Ideas for a journaling support group

I’ve been working for the past year on a book for women who want to learn to lift weights. I had trouble believing in my own authority to write this book. Friends and supporters assured me that my voice and perspective are unique, and that they want to hear the information that I want to share, even though books on lifting already exist.

I wanted to make myself more aware of whatever they were seeing. What is unique about me? We know every person is unique, but how? “Find the uniqueness” is the motto I’ve found myself repeating in 2018.

I decided to reread my journals from my young adulthood — thirteen years’ worth of spiral-bound notebooks I filled with handwriting and then hid away in a box. I had never read these journals all the way through since writing them. Well… I found uniqueness, all right.

From the perspective of fifty-three years old, I can see so much in myself and my friends that I could not see at the time. I want to use all this accumulated writing as a creative resource somehow. I also want to encourage other people to keep journals and to revisit them without judgment. (I don’t know why, but this is the first year I’ve been able to delve into my journals with no embarrassment.) I would love to find a way to encourage young people to write without self-consciousness, as I did, privately, starting at age ten after reading “Harriet the Spy.”

My notebook was an extension of my mind. I wrote when I felt like it. I had no rules for what to write about or not write about. I kept up this habit all through my school years, and then majored in creative writing in college. I kept up the habit after college, and hand-writing in my journals helped me see the feelings and untie the knots in a long and intense relationship. It was almost meditative (a concept I’d never heard of then), helping me to observe what I was going through, even while I was in over my head.

If we keep a journal — of whatever type of content we choose — we can look back and learn. We can see our own uniqueness, and I believe that we can also find out that even though we are each unique, we are definitely not alone in whatever we experience. That is, if we find a way to share the material with others in whatever way is appropriate.

What do you think? Have you kept a journal? Have you reread it? Is it possible that there could be a safe enough setting to share bits of it — not for irony or for laughs, but as a constructive space for vulnerability and feeling seen?

I want to create a setting like this, for a small group to explore seeing their own uniqueness and their not-aloneness. Can you help me flesh out this idea? Have you taken any sort of class in journal writing, or in using a journal for creative personal writing that is public, or using a journal for any other reason?

Snapshots of the 1980s

I’ve kept a journal since 1975, when I was ten years old — I started after reading “Harriet the Spy.” At Columbia College Chicago, I decided to major in writing after the very first assignment turned out to be “start keeping a journal.” To keep everything together, I wrote all of my assignments longhand in the same notebook I used as a journal. Journal entries are mixed in with long essays full of crossings-out, carets, circlings and arrows.

Because of this messy mix, I hadn’t reread these 12 journals, dated 1982 through 1987, until I dug them out last week. This in turn was sparked by having spontaneously started an email correspondence with one of my writing professors from that time. For some reason I had looked at the writing department web page and saw that some of my teachers are still teaching. When I saw these people’s faces again, I couldn’t resist getting in touch.

This brief correspondence has brought those years to life. Just making the connection caused me to remember all sorts of good people and experiences. So what did I find when I checked my journals?

First of all, I was reading lots of second-wave feminists and radical women writers, and taking notes, literally and figuratively. And I was an observant feminist. I saw and called out guys interrupting women, hassling girls on the street, my retail-job boss dominating his female business partner and micromanaging his female employees, and a guy I was dating pointing out my youthful lack of perspective while also hiding something from me.

I was fit and felt great on account of commuting everywhere by bike or walking, and by seemingly endless recreational bike rides all over the city alone or with others during good weather.

I was a free spirit who wanted to date anyone who asked, and wanted to make out, while stating right up front that clothes would stay on — which I did successfully for some years, until *I* was ready to do otherwise. (It helped that I didn’t drink alcohol then.) This may sound like a buzz kill, but I dated many people with no regrets and I am sure I was a lot of fun to be with, because they did not stop asking me out. I also often reversed roles by asking guys out, which was much remarked upon then.

In my writing classes, I wrote about sexism, violence, and pornography, and I was seen as really far out there, especially by some of the guys. My male and female writing instructors were professional and even-keeled, and they tried to help me channel my radical readings into my own thoughts.

In 1984, feminism was fringe, and I mean FRINGE, at least in my neighborhood. But I was immersed in putting together what I saw as the connections between various forms of objectification and belittling of women. I enthusiastically thought I was going to raise the consciousness of everyone I met, female and male.

