Right after New Year’s, I picked up a pen to start journaling for the first time in months. Writing with a pen seems like a trivial act. But to me the sensations of holding a pen felt strange after becoming so used to typing articles and essays and accomplishing tasks instantly on my laptop.
When reflecting on my resolutions for the new year, journaling was at the very top of my list, and I had every intention of following through with it. To me, the past year has especially emphasized the relativity of time, passing by quickly as a whole but also slowly through the months of quarantine. I wanted to start keeping a written account of my progress on where I currently am and what I hoped to accomplish.
To be honest, realizing that I was going to turn 20 this year fueled my apprehensions that time seemed to be flying quicker every year. I know in retrospect that 20 is not an old age, but I still don’t feel mature enough to be leaving my teenage years behind yet. Maybe it’s because I’m living back at home with my parents rather than at Hopkins due to the pandemic. Maybe it’s because my younger brother is also about to leave for college soon. But I always feel as if I am supposed to be at that point in my life where I have everything figured out.
Sometimes it seems as if my mind is racing 100 miles per hour, overwhelmed with the endless opportunities that the world has to offer yet lacking any idea on how to make these different dreams become a reality. 2020 has especially put me in an ambivalent state, where I know that I have matured a lot when I review the year in detail but I still feel exactly the same as I was a year ago. So aside from exercising, writing articles, networking and doing internships, I knew that I also needed a space where I could reflect on myself, my talents and my short- and long-term goals, which is why I turned to journaling.
When I was younger in elementary school, I used to keep diaries filled with the messy reveries of my young mind. I remember carrying a diary with me wherever I went, always looking for a place of solitude to fill the empty pages. It was calming for me to know that I had a record of what I did and where I went each day, but this art form slowly became lost on me as I began to track my activities digitally on my calendar rather than on paper. And because I was not the type of person to start with “Dear Diary” and pour out all my frustrations and emotions on the page, I do not think I reaped the benefits of writing until now.
Journaling can be a very daunting task. When I sat down to write a few days after the fireworks and socially distanced celebrations had died down, I stared blankly at a piece of paper trying to find the right words to record my first entry.
Should I write about my frustrations with having to stay home for the spring semester? Hopes for the new year? Anxieties about the future and my career path? Existential crises about falling in love again? Like all other things in my life, I needed to make a system.
In order to allow my thoughts to flow more easily on the page, I gave myself a time limit to write each day. Even if the contents of the journal would only be for my eyes, I found it difficult to allow myself to be vulnerable on paper, but the time limit pressured me to write without a filter. Usually whenever I write, I feel a need to articulate my thoughts in a formal and eloquent tone, as if the world was going to judge every word choice I made and every sentence I wrote.
Especially this past year, it feels as if I have been writing nonstop for schoolwork, The News-Letter, internship applications and other mini side projects. But by being able to write free of academic constraints, I was not only able to discover some of my true worries and anxieties but I also slowly began to create my own writing voice. I was taken back to the days of my childhood when I sought to write purely for my own enjoyment.
After free writing, I sorted through the conglomeration of thoughts to create a set of goals on what I wanted to accomplish while also making a gratitude list for each day. The aspect of gratitude in journaling was especially important for me to triumph over the emotional ordeals of the pandemic and the anxieties of another semester on a nocturnal schedule. From the past month of journaling, I can already affirm that it has helped me identify sources of both stressful and memorable events in my life and allowed me to brainstorm possible careers for the future.
In a world constantly moving forward at such a fast pace, one of the beauties of journaling is that it literally forces you to slow down. When you are working at a computer, you can type out all your thoughts immediately, save them and edit them. But with journaling, you need to slow down to give your pen time to catch up with your thoughts. You have to give yourself the space to consider every musing you have before you permanently note them down. And of course, for those concerned with aesthetics, god forbid you make a mistake that causes you to mess up on the page and create an indelible mark in your journal. Aside from taking the time to write, my journal has also become a place of creativity for me where, if I have extra time, I add little doodles to describe my days.
With so many tasks on my daily to-do list, I did not want my New Year’s resolution to become a chore. By viewing journaling as a time to de-stress and self-reflect before another busy day, I started looking forward to beginning my days with this moment of introspection. While technology continues to connect us to one another in a new socially distanced reality, turning back the clock to pen and paper has allowed me to reconnect with who I am and uncover the strength to find peace within the chaos of my mind. As an already tumultuous new year begins, I can only hope for maturity, growth and self-love moving forward through the joys of journaling.
Michelle Limpe is a sophomore studying Chemistry and Public Health from the Philippines. In her articles, she likes to reflect on viewing life through rose-tinted glasses to give meaning to her struggles.