Why You Need a Diary (Not a Journal)

Last night we were watching “The Man from Earth.” In one scene, the main character asks another character, “What were you doing a year ago today?” His point: just because you can’t remember what you did, doesn’t mean you weren’t there.

I don’t like spoilers, so I won’t share the importance of this remark, but it did make me think, “What was I doing a year ago today?”

The answer to that was easy: my son was married one year ago today. I remember a lot about that day, but I looked up August 14, 2010, in my diary – just to see what I might have forgotten. That day’s entry was sort of sketchy, but what I’d written triggered more memories that I hadn’t written down. I remembered exactly how I felt – stressed, happy, sad, and ready for the reception to begin.

Which is why I keep a diary.

What is the difference between a diary and a journal? Aside from the impression that ‘diary’ sounds more feminine than ‘journal,’ they have different purposes, in my opinion.

A lot of people, including me, keep journals – especially if they write. My journal is a tool: a place to brainstorm, sketch out ideas and vent feelings. I like thinking on paper; not everyone does.

I’ve kept a journal for a long time. When I look at my old entries – ten or more years ago – I always wish I’d spent less time venting and rambling about stuff and instead made more notes about what was actually happening. Angst-y moods will pass. It’s the little things we tend to forget that give shape to our existence – visits, appointments, phone calls, meals, movies, conversations. Details can trigger the memories we didn’t bother to write down.

For the last three years I’ve kept a diary as well as a journal. I write in the journal when I feel like it. I write in my diary several times a day, every day. What I record is quite mundane: I stop at various points during the day, note the time, and summarize what I’ve been doing: 08:06 / working on blog idea re: diaries.

I’m not experiencing any dementia, but at this point there are too many days in my life to remember each and every one of them. Most of the events are not important, but they are my life, and every now and then it’s nice to visit them again. Another bonus: I can settle all those petty arguments about where we ate or what movie we saw months ago; I can recall gifts I’ve given and received, figure out when I last had my hair cut or talked to my mother. No guessing.

A lot of famous people have kept diaries. I don’t believe it’s because they knew they would be famous and everyone would want to read it. It’s just a habit of mind, a way to give meaning and focus to existence.

This is the value of keeping a diary.  More

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