Want to deal with your feels? Meet them on the blank page, says Tanya Meeson
Woman&Home, October 2022
I started journaling when I was 13. My stepmother had bought me a ‘Diary for Ladies’ for Christmas and when 1 January 1990 rolled by, I began dutifully recording the daily summary of happenings and feelings, often with all the weariness of a 40-year-old.
‘Dear Diary, yet another day done,’ was a phrase that featured in many entries before my scribbles veered into wild declarations of love, angsty poems about pain and mist, notes about movies and books, and which friend was acting suitably friend-like. ‘Ta-ta, darling,’ I would sign off. ‘I am so tired and my back hurts.’
I was no budding Joan Didion, but those scribbles got the job done. And that job, I came to realise many years and journals later, was just to get stuff out.
In 1994, Julia Cameron introduced to the world the concept of ‘morning pages’, three A4 papers of stream-of-conscious word purge completed every morning and without editing. ‘These daily meanderings are not meant to be art,’ she wrote in her bestselling The Artist’s Way. ‘Pages are meant to be, simply, the act of moving the hand across the page and writing down whatever comes to mind. Nothing is too petty, too silly, too stupid, or too weird to be included.’
It was Cameron’s belief that all the stuff clogging up the mind and soul with worries big and small is what stands between an artist and their creativity.
I imagine it as unblocking pipes, like in those incredibly satisfying YouTube videos where they winkle out the hard stop of debris at the opening until just enough is dislodged to release the pressure that then jettisons out a giant, constipated log until the pipe runs clear with beautiful, clean water.
Journaling is the same: Get the guff out the way and the good stuff will follow. And the best part is, you don’t even need to be a writer or a committed ‘journaler’, you just have to be willing to pick up a pen and sit with a piece of paper. (Did you know that writing by hand increases neural activity in the brain in much the same way as meditation does?)
Everyone is a creator, consciously or unconsciously creating themselves and their lives as they go. And journaling? Well, that is an act of conscious creation, a dynamic landscape where the self is met and made. And you can meet yourself here, in all your pride and inconsequence.
In this space, there is no witness, no unkind eye, no one to judge. You can stand naked with yourself and your vulnerabilities, the ugly feelings, the shameful ones, the fearful, petty, whiny, and raging ones. You can draw out the poison of resentment and comparison without harm, you can spit and cry and condemn, grieve and glorify yourself. And then, with these out the way, you can run clear to meet who you are beyond all these feelings and reactions. You can create who you want to be and how you want to feel.
Journaling, if it’s approached with honesty and no consideration for the unknown witness, is as much a purging of self as it is a creation of self.
I’m told this form of journaling as self-discovery is new, becoming popular as a mental health tool from about the 1970s. Before this, journaling was more about observation and the daily tallying of events. Or to play with words. Writers like Nin, Plath, Didion, Woolf, Kafka and Sontag journaled thoughtfully and often to improve their skill.
But whichever form journaling takes, to me it is all sense-making. Plugging into the most intimate of relationships – that of the relationship with self – and opening the two-way communication between the conscious and unconscious.
In one of those very first journal entries, I wrote: ‘I wish sometimes that my dreams would come true. That would be so kiff! My whole life would be different.’ If I think of all that has changed and healed from the act of writing it out, I can honestly look back at baby Tanya and say: You journaled your whole life different, little chicken. And your dreams really did come true.
Although we still say ‘kiff’ and, honestly, there’s no excuse for that.