Dear journal: reflecting back

Nicole Kim

I often feel aphasic. You’d think that, after six years of writing English essays, term papers and newspaper articles, expressing my ideas would get a little bit easier. But to be honest, every assignment—whether it be a 500-word column like this one, or the straightforward but existential “Tell me about yourself”—feels daunting. I know the gist of what I want to say, and I’m usually pretty confident that it’s something worth saying.

It feels as though there’s something lost in translation, in the streamlining of my thoughts into 12-point Times New Roman. I have a tendency to clutter a sentence with too many words, stringing together clause after clause.

In an attempt to cure my bouts of aphasia, I started writing in a journal at the beginning of second semester. I wanted to become more comfortable with the act of writing indiscriminately and to better understand my patterns of thinking.

I write down jokes, rages and bits from overheard conversations. I write down lyrics and passages that catch my attention. I write down epiphanies and trivial observations. It’s a journal that I write in for hours, of everything I notice, feel, think. But, writing doesn’t feel any easier. If my writing shows no improvement, is it any more than an exercise in narcissism? Is it presumptuous to assume that the unfiltered present—the people that I meet and the places that I go to—is worth documenting?

In truth, my observations, even those that seem trivial, are a glimpse into how I understand my surroundings. Different people make sense of the world in different ways. I have a friend who sees the world as a series of story arcs, of narratives begging to be told. Another identifies deeply with Gatsby: he glamorizes the extent of life’s possibilities. We learned in chemistry that the universe is governed by entropy, a tendency toward greater disorder; in spite of science, I believe that things fall into place on their own, if I give it enough time.

I recently read a copy of John Gaure’s play “Six Degrees of Separation.” In the preface, Guare said, “Don’t throw anything you’ve written away—cut brutally when you’re working, but keep everything because this is the great fact. We are all strangers to ourselves.” He’s half-right; we start off as strangers to ourselves. But, in writing all that we’ve thought and keeping all that we’ve written, we get to know who we are—our jokes, rages, lyrics, epiphanies.