Letter writing and journaling – it’s a gift!
Posted by jorbell on December 19, 2008
When was the last time you wrote in a diary or journal?
I’m not talking about blogging here but a real written record of your day. I don’t know about you but I did this on-and-off for many years to the point that I pretty good idea what I was up to for more than a decade. Well, for the first couple of months of each year anyway.
I would always start with the best of intentions but then I would miss the odd day and then try and catch up the next night but before I knew it was a week behind. It would then to be too much of a chore and then I would give up. That was a shame but at least I had a go. I am actually rather thrilled that there are books of varying sizes plus lever arch files with detailed diary entries of my life stored away. I can look back and be reminded of memorable events more clearly but more importantly it is a family record that can be passed on down the generations.
Blogging is all very well but it does rather take the charm out of things. When your thoughts can be instantly edited and annotated with web links and photographs it’s just…well, business like. Almost clinical in fact.
Part of the joy of keeping a diary is seeing the mistakes and misspellings, the scribbling outs and the scraps of paper or photos tucked between the pages. There’s also no guarantee that your work will survive indefinitely in an electronic world because some of my prized writings have been lost because I didn’t back them up properly. These include my entry into a BBC scriptwriting competition which I was long-listed for. I posted my words on a forum but in a restructure of the site, the forum I used was deleted.
No-one backs up a handwritten diary of course but I think people take better care of them for that very reason. The Internet has made us very lazy and when we do get caught by a hardware failure, software developments or plain negligence, there’s often actually very little we can do about it.
I do have a prime example here: I wrote five months worth of entries in 1999 around the time our eldest child was born. It included details on visits to antenatal classes, buying baby clothes, decorating the nursery and of course the maternity hospital and the birth itself. I have all this on CD-R as I didn’t have a home PC at that time and it was all written on my work machine.
This content was subsequently compressed to get more data on the disk using DiskDoubler but now I don’t have access to Quark Xpress 3.2 or DiskDoubler so I now can’t open them. The worst bit is that I don’t have a printed copy either. Will I ever get to read these files again?
The point is is that these are important family records. Detailed accounts about the days leading up to and following the birth a person into the world. Nothing about me exists like that and I’m sure my daughter would love to be able to read them herself but I may have to face the fact she’ll have to rely on my verbal memories which, over time, will not be as specific or vivid as when written down on the day it happened.
So where is this discussion taking us? Well, it was inspired by a friend of mine who is visiting the US in a few weeks and has been forced to change is plans because he now can no longer meet with the people he was going to see. Effectively this trip will be done alone. My first thought was “Fabulous!” because it’s such an opportunity. However much I love my family, and I do dearly, my best holiday was the one I took alone back in 1996. This lasted three weeks and had absolutely no itinerary apart from a couple of flying visit, meet-ups along the way. Each morning when I woke I had no idea in which direction I would be headed.
In those three weeks I visited the Peak District, Snowdonia, Isle of Anglessey, Dublin, Liverpool, the Lake District, Loch Lomond, Isle of Aran, the Edinburgh Festival, Stratford-upon-Avon and the the Norfolk coast in East Anglia. A whistle-stop tour of four countries in 19 days covering 2000 miles. I kept a record of most of my experiences and it’s a fascinating read as far as I’m concerned and all the more clear in my mind because of the notes I took.
However, my friend was anxious. What would he do, where would he go? He was so preoccupied with filling his time he was missing a very important point. Life gives you these blank schedules with alarming rarity. He felt he had use every second to get the most of the trip but I don’t think the best holidays work like that. Why not go with the flow? Why not go where the mood takes you or just sit and enjoy the spot you are in.
I suggested buying a completely blank notebook without even the faint lines to write on but with only clear white pages. To me this was an analogy for the future: it’s not written and there are no rules. Even lined notepaper as an element of conformity about it.
I told him to go where he was drawn to and if for whatever reason he was not happy there, go somewhere else. If he felt like reading for a day or two or writing just do it. He decides what goes in his book. He can write accounts of the day events or just sketch what he sees before him. He can write songs or poetry or get his thoughts on paper of an issue in his life that has been troubling him.
The blank notebook is everyone’s future. WE decide what goes in it. I suggest we all buy a journal and write the future for ourselves and let it unfold before us.
Writing a letter – an alternative gift idea at Christmas
This year we are not in the position to buy as many presents as previous years so I have decided to do something a little different for those that ‘miss the cut’ so to speak. This partly a joint decision to focus on our respective children but it doesn’t stop me wanting to show my appreciation.
What I am going to do is write a long letter (not an email) telling them why I value their relationship and why they are great to be around. I shall include photographs, recount memories etc and make it really personal and special for them. All too often we forget to say the things we are thinking and just occasionally – as happened to me last month – we miss the opportunity to do so forever.
Letter writing is a forgotten art and while it may seem a cheapskate way out at first glance, I would personally much rather receive something like this especially if I thought someone would go short because they were buying me a gift.
What do you think of this idea? Would you do something similar?