Weekend Projects

You Don’t Have to Start a Journaling Habit to Give Yourself the Gift of Memories

published Nov 20, 2020
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My head is spinning from the sheer historical weight of the year we’re wrapping up. It seems like as soon as I try to process and make sense of one thing, another comes along—and I know I’m not alone. You think you’ll always remember a time like this, but unless you’re active about preserving your memories somehow, at best all you’ll have is a few visual snapshots of a time that went down in the books—a time your children’s children might ask you about some day. I want to be able to give mine a little more than that.

My great-grandparents, who lived in San Francisco, were young adults during the 1918 pandemic. Our living family is in awe that we never heard them breathe a word of the experience. We heard about making wine and curing olives in toilet tanks and how the relatives would get together and sing opera with the phonograph and the windows open (did you guess they were Italian?), but not a word about the pandemic that ravaged the world and surely had an impact on their lives.

Knowing I come from a line of people who survived the last pandemic is somewhat comforting, but being privvy to the specific lived, personal experiences of my own family would be a treasure.

But even if not for posterity, recording the details of your life in this context has value for you, right now. (And your life derives context from far more than the pandemic these days, of course.) Pinning down your memories, handling your experiences, sitting with your feelings and getting them somewhat sorted by putting them out there is a healthy exercise in coping.

This weekend you’re going to do just this, in one of the easiest ways you can.

This Weekend: Journal about right now.

While pictures are great for preserving what things look like right now, they don’t offer insight to your thoughts and feelings and they don’t give you the opportunity to mull over your feelings. Writing is a key component of memory-keeping that fosters calm and, over time, inspires growth. And the benefits of journaling are myriad and there’s no better time to try it out if you haven’t.

If you don’t know where to start, just start writing on paper, or typing out an email to yourself that you can save in your digital archives. The method of recording your writing isn’t as important as the content. Give a bit of context, but don’t feel like you need to provide a historical record of what’s going on in the world or our country right now. Think smaller and more personal, such as writing about:

  • The things you had a hard time buying this year, when, and why.
  • How your daily habits have changed since the pandemic started.
  • A then/now or What I’ve Learned list of your experience of Americans’ most recent societal reckonings.
  • Things you miss doing.
  • People you miss.
  • People you’ve gotten closer to or more separated from.
  • How the holidays are different this year.
  • Your possibly newfound methods of coping with stress and anxiety (tending to plants, picking up a new hobby, exercise, bread baking—is anyone still doing that??).
  • Your voting story.
  • Your fears.
  • Your hopes.
  • A best/worst list of things that have happened this year.
  • What you never want to forget.
  • Lessons you’ve learned.
  • Questions you have.

Don’t let yourself succumb to the pressure of starting a “journaling habit” or finding the perfect book to write in or offer details about current events—this weekend is just for writing about your life in this moment. Just getting your thoughts down is enough right now.

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