A Journal Keeping People

As Mormons, we’re a journal keeping people. My wife and I have had heated discussions about what this means. She once read a journal from an ancestor who kept meticulous records about how much corn he planted and what yields he had that year – not exactly the thrilling stories you sometimes hear people discovering during family history research in the Ensign. Because of this, she doesn’t really like journal keeping much – in an attempt to avoid tediousness in her journals, she wrote a lot about feelings during her tumultuous, embarrassingly dramatic teenage years. Now she wants to destroy them. Why would you want to hear, for example, about your grandmother’s feelings in high school?

Being the devil’s advocate naturally argumentative, as well as possessing the soul of an amateur historian, I argued that these two examples of journals still held much worth. The first example would be a boon to historians studying farming techniques, patterns, and behaviors during the time period of her uncle. And a wayward, teenage descendent lost in her adolescent years might find solace that her sweet, old grandmother felt the same way many years ago. But I had to admit deep down in my own heart that I as family wouldn’t get much worth from it – one is just too fastidious for my tastes, and the other would cause me to roll my eyes every other page, I’m sure.

Those two ways of journal keeping are legitimate. But I’ve never been good at recording day to day events, and after moving much of my life story’s chronicling to the public internet forum in the form of blogging, I’ve been wary of detailing emotions in order to maintain some sort of personal privacy. So how am I to keep the commandment of being a journal keeping person in order to benefit my future generations?

It turns out I haven’t been as lazy in my journal keeping as I thought. Recently, my mind turned to the great Leonardo Da Vinci, who is also my father’s personal hero. An example of his journal lies below:

A page of Leonardo DaVinci's Journal

A page from Leonardo DaVinci's Journal

Leonardo’s journals were not solely his day to day proceedings nor his emotions on this or that (“Michaelangelo is such a show-off. I hate him so much!”). An inquisitive mind, Da Vinci kept meticulous notes on everything he learned and observed around him. Many of his writings and drawings detailed his own groundbreaking discoveries as well as inspiring future scientists and scholars towards great discoveries.

I, too, keep very meticulous notes about a lot of the things I learn. Most of these journals I kept in class, and over a year ago, I switched to sketchbooks instead of traditional notebooks with lined paper, because the binding held up better and the lack of lines allowed my more visual mind to create flowcharts and illustrative examples instead of simply transcribing what the professor is saying. On my mission especially I took detailed minutes of zone conferences and district meetings – right down to who prayed and which songs we sang. Alongside this information I took detailed notes on what my mission president taught that day or which principle we discussed. Many of these involved discussions on the temple, of Mormon cosmology, and basic doctrines and principles. In the margins, I scratched my own notes and thoughts and inspirations. These writings are the seminal teachings and foundations of my current theological thought and mindset. They still hold a prominent position on my bookshelf to this day.

I’ve continued to keep up this tradition, and I’m grateful for it. I have binders full of talks highlighted and annotated, as well as articles I’ve clipped out or printed. I’ve scribbled notes from class into sketchbooks detailing weather systems and currents to how cellular respiration occurs. I even have sketchbooks filled with notes on game theory and the underpinnings of a card game I’ve begun to develop. After all, I’ve never paid much attention to my daily interactions as much as the crazy theories and ideas floating about in my head.

As you can probably guess, I unfortunately didn’t keep a great traditional journal while on my mission. Most important dates are written on the inside cover of my Preach My Gospel book, like a family Bible’s records of births, deaths, and marriages. For a long time, I felt guilty over my perceived lapse in spiritual dedication to this important commandment, but now, I don’t feel as bad. I suppose it’s still interesting to know that on such and such day, I taught the so and so family. But I’m glad that I decided to keep good records of what I learned and the different gospel topics I grappled with and tossed about in my mind. I’m elated whenever I leaf through those pages from time to time because I can recall some of the teachings of my mission president, a giant of a man when it came to intellect and spirituality. Feelings and day to day numbers are good – but these words and pictures – the slow, subtle beginnings of a love for gospel scholarship – I can re-discover time and time again. This fact brings great comfort to my heart, and will hopefully be more interesting to my future children as well – at least more interesting than my terrible poetry circa senior year of high school or a listing of all the different streets I tracted on a certain day.



Filed under life stories, religion, wordsmithing

3 responses to “A Journal Keeping People

  1. justjillsblog

    First, you never know what will be interesting to posterity. Your terrible poetry might be a hoot to read. And a great grandson of yours who got called to your exact mission would probably be thrilled to know the different streets you tracted on a certain day.

    More importantly, I’ve come to believe that writing in a journal is a purely selfish activity. Sure, people may benefit from it in the future. Some people may not. Not everything you write will be good and not everything will be bad. Writing is for you. It’s for when you listlessly flip through an old journal and read an entry from five years ago and realize how much you’ve matured and grown, that you’ve faced similar challenges before, that so-and-so used to seem so unapproachable, that you had a strong testimony at one point.

    The moment I stopped stressing over writing my day-to-day activities, my journal writing exploded. I have 2 1/2 journals representing the first 18 years of my life. I have 6 1/2 for the past 6 1/2 years (hey cool…that’s one a year on average!). Writing whatever I feel like whenever I feel like it has made journaling almost sacred to me. I have notes, doodles, real sketches, detailed day-to-days, embarrassing emo ranting, testimonies, and more all mixed together in one series of books.

    I could say so much more, but this is a comment, not a blog post. And I’m afraid I’ve already overstayed my welcome. 😉 Maybe I’ll write up a post in response to this one, ja?

  2. Anne


    I found this post really interesting and, even though it’s a bit old, I decided to comment. Hope you don’t mind.

    I totally agree with the comment made by justjillsblog. Some people who are currently known as big writers never were while alive. Someone got interested after. You never know…and it really is a selfish thing.

    I, myself, keep a journal for each thing. But that’s just because I forget about things quickly and I was really sad to forget about some moments of my life (so I started writing about my feelings) but I also forgot about some amazing things I learned so I decided to write another journal for that.

    Maybe some of my granson’s will like to hear about my feelings and some about what I learn…

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