12/07/2011 04:57 pm ET Updated Oct 11, 2012

A Journal Is a Journal Is a Journal

I have kept an ongoing journal for almost 20 years. That's just the ongoing version. If you count the earlier sporadic versions of journals, it's been almost 30. I say I keep a journal -- but that "journal" is now 112 volumes long. I am one of those people -- who obsessively keep a chronicle of their life in a notebook. I don't understand it either, I just do it.

In my younger years, my journal was like a safety blanket I carted with me wherever I went -- a heavy, sometimes cumbersome safety blanket. Except in some rare moments, my journal has never been a small notebook. For years now its uniform is a black hardbound 200-page tome. My husband once remarked to me when he saw me shifting the weight of the shoulder strap on my bag, "Why don't you just leave that thing at home?" It was early on in our relationship, so I proceeded to educate him: was he nuts? Leave my journal at home? What if we were stranded somewhere? What would I do? How could I survive? I actually said versions of these things to him. (Did I mention we are married now? Yeah, I know, it's a miracle.)

Like any long-term relationship, things have changed for the journal and I. For a long time, the journal was just the long whiny and sometimes visual account of my life. Now it has grown to be something way more involved and practical. It's where I keep phone numbers, ideas, photographs, story clippings, dates and ephemera. It's the place I actually make a great deal of my work. A lot of my two books are actual pages in my journals. After years of trying on different shapes and sizes, I settled on a specific journal that I never vary from. This makes it a great filing system. When I am done with one, I date the spine and put it on a shelf. As a result, I know where everything is and the art is in not in danger of being lost or damaged in a file drawer.


It was with no small sense of change when I packed for a flight this summer and put my journal in the SUITCASE and not the carry on. I couldn't stomach the thought of carrying one more item on the plane. My bag is still heavy, but it carries every possible thing to manage somebody else's needs -- our small son's. I know that if we are stranded somewhere I am not going to be able to pass the time noting my thoughts or sketching the surroundings. I will most likely be trying to distract a toddler and finding a place that carries whole milk or fish crackers. My safety blanket has been reduced to a single pen. I'll make a note on anything, even the back of my hand if I need to. It then goes into the 200 page tome, and sometimes I don't even sweat that. I am getting more loose about some things as time goes by -- predictably, so are my journals. They bulge with all the scraps of my life and yet one thing still remains true: it keeps me sane and I'll never be without it.