still wrestling with language, still figuring out how to use it, drawings were an easier way to express what I wanted to say. I don’t draw very much these days, though I remember spending hours absorbed in drawing as a child. When I showed my partner some of those early notebooks, he was surprised, I didn’t know you were so artistic!

Then there are the awkward teenage years when my mood seemed to alter drastically from day to day. I found myself fighting at the edges, hankering for more freedom and independence. I can read myself slowly trying to shape the person I wanted to become. Reading a diary I kept when I was 16 also made me realise how intensely I used to live inside the books I read. After reading The Catcher in the Rye my diary is filled with references to ‘phonies’ and when I read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, my homework suffered.

When I read my old diaries I recognise the person writing them, we share some of the same likes and dislikes and memories (though they remember more than I do), but I’m often surprised and delighted, sometimes saddened, by the person I encounter in those old notebooks. Recently, a friend and I were talking about identity and how ones sense of self changes over time. Do you like your past selves? he asked. Without having to think, I responded, yes. ¬†What’s more, I’m lucky enough to be able to sit down with a cardboard box full of their thoughts and feelings. I can flick to a page and know what mundane things they did on a given day five or 10 or 15 years ago. And when I write in my journal today I can let my future self know what it’s like to be this version of me.

When I was younger I often wondered whether my diaries would be read in the future, like Samuel Pepys or Anne Frank, and whether I had anything important to say. I didn’t suspect then that my most avid reader would be me, or how immeasurably important what I had to say would seem to my future self.

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