15 March 2012

Journaling Along

My first and only century.

"You write in your journal every night?" Mrs. Micawber asked last week.

Yes. It's the OCD in me. Although there are many a night when I feel too tired to write a sentence or a paragraph, I just can't fall asleep if I've left that part of my day undone.

I have wanted to be a writer since before I knew how to write. When my dad was laid up for several weeks after breaking his back when I was five years old, I "wrote" book after book for him and sat on the edge of the bed reading my masterpieces to him as he tried to sleep. I have always loved to write, and I have always loved to make up stories. Over the years, that passion slowly morphed into record keeping and journalism.

I began keeping a journal as an English class assignment in eighth grade. I was regular at first because my grade depended upon it. When the assignment was complete, I wrote in my journal only when something meaningful made my wallflower teenage life worth recording. I did, however, begin writing poetry during those years, and sometimes I was quite prolific. Not necessarily publishable, but wordy, wordy, wordy.

During my senior year of high school, I had the most wonderful English/journalism/composition teacher in the world, and she encouraged all of us to write something every day, even if only a sentence. She challenged us to keep a pen and notepad at our bedside so we could write in the middle of the night if we had a dream that might one day flesh out into a novel. She tried to teach us to dream big. Still to this day, I often get up to write if I'm having a sleepless night.

I wrote in my journal more often during my first year of college because I was lonely, but also because composition was my favorite class. For the next ten years, I wrote heavily about the prospect of childlessness and the how being barren racked my soul. I also wrote every day because that was my job. I spent a good 14 years in the field of journalism doing exactly what I loved. Just not always topics I wanted to elaborate upon.

After I adopted my two then cherubic kidlets, writing in my journal became something of a luxury I often could not afford. Nevertheless, I made an effort when I could, and I tried to get my kids to dictate entries for their journals once a month and after special big events, such as our camping and mountain biking trips to Moab, my daughter winning a book fair with a ficticious story she had dictated to me, my son building a clipper ship for a school project, our weeklong pioneer-style excursion alone along the Mormon Trail, our trip to Alaska to visit my military brother, and biking Vancouver Island.

I shot a late-evening wedding on December 31, 1999, and the bride and groom put the kids and me up in the same posh hotel as the event for the night so we wouldn't have to drive home in all the craziness. That night, in that fancy hotel room, perhaps due to the novelty of turning a century, I was inspired set a goal to write in my journal every night.

Ever since that day, with the exception of a couple of groggy hospital days during my emergency back surgery in 2004, I have written in my journal every day. Some entries are as simple as, "I'm so tired, I don't want to write, but this amazing thing happened on the train today..." Some entries are brief. Some entries are 10 or 15 pages long. Sometimes the entry is a poem. Sometimes it's a dream. Sometimes it's a fantasy. Sometimes, it's a trip report.

My shortest entry so far is January 18, 2002. "[insert name of son here] ran away."

On March 14, 2003, while my son was still on the lam and my daughter was in rehab, after my fifth attempt came this life-changing entry:

Mike brought the mail by first thing this morning. We chatted for a few minutes about snowshoeing last week and the best lakes in Glacier Gorge. He asked what I plan to do this weekend. I told him I might go back up to Rocky Mountain National Park, but I probably ought to start riding my bike every weekend, just in case I get drawn for Ride the Rockies. I've been checking my mail every day, but nothing yet. There's still another week.

I got a phone call, and Mike left to continue delivering mail. When I got off the phone, I started to get back to work, but I noticed a Denver Post packet on my desk addressed to me.

I knew what it was. My heart soared, and then stopped dead cold. Without even opening it, I knew what it was, and I was so excited, I wanted to jump up and down and scream for the whole building to hear, but I also wanted to die of a heart attack. I knew there was no way I could make 404 miles. I don't have what it takes.

I slowly tore open the envelope and pulled out the verification packet. I'm in. I'm in my first Ride the Rockies.

