We’ve mentioned the advantages of journaling before. It’s not news that writing in order to work through our feelings, or to remind ourselves of what we’re grateful for is a great way to fight anxiety, and identify areas of our lives that need work. Now, though, the pages of your diary might be something more than just a therapeutic release. By journaling in a pandemic, you may be writing history.
Why should I journal?
In case you’re not up to speed, Huffpost has this great list of reasons to keep a journal. Their reasons include the fact that the practice encourages mindfulness, and that writing in general stretches your IQ and your EQ. Journaling is also a great way to keep tabs of your goals – which is also a sure-fire way to help you reach them. Writing about…well…whatever you want, boosts your creativity, and helps you heal from some of the emotional damage we all struggle with from time to time.
You don’t need to spend a lot of time in order to feel the benefits, either. Many people choose to keep a gratitude journal. Instead of writing our essays before bed every night, this requires only a short list of things you’re grateful for every day, and won’t take more than a few minutes.
Now, however, journaling has taken on a new function. The pages we write today, describing this strange year and the ways in which we’re coping with it, could be read by future generations. Remember those paragraphs in history textbooks that were taken from the pages of old white guys’ journals while they were off exploring, stealing other people’s land and fighting wars? Well, your journal could serve a similar function a hundred years from now!
Writing the story of 2020
I’ve been keeping my journal since the start of the year, at least fairly consistently. Looking back over the last couple of months, it’s clear to see how my feelings about the pandemic and the nationwide lockdown it brought have fluctuated. Initially, I felt a sense of panic about being confined to my home that, over time, faded into a dull fatigue, or cabin fever (There’s a lot of frivolous nonsense in there too, but that’s less important in the context of this article).
The thought of somebody reading through all the lectures I’ve given myself and all the to-do lists that were never completed makes me cringe. Not to mention the fact that in between those there are pages and pages of mundane details of my life that would probably put even a historian to sleep. It seems, to me anyway, highly unlikely that anyone would be interested in having to wade through my dull – and often very shallow– musings. According to Marie Solis at Vice, however, this may not quite be the case.
“Now, mundanities are all we have (if we’re lucky), and historians are interested in them, “She writes. “Living through a pandemic is a historic event, even if all we’re doing is surviving it—baking bread, getting into comically trivial arguments with our partners, and doing workout videos in our apartments.”
Solis spoke to Katherine Landdeck, a history professor at Texas Woman’s University, who said that historians love diaries because they offer a point of view not represented in newspapers or other official documents. “They capture our habits and rhythms, as well as the subtle shifts in our emotional states,” she said. For accurate documentation of any historical event, that’s essential.
“Journals are so important because they show how one person’s view or experience of something changes over time,” Landdeck told Solis. “When you look back to the month or two ago when this started, you’re going to be worrying about different things than you are today.”
And we don’t have to wait a century for historians to take an interest in our isolated and anxiety-filled existences! “Journal of the Plague Year” is a project led by American historians which archives documents relating to the pandemic experiences of the average Joe (or Jane). These can take the form of diary entries, photographs, drawings, or even memes. Submissions can be private or public, meaning that unless you want your deepest emotional struggles published for the world to see, only researchers will be able to access them.
Historians are then using the submissions to identify the experiences, fears, and emotions that are common to everyone dealing with this pandemic. They can follow the spread of the public’s concerns as they change and progress – whether that be over empty toilet paper shelves or uncomfortable masks. Nothing is too mundane or too unimportant to be included in what will eventually be an account of a massive historical event.
“Absolutely everything is interesting,” Mark Tebeau, one of the lead researchers on the project, told Solis. “That seems like a cop-out, but I’m endlessly delighted by the details people share—graffiti they see on their walks, a virtual family meeting, or a funny story about a Zoom class. All of those things tell us about this moment.”
It may seem redundant to be writing a pandemic journal when we’re already plastering our lives all over Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but Ari L. Goldman, a journalism professor at Columbia University insists that this isn’t the case.
In an article for the Washington Post, Goldman states that our social media updates are not the records that matter. “Facebook and Instagram are a conversation,” he writes. “They are for others. A journal is for you. You deserve a record. Write it down so you will remember how you got used to this — and how you got through this.”
You don’t need to write for the whole world
If the idea of sending pages of your diary off to researchers you’ve never met chills you, that’s OK. You could always save your stories for readers much closer to home. The pages you’re jotting down now may be of great interest to your own family members further down the line.
There’s something magical about reading in that the words on a page can become a conversation between a reader and the writer. This conversation is possible across time and space, meaning that you could be addressing your great, great grandkids as you’re writing about how your banana bread turned out!
I’m not sure I’ll even have grandkids, but the idea that someone decades down the line might pick up my pre-bedtime ramblings and find them even a little interesting thrills me. They’ll have to get over my illegible handwriting, but really once they’ve done that half the battle’s over. By spending ten minutes a day writing about how you’re doing, you could engage in a dialogue with the future – not to mention reap all those other benefits we spoke about earlier – and that is immensely valuable.
If you’ve never kept a diary before, now is a great time to start. We’ve only just hit the middle of 2020 and it’s already been a momentous catastrophe, so you can rest assured there’ll still be tons to write about. If all that comes out of your pen is an unplanned review of your latest Netflix binge, that’s OK too.
At the very least you’ll get some penmanship practice – often much needed in a society that almost only reads and composes text messages and emails.
If keeping a journal doesn’t tickle your fancy, but you’d still like to write about your pandemic experiences, send us an email and The Essential Millennial will be happy to publish your submissions here!