Throughout history, we’ve found solace in putting down on pen and paper (or on the computer) words that attempt to capture our anxieties, feelings and general thoughts. Though the writing can never entirely cork into a bottle a specific time or place in history, it can offer a much-needed reprieve from the immediacy of the world.
Writing out your thoughts, a literal expulsion of ideas from your brain into the world, can be extremely therapeutic. Journaling for 20 minutes a day can reduce stress. It can help you decompress, and it helps put a distancing perspective on all the churning thoughts going on in your brain.
Reading others’ journals can likewise provide some much-needed perspective and parasocial community-based solace. Recently, I bought myself a copy of The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath. I did this because I needed an escape from my own thoughts and feelings, or perhaps a reaffirmation of those thoughts and feelings, found in another human’s writing. The collection, spanning Plath’s life from 1950 to 1962, offers a glimpse into a profound life not our own, of a time removed from the present, and yet of a person still replete with similar feelings to ours.
Plath journals of her anxieties, questions her future, writes lyrically about the pain of loss and of moving into new chapters of life. These all have resonant power for me and others in the 2020s. As so many of us are sheltered at home, our work, schooling and personal lives are all being blended together and bandied about in chaotic ways. There’s comfort in disappearing into someone else’s words, of seeing similar plights to our own wrought in that confessional youthful prose in which Plath is so well-known.
Journals of famous writers are filled with all-too-familiar questions: what am I going to do after college? who do I want to be? when will [x] be over? how will [x] end? Plath asked these questions of her life back in 1952, and others like David Sedaris asked them again in the 1970s. In others’ journals, those documents created expressly for the single self, paradoxically present a universality of human thought and spirit, making them so engaging and comforting to read, that your experiences, not at all trivial, can nevertheless be found and empathized with by those who have come before. In this way, writing in your own journal is beneficial for yourself and for those who come after you, a record of your thoughts that, in time, is to be in good company.