I grew up in a chaotic and noisy home. I’m not sure why it was this way — we were (and are) a loving family, and our propensity is more toward the introvert side of the personality type spectrum. But with three kids, two dogs (and an assortment of other animals), and two working parents for most of my childhood, privacy and peace were hard to come by.
The only way I knew to get true quiet was to stay home sick from school. Then everyone else would be gone (except the dogs) and I could absorb the quiet of the house, the ticking of clocks, watch how the sunlight moved across the floor as morning drifted into afternoon.
I craved quiet, solitary time as a kid. I wanted to be able to hear myself think. But home was loud and school was loud and my friends seemed loud.
Seventh grade was different because my family moved to Hawaii for the year, something I resisted, kicking and screaming. People said, “You must be crazy not to want to go to Hawaii!”
But to my twelve-year-old self who craved fitting in and stability more than anything else, a move to a faraway place for just one year would be one more thing that made me different, one more thing that told my peer group, “She isn’t like us. She doesn’t fit.”
A life-altering thing came out of our year in Hawaii, however. My English teacher handed out black-and-white composition books and required us to keep journals.
I knew I liked to write, and prior to this, I had dabbled in journaling, but it was more of the “this is what I did today” variety. My teacher encouraged us to really get our thoughts on the page. What was important to us? What did we think about the books we read in class? What scared us? What filled us with joy?
I was hooked. I used all the pages in the first composition book and my words spilled over onto the cardboard back cover.
Finally, I could hear my own voice. I could read my own thoughts on the pages of the composition book. And my teacher validated it all — keeping a journal was a good thing. A healthy thing. It would help me know myself.
In all honesty, I don’t think I fully internalized what my teacher said at the time. This is probably adult me looking back and superimposing herself onto twelve-year-old me. But what I do know for sure is that I was hungry to keep a journal. It became a home for me, the only true safe space I could think of at the time.
Later, in my early twenties, I took frequent trips to New York City, and I remember sitting in the airport one day, my notebook spread out on my lap. I realized I felt at home in O’Hare Airport, waiting for my flight, despite the swirl of activity and noise around me. I wrote in my notebook that day, “As long as I can write in my journal, I can be at home anywhere. My journal is the only home I need.”
I smile a little at my early-twenty-something self now, because I am far less nomadic in spirit than I was then. Now, I like a home base that goes beyond my journal (I am a true homebody at heart despite my love of discovering new places).
But I am still in touch with the “me” who believed that, armed with my journal, I could feel safe enough to take on the world.
Decades after discovering the mysteries and joys of the depths of the black-and-white composition book in a classroom of girls in black-and-white uniforms at St. Andrew’s Priory School in Honolulu, I still meet with my journal at my dining room table every day. (Except now it’s a sketch book with wide, blank pages, so I can draw pictures next to my thoughts, too.)
And every time I put my pen on that page, I’m cutting through the chaos of not just the world, but my mind. I’m safe, and I’m home, and I know who I am, once again.
If you, too, keep a journal, what is the greatest benefit of journaling for you? I’d love to hear from you.
This post is my contribution to the Five-Year Anniversary Celebration of #JournalChat Live. I’ve been proud to be a guest on #JournalChat Live several times. You can learn more about #JournalChat Live, including how to join the Facebook group, here.