It’s been a long time since the first time I decided I was going to keep a journal.
The internet had done a pretty amazing job of convincing me that, along all sorts of other benefits, journaling was supposed to make my writing better, improve how I see myself in the present by comparing to how I was in the past, to be a lasting legacy so my kids/friends/family/future loved ones could have a window into my life story if they so choose.
And I can see all these reasons very clearly. I’m on board. I have been on board for a long time now.
It was close to New Year’s eve in 2012, I believe, when I first got myself a journal notebook. It was one of those thick ones with a hard cover and 365 little pages I was going to fill with the contents of my days. I started on January 1st, but wouldn’t last longer than mid-February.
I forgot to write one day, then wrote twice as much on the next to compensate. The next day I felt I had written so much the day before, so it was easy to skip. Same on the next. And so I went two or three days without writing, making it all the much harder to pick it up later as if nothing had happened.
Yes, I’m a perfectionist. Yes, my therapist is keenly aware.
What happened is I ended up not writing on it again for around to two years. When I decided to try and pick it up again, I actually waited for the same date I originally stopped writing a couple years before, so I could literally start on the first available blank page. This time, I lasted even less than a month before stopping again.
Defeated, I could only admit to myself: if I was ever to keep a journal, it wouldn’t be on paper. So then I downloaded and bought all the journaling apps. The well known, the lesser known, the ones with psychological mood tracking gimmicks (write about your mood!), the ones with photography gimmicks (write about the pictures you’ve taken!), the ones with geotracking gimmicks (write about the places you’ve been!), the ones with the AI chatbot (talk to this pampering AI every day and let that be your journal!), among others.
Nothing ever stuck.
So, it’s been a long time since the last time I decided I was going to keep a journal.
I used to be saddened by this, like I had been a failure. Like I had been failing for all these years in doing something that’s supposed to be so simple — keep track of my own life so I could be able to reflect on it.
I was thinking about this a couple of days ago while listening music when Rancid’s “Ruby Soho” came on. It’s not a song I constantly listen to, but it had a place in my teenage years. I used to be on a band with these guys I barely knew, and we rehearsed that song a lot. It’s been 15 years, but I remember it clearly, down to specific things we used to talk about in the studio, discussions about trying to decide on the name of the band, and the later small drama I had with my girlfriend at the time because she thought the name we decided was a reference to a girl I used to like before her…
Then it hit me. I have a journal. I’ve always had a journal. A meticulously well-maintained repository of my life stories. One I have been building and keeping and adding to from the very beginning of my teenage years.
My music collection.
When listening to playlists or albums, I always make sure to pick the songs I like best and add them to what I call “The Big Shuffle” — it used to be a hard drive with mp3 files ripped off physical CDs, now it’s just “My Songs” on Spotify. Still, it’s simply a complete list of songs without any extra context other than them being songs I enjoyed in a particular way at some point in my life.
And it just so happens that over half of those 2000-odd songs I keep on me at all times carry with them very specific memories and stories.
From 1989’s “Here Comes Your Man” by The Pixies to 2018’s “Dining Alone” by Shakey Graves, from fist-pumping punk-rock anthems such as Mute’s “The Dagger” to highly contemplative folk songs with life-changing lyrics such as Jasper Sloan Yip’s “Slowly”, there are so many highly distinct memories. I have a hard time believing I could have ever kept them as neat and strong on a written page.
These are memories of the time I used to bring my cheap, sticker-covered acoustic guitar to high school recess and play easy songs with some of the other less popular kids (we were always cooler, anyways). Or of the time my glasses were broken when I was squarely punched in the face during a mosh pit in a punk rock show and I decided that I was too happy on that moment to care about that, so I just closed my eyes and let the energy flow through me and the crowd until the band was too tired to go on. Or of the time I was finally pushed beyond doubt into breaking up a very long relationship I had been unsure about for months prior just because the lyrics to a song I had never heard spoke to me on such a particular level I was spooked. All of these very specific memories have very specific songs attached to them.
I have a journal. Wow. This realization seems almost stupid now — I mean, of course these songs carry memories — , but it was also strongly eye-opening to me. I feel relieved, I don’t feel like a failure anymore. I think I’m finally going to burn that old notebook down, since it still hasn’t gone further than May 2015.
Sure, this is a highly encrypted kind of journal, one whose memories can’t be accessed by anyone else without me being there to decode the songs into their meanings. That’s a shortcoming. But I don’t know how much I care. I guess I don’t at all.
At least my journal has a killer sound track.