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December 4, 2022

Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: The Empty Journals of Complex Women

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There are two types of people: Those who journal, and those who don’t.

‘This is going to be the first of many journal entries’. I read this on the first page of a moleskin diary. It is the only entry. It belongs to my daughter. I am cleaning through boxes of stuff my girls have stashed in the cupboards. These unwritten journals are a feature. There are pink satin hard-covered diaries, soft velvet notebooks, handmade paper journals, and business-like little black books. It makes me smile because I have the same approach to my journals. Tens of books with one or two entries carefully made, and then abandoned. This moment of hope and intention – and then acres of nothing. Who is this girl who has slipped from the pages? 

It’s like this fragile heart was captured, and then disappeared into the ether, and all we have as evidence is this dusty book. There’s a sweet sadness as I pack these books away. I recognise this feeling, this secret longing… this broken promise. It smells like distant smoke. It lives in me. This desire to tell all; coupled with a desire to reveal nothing.

There are two types of people: Those who journal, and those who don’t. As much as I want to be someone who journals, it appears that I am not. Nor are my daughters. We start strong, but we fade fast. The journals are always started in a point of exit from sadness, when there’s a sense of a need for solemn confession to change a pattern. Perhaps this inability to commit to a journal, to commit truly to one’s own path of self-discovery is a sign. Or perhaps we were bored, or busy, or scared… in denial. Or perhaps we changed the pattern so fast a second journal entry was not required. 

It’s not procrastination. I don’t have writer’s block. I have no problem with writing. I create thousands of words every week without fail. I do however struggle to journal. 

Perhaps the procrastination or the block lies deep within. Or maybe I have no inner life worth mining? No secrets left to uncover

I wonder who that woman is – the one who picks up her unlined notebook and details her day. The one who captures her dark thoughts on paper and leaves them by the bed, finding solace in spilling her secrets. She who has something to say and says it, or has nothing to say and says it. How does she find her way to the page time and time again? And how can she bare to leave her soul on the dresser, unattended? 

Doesn’t she know that people will look? Doesn’t she know she will be discovered? Or is that what she wants? Are all people who journal ‘missing’ – waiting to be found? Maybe I don’t journal because I prefer the freedom of being a missing person. 

How do journal writers be unselfconscious? I don’t think I’ve ever started a journal without being conscious of being discovered. Of someone picking up a book I’ve previously hidden, and then forgotten, and finding a piece of me that I had recorded and lost. I have seen what happens with journals; they get found. Some even get published posthumously. What an awful thing to do to someone. Do dead people get embarrassed? It’s a betrayal and a rare delicious intimacy, all at the same time. 

I’m holding these diaries that belong to my daughter and I desperately want to read them. So few entries, it would take half-an-hour, tops. But I can’t. To go further would be a betrayal. All I allow myself to read is the space unwritten. 

Ironically the absence is more revealing than a filled page. It calls me back to my own silence. The unwritten page has spoken.

This morning I started a new journal; a small satin book sewn with tiny pearls. It felt too beautiful to write in. Like nothing I had to offer would be good enough. I sat for half-an-hour looking at the blank page, I wrote ‘This is going to be the first of many journal entries’, and then I hid it.

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  1. I journal nearly every day. My best time is in the middle of the night when I’ve woken up and can’t get back to sleep. I don’t make any effort to reveal deep secrets or anything like that. The practice is (as per The Artist’s Way book) just to keep the hand moving for half an hour or a couple of pages, whichever comes first. With zero intention of even reading it again myself, never mind anyone else. I write what happened the day before, or what’s on my mind, or bits of a dream, or complete rubbish – the rule is just to keep the pen moving. Blah blah blah, etc. I use a succession of $2 unlined scrapbooks that take a month or two to fill up at that rate. Definitely not some exquisite hand-made and bejewelled objet d’art. That’s way too intimidating. Sometimes it helps me get back to sleep. Anyway, I can claim to journal, if nothing else creative gets done. But The Artist’s Way has sold millions and people in all kinds of fields claim this kind of journalling (and other practices advocated in it) have helped them enormously.


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