Dear Diary

For my ninth birthday, I was given a green leather-bound diary with a lock and key. I treasured it and wrote in it secretly every day. Here’s what I wrote daily during the months my mother was pregnant:

Dear Diary,

I hope Mommy has a baby boy.

Yup, that was it… repeated day after day. Yet I felt I was confiding to the diary my deepest hopes and wishes.

As a young adult, when I started to think of myself as a writer, I resumed diary writing. But now it was called a journal, not a diary, and I wrote in spiral notebooks. I’d expanded my syntax and sentiments a good bit by then.

In fact, I modeled my journal on Virginia Woolf’s commonplace book: a place to keep notes on what I was reading, to record daily events and to probe my psyche, and to test out writing techniques. I’d find a metaphor for something I’d experienced, then see how far I could stretch the metaphor before it went out-of-bounds—before the metaphorical play itself became my subject.

I’d tell the students in my writing classes back then to keep a journal every day. Write about whatever you’re thinking, noticing, reading, I’d say, because it’s only through the act of writing your thoughts that you truly discover what your thoughts are.

As I describe now that experience of keeping a journal, I feel as if maybe I’m describing something archaic like the rotary telephone or the typewriter.

Because hasn’t the blogosphere replaced the personal journal?

Of course, blogs are used for countless forms of writing. There’s no way to do a scientific count, and I check-in on only the tiniest fraction of blogs out there. But my impression is that the dominant blog-genre is the opinion piece, particularly on political events: the blog as op-ed or letter to the editor.

Another genre I’ve noticed is what I’ll call letter to like-minded-folks. Many knitters, for instance, have blogs, the most popular probably being The Yarn Harlot, recounting the humorous knitting adventures of Stephanie Pearl-McPhee.

Then there’s the blog as ongoing self-discovery. A friend of mine, Belinda, began a blog when she unexpectedly started losing her eyesight in middle age. She calls the blog Losing Vision Gaining Insight.

At first the blog probed her experience of this devastating development and her efforts to find grace in it. Then later she was able to write about other things… family events, friends’ experiences, searching for beauty in the everyday.

Before blogosphere-days, Belinda would have kept a journal for all these thoughts. Her blog is indeed a journal, but one she wants to share with others, one that is in fact totally public, that anyone in the world can read.

When we write of intimate personal experiences like this, do we write differently when the audience is just oneself or if it is potentially the whole world?

Part of me wants to leap to the conclusion that of course we write differently! How can self-censorship not be at work when we’re writing for a public?

Yet Belinda’s blog (just to stay with this example, though I’ve read many others) doesn’t feel self-censored. With comfortable honesty and openness, she’s using writing to explore her personal experiences.

I myself would not be able to do this. I do still occasionally make a journal entry in my spiral-bound notebook; but the content is, say, my agony about a relationship gone bad, or something I can’t handle psychologically. I would not make the contents public any more than I would make public a tense exchange with my husband.

So I guess I’m indeed coming down on the side of a privileged place for privacy.

I love writing for this Good Letters blog, because it’s a way to exchange thoughts with a faith community that shares my passion for writing.

But there are things I would not feel appropriate sharing even with this community (and certainly not with the larger potential audience of the entire world).

I’m also sure that Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, as around-the-kitchen-table comfy as her blog is, would refrain from certain subjects in her posts such as something sweetly painful her child confided to her. That would be breaking confidence with the child; though in a private journal, a parent might want to record this. I know I did in my journal-writing days as a young parent.

I’m aware that the very notion of privacy is fast becoming passé, thanks to Facebook, Google Circles, etc. There are, I expect, strong feelings among Good Letters readers on whether bloggers can or should wear their hearts on their sleeves (assuming that a cyber-creation can have a sleeve, let alone a heart).

I’d love to hear your feelings…as long as they’re not too personal!

  • http://katieleigh.wordpress.com Katie @ cakes, tea and dreams

    I’ve wondered about this, as I both maintain a blog and keep a journal. I do sometimes write differently when I blog, though a fragment of a journal entry can also grow into a blog post.

    I do think it’s vital to maintain some privacy in a world where our lives and thoughts are constantly on public view. Thanks for this, Peggy.

    • http://www.poetryretreats.com Peggy Rosenthal

      Thanks for your thoughts, Katie. Yes, it sounds perfectly natural that a journal entry could blossom into a blog post. (Interesting that this probably wouldn’t happen the other way around.)

  • http://www.sarazarr.com Sara Z.

    I can get pretty personal on my blog and in my Good Letters posts, but it is a carefully controlled kind of “personal”. I still keep a journal and use it for deep thoughts (and anxious thoughts), but also for what I’m doing in my work on a particular day, projects I want to explore, movies or books I’ve watched/read (though I now have a separate journal for that – sort of a “media intake log”), how my health is, responses to spiritual reading I’m doing, etc. I did just go through a big purge of throwing away my journals from the last 10 years. I think I’ve decided I like and benefit from the process of writing in them, but that I rarely go back and would feel better if they aren’t hanging around, especially the ones that are mostly logs of painful emotional experiences! I do love the act of journaling. I channel my obsession with notebooks and pens into that, and so I enjoy it tactile-y as well as psychologically and spiritually.

    • http://www.poetryretreats.com Peggy Rosenthal

      Interesting, Sara, to hear your relation to journaling. I’ve actually saved all my journals from over the years, but they are in boxes marked TO BE DESTROYED UNOPENED AT MY DISABILITY OR DEATH! I’ve kept them because occasionally I write autobiographical stuff, and the journals’ record is a good corrective to usually inaccurate memory.

