ESSAY: Journaling for the Student

It seems that far too many of my students, in too many of my classes, being around the age of nineteen, have no idea what a journal is. There seems a vague notion that it is a diary. It is not. It is the recording intellectual reflections of challenging ideas and existential query, and not writing about love interests or of an afternoon pulling the wings off of flies, or counting the petals on a daisy. (Although it could be!) But then again, a journal might reveal such things, but in a context of what is being learned, or what is being challenged, or better, how new information is being contextualized within one’s experience and one’s, hopefully, malleable belief system.

Requiring a journal of this sort, for my classes, is essentially a challenge to my students to actually think. It is a place to stumble about, fishing for words that they may not yet know, linking ideas that seem at far and opposite ends of the spectrum of thought.

Or merely noting what appear to be absurdities in life, or, in this case, what is absurd in assigned readings, or lectures, or discussions on whatever it is that the instructor seems to think is important at the moment. Forget the instructor, and think only of the theme, what what you know, would like to know, or what it is that seems right or wrong to you. What is changing? What seems forever immutable?

In my own journal I often included articles and photographs or other images. Sometime of people who are influencing me at the moment. Sometimes a visual reminder of where I was when thinking about something. It is all fair game. Someone called this endeavor a “scrap book.” Scraps indeed. A trivializing word, “scrapbook,” implying pressed flowers and pasted in photographs of weddings. But scraps it is and I think it, the journal, as being significantly more than a scrapbook or a diary. Call it, then, the autobiographical recordings of he elitist. Actually don’t. But there is some of that, for certain.

A diary begins (or so it goes) “Dear diary, I…” Oh no you don’t. A journal begins “Is it possible…” or “It seems that…” or “Consider…” and so forth. A genuinely elevated start, and one that holds promise that the next few words will not be “I am sad today.” Although one may indeed be sad, in a journal one does not actually use the word “sad.” One uses something like “melancholic” (as in Hamlet). Or perhaps complains of “ennui” (as in Oscar Wild). A discussion of depression may ensue, but the true journalist makes it concise enough to be understandable, but complex enough to reveal some depth of character.

So, my dear journalist, dig in. Do not dally. Begin to write, and feel free to choose to make corrections or not. Be swift, but do actually “say” something. Speak to yourself, and speak so to others, even though they may not exist. A voice will emerge, and, with time, gain strength. Your words are as immortal as time itself, as the moment is, for all intents and purposes, infinite. Do not mind that your words will most likely die with you. The stars too die eventually, as ours most surely will as well.