Many books on journaling seem to think of the habit as practice for real writing, but for me it is the real writing, and all the rest is just projects.
I write with a fountain pen in a bound, lined-paper book. I date the entries. I write almost every day, almost always in the morning, almost always just once a day. I write about whatever matters to me, such as:
Events: What happened yesterday that I want to remember? What’s awful or joyful in the news? What stories would I want to tell? What would I rather nobody knows? Was my husband feeling better yesterday, or am I fooling myself?
Fiction: Begin a story. Write the next scene. See where it goes. Take something I think or feel, or two things that don’t seem to match. How does the character ignore awfulness and go on with life? How might the character handle grief? death? loss? Why is it funny? Why do I want to make it funny?
Processing: How many organizational systems do I have, and which ones could be combined or abandoned? What’s working? What’s not? What do I need to give up in order to keep going? What is the function of keeping up with social media? What do I need to keep doing while my husband is so sick for so long? What do I need to start doing for him, and will it make him feel helpless?
Plans: What do I need to get done today? What can be optional, and why? What is my problem and what is not? How will I protect my sanity today? Which things on my endless task list can I stand to tackle today? Should I go with my husband to that oncologist appointment on Monday or let him take a Lyft? They’re just going to give him IV fluids and he will talk at length, often confusedly, to the doctor, who will listen, god bless him.
Questions I can’t answer: Why has the oncologist’s office started calling my phone instead of my husband’s? Should I go ahead and buy that cemetery plot without telling my husband? What should I do next? How long will someone with a terminal disease survive? Years? Months? Days? What will it be like without my spouse of 46 years? How long do I have myself?
Advice: What have I told someone recently that I should take to heart? Which books should you keep, which ones should you donate, and which ones should you just chuck because they’re worthless or worse than worthless? What would I tell someone else about living with someone who’s dying? Why don’t I want other people’s advice?
Feelings: How do I feel? Why do I feel that way? Why are some things important to me, while others aren’t? Why do I like the neighbor’s new dog so much, when I don’t generally don’t like dogs? Why am I sad? happy? angry? impatient? stuck? How should I feel about my husband saying he’s not sure he can go on like this? Is maintaining a matter-of-fact demeanor always appropriate, and why?
What I notice: The weather. How I feel. What’s happening around me. Things I like about my house. Why is that electric company truck parked outside my house with a man in a cherry-picker? Why are those teenagers screaming as they walk? What is it I like about that dumb bronze squirrel I keep on my windowsill, the toothy grin or the little paws? Do I hear the toilet flushing upstairs and the occasional groan, so I know my husband survived the night?
Everything else: Lists. Things I want to get done. Rants. Bitter complaints. Illuminated letters. Little sketches of birds. What I’d like to learn how to do. Things I wonder about. Why my feelings are hurt or why I am feeling accomplished. What my husband’s arms look like and why they make me so sad. Is it the huge red blotches, or is it how skinny they are? Why does he keep rubbing my feet at night? What will I miss about him? What won’t I miss? How lucky am I, in comparison to so many people? What does it feel like to be almost crying when the utility employees are going on with their job outside my window and my husband is alive and just as silly and sweet (and annoying, and boring) as ever?
Then I close my journal and go on to the next thing on my list, and all those thoughts are out of my head and safe inside the book, where they will stop bothering me and protesting that they are important, dammit.
Now I can move on.