I’ve been wanting to do a post on the power of journals for some time now, ever since I read this article in the May/June issue of Poets & Writers. It’s about Brian Singer’s 1000 Journals Project. Here’s the gist: one thousand journals are sent into the world. Some are sent to friends. Others are left in public places. The journals land in the hands of artists and writers and average Joes; they’re filled and when they’re complete and available for viewing, we discover each page in each journal is a piece of art. Collaborative art.
I love this idea that people are making art separately and together out of something they find. What I love even more is that it’s something as ordinary as a journal. Nothing to fret about. No worries about perfection. It’s a page in a notebook. After you paint on one page, there are a whole bunch of pages left just waiting for you to take your pen and scribble. Doodle. Do whatever you want. And when that page is done, there’s another, then another.
This idea of “journal as art gallery” is enticing because it is so impermanent. Nothing to be framed and hung. Nothing to publish or sell. Always another page, and every page your own.
During a year-long writing intensive with writer and teacher Natalie Goldberg, I kept a journal to track my daily practice. All of us in the intensive did. Days we practiced—writing, sitting, or walking—we noted what we did and for how many minutes. We also recorded days we skipped.
I loved the journal part of our commitment to the intensive. I liked picking out my book. I settled on something mid-size and thick yet flexible, with a bright red vinyl cover. The pages were graph paper. For me the journal signified witness–witness to the fact that I showed up. It added structure to what was already a year of discipline.
Something broke free in that structure. I suddenly found myself doodling like I did when I was younger. I’d open my journal while at work sitting in a meeting and I’d draw the fellow giving a presentation, or I’d draw my hand. I got into inking typefaces, serif and san serif. Flowing, flowery cursive. Tight, narrow lettering.
I played with the headers for each day of the week. Sometimes I stamped them out with alphabet stamps I bought for the girls at a paper store. Or I wrote the days in a loose freehand.
I threw in color. Some days if I went somewhere interesting, like the time I took Dee and Em to see the Mexican Modern exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe, I included a memento. The journal reminded me to be present, and any time I was cognizant of this effort to be present, I documented it as practice.
Once the intensive was over I stopped keeping track of my writing. I stopped recording my creative process. I still have my journal. I still have notebooks for my writing, and I have a painting notebook as well. I haven’t stopped writing or painting or doodling, although I have lost the structure. I’d like to get back into recording my practice, maybe once I settle into the new house. Once my life becomes sane again.
I’m struck by how for me the journal became a creative medium in and of itself more than simply a record of my work. It was like verb and noun all rolled into one.
I’ll let you know when I get back into it. Maybe we can start it up together. In the mean time, if you have a chance to keep a journal—a hard-bound book in which you draw, paint, make collage, and write—give it a try. Make it be about more than just the journal itself. Log your progress toward practicing your art. I think you’ll enjoy the process.