October 27, 2015

GROSKAUFMANIS | Retrospective Clarity

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I have 12 notebooks and thousands of stories, but only one meticulous system of journal keeping.

When I was younger, I’d fill up diaries and leave them to marinate in their obsolescence. I would live my life, come home, record it… and then never re-visit my experiences. Sure, it was probably therapeutic and good practice to start piecing together my words, but for a long time I was missing out on what I believe to be the most important part of personal writing: reflecting.

Beginning in 2008, I designated one notebook for every month. Each looks different and they vary dramatically in content, but they all share a sustained relevance through their annual revisiting. “Dear October,” an entry might begin, “my life has changed so much since last year.” And so it will go. Annually, I work my way back to each book as the months pass by and I am given a unique opportunity to compare. I can see what I did on this exact day three years ago, what was important to me in 2013 and things as specific as who I sat at lunch with when I was in seventh grade. I see what made me laugh, what upset me and what was once confusing to me, and I am given the gift of comparative reflection as I look back on and add to my personal archives.

There’s something unique and intimate that keep constant with these 12 weathered notebooks, each like an old friend that I see once a year. Ticket stubs, leaves and programs are all taped in to the pages alongside notes and paraphrased conversations, all of which bring me back to the moments I was in, immortalizing the things that I choose.

However, despite the fact that I have the power to selectively write my own histories, I try to make a point to write both the good and the bad to be honest with myself. Because as fun as it is to relive the firsts and the lasts, the goodbyes and hellos, it is also nice — or at least bittersweet — to relive the mistakes and the hard times. And also to be thankful for their lack of frequency. I can look back on difficult circumstances and remember how they felt, but I can also revel in their distance.

While this may sound odd, there’s a deep comfort in the knowledge that while the phases of emotions that we assign to certain events are indefinite, they ultimately come to an end. And although this aligns with millions of clichés that I wish I could avoid, I think that the perspective I gain from the past has been critical in allowing me to understand my present. For instance, losing a loved one hurts long after they are gone, but the grief eventually subsides to the point where it is no longer debilitating. Breaking up with your seventh grade boyfriend is awkward, but then it someday becomes the punchline of a joke that you yourself are telling. The point is that life is wonderfully relative, and these notebooks have given me an aerial view that I think I may have missed if I didn’t have them as a tangible reminder.

On the first day of every month I’ll try to find a peaceful place to sit and read my notebook as if it is a novel or a conversation with an old friend. I laugh at memories, face-palm at embarrassing moments and recall short vignettes that often snap me into sticky nostalgia. And while this is all sweet, my favorite thing will always be to stumble across the things that once seemed earth-shattering because I’ve found that the magnitude to which I experience them has almost always diluted, or even disappeared, over time. In this way, journaling has confirmed that the saying “This too shall pass” holds validity, which is comforting in the bad times and poignant in the good ones. I used to think that all of this taught me that the negative things in life are temporary and irrelevant, but that’s only partially true.

While learning that predicaments and their discomfort are typically non-permanent, I have also learned that this lack of permanence doesn’t necessarily deem them irrelevant. On the contrary, some of the hardest and stupidest moments that I’ve relived through these notebooks have been the same things that I point to when I try to think about what has made me who I am, even though I may not have fully understood their significance at the time. I find that I also benefit from words that once simply felt mundane or unimportant. Sure, the big moments really strike a chord, but so do the smaller ones like a night spent in watching SNL with my best friend or the first time I casually met the person who would become my favorite teacher. I never know what will really resonate with me, so I write it all down and allow my future self to be surprised.

The other day my friend asked me an interesting question: Do you think that 13-year-old you would be proud of 18-year-old you? Well, 18-year-old me isn’t really sure if I have a holistic answer to that question, but I’m confident I could gauge a pretty good sense by referring to my own personal archives. And while I obviously change from year to year, I like to think that there’s a sense of solidarity among those varying versions of myself.

The most incredible perk of my system is the fact that it allows me to keep a running dialogue between who I currently am and who I used to be. Sometimes, when I’m nervous or excited, I’ll ask questions that eerily span across time. For instance, in October’s notebook, I can now look back and see that my college destination was something of an obsession last year. “Where do I end up?” is scribbled on the last page of 2014, among concerns that now seem trivial, from homecoming to the Common App. It’s nice, in 2015, to tape a little sticky note onto that very page that says “Cornell.”

Jacqueline Groskaufmanis is a freshman studying English and Government in the College of Arts and Sciences. Her posts appear on alternate Tuesdays this semester. She can be reached at [email protected].