I worked at school as a writing tutor to students who needed help. (This teaching experience turned out 20 years later to lend confidence to my earliest CrossFit teaching forays.)

I’m proud of the strength and independence I showed as a young adult, after losing my mother at age 11. I’m in awe that my mother and father could have instilled this resilience that outlasted the trauma, to me and my father, of that loss. I feel that the college and program I chose were really good ones for me — not just a way of getting a degree and checking the box. Have I been true to that young adult free-spirit feminist writer? Yes, with a few exceptions when I got in something over my head, she’s been my compass. How can I continue to be a fulfillment of that young woman as I get older?

I’m old enough to start having a perspective on the whole path of my life. I’m grateful to my young self for keeping a journal, and to have found positive experiences in my past. I’ve often described myself as having been a timid mouse when I was young, and I’m going to stop doing that, because I can clearly see now that it wasn’t the case. In fact I protected myself where it was needed and reached out for life in ways that I wanted.

More High School Journal

These are a couple of entries from my handwritten journal from sophomore year of high school. I always referred to these, Harriet the Spy-style, as “notebooks.” Never as journals or diaries. These entries aren’t relevant to FitNotes, but I decided to share them here anyway.

Sept. 2, 1980
I absolutely cannot believe that school is starting tomorrow. It is so nice today — sunny and cool/warm. It has been a good day except that I am so filled with dread. I got up early to go to the orthodontist, listened to records all morning, then went to L___’s. We walked along the beach a little, and I walked home slowly and I stopped to play with a little tiny gray cat on the way.

Mostly I just want to get the first couple of days over with. I hate this feeling of dread. I hope I don’t hate school as much as I did last year. I probably won’t. But I would much rather have Mr. V____ [for a class] and hate everything else than not have him and like everything else.

September 1980
I wish I could be less like everybody else. Most people want to be more like other people but not me. I hate being so run-of-the-mill and average. I want to get better at playing the guitar and writing songs. … And playing the piano too. I guess I’ll just have to practice more. I also want to wear different clothes. I’m sick of dressing just like everyone else. I need a couple of sweatshirts and unusual jerseys or something like that. I’m going to get a WXRT-shirt. Nobody wears those.

By Oct. 15:
$3.50 – Times Square record
4.00 – Activity Fee
3.75 – P.S.A.T.
4.25WXRT shirt

By Oct. 30
$9.00 – L___’s birthday. Possibilities: Sweatshirt, pin

Oct. 20, 1980 — Well, this is “IT” — I take the PSAT tomorrow. My division teacher keeps ranting about this being “The Most Important Test You Will Take In Your High School Career.” It makes you eligible for or eliminates you from good colleges. It covers Algebra, Geometry, and English. I wonder how I’ll do. I can’t seem to get too worried about it because, well, I’ll do however well I do and that’s it and I can’t change it. I hardly ever get worried about any test at all. I just don’t like these machine-scored ones where all you do for three hours (8:00 – 11:00) is fill in tiny little ovals. Ugh! Well, more tomorrow.

In about 1/2 hour I take the PSAT. I wish it didn’t go through 4th period because this way I don’t get to go to Mr. V____’s class.

Well, I’m glad that’s over with. There were two sections, English and Math, and it was pretty hard. Especially the math! Oh well, I guess I did okay but I’m really glad it’s over. Now my division teacher can stop ranting & raving about it!

Dec. 15 — I got my PSAT results back. I am in the 97th percentile. … I wasn’t expecting to do that well, not nearly. But I am not impressed. Actually, I wish I wasn’t so smart, because then my division teacher wouldn’t be constantly saying how studious and disciplined I am. She always says that, and the more I deny it, the more firmly she believes it and has to use me as an example in front of the whole division, and she is WRONG! I wouldn’t hate her saying it so much if I deserved it, but I don’t.

I had the results thing with me in Nations [class] because I have that after division, and Mr. V___ saw me reading it (trying to figure it out). He got all excited and said, “OOH, what’d you get?” I had forgotten what the numbers were while trying to figure them out so I said I forgot and he teased me a lot. …

Jan. 9, 1981 — I got my braces off today and it is also the 5th anniversary of my mom’s death. Today in division this guy Robert Clay asked me if I know what it’s like to love somebody who doesn’t love you back and I said yes. He said, “Don’t you know I love you?” And I said “sorry” because if he really does love me, I still don’t love him back. I’m positive he didn’t mean it, though, or he wouldn’t have said all that in front of everyone. Besides, he just likes the looks of me for some reason. … After all, everybody has a different definition of love. What I say is love, L____ says it isn’t, and what Robert Clay says is love, I say it isn’t.

