On Journaling.

Theodore Roosevelt on the death of his wife and mother on the same day.

My ritual is this.  Every morning for the past seven years, I get up at 3:15 to 3:30.   People find this hard to believe, so over the years I have challenged people to send me a random email at that hour, see if I respond.  Then I realized what a tool move that was, and I stopped it.  By 8:00 in the evening I have all the proof that I, or anyone else needs, that I get up at 3ish.  Coffee, already brewed and thank God for the timer on the Keurig.  And then, three handwritten pages.  The idea comes from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and it is designed to get your brain in the mode of output rather than input, and make you an artist.  I don’t do it for that.

I started doing it because I had a major depressive episode and after a few tours of anti-depressants that were more dangerous than the depression, I decided I had to work my way through it on my own.  Every morning, seven years, and in seven years, been very fine.  I don’t vent, I don’t even really try to write.  Whatever is in my head, that is what comes out.  No one reads it.  I had a buddy in high school and we were in a band together, and when I didn’t know the words to a song yet (I was the lead singer at 12, in no small part due to the fact that my voice hadn’t changed yet AND Journey and Boston were big) – when I didn’t know the words, he would tell me to just sing “watermelon” until I learned them.  I have pages of “watermelon.”  My handwriting is “creative” but the word watermelon – THAT I can write so you can read it.

Theodore Roosevelt was a giant thinker and doer, and also kept amazing journals.  That picture, the one on top, is his entry on Valentine’s Day, 1884.  On that day, his wife and mother both died within hours of each other.  His wife died delivering their daughter.  From that day on, Roosevelt never spoke her name (Alice) nor did he allow it to be spoken in his presence.   He did confide in a friend that the pain, if externalized, would destroy him.  But he wrote about her all the time.

That’s the first reason to journal, of course.  To express things that you can’t express anywhere else.  And you have things to express that you can’t express anywhere else.  If you are thinking, that is.

Marie Curie’s journal may possibly glow in the dark still, but you won’t live long enough to know.

That’s Marie Curie’s journal.  It’s radioactive.  Not in like, she had so much S to say that her journal was an early sex tape. In the radioactive radioactive way.  You can’t see this journal, unless you wear a hazmat suit of sorts and of course sign a waiver.  Curie died of aplastic anemia – probably caused by radiation.  She carried radium all the time.  Her journals are kept in a lead box in France.  My journals are not radioactive, but this is a cool story.

Journaling, I have found, is one of the purest forms of thought, because it is untainted by anything other than how you can articulate it.  One of the drivers of the Ivy culture is the value of thought.  On the periodic table of thoughts, journal thoughts are the rhodium.  Rhodium, as an aside, is the most expensive element.  I didn’t know that either.  It is a curious exercise, to see what you really think, at the purest level.  It is authentic – another Ivy pillar.   Your most pure, authentic thoughts, recorded.

It is quite another exercise to review what you really think.  Here is Thomas Edison’s diary:

If you want to know what Thomas Edison’s real thoughts were, here you go.  I can tell you one thing.  They weren’t the light bulb.

Journaling, like most habits, is a discipline until it isn’t.  It was very much work for me to get up at that hour and force thought.  Even caffeinated.  But I tell you what it did do, over time.  Over time it trained me to think first.  Before pretty much anything.  Except that one ballet dancer.  But that’s another story.  It does help one control impulsivity though.  And it forces one to put work and energy and time into their opinions, hopefully honing them.  You can kinda tell the ones who don’t journal.  Know what I mean?

After I journal, I meditate.  We can get into that.  But the objection to meditation is the same as the objection to journaling.  Who wants to see their thoughts?  My thoughts are pretty plain.  Pretty mundane.  From this morning, for example: “If I was Bastian I would’ve called me after that review.” Or, “when asked how to get a guitar to sound like James Taylor, his guitar tech said Have James Taylor play it.”  There is no gold in them thar hills.  My pages are massive disappointments if one is looking for Life Commandments.  My pages are more like the traffic cones of thinking.

But journaling helps you, or at least me, get comfortable with the idea that every page isn’t me inventing the scissors, or diving suits.  DaVinci did that.  Here:

This is a journal page. I couldn’t do this if I hired an artist to do it for me.

See? I am over resenting that I am not DaVinci.  Journaling did that.  And life.  Life helped.

That’s the best part of journaling.  Not the Ivy tenant of respect for the value of thought, but the environment in which to become comfortable with your thought.   Once comfortable, then you can respect your thinking.  And once you can respect your thinking, you can respect other’s thinking.

Which is Ivy.

  • JB




10 Comments on "On Journaling."

  1. There were reviews?

    … yeah, mine. – JB

  2. “And once you can respect your thinking, you can respect other’s thinking.”
    This is true, and then something else can–can–happen: a back-and-forth that resembles dialogue. Maybe even a debate — of perspectives and ideas. No fear of an idea thoughtfully and clearly expressed. No personalizing. No “how dare you’s?” if all that’s been shared is an idea about, well, another idea. Exchange in the best sense: “what’s a good idea and are some better than others?”

    Now, surely, that’s Ivy. Something to hope-and-strive for.

    Well said sir. – JB

  3. In Defence of Reading Diaries:


    Very cool, and right. – JB

  4. Old Bostonian | September 3, 2021 at 12:42 am |

    If others’ thinking = It’s fine to go out in the street unwashed, unshaven,unkempt, wearing “pajamas” and flip-flops, then please do not expect we to respect them or their way of thinking,sir. Ivy = standards. Of all sorts: behavioral, sartorial, linguistic,…

    I would hope that our minds are big enough to have an option between I-completely-agree-with-everything-you-do AND I-don’t-respect-you. – JB

  5. The simple act of writing — about anything at all and whether, or not anyone else ever sees the end product — is one of life’s many small joys. So too is dressing well.

    Best Regards,


  6. “Not the Ivy tenant of respect for the value of thought…”

    “Tenant” should be “tenet”.

    I ALWAYS get this wrong. This, and separate. I have looked up separate 100 times, including just now. THANKS! – JB

  7. Recently wrote a self-pub book about growing up on the New River in Virginia with chapters on eight of my Greatest Generation uncles who served. It was an amazing experience in processing thoughts on paper about men being men. Not journaling so much but nonetheless, very cathartic and helpful, as of over twenty aunts and uncles, plus my parents, the last one died in January at age 88. He was an author himself, a real author, not self pub. Ha. Plus it was featured in two local and one regional paper(s) and sold over 100 in my little hometown by the river, which recouped my printing and design costs. I heartily recommend writing.

    You should give yourself more credit. Many authors self pub first. The Bible, for example, was self published for the longest time. – JB

  8. Meh, TR, Madam Curie, Edison and DaVinci weren’t so great.


  9. Old Bostonian | September 3, 2021 at 11:49 pm |

    Dressing well is the best revenge against the onslaught of slobs.

  10. If the objective of keeping a journal is personal honesty, I recall a saying “Everyone is like the moon, they have a dark side hey will never show”. I think there is great meaning in that phrase.

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