Will the Real Me Please Stand Up


Should you record your crush on the bag boy at the store in your journal?

I am a compulsive journal keeper. I began keeping a journal back in the days when it was called a diary. In those days, there were no rows upon rows of books with blank pages filling the bookstore shelves. I wrote on scrap paper stuffed in an old stationery box. It took a little more effort to feed a journal-keeping habit in those days.

It’s much easier now. Today you can choose leather-bound, gold-embossed, parchment paper journals where you dare not write anything but the truly profound. Or, if you’re a bit intimidated with these, you can buy a three-ring plastic binder with loose-leaf paper.

Whatever journal you choose, just remember one thing. Somewhere along the line, you might want to reveal the “real” you and not a plastered smile imitation of someone else. Don’t fall into the same pitfalls I did in my early years of self-expression.

My interest in journal keeping started way back in prehistoric times when school’s main attraction for me was the lunchtime menu. I wish someone had told me that detailed lists of “what I ate today” wouldn’t satisfy the requirements of great literature.

I remained naive enough to believe that someday my family would have to hide in a secret room upstairs in the attic while World War III exploded in the world around us. I just knew that someday my writing would be “discovered” and that Anne Frank would have to step down a notch to make room for me.

Of course just the thought of someone actually reading what I wrote was enough to make my writing style a bit unnatural. To let someone discover the real me would be, in my estimation, as bad as getting caught with oily hair and an old flannel nightgown, complete with mascara under my eyes on Saturday morning by a recent heartthrob who had dumped me. It made my toes curl.

Just the thought of someone actually reading what I wrote distorted my journal entries. For example, here’s what really happened:

I lost the election for sophomore vice president by the widest margin in our school’s history. I can’t think of one good reason why anybody would vote for Carol instead of me. I felt so rotten that I cried all night.

But here’s how it appeared in my journal account:

Running for student-body office was a real growing experience for me. I’m so glad Carol won. She’s a wonderful girl.

Of course I tried my luck with a little honesty. But then someone at church told me that the angels in heaven would read from my work and that my life’s deeds would be shouted from the rooftops. That was enough to make my page-long detailed description of my latest crush on the bag boy at the grocery store seem so subject to ridicule that I ripped out the page and burned it.

Then a strange thing happened. I kept getting older, and World War III was still waiting in the wings. I was also starting to zero in on a new world’s record for the number of rejection slips I had collected from publishers of my unsolicited manuscripts.

The thought actually occurred to me that I might be the only one who ever read or benefitted from my now overcrowded bookshelf full of journals. I started to realize for the first time that my journal was a history for my sake as well as any future readers.

From that point on, the real me started to emerge. I found, rather surprisingly, that the real me was much more interesting, oily hair and all. Spending time with myself while writing in my journal became more valuable because I was finding time to really listen to my own voice.

My journal took on a whole new role. Sometimes it was my best friend or trusted confidant. Sometimes it was a good place to sort out my feelings and remember friendships and experiences. Sometimes it was a goal-setting instrument or just a convenient place for creative expression. Sometimes it became my psychologist or a means of solving my problems.

I was beginning a friendship with myself. I was finding out that I was unique and important, a discovery that flowered only after an honest and intimate acquaintance with myself. And after learning to appreciate my own uniqueness, I was better able to transfer that love to others.

When I read back over these less self-conscious entries, they made the dramatic and everyday parts of my life seem real enough that I could relive them and be inspired. I could actually see the hand of the Lord in my life. I could sense a pattern emerging that gave me a more eternal perspective to my life. I felt excited to be alive and looked forward to the future. I felt an increased awareness of God’s love for me.

I found that I could be truthful without concentrating on the negative or even washing over my less admirable traits. I found I could truthfully portray my challenges as well as my successes. I found out that it was all right just to be me.

Now I know that you and I may never write for generations of yet unborn dedicated fans. But even if none of our great-grandchildren ever chuckles over page 762,493 of our personal pencil trottings, it will have been worth the effort. If you already keep a journal, never relinquish your enthusiasm. If you haven’t developed the habit yet, get started. Journal keeping is really a fantastic road to discovering the real you.

You and I may never make the best seller list or even be remembered for our profound thoughts at age 15. But not even Shakespeare can tell you exactly what my mother said and how her eyes looked on the day I first left home; or what shade of blue the sky was on Friday, June 27, 1975; or how an old woman with her nose pressed tight against the glass door made me feel when I drove away after volunteering at a rest home; or …

[photo] Photography by Jed Clark, art by Lilly Hong