“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be.”
“I don’t think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains.” — both quotes from Anne Frank
Anne Frank inspired me to write. I read her diary around age ten, and I gave journaling a few tries, but lacked the maturity and persistence to stick to something that took time and didn’t seem to matter. When I turned thirteen, I realized that I could not let my growing-up years go unrecorded. (The maturity was still markedly lacking, but the persistence was present, at least.) Several years, several journals, and a few handwriting changes later, I look back and realize that I had no idea just how much there would be to write about. Last month, I read some pages from a few of the older books (something I don’t do very often) and remembered vividly the hope, curiosity, worries, and uncertainty that contributed to the things I wrote. In later writing, those 13-year-old ideas morphed into complex emotional angst expressed through honest, less-than-eloquent narratives and complaints. There’s a clear evolution from my early journaling style and the one I use now: simple ideas and simple expression, complex ideas and simple expression, complex ideas and chaotic expression, complex ideas and artistic expression.
But the point is not to talk about my own writing. The point is to talk about the writing that you may or may not have done. A few days ago, I discussed the importance of writing letters to others. Correspondence is an essential part of documenting one’s history, but it is also necessary to preserve the art of recording one’s life through personal writing.
Anne Frank was a young Jewish teenager from Amsterdam who lived in a secret annex with her family during the Holocaust. Her journal is famous for its intelligence, honesty, and wit. The book tells the story of her life in hiding, ending with her capture and eventual death in a Nazi concentration camp. She writes openly about family difficulties, personal social struggles, and the dynamics of living in a small attic with virtual strangers. Her diary was saved by the work of her father’s secretary, Miep Gies, who saved the book and gave it to Anne’s father.
If there were ever a catastrophe in which you and all who cared about you lost their lives, would anyone make the effort of carefully preserving every word you ever posted on Facebook for the sake of documenting your life and passing down your legacy? (Which might lead to a second question: would you even want them to?) Somehow, I doubt it. But if someone who never knew you found a carefully maintained, dated, handwritten journal containing stories, thoughts, and sketches from your life, do you think he would throw it away? Absolutely not. (And by the way, there doesn’t even have to be a catastrophe. Let’s just say you died in sixty years. Gmail won’t do much for you then, will it?)
Even if you do not consider yourself a writer, anyone can write a few sentences on whatever they are thinking about. Anyone can write down the gist of an interesting conversation he had. Anyone can describe a vacation or a birthday or a milestone. You do not need lovely handwriting, an expensive writing book, or an extensive vocabulary. All you need is to write the date and write what happened, whether that happening was actual events or simply ideas floating around your cranium. If you do it every day, it will quickly become a habit.
Some people worry about the nature of the things they write — “I would just die if someone read it before I’m dead!” If you are concerned about that, keep your most personal thoughts in your head and write things that are not sensitive issues. Or practice writing things objectively at a time when the situation is not emotionally charged. If you want to, change names or use only initials: “N said to B, ___!” Best of all, be honest and don’t worry if someone finds out the truth about you. Reality is reality.
But whatever you do, write. Don’t let your life go unrecorded. The time and effort are well worth it, and you will not regret the investment.