It was 42 years ago today that I first began keeping a regular journal. Before that, as a teenager, I kept some irregular journals. Why maintain a journal? When I was 16 years old, my thought was that I
didn't want time to pass with nothing to show for it. That is still my thought. The unrecorded life is not worth living. For we have it on good authority that the unexamined life is not worth living, and how examined could an undocumented life be?
The maintenance of a journal aids mightily in the project of self-individuation. Like that prodigious journal writer Søren Kierkegaard, I believe we are here to become actually the individuals we are potentially. Our individuation is not ready-made or given, but a task to be accomplished. The world is a vale of soul-making; we are not here to improve it, but to be improved by it.
Henry David Thoreau, another of the world's great journal writers, said in Walden that "Most men live lives of quiet desperation." I would only add that without a journal, one's life is one of quiet dissipation. One's life dribbles away, day by day, unreflected on, unexamined, unrecorded, and thus fundamentally unlived. Living, for us, is not just a biological process; it is fundamentally a spiritual unfolding. To mean anything it has to add up to something, and that something cannot be expressed with a dollar sign.
I have always had a horror of an unfocused existence. In my early twenties, I spoke of the supreme desideratum of a focused existence. What bothered me about the people around me, fellow students in particular, was the mere aestheticism of their existence: their aimless drifting hither and yon, their lack of commitment, their unseriousness, their refusal to engage the arduous task of self-definition and self-individuation, their willingness to be guided and mis-guided by social suggestions. In one's journal one collects and re-collects oneself; one makes war against the lower self and the
forces of dispersion.
Another advantage to a journal and its regular maintenance is that one thereby learns how to write, and how to think. An unwritten thought is still a half-baked thought: proper concretion is achieved only by expressing thoughts in writing and developing them. Always write as well as you can, in complete sentences free of grammatical and spelling errors. Develop the sentences into paragraphs, and if the Muse is with you those paragraphs may one day issue in essays, articles, and chapters of books.
Finally, there is the pleasure of re-reading from a substantial temporal distance. Two years ago I began re-reading my journal in order, month by month, at a 40 year distance. So of course now I am up to October 1972. 40 Years from now I will be at the present, or dead. One.