I often talk to middle schoolers about how keeping a journal saved my life.
There were three major Big Bads in my history (how very like a fairy tale, right?). I call them: Lazy, Evil, and Awful. AKA: The Leech, The Sociopath, and The Abuser.
Back when I was dating Evil, I wrote in a journal. Sometimes. Usually when I was feeling bad. (Back then, happy emotions went on my blog and sad, pathetic emotions went in my journal.) It was one of these times when, before sitting down to write about my woes, I flipped back a few pages to see when I had written in the diary last. It had been about a year. As I read over that entry, I realized that all the horrible feeling I had THEN were the same feelings I was having NOW. Nothing had changed in A YEAR. And it didn’t look like anything was going to.
We can get so deep into relationships—especially bad ones—that no one can get us out, no matter what they say. Not our best friends, not our parents, not our coworkers. But YOU CANNOT ARGUE WITH YOUR PAST SELF.
I had laid everything out, right there on the page. The evidence was just waiting for me to come back and notice.
I broke up with Evil after that. Not after he lied and cheated and stole all my money—only after I read my old entry in that journal. Then, when the spell had finally broken, I realized just how much he had lied, cheated, and stole all my money. Yeah. I shudder to think how much longer I might have been with him if that journal hadn’t saved me.
If I hadn’t saved me.
I’ve always kept a journal. Lots of them. I’d get a cool journal and, inspired, I’d start writing. Fill one page, maybe two, and then I’d abandon it. Before 2020, I’d only ever fully finished one or two journals from start to finish in my lifetime. But I kept them all, dating all the way back to my Beezus and Ramona diary from middle school (and a few even earlier!).
When I moved to Florida and started unpacking boxes from three states, I collected all of my journals—finished and otherwise—onto a shelf in my bedroom. The one I kept out was my “butterfly journal,” the one Leanna gave to me a million years ago. I had barely written in it…mostly during the times I hid in the closet in Virginia and made lists of things I needed to remember never to do or say in front of Awful and his Daughters.
Reading that list over made me shudder. I showed it to Leanna the first time she came to Florida. She grabbed a pen and proceeded to write her own entry IN ALL CAPS, WITH MANY SWEAR WORDS to cleanse the journal and make it okay for me to start it—and my life—afresh.
Plus, it would be an entry I could always go back to, whenever I needed a good Leanna scolding. And I have. A few times. If only to remember just how much my friends love me and the lengths to which they, and I, would go to save me.
I had been in a funk since coming to Florida, and the miserable state of my writing career wasn’t helping matters. I knew that journal writing made me feel better—especially since I wasn’t blogging like I used to—but it was still tough to find the time to sit and make myself do it.
After Dragoncon 2019, Hurricane Dorian threatened to come ashore on my doorstep, and I was forced to spend a few more days in Atlanta with my dear friend Mary B. Rodgers. I look back on those days as an incredibly important time in my life for quite a few reasons (and I may yet write that essay one day, too). One of them was that I discussed meditation and journaling with Mary. She’s a Capricorn, so she understands my need for a little more logistics with regard to fitting these things into my schedule.
We decided that I should do both meditation and journaling in the morning, to start the day off right. Plus, I didn’t need to write 3000 words or 5 pages or whatever you’re “supposed” to write in the morning—I could write 10 pages or 1 sentence. Didn’t matter. AND I KNEW IT DIDN’T MATTER, but I still needed to hear it. So Mary gave me permission.
I brought my journal with me to Vermont & New York that fall, and I started meditating with the Headspace app. And I did a little better. Especially after that last concert in Vermont with Jimmy Eat World.
And then the pandemic came along.
Everyone started telling me (and all my writer friends) to keep a journal recording this Very Important Time in History. Now, I don’t know if my journals will be published after I shuffle off this mortal coil (goodness, I hope Thea at least edits them first), but the thought that what I was doing was important was enough to keep me going. Every day. Somewhere in the back of my head I also knew this would be a boon to my mental health, but it was that thought of leaving a record for history that kept me going.
I did not expect all the monumental things that happened in my life once I started journaling…but in retrospect I should have. Anyone who has read Beauty & Dynamite knows the curse of “The Story Magnet.” As soon as I start writing stuff down, it’s like extraordinary things come out of the woodwork just to find me so I will record them. Satsanga came along, and meditation, and Songwrite.
And then suddenly it was June and I was at the end of my journal. FINALLY. After years and years, I finally finished the Butterfly Journal.
I knew exactly what I wanted to write in next. It was a chunky lined journal I had bought when Tempest and Leanna had first come to stay with me in Florida in 2015. The front said, “Keep Things Interesting Be A Rebel” and it had a crown on it. What better journal for a princess of the rebellion?
Only the first page had a brief entry, written on Valentine’s Day 2015 to commemorate the Girl Power occasion. So one page wouldn’t be chronological. So what? There were so many pages in this journal I’d probably never finish it anyway.
But I did. As February 2021 came to a close, I realized I was going to need another journal. So I looked through the books on the shelf. I had a few to choose from that only had a few pages filled at the beginning. But the one I picked was a Tie Dye Journal…and it started in 2004.
The first entry was January—so maybe this journal had been a birthday gift. It was right after Lazy the Leech went to Colorado and I told him to never come back. We were done.
The next entry was in April. This entry was important for so many reasons (reasons that fans of Beauty & Dynamite will be familiar with). I had sold my first picture book, then called “The Telaphab from Z to A.” I also joined my family in Vermont that Easter as a surprise for my big sister Cherie. My grandmother was there, my brother and sisters, Alana and Josh. I spoke about each one of them fondly, and how much they meant to me.
If I could go back in time and tell that girl anything, it wouldn’t be that she was about to head into horrible romantic relationships that no person should suffer. They made me who I am, after all, and I rather like who I am. But Gram was there, and Josh was there. They’re both dead now. And my little sister walked out of my life last spring and never looked back. So If I could tell Alethea 2004 anything, it would be to give them more hugs. Because I miss them even more now than I did then.
Those two entries shouldn’t be left alone in a journal, I thought. They should be welcomed back into my narrative.
ALL the old diary entries should, whenever they were made.
It’s like I’m picking up long forgotten dangling threads of my life and weaving them back into my tapestry, making it whole. Making ME whole.
I’m calling this Princess Alethea’s Journal Healing Project. Sure, I still skip days, but I write pretty regularly now. Sometimes it’s a dream or a quote from a television show or a tarot reading or 5 pages of What Happened to Me Yesterday. Doesn’t matter. Just as long as I keep writing.
I tell you what: I feel better now than I have in the last six years. I know this is part of it!
Much love to you all — happy journaling!