Write In A Journal, It’ll Save Your Life
Posted on April 6, 2016
After a long, hard day at work, many people often cozy up to their computers, crack open an ice cold beverage and watch several episodes of a television show of which I’m still not even halfway through the season, if I’ve started it at all.
I’m often no different. There’s a comfort in the routine, and certainly, an inherently relaxing benefit to mostly mindless entertainment. But while I do that, wait! Someone just texted me, better answer it. Oh, look! Eight new Facebook notifications! Better see what they’re about. Oh, they’re just invitations to events I won’t attend (because I have to finish Daredevil first). I wonder what’s up on twitter right now. Nothing? Maybe my latest Instagram photo has some new likes. Shit, I know—I’ll see if any of my friends Snapchatted me while driving their cars since I last checked Snapchat an hour ago! That was a weird notification sound…why is WordPress sending notifications to my phone? Oh well, better see what it is. Now here’s that Gawker article open in another tab I meant to read earlier…fuck, I missed the entire episode!
Our computers give us access to the world’s information, a seemingly limitless spring of new content, created by friends and strangers alike. They allow us to keep in contact with long-distance friends and to make new ones through shared interests. They keep us informed without having to walk to a newsstand. They let us watch more television shows in a row than was ever socially acceptable, or even possible, in previous generations. They allow us to eat, drink, talk to friends, watch TV and masturbate all in one convenient location. They allow creative types to create and share their creations, unencumbered by the more traditional requirements of money, notoriety or access.
But just as our computers seemingly make important parts of our lives that much easier, they can hinder our ability to clearly communicate our own thoughts in a way that’s level-headed. They turn otherwise cordial, reasoned people into incendiary, reactionary commenters, quoters, retweeters whose minds are often made up the moment they click send and those endorphins are released. Much of the internet is not a conversation so much as it’s a shouting match, a game of one-upping where’s there’s never a winner, just a string of losers. (One look at “Music Twitter,” as it’s often called, confirms it.) I need a break from that. I think we all do.
One way I’ve untethered myself from my computer and my phone is by reading and writing to unwind, especially late at night, where research tells us it’s bad for our sleep patterns and overall health:
“A fast-growing body of research has linked artificial light exposure to disruptions in circadian rhythms, the light-triggered releases of hormones that regulate bodily function. Circadian disruption has in turn been linked to a host of health problems, from cancer to diabetes, obesity and depression. ‘Everything changed with electricity. Now we can have bright light in the middle of night. And that changes our circadian physiology almost immediately,’ says Richard Stevens, a cancer epidemiologist at the University of Connecticut. ‘What we don’t know, and what so many people are interested in, are the effects of having that light chronically.’”
By reading and writing, of course, I mean in the physical, visceral, Luddite sense: I’ve made an investment into books, zines, comics—some of which I’ll recommend in future essays—but I also bought a journal, or gournal as Paul Rudd’s character in Wet Hot American Summer would pronounce it. The journal offers a multitude of benefits that the internet just cannot match: It is a safe space for my thoughts and my thoughts alone, no matter how weird they are or how much sense they might not make in the moment. It is a safe space where my thoughts can be initially poorly formed and eventually, worked out into something resembling coherence, without the blowback of going through that same process in a public sphere like Facebook, twitter or tumblr or more importantly, without hurting anyone. It’s like a first draft for everything I think. Writing in a journal also helps me organize and categorize my thoughts and feelings in a way that makes my brain hurt less than it normally would if I’d attempted something similar on a screen or even attempted in my own head.
Writing in a journal is meditative, but allows you to confront your thoughts, where actual meditation often encourages people to vacate all thought to achieve quiet. Whether we want to admit it or not, we all think things—some of them terrible!—that we would likely never tell another living being. Those thoughts, if not placed elsewhere, can clog your brain like a toilet and worse, implicitly inform your other, more coherent thoughts. It’s one reason messy oversharing is so prevalent on social media—we need to a place to exorcise those thoughts, and this generation, who grew up on Livejournal, then myspace, then facebook and tumblr and twitter, often seek the approval of others in our thoughts, motives and decisions. Consider the humble journal your unclogging agent—your Drano, if you will.
Writing in a journal has made me a stronger writer too, because it offers another space in which to practice communicating thoughts and ideas in new and different ways. It’s separate, which is so crucial: It keeps say, my music writing from becoming too overzealously personal when the lot of you couldn’t care less about me as a person (which is fine, by the way).
The physicality of journal writing is worth mentioning as well: Sure, one can certainly, uh, type hard on a keyboard, but the act of holding a writing utensil, placing it to paper, feeling the friction between the two, and writing words the way people have been writing since we figured out we could do it, is very pleasing. Your hand will probably hurt at first, simply from being out of practice, but you’ll get used to it. In the end, you will have created something, even if no one else will ever see it and can sloppily react to it. It’s yours.