Introvert Survival: Diaries

When we think of diaries the first image that comes to mind is the popular image.  A slim volume with lots of pink hearts all over the cover.  It might have a little toy lock on it so that its contents might be absolutely private.  Most of us probably know the common irony of these teenage diaries as seen on movies and TV.  Under lock and key, guarded like treasures are the most mundane and unremarkable of thoughts.  The whole joke is that having ‘secret’ writings is just another ploy for attention with little real content underneath.

Clearly such a diary is just a toy for overgrown, self-indulgent children…

I began keeping a diary around the age of 17.  I have kept it going continuously for several years to the present day.

Keeping a diary is an enormous asset to an introvert on the edge of survival.  When there’s no one to talk to, the blank page always lends an impartial ear.  Discussing pressing issues, even on paper removes mental weight and relieves an overwrought mind.  To put experience and feelings into words makes them more tangible.  And problems that can be grasped can be dealt with.  Over time, one might well discover that once insurmountable problems have been mapped out in detail and overcome, all without one even being aware of it.

Diary writing is a skill.  At first one might be amazed at just how difficult it is to get past all the mental noise and discover our true feelings and concerns.  Diaries no doubt have their terrible reputation in part because most people who attempt it never get past their petty internal noise.  Yet any person accustomed to regular inward thought should be predisposed towards quickly moving past the initial barriers.  The rewards of doing so are inexhaustible

Keeping a diary is a ritual act of emptying oneself.  Hence one always feels lighter afterwards.  When one feels isolated and alone, even the removal of a feather from one’s personal burden makes a huge difference.  In a life where one’s soul lives at the subsistence level, a diary can sometimes be the margin between starvation and survival.  Since diaries are made to seem silly and frivolous in the popular culture:  I cannot sufficiently emphasize their importance in keeping a healthy mind.

A diary is a means of keeping track of one’s own personal progress and patterns.  A long term diary writer can hold themselves to account in a way most people never can.  Most of us make excuses about what we do and why we do it.  This becomes a lot harder to do when we look back on an entry from a year ago and see ourselves doing the same old thing.  One who keeps a diary can perform audits on their books.  In time the inherent mission of a diary writer becomes obvious: That the future self reading back on each entry be a better, wiser self.

A diary is a time machine:

It allows us to exist more gracefully within the flow of time.

It allows us to see the flow of our thoughts from outside of time.

When I first started keeping a diary as a teenager, there were some things I quickly discovered:

I found that every time I wrote ill words about someone, I always looked back on it later with shame.  It always seemed so petty and shallow in retrospect, so obvious that my written disenchantment only placed me under their power.  I never again mentioned people I didn’t like by name and never again went out of my way to focus on them.  In one step I was liberated from a good measure of my own reactive spite.  This new control over myself also made me less vulnerable to social expectations.  I was a step closer to social immunity years before the idea ever occurred to me.

The people and events that seemed important in a given moment were rarely still important when I looked back even a few months later.

The overhead, extra-temporal view given me by the diary allowed me to discover what things were truly important.

I learned what things endure and which quickly become irrelevant and forgotten.

I learned that the big, central things are not always important and that it’s often small or peripheral things that stay with us through time.

The size of events does not matter so much.  A diary helps reveal to us what things are spiritually the largest in our lives.

In a matter of months, I was learning lessons that most people don’t seem to learn in an entire lifetime.  A diary is one of the greatest teachers one can ever have, without a doubt one of the supreme tools of introspection.

Diaries are ideal for recording and developing ideas.  I’m sure most people have good ideas all the time.  The trouble is that they remember only a few of them.  The few that are remembered have to be held in valuable mental space until they too are forgotten.  A diary allows us to grasp these fleeting moments and store them.  The mind is then free to come up with more good ideas.  Actively focusing upon and storing these ideas makes it progressively easier to come up with them in the first place.

Many of the ideas that became this blog began as diary entries.  At first these ideas were mere ventings.  Because they were written down, however, I was able to develop them and then build on them.  Taken one piece at a time, one can actually attempt to make some sense of this world.

A diary can allow us to sort out and make some sense of a cluttered confused mind.  A simple blank book and something to write with can accomplish feats that expensive paid professionals could never aspire to.

A diary is one of the greatest possible assets for one who has a quiet spirit and feels renewed in times of solitude.  It can nearly by itself sustain one through loneliness and suffering.  It serves as a chronicle and repository.  It provides friends and a social life.  Every time you open that book, you’re in a room full of people from the past who share your name and identity, but are never the same person as you’ve become.

Zygmunt blogs at Kingdom of Introversion (and elsewhere).

Introvert Survival: Diaries appears here by permission.

[image via Flickr/Creative Commons]

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