“The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it.” ―J.M. Barrie (Author of Peter Pan)
When my husband’s aunt Beryl died several years ago she left him a blanket box full of photo albums, letters, journals and diaries she had kept from the years of her service as a missionary. Jim was her God-child, but had never really had the opportunity to spend any time with her. I had only met her briefly on a couple of occasions – so knew very little about her. After some years of contemplating what to do with all this material, besides allowing it to take up space in my sun-room or become dust to silverfish, I decided I would read through her treasure box. And it was a treasure – a store of information that led me to uncover a life lived to the full – with love, adventure, joy, sadness, regret – the complete human condition. I was amazed to learn that this gentle, English woman of faith had been a brave adventuress, living in remote parts of both Africa and India at a time when most women were expected to marry and have children. Her writing captivated me, as it painted such a clear picture of her life and allowed me to glimpse a Beryl I had never imagined existed – A young and vibrant woman with an uncanny sense of humour and the ability to adapt quickly to changing circumstances. A woman of many facets.
Within her documents I was surprised to find that Beryl had always intended to write her life story during her retirement years. She had even drafted an outline for each chapter, starting with her childhood and finishing with her last furlong as a missionary teacher in India. After discussions with Jim, and her remaining siblings, I decided to write her biography from her personal journals, interviews with family and friends and my good mate Google to fill the background information of significant events etc. It culminated in “Journey of Faith” – the Beryl House Story. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to have a glimpse of a life well lived.
Personal documents have been written since the beginning of written language. In fact, recorded history is in many ways a journal – someone’s impressions, thoughts, ideas and feelings about events. Both historical and literary books are often reconstructed accounts from documents such as ship logs, diaries, letters and journals. As was the case with my booklet - “Journey of Faith”.
So how did Journaling come about? Here's the story so far...
The Journals Journey
- As far back as 56 C.E., in China, journals were written and then archived as historical documents.
- In the West, during the Renaissance when the image of the self-became important, Augustine of Hippo (a Fourth Century bishop and theologian) is credited with having invented the literary genre of autobiography. He wrote the classic work, Confessions, which documents his own religious conversion and growth in Christian spirituality.
- In tenth-century Japan Heian court ladies kept the pillow book (so named because it was placed in the bed chamber or perhaps in drawers of wooden pillows). These records incorporated factual accounts, dreams, fantasies, and poetry.
- Japanese also kept travel diaries which were mainly comprised of poetry.
- In contrast, the western travel diary (which came much later) was primarily a narrative stressing what the traveller has done and seen. Examples include the ship log books of James Cook and William Bligh, whose reports were later published, and gave an concise account of their adventure (chain of command, navigational insights and other facts).
- Samuel Pepys’ diary, written between 1660 –
1669, was possibly the first known diary. He not only recorded current events, but
described the people he met and his impressions of them, the local gossip and the other minute details of his daily
life. Entries were characterized by
immediacy and self-reflection.
- During the French Revolution (19th Century) diaries were referred to as “journals in time.” The Journal focused more on "self", with an inward focus on confession and passion. The “journal in time” provided the author an outlet to explore/question traditional values, existing literary forms, government, and even the relationship between the sexes.
- Over the
past 100 years, as writing has become a more universal skill, journal writing
had taken hold as a common practice among both professional and non-professional
- During the 1960s and early 1970s, journaling
came into its own as a tool to be used more widely. In the fields of psychology and
psychotherapy, journal based writing was (and still is) used as a part of therapeutic
treatment, encouraging people to look inside themselves, to analyze and document
behaviours and feelings, and to explore dreams while the Women’s Movement
encouraged personal writing as a way for women to achieve power and voice.
- In 1980’s, personal journal writing had been
linked to creativity, expansion of consciousness, and the deepening of
spiritual awareness and growth.
My Art Journal
- Diaries, in today's world, are also used in both formal and informal learning situations and include dream logs, autobiographies, spiritual journals, theory logs, and interactive reading diaries.
- In the 21st Century journals are used to record our creative processes (art journals), vacations, our goals, genealogy and much more.
Like the journals of history and The Beryl House Story, we should think of our journals as a way for future generations to see what we were struggling with at the time and to know that their dilemmas are not too far removed from ours. So put pen to paper, and document your own “inner and outer” world (for your own personal learning and growth) and as an everlasting memorial for future generations to mull over and possible glean an understanding of what life was like then, and just maybe, use to make significant changes to their own life.
Do you have a dairy that belonged to a relative or significant other that documents significant historical events or personal revelations? What impact/influence has reading these accounts had on you? I’d love to hear from you and your story.