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Rhonda Herrington Bulmer
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Herrington
Bulmer
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January 31st, 2015
Have you been journaling? Here’s why you should
by Rhonda Herrington Bulmer

journals

As long as I can remember, I’ve been keeping a journal. A stack of them line my bedside bookshelf and testify to my dedication. I think I have journals dating back to 1992.

In them, I write down my prayers and my concerns for people I know. I take sermon notes. I muse about my thoughts and my worries, my goals and my aspirations. I record my dreams in the night. In fact, my current journal sits on a table next to my bed along with a pen so that I can record those dream sequences if I wake up in the middle of the night.

Journals appear in little piles elsewhere around my house, too. I was going through a box and I found a stack of handbag-sized notebooks (I’m addicted to those), also filled with thoughts, business meeting notes and one small wire notebook which I brought with me on a 2004 trip to Ecuador with Compassion Canada, a child development agency with whom I volunteered. The notebook was small enough to slip into a pocket of my Tilley vest.

 “We stopped for breakfast at El Café de la Vaca on the Pan-American highway on the way to Riobamba. Everything was wonderful, but we were not allowed to eat the fresh cream (right from the cow). It just about killed me [not to eat it, because I love cheese], but it was unpasteurized.”


“We stopped for breakfast at El Café de la Vaca on the Pan-American highway on the way to Riobamba. Everything was wonderful, but we were not allowed to eat the fresh cream (right from the cow). It just about killed me [not to eat it, because I love cheese], but it was unpasteurized.”

This is a trip I haven’t thought about in a long time. Our brains aren’t like digital devices—we can’t play an experience back in high-definition clarity. As I sat down on the floor in front of the box, I began to read and recalled all the details I had forgotten, all the memories that had faded and gotten all fuzzy around the edges. During a busy event or week-long trip like that, it might feel like a waste of time to stop and write everything down, but now that I’m reading it eleven years later, I wish I had written more.

“We went up higher in the Andes today to another project. We left the Pan-American highway to follow a dirt road, a rocky single lane road winding and curling around the mountainside. Higher and higher we climbed in a huge tour bus, the bus driver seemingly unconcerned about the possibility of tumbling down the side of the mountain. Amazingly, the odd truck or car would attempt to pass us, or we would meet them and they would nonchalantly squeeze by. Some folks in the back had to ask to get off [panicked] so that they could continue the ride in a half-ton truck which was also making the journey.”

“We went up higher in the Andes today to another project. We left the Pan-American highway to follow a dirt road, a rocky single lane road winding and curling around the mountainside. Higher and higher we climbed in a huge tour bus, the bus driver seemingly unconcerned about the possibility of tumbling down the side of the mountain. Amazingly, the odd truck or car would attempt to pass us, or we would meet them and they would nonchalantly squeeze by. Some folks in the back had to ask to get off [panicked] so that they could continue the ride in a half-ton truck which was also making the journey.”

This is the power of journaling. Time may bring you a broader perspective of the past, but journals pinpoint specifics, like a camera lens focused on one image while everything else blurs. And if you don’t take the picture, you might forget that the image was ever there.

“Alex [far left] lives with his mother and three siblings. His father works on a flower plantation and his mother stays at home. Their home is adobe (made from straw, mud and water) and is composed of two rooms built in an L-shape, with no opening for windows. One room contains clothing strewn in piles, some for storage and some for washing. Alex and his brother sleep on the bench covered with a straw mat. They share their room with the guinea pigs, which they grow to eat themselves or trade for chickens. There are sheets of plastic hung on a string separating Alex’s room from the animals. The other room is a kitchen where there are a few pots sitting on the floor and a hot plate, where Alex’s mother does all her cooking. Her bed fills the rest of the tiny room.”

“Alex [far left] lives with his mother and three siblings. His father works on a flower plantation and his mother stays at home. Their home is adobe (made from straw, mud and water) and is composed of two rooms built in an L-shape, with no opening for windows. One room contains clothing strewn in piles, some for storage and some for washing. Alex and his brother sleep on the bench covered with a straw mat. They share their room with the guinea pigs, which they grow to eat themselves or trade for chickens. There are sheets of plastic hung on a string separating Alex’s room from the animals. The other room is a kitchen where there are a few pots sitting on the floor and a hot plate, where Alex’s mother does all her cooking. Her bed fills the rest of the tiny room.”

Journals reflect your state of mind and what forces were driving you at any given time. I guess that’s why I used journaling as a literary device in my first book,Rachel’s Manifesto. The main character is using her journal to work out her feelings, like I do. I suspect most folks who keep diaries are like this. They figure out how they feel by writing it down first.

"Saturday A.M. 6:00 Myriad voices of birds outside Hosteria Puerto Lago. Here on the equator, sun pops up at 6:00 every morning. Thin fog is rising above the surface of the lake and the sun is peeking around the volcano that flanks it. In the distance a rooster crows from the villages across the lake in the shadow of the volcano. The armed guard stifles a yawn as he takes his last patrol around the property. This is our last morning in Otavalo. A swallow got caught in the flue of our fireplace yesterday. Somehow I managed to get him out. The maids would come round and make a fire for us every evening. The boys sang outside on our veranda and we sang a lot of songs by Van Morrison and U2 and Jars of Clay. At 10:30 I went inside and enjoyed the fire with my roommate Rosemary and talked about going home and seeing our kids. This morning is one of those moments I wish I could preserve forever. A picture couldn't properly convey it."

“Saturday A.M. 6:00 Myriad voices of birds outside Hosteria Puerto Lago. Here on the equator, sun pops up at 6:00 every morning. Thin fog is rising above the surface of the lake and the sun is peeking around the volcano that flanks it. In the distance a rooster crows from the villages across the lake in the shadow of the volcano. The armed guard stifles a yawn as he takes his last patrol around the property. This is our last morning in Otavalo. A swallow got caught in the flue of our fireplace yesterday. Somehow I managed to get him out. The maids would come round and make a fire for us every evening. The boys sang outside on our veranda and we sang a lot of songs by Van Morrison and U2 and Jars of Clay. At 10:30 I went inside and enjoyed the fire with my roommate Rosemary and talked about going home and seeing our kids. This morning is one of those moments I wish I could preserve forever. A picture couldn’t properly convey it.”

I encourage you to try it out, if it is not your practice. The big question is: what will happen to all my journals when I leave this mortal coil? Hmm…

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