I have a green spiral notebook that my teacher, Mrs. Gulbranson, made me journal in during Christmas vacation of 1976. I say “made me” because she was my Creative Writing teacher at Hurley High School and it was an assignment. As I have opened it up over the years I realized that her assignment to me was nothing but a pure and simple gift. It was my first Christmas after my mom’s death and my last one as a high school student. I have begun journals numerous times since then but not with the discipline of those couple of weeks in 1976. Thank you, Donna Gulbranson.
So here we are in 2020—living in a coronavirus world. Never has the phrase “we are all in the same boat” been more accurate. The usual rhythm of a month of March filled with school days, work events, tournament basketball, special spring break trips, and usual Sunday morning worship has been completely upended. The waves of news hit us constantly through all sources— cable news, local news, social media platforms, newspapers, group texts and phones calls. What’s it like for you?
I think it was about five days ago that I read a suggestion on Twitter from a history professor that we should each keep a journal through this historic time. I loved the idea and decided to give it a go. I dug around in a drawer and found a bright red journal emblazoned with the words, “Keep calm and trust God.” Perfect. I grabbed a pen and got started. What happened next was rather magical. I love to write but haven’t been able to focus on my current works in progress due to this chaotic time. So what happened?
As I wrote I immediately began to picture who would read this in the future. My entry on March 13th:
“I wonder who may read this—and what history will eventually say about this world health event. Maybe you are my child or grandchild—or maybe just me. No matter who reads this I know you will be impacted by our lived experience as individuals and as Americans and as global citizens.”
I felt that I had a new purpose beyond cooking meals for my dear college son who has come home for a few weeks. I was investing time into the future. I can just picture a future generation running across a dusty red journal and carefully sliding aside the black elastic cord and cracking it open. Someone’s eyes will widen as they read the entries of how our family understood and experienced the 2020 pandemic.
I grabbed my well-used copy of the 1995 “Put Your Heart on Paper: Staying Connected in a Loose-Ends World” and was inspired by author Henriette Anne Klauser’s words:
“Writing transforms the events in our lives, turning our pain into promise, and sometimes when we pay attention, the writing has a message for us. . .the act of writing transforms, not events, but us.”
If you choose to keep a journal during this unprecedented time—and I hope you do—here are some tips I’ve discovered while writing in mine:
- Any paper will do—just start writing. Use a pen as a pencil will fade.
- You may be more comfortable typing on your computer or even on your smartphone. I would simply encourage you to print your document when you are finished and find a safe place for it.
- It’s easy to write a list of the things you’re doing but your writing will be richer if you write what you’re feeling, too.
- If you haven’t been keeping a journal regularly, this could be a place to talk about other specifics of your life—what is your current job or favorite hobby right now, what are other family members doing, where do they live, how are they handling the pandemic?
- Mention how the news is changing each day or if you’re choosing to limit the amount of news you watch. Talk about a favorite movie or Netflix show you watched. Why did you like it?
- Are you cooking or baking? Talk about the recipe and what it’s like to buy groceries during this time.
- Talk about other parts of the world and how they are dealing with this crisis. It may be a time to mention where you have visited or where you would love to visit. I spent a page on my favorite place in the world—Lake Como, Italy—and how the Lombardy region in Italy has been greatly impacted.
- Who have been the helpers in your life during this time, or who have you helped? My small gestures so far have been phone calls to family and cookie deliveries, but it made for fun journaling.
- How is your wellbeing? Mind, body, spirit? Simply putting your concerns on to paper can bring a release, a surrender.
- Write down your hopes, your dreams, your prayers, your favorite scriptures.
I’ve been writing for five days and have several pages filled, but each day has been different—a couple of paragraphs to a few pages. If I felt artistic it would be lovely to add some drawings, or if I had a young child in the house it would be wonderful to invite them to draw some pictures or write a few sentences. The possibilities are endless!
I’d love to hear from you if you are already journaling or just getting started. What have you learned? I guarantee that your handwritten journal will be a treasure for the future and a calming activity for the present.