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Keeping a Journal

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On Friday, March 22, I started keeping a journal.

I think most people already picture me as someone who journals — a journaler? — but the reality is I used to check in with myself very little. I check in with my characters constantly. I check in with my sources all the time. (It’s probably annoying how much I check in with them.) And I check in with the people around me so much that I sometimes forget to share what’s going on in my life.

On a ten minute walk from the theatre to the bus stop last night, my friend Kim asked me a series of questions about myself and my relationship with the different aspects of theatre and my desires to write different kinds of plays and it was so damn refreshing because I can’t remember the last time someone wanted to know so much about me all at once. It’s a tangent I’m bringing up because it reminded me of the now-daily check ins I’m doing with myself.

I used to journal all the time.

I mentioned this last week, but my mom has a desk drawer full of the journals I kept in elementary school, middle school, and high school. When I was organizing my playwriting notebooks, I found three unfinished journals — half hearted attempts at personal growth and self care from college, grad school, and the almost decade since. But the reality is, once I started writing plays, I stopped writing about myself. And whatever writing I did do about myself was public and loud and oh yeah did I mention I had a Tumblr until early this year?

I got into this mindset that anything I had to say about myself needed to be fit to print and, preferably, not so vulnerable that I’d be embarrassed if an employer stumbled upon it. But the loudest noise was this: anything I was processing could be more successfully processed through a set of characters, in front of an audience, backwards and in high heels.

Spoiler alert: I was totally wrong.

I mean, we’ve all seen a bad autobiographical play. That was my entire canon from age 21 to 24. Those are the plays that are truly of the moment. If you were at a reading back then, great. You probably don’t remember any of it. If you weren’t there, it’s probably for the best. No one should have to sit through an early 20s playwright work through problems with their parents and relationships and everyday annoyances, thinly veiled under names similar to mine, with siblings the same age as mine, and that eerie thing where everyone agreed the female protagonist was a saint and everyone else was totally and completely wrong.

This is what happens when I don’t have a personal writing outlet, folks. I’m sorry you had to see all that.

Maybe one day I’ll write a great autobiographical play, but only after I’ve fully processed the material through journaling and therapy and conversations with my partner. And even then, I won’t write it unless it’s truly necessary, unless it’s actually interesting to people who aren’t me. Until then, I’m happy living in imagined alternate realities — worlds where not one character’s experience lines up with my own.

But I’m off track again.

I eased into journaling in the most completely on brand and wildly ambitious way: I bought a five year journal. Starting at the end of October, I closed my day with one line about what had happened that day — a way to quiet my mind and actually get myself to sleep. It’s a ritual I’ve been practicing for six months now, one that I can’t see myself without. Which is why, when I read Esmé Weijun Wang’s book The Collected Schizophrenias last month, I started itching for an extension of my daily practice. I did some digging around on Esmé’s website and found a free e-book that spoke to my very journaling needs: Productivity Journaling with Limitations.

I’m productive, I journal, I have limitations. Every word of the title checked a box. So I started using her framework. And then, like any good home cook, I adapted the recipe to suit my needs. And then I just started writing every morning. On the days when I work at home, I get out of bed and write my morning pages before going to the gym. On the days when I work offsite, I take my journal on the bus with me and write until I’ve reached my destination or until I’m done, whichever one comes first. I’m giving myself a set of parameters, using Esmé Wang’s process as a guide: Morning Reflection, Intentions for the Day, Priority Tasks, and Today I Did. I’m thinking about my dreams (like, my literal dreams that I had the night before) and my dreams (like, my goals for my life and stuff). I gave myself the courage to stand up to a bully at work, I worked through what it would take to be entirely freelance, and I reflected back on a pretty choice dream I had last night where my friends Megan and Adi were small business owners of a local donut shop. And that’s just in the last three weeks!

I’m not saying I have my life 100% figured out; that would be ridiculous and no fun at all. But I do know that I’m happier when I journal. I do know that, with these morning pages, I’m giving myself the kind of energy I already give every single person around me. And that’s a luxury I can afford.