Magazine article Information Today

Personal Journals: New Uses for an Age-Old Practice: Online Journal Writing Is a New Way of Reaching out to People Who Care Enough to Read an Account of a Person's Thoughts and Feelings. (Perspectives: Where Do We Go from Here?)

Magazine article Information Today

Personal Journals: New Uses for an Age-Old Practice: Online Journal Writing Is a New Way of Reaching out to People Who Care Enough to Read an Account of a Person's Thoughts and Feelings. (Perspectives: Where Do We Go from Here?)

Article excerpt

When our rabbi advised a congregant in a book discussion group a few months ago to "journal" her reactions to a rather disturbing book we had been talking about, I knew not only that a new verb had come into common use-but that journaling had gone mainstream.

There's nothing new about keeping a journal. It's an age-old form of writing history and memoirs. Julius Caesar's The Gallic Wars, St. Agustine's Confessions, and The Diary of Samuel Pepys are all the products of journal-keeping. Many Civil War records are taken from the diaries and letters of those involved. Queen Victoria is reported to have kept a daily journal for 68 years.

While journals were maintained--and sometimes published--primarily by prominent 19th-century men, it was not until the late 20th century that journal-keeping became a common practice. In recent years, the diaries of women from the early American period are being taken seriously. Journal-keeping has even become a format for successful fiction, as evidenced by the popularity of the best-selling novel Bridget Jones's Diary.

Other new aspects of journal-keeping include the everyday life situations in which professionals in many fields consider it a useful tool, the teaching and widespread discussion of journaling techniques, and the migration of personal journaling to the Web. Online journals have become a means for their writers to not only communicate with their immediate network of friends but to interact with the public at large.

There has also been a shift in emphasis from documenting facts to exploring feelings. For many of the millions of folks who keep them now, journals are tools for self-discovery and personal growth.

Journals have also become a big business. Bookstores devote scarce shelf space to the ever-expanding selection of blank books (as many as 10 million of them are sold annually) and scrapbook and archiving tools. Behind the trend in private journaling is an understanding that everyone's life and feelings are unique and are worth a written record of some kind. Also, professionals have long been aware that the writing process can assist in creative and therapeutic pursuits.

Journaling is now taught in university classes and in writers' and artists' workshops. It's often seen as an essential tool for those on personal or spiritual quests. Published journals are also studied in literature classes. In primary and secondary schools, teachers who ask students to keep journals of their responses to class material sometimes read them to understand those students' needs and interests. Some psychologists recommend maintaining a bedside journal to record dreams, which often contain symbolic reflections of deep realities in people's minds.

The promises are wide-ranging: tapping into one's subconscious, exploring spirituality, relieving stress, dealing with anger or grief, unleashing creativity, reflecting on life's transitions, recovering from psychological disorders, recording prayers and dreams, gaining self-confidence, practicing writing, exploring relationships, setting goals, and wrestling with work and family issues, among many others. Ample documentation about the benefits of journaling is available online. (See the list at Higher Awareness at http://www.higherawareness.com/lists/benjrnl.shtml.)

A Modern Take on Journals

Psychologist Ira Progoff, writer Christina Baldwin, artist Julia Cameron, and psychotherapist Kathleen Adams are among the teachers whose work brought journaling into mainstream American life in the latter part of the 20th century.

In the mid-1960s, Progoff, who studied under Carl Jung and taught at Drew University, created a process called the "Intensive Journal." With this method, all kinds of people can use journal writing as a tool for life exploration. The Intensive Journal process, he said, was designed to help individuals find meaning in life. He believed this was necessary for them to gain fulfillment. …

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