Life’s a Journal

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Life’s a Journal

The other day, on a group Zoom call, the moderator asked us to bring something for show-and-tell. I snickered to myself, because I remember being the absolute worst at show-and-tell in kindergarten. I was the kid scrambling for something — anything — in my pockets because I had forgotten to bring something from home. One time, I actually just showed off the snazzy hand-me-down checkered polyester pants I was wearing because my pockets turned out to be empty that day.

I had a similar moment on the Zoom call. I struggled to think of something to show and it made me realize that even after being home so much over these past eleven months, I am really not attached to a lot of replaceable things (then again, maybe I’m also just tired of staring at the same stuff surrounding me.)

In the past, I’ve certainly owned items that are show worthy — things from around the world that tell a story. For years I aspired to collect an eclectic set of ceramic dishes from all over Europe. I’m fairly certain nobody guessed that those dark blue coffee cups were from a tiny town in Lithuania that I visited, but if anyone asked, I at least had a good story to tell. Most of those items ended up in thrift stores in various countries however because — spoiler alert — breakables aren’t the wisest choice of collectibles when traveling and moving lots.

A few things managed to survive the great purge and multiple moves — a crystal vase I bought in Ukraine is one of them. It is heavy enough to break a foot if dropped, and each time I put it on a shelf above my head, I pray it doesn’t knock me out the next time I open the cabinet door. I thought about grabbing the vase off my kitchen table to show the Zoom ladies, but the water inside looked murky, and the tulips sad and withered — kind of a sign of how I was feeling that day, and if I’m being honest, how I’ve felt for much of the past year.

Instead, I grabbed a nearby journal and a favorite fountain pen.

My life is made up of a vast amount of incredible experiences and my journals tell that story. I may not have many material things to show for those experiences anymore, but I still have a record of them written down.

My own mother has always encouraged me to keep track of events — to write things down, to mark dates on actual photographs. I never imagined I’d ever forget certain experiences or the people in my photos. And yet over the years, without those written reminders, I would have forgotten many things.

One of my biggest fears used to be that someone would read my journals. Now, I worry that nobody will. It’s why many writers want to be published — it’s why we share glimpses of our lives and leave traces of them everywhere — in journals, in magazines, in blog posts — so that other people see our stories, so that we are somehow not forgotten.

Whenever I think of what I’d pluck from a fire (living beings notwithstanding), I think about grabbing my tote bin full of journals, before the chronicles of my life would potentially go up in flames.

I started my first journal at age ten. Since then I’ve penned over fifty. I’ve hauled them around the world with me, and dislodged my back more than once when I’ve heaved them from one closet and bookshelf to another. Their home now? In a plastic tote bin, under the sink in the downstairs bathroom. The bookshelf is sagging from the weight of homeschool books and games and even snacks. There is no longer space for my journals.

Sometimes I feel there is no space left in my head for my stories, unless I continue to write them down.

Recently, I found myself rifling through that bin looking for a specific journal which I wrote soon after the Peanut was born. I didn’t have much time to write in that newborn phase, but I still scribbled some stuff down every now and again. However, I couldn’t find that particular journal and I started to panic that perhaps I’d lost two years of my life somehow.

My son has been ‘writing’ his own books lately. In reality, they’re a bunch of simplistic drawings that he’s numbered and handed to me to stick together with staples and tape. Then I catch him sitting in my chair, looking at his books, reading aloud the story he’s made up in his head, and it makes my mama heart melt. In the copious amount of paper that ends up scattered around the house and eventually in the trash, I have tried not to toss out the ‘books’ he’s written because I know how important they are, even to a six-year-old. He would be devastated if he lost even one of those creations.

When I finally discovered the journal I needed, I breathed an instant sigh of relief. I had not ‘lost’ two years of my life like I’d previously thought.

Yet we all feel like we kind of lost a year in 2020, right?

While it’s true that we have all lost some semblance of normalcy over the past 11 months (and many have sadly lost far more than that), we still experienced it and lived through it. The year, and what’s to come in the future, are all part of our story, whether we want them to be or not. Even when the world returns to some state of normal that we all yearn for, it’s going to look different than it did before, because we will all be different, having experienced the year we did.

There are, of course, certainly journals I’ve written which I do not want to revisit. I recognize them immediately by their covers and I shove them to the bottom of that bin. Some I might even consider burning. But I’ve kept them because whether it’s an event in my life that I want to celebrate or one I want to mourn…they’re all intertwined to tell my story.

What story are we leaving for future generations to show and tell the world later on about this time in our lives, when we are long gone? Is it a snarky public profile Facebook post? Is it a cringe-worthy retweet? Or is it simply a journal entry about how we personally coped with a historical global event?

Maybe someday my son will bring one of his own books to show-and-tell, or a book his mom has yet to publish. Or maybe, years from now, his own children may find one of my journals in a dusty bin in a basement and pull it out, wanting to know more about Grandma’s life. Someday, somebody may even grab the one from 2020. It’s one of the few journals that didn’t leave the house much, but there are still stories worth telling in there. And that is worth remembering.

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Brenda Steffen
I spent my twenties and a good chunk of my thirties living and working in various countries. I met and married a South African sailor and I was quite content to keep traveling without kids. We landed in Chattanooga in 2013 and our son arrived over the summer of 2014. We haven’t really slept since. Sometimes jet-lag gets the blame. Or Daylight Savings, or even a good book. Usually though, it’s the Peanut. You can often find me charged up on caffeine, chasing after my son at Coolidge Park, the zoo or the library. You can also find me online on my blog.

1 COMMENT

  1. I love! Love! Your stories.
    Wish I can read some of the one’s in the dusty bin under the bathroom sink.
    And! I would love to read Zac’s. I love children’s drawings and writing.
    Thanks for sharing this with us.

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