By Tiffany Chaney
A blanket. A flashlight. A pen. A journal.
My most vivid memories of journaling and its impact on me come from being a thirteen-year-old girl in the late 90s with a blanket over my head, precariously balancing a flashlight, a pen, and a journal. The blanket was meant to form a safe and secret space for my writing, which took up an average of two to three pages of releasing “teenage angst.”
Weren’t our worlds so big but yet so small then? The world was so small: you were caught up in the emotions of dealing with crushes that couldn’t be more; friendships that formed their own protective space for you to just be yourself, except when they didn’t; then, an explicable loneliness and wonder for what it meant to be so small on a tiny blue dot hurtling through space.
So, I wrote about that. My thirteen-year-old self was wise for her age, theorizing truths she would later read, but she also got caught up in worrying about the details. She imprisoned her own emotions and thoughts into two-page scripts of spirals. She wrote poignant poems and pondered if parallel universes exist. She was a philosopher.
Under that blanket, she protected her words from a mother who didn’t quite allow her to have her own voice. She protected her words from being lost to dreams she couldn’t quite remember, while others were too vivid. She wrote those down, too, sometimes. She protected those words from abrupt knocks on the door, because how dare any light of independence peek out from under the space beneath.
The journal was not strict; the journal allowed for autonomy.
And that’s when the pen flowed the fastest and the freest.
It’s a contrast to my seven-year-old self who didn’t keep a journal; she was told to keep a diary. There was such a fuss over a girl getting her first diary in those times, nearly a rite of passage that added an unnecessary pressure as to what to write and what it meant to be a girl.
It was a Lisa Frank journal that had a lock. Anyone knows that lock could be broken, but it was the symbolism of anyone daring to break that lock that mattered the most; it wasn’t.
It contained pages torn out that recorded secret crushes, just in case anyone found out. My seven-year-old self obsessed over her favorite songs on the radio, what she did with her friends and in school that day, and made lists of her favorite and least favorite things.
It also included entries from my grandmother and her sister. My grandmother was in the middle stages of dementia at the time, and my grandaunt often came to care for us while my mother worked. While on a shopping trip, I got the idea to have both my grandmother and grandaunt write in the diary. Each wrote an entry on what we were doing that day and their reflections; my grandmother wrote she loved me.
Eventually, she wouldn’t remember me. It’s among my most treasured keepsakes, those entries among the others torn out.
I have attempted to start other journals/diaries, but I fell short of the regular task of writing about myself and my life. The world has more adjectives as an adult, not necessarily ones you want to write down, after you have felt like you’ve written a novel in your head already that day.
But it’s necessary. The journey of those two girls provide a beautiful and bittersweet reflection of who I was and where I was and where I wondered I would be. Now that I am “there,” it brings a comfort, which is what a journal should be for.
Now, there is no flashlight, but there is still a blanket that I wrap around myself, and when I feel called to journal, I let myself be where I am. A pen. A journal. My voice.