  • http://allwillbewellperiod.blogspot.com Catharine Phillips

    I write daily reflections, usually in the morning. I have done so for about six years. I began sending them to a small list of people, then a larger list. About 18 months ago, I started a blog. Yes, it*s personal. Actually the blog has allowed me to reflect on the reflection. I think the only rule I have for myself is that if a loved one or friend reads it and they know they are one I have written about (husband and daughter come to mind especially), they know they are loved.

    • http://www.poetryretreats.com Peggy Rosenthal

      Catharine, what a beautiful rule you have set for yourself.
      And I like how you find that your blog is a reflection on your daily reflections!

  • sarah louise

    Yes. Yes. Yes. Initially I blogged transparently…and as the years wore on, I have become more private, keeping some “posts” in draft, with titles like “do not publish.” There is a tension there, I’m so used to writing online, on a computer, for public consumption, but on the other hand, I want some things to be my own. Thank you for this post.

    xo,
    SL

    • http://www.poetryretreats.com Peggy Rosenthal

      That’s a great idea to keep some posts as “do not publish”–as a way to resolve the tension between private & public writing.

  • http://www.calliefeyen.com Callie Feyen

    I have all my diaries and journals from first grade (I’m 36). I first heard about a “weblog” at the Festival of Faith and Writing and thought that would be a great way to practice my writing. It wasn’t until my children were born that I started a blog. I loved telling the stories behind the pictures I posted and even though it was only my family that I knew read my posts, I loved that I had a little audience. It changed the way I wrote as well as how I saw the world in my early days of motherhood. Not that I lied on my blog, but knowing that I had the power to create a story out of some of the chaos and confusion of rearing children helped me (I think) be a calmer, happier, and more peaceful mother.
    I am an MFA student at SPU and while I knew about the program for years, I probably wouldn’t have applied if I hadn’t found the Good Letters blog and wrote a frantic letter to admissions saying, “I want to write like those people!!!” :) That’s when I started taking GlenOnline classes and eventually applied to the MFA program. The writing that I do for my coursework is different (and harder) then what I do on my blog, but I don’t think I would have considered applying if I hadn’t been taking tiny baby steps and writing in my own space on the internet.
    I don’t know if this response answers your question. When I write, I try to share my heart but I try to create good writing too. I’m thankful when I find others on the internet who seem to do that as well.

    • http://www.poetryretreats.com Peggy Rosenthal

      Callie, thank you for sharing your story in such detail. Your blogging standard seems beautifully thought out: “When I write, I try to share my heart but I try to create good writing too.”
      Best wishes for your work in the SPU MFA program; it’s a marvelous program, and I can tell that your participation is a gift to your fellow students.

  • http://www.serenitybohon.com Serenity Bohon

    I once threw away my old journals. I was in high school and felt that I had written too much about boys and silly things now that I was more serious about my walk with God. I had especially written about one PARTICULAR boy – which would be difficult for my future husband to bear since I had loved the boy so long. It didn’t take long for me to deeply regret having thrown them away. I still ache over it at times. Especially since I ended up marrying that boy! I still love journaling so much that this post made me want to escape to my journal right now and capture my thoughts. I try not to censor myself on my blog in a way that makes me dishonest. But I do try to remember the blog is for others. So I censor it to be more entertaining than my journal might be, more concise, less rambly, and with a punchline or, for emotional posts, a light at the end of the tunnel.

    • http://www.poetryretreats.com Peggy Rosenthal

      Serenity, your remarks at the end about how you write differently for your journal and blog are deeply sensitive. Thank you. And of course I had to laugh at your marrying that “particular boy” whom you’d journaled about in high school!

  • http://writingwithoutpaper.blogspot.com Maureen

    I have rarely felt impelled to use my blog to sound off or disclose what I consider private or personal. I use Writing Without Paper primarily to share my discoveries of what is wonderful or unusual on the Web, my poetry, and my interests in writing, writers, and books and art. One could, of course, learn a bit about me through close readings of my poems, as they are in many cases a transformation of experiences.

    • http://www.poetryretreats.com Peggy Rosenthal

      Yes, Maureen, your blog is a special category: sharing information and discoveries (& poetry). I should have mentioned that in the post.

  • Stuart Scadron-Wattles

    I think a private journal as necessary as the graphic artist’s personal sketchbook or the performing artist’s closed rehearsal hall. I blog very little, but when I do, I am always aware that others will be reading. One cannot try unless one can fail fully, and that includes writing what a former teacher of mine referred to derisively as “absolute piffle.” My unfiltered work is often crude and preliminary, but its immediacy may spark more useful, less self-centered expression. I can admire those who have nothing to hide; I have greater admiration for those whose private work has enabled greater depth and allusion for their readers.

    • http://www.poetryretreats.com Peggy Rosenthal

      Stuart, thanks for this helpful perspective on relation of journal to blog. I love those images: journal as sketchbook or rehearsal.

  • http://chadthomasjohnston.com Chad Thomas Johnston

    Peggy,

    I definitely write differently for the public than I do when I write privately. I have mostly journaled to learn how to leap the hurdles that OCD has set in my path over the years, and I would not share those journal entries with anyone. In fact, I will probably want to delete them at some point.

    On that note, my dad recently confided in me (but I am sharing it in public, ha!) that he deleted his journals from years back because they contained his concerns about my sister and me when we were growing up. Perhaps that privacy that is so helpful to us in leaping life’s hurdles is not meant to be shared with anyone at all.

    I’m all for blogging, and it’s a privilege to share GoodLetters with the likes of you. ;)

    - CTJ

    • http://www.poetryretreats.com Peggy Rosenthal

      Chad, thanks for sharing your experience (and your dad’s!) about the privacy of journaling. I know what you mean about using journals to “leap the hurdles” of OCD. In fact, a therapist once suggested to me that I spill out in my journal stuff that would be a burden to others to dump on them.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X