“A diary of anything and everything” is what the first page of my first ever journal says, dated the 19th of January 2016. I was 19 at the time. I’m sure those words felt very profound to me then, and even though now the same words make me cringe a little, they still stand true. I am now 23 years old. I have written, drawn, doodled and projected on four journals since then and I am currently working my way through my fifth one. What initially felt like a casual habit is now so important to me, but funnily enough, it still has no particular reason, structure or purpose. All these journals are still, cringe included, diaries of anything and everything.
I remember when I was much younger, it was often a part of English class in school to keep a diary or an account of your day in a notebook. I never particularly enjoyed that, journaling is something I kept dipping my toes in and out of throughout my teens, it was never something I stuck to. Whatever journal I had at 13 or 15 I got rid of, because it didn’t mean much to me and looking at unfinished pages felt burdensome, another unfinished task added to the ever-growing list of productivity my generation forces on itself. I’d always stick to a format, a very “Dear Diary” approach, because honestly I didn’t know any better and I never questioned why I was boxing myself in a format I didn’t even like.
In 2015, however, is when things started to change. I was now 18, I had too many opinions, too many thoughts, and I was beginning to realise that not everyone wants to listen to me talk. At the same time, I found a muse, so to speak. During a family vacation, my mother, my aunt and I were browsing through a store where I came across the perfect notebook: dark, broody pink, leather bound, blank pages with that perfect texture that’s not too soft or too scratchy, the kind of pages begging for ink. I bought the notebook and I wrote succinctly, “A diary of anything and everything”.
That notebook stayed untouched in my drawer for quite some time and then suddenly, I started writing. The only consistency since then in the way I journal is that I always put down the date after I write or draw something. The date is a very important part for me: whatever I chose to put down that day was connected to something that happened during that time, either a thought or a dream. The date keeps me connected in a strong way, perhaps even more than words do. I like seeing the progress in my thoughts, the people that were coming in and out of my life throughout time, the things that have stayed exactly the same over the years. It’s the oddest form of self-reflection there is, and it’s all in dates. I know many people never go back to read what they wrote but I often do. I lugged all four of my journals all the way to Glasgow from Lahore, baggage restrictions be damned. On some of my worst days, I skim back and forth only to remind myself that no matter how stuck and unevolved I feel, that impression isn’t true because unknowingly, all this time, I have been experiencing things or putting in effort that is making me a better person, or that will eventually make me a better person.
Of course, naturally, some pages of my journals make me queasy: in my second journal there is a page dominated by pink crayon hearts with a cheesy couplet I wrote in between because I had this terrible, all-consuming crush on a guy I don’t even think twice about now. Some of the entries are just plainly whiney; there’s a lot of complaining, there’s a lot of misplaced anger, there’s a lot of rambling. But then I can overlook the nausea that comes with the cringey elements of me and my writing because there’s also some pieces in my journal that warm me all the way down to my toes.
At 19 and 20, when I had too many emotions to process, I started logging down my mood every day, for 2 years. I found this mood chart template on Pinterest and I stuck to it, so that, at the end of the year, I’d count the awesome days, happy days, average days, sad days and painful days. What I ended up realizing in two years was that I have always been happier and cheerier and more loved, than I have been angry or sad, my brain was just singling out the negative constantly. Other pages of my journal include poetry I admire, ticket stubs from events I’ve been to with friends and family, polaroid pictures, printed out pictures, collages, menus from favorite restaurants, screenshots of conversations and just tiny memories jotted down wherever I didn’t have anything to say. Now, since 22 particularly, my writing is much more focused: just commentary on what I’m seeing around the world, relationships, family, my thoughts on politics, culture, anything really. Writing them down helps me make sense of them and it certainly doesn’t hurt that I feel like I’m good at writing so it’s a skill I’m also brushing up constantly.
I don’t allow my journals to force me to write or say something, I write whenever and whatever I want, and I think that’s why I’ve finally stuck to it. Earlier, at 16, I used to write like I was writing a college application essay, always under the illusion that someone was going to judge it. Now, I allow much more freedom, ease and expression in whatever form in my journals and they’re so important to me because of that. Anyone who knows me knows I have a set of journals that I am so protective of, and I am so lucky and privileged to have people around me, friends and family, who are so respectful of this habit and who have never in any way pushed me to talk about it, or read something out, or invaded my privacy in any way; that has helped cement this into a habit.
Is journaling something I’ll continue to stick to in my late 20s? Yeah, I think so. It’ll definitely get tricky to lug them around if I keep moving, but otherwise, it seems doable. Am I hoping to make something out of them, publish them or let someone read them? Not really, none of my writing is addressed to anybody, it’s just my thoughts. I have taken excerpts out at times of a poem or prose, to refine and polish and send to a magazine, but that’s about it, I am very fiercely protective of what I write.
Journaling is so significant, near ritualistic at this point: buying the perfect notebook, selecting the perfect pen, having a hot cup of tea nearby and just working my way through some thoughts. I’ll wrap this up with a Chuck Palahniuk quote I wrote on the last page of journal number 4, “Your handwriting. The way you walk. Which china pattern you choose. It’s all giving you away. Everything you do, shows your hand. Everything is a self-portrait. Everything is a diary.”
[Hooran M. Khattak – she/her]
[Image credits: Mark Oliver Adams/flickr.com]