I am in utter shock. I am terrified. I am so intimidated. And yet, I got what I wanted. I wanted to do this. This is my chance to prove I can do something hard. Something very physically demanding. I can prove I can take a beating and still survive. I can prove it to my kids. I can prove it to myself.

Some of my most fun entries are from when The Lizard and I began dating two years later (although our recent trip to The Wave has become a new favorite entry). This is why I keep a journal. Yes, I write because I must, and I write because it fulfills something deep inside me, but the bottom line is I love to be able to go back and read tiny details I may have forgotten if I hadn't taken the time to write them.

Here's a timely and appropriate entry from my second Ride the Rockies in 2005, which I got to do with The Lizard:

After parking my bike, I began looking for the stadium entrance to begin the worst part of today's journey but must have been lost in a daze. Out of nowhere came a tug on my arm. The Lizard hugged me and congratulated me for making it, then noticed the glazed-over look in my eyes. He took me by the arm and led me straightway to my tent at the front of the school, with no elevation gain and no stairs. He said something about an exquisite view of Mount Massive, the second tallest mountain in the state, but I just collapsed on the tent floor, not even bothering to search out my sleeping bag. The Lizard massaged my back for a minute and made me drink some water before leading me to the school showers, which he assured me were roomy, toasty hot and clean. Plus, no lines!

Unfortunately, all the other riders had already used up all the hot water. I had goosebumps until I accidentally shaved them off.

I will conclude with this gem I recorded just three months later:

The highlight of my day was looking through The Lizard's photo albums with him. He kept asking if I was bored. I could look at his photos all day. It was fun to hear his stories, stories I keep telling him he needs to write down while they are still fresh in his memory. His dad, who died before we met, was sent to an aunt's house after he got in trouble with the law, and he was the first person in the small town to ride a motorcycle. The principal told him he couldn't ride his motorcycle to school. So he rode his horse. What a riot! There are photos of The Lizard's dad during his military years and as a police officer. His dad saved every newspaper story that covered something The Lizard did. And his dad saved a creative writing assignment The Lizard wrote about him. It was neat to see The Lizard's developing skill as a writer. He had the same scientific logic and sentence construction as a child he uses today in a more honed way. And ooh, la, la!!! His senior photos!!! My goodness!!! I'd have stalked him for sure!!!

This is just half.  There are three more boxes.  And three external hard drives, although they contain mostly photos.


  1. It is wonderful that you do this. Plus it is likely a nice purge sometimes, isn't it? Perhaps I should start. But then, Ella would probably eat the pencil.

  2. My mother gave me a dairy for Christmas when I was 11 and I kept it faithfully for about 4 months. I still have it and I still have not shown it to a soul. It is funny to look at now. When my daughter was killed in a car wreck her senior year in high school I took to writing poetry, mostly depressing stuff but it was cathartic for me. I suppose the closest I have come to long term journaling is this blog which I have published almost daily for going on 4 years. I don't usually have much to say but some of the photos are pretty decent. I like doing it. It will end when I do.

  3. I'm so glad you posted this. I kept a poem journal when I was a teen, but set it aside. Two years ago I started writing again what I called my homemaker's journal, and vowed it would be more than just a to do list. And it was, until the next move. When it became a book of to do lists I set it aside and forgot about it, until your post today. I've found it again, and made the first entry in over a year. Perhaps this time I'll keep it up for longer. After all, I don't move again for at least a year and a half. :) Thank you!

  4. It's great to have those journals to go back to. I'm not very good about diarizing, but I've kept trip diaries for special trips, and it's wonderful to read them over. Some years, when I take down the Christmas tree, I'll sit and write a page or two about the year that just ended, then put the paper away with the ornaments to read in future years. It's always great to take a trip back in time and remember past struggles and joys.


Dusty words lying under carpets,
seldom heard, well must you keep your secrets
locked inside, hidden deep from view?
You can talk to me... (Stevie Nicks)

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