Jan. 20, 1981 — What a day in the life. The 52 hostages are out of Iran after 14 months. … I am so happy for them that hearing about it has been bringing tears to my eyes. I was in Nations [class] when they announced on the P.A. that THE HOSTAGES HAVE LEFT IRAN. We also got a new President today, Ronald Reagan, obviously.

Feb. 10, 1981 — I’ve been noticing that reading this notebook, and the others too, gives a completely wrong picture of what I am like. My sense of humor does not show in these books, or the way I love music. Neither does my feeling that I am different from everyone else. I think that, years from now, I will read this book and think either that I was just being dramatic & silly about being in a bad case of unrequited love (and it wasn’t as horrible as I wrote it as being). Or else I will get the impression that I am one of those people who are always so busy suffering that I have no time to be happy. Neither one of those ideas are right. I am happy, generally, and I love the world (but not the way we seem to be screwing it up). … It bums me out that I have to (1) pick somewhere to go to college, (2) go there & find something to study which seems worthwhile, (3) do the work in all the classes so I don’t flunk.

Feb. 22 – Yesterday I drove a car for the first time, in traffic. It was quite strange. … I didn’t do very well yesterday. Okay, but not great. But that’s to be expected. For some reason, though, it was kind of depressing. I think I am too used to things being easy.

Mar. 5, 1981
Tomorrow in English we’re having this very important and very hard test on a biography of Shakespeare. We are allowed to use notes but I have not taken any and I’m also not completely done reading it. What if I end up failing the class?! I know very well that I cannot afford to be this lazy about that class, but here I am, writing in a notebook instead of preparing some notes on Shakespeare.

Just now, I opened my book on Shakespeare, got a pen & paper, and looked at the pages. Tomorrow we will have a test where we can use notes but I won’t because I have not prepared any. I do not know how to take notes. Not because I was never taught how, but because I never practiced taking notes on anything. Tomorrow I will be the only one in the class with no notes, and I will fail the test. It will be obvious to the teacher that the reason I failed so miserably is that I am to lazy to take notes, even when I know I’ll fail without them.

March 7 — After I wrote all that I did take some notes. Just one page though, and they didn’t do me any good. I probably failed the test. I want to be in a band. I have to get a job so I can get an electric guitar. I have to practice more.

I am so irresponsible about school but I can get away with it because it’s easy, except for English, where I can’t get away with that. But I do it anyway and get bad grades. In that class I cannot tell whether I’m trying or not. To me, trying is giving something ten minutes, and giving it up if I haven’t got it by then. That is NOT trying. I have to learn to be more patient. Try harder and be patient. Try harder and be patient. Try harder and be patient. Maybe I’ll make myself do it if I repeat it a lot. But it is so hard to try hard at something I don’t care about. I just want to be in a band. …


Albums to buy!
The Cars / Panorama
Barbra Streisand / Guilty
Times Square soundtrack
Songs in the Key of Life (Stevie Wonder)
Can’t Buy a Thrill / Steely Dan
London Calling  / The Clash
Are We Not Men – We Are Devo (Devo)
Telekon (Gary Numan)
an XTC album
Freedom of Choice (Devo)
Remain in Light (Talking Heads)
New Clear Days (Vapors)
Scary Monsters – Bowie
There & Back – Jeff Beck
Foolish Behavior / Rod Stewart
Beat Crazy / Joe Jackson
Talking Heads
Dire Straits
Boomtown Rats
Outlandos d’Amour (Police)
Roxy Music!
Bonnie Raitt
Todd Rundgren

High School Journal

These are a couple of entries from my handwritten journal from sophomore year of high school. I always referred to these, Harriet the Spy-style, as “notebooks.” Never as journals or diaries. These entries aren’t relevant to FitNotes, but I decided to share them here anyway.

handwritten journal entry 1979-1980 journal

August 1979
Just think, three years from now I may not even live here anymore. I’m going to describe my room. My walls are bright yellow. My green wooden desk has a bulletin board above it full of pictures, buttons, drawings, and a calendar. On my desk is a blotter with a cat poster in it, a jar of pencils, pens & markers, a lamp, and a lot of junk. My bed is covered with a quilt, mostly green and yellow. There is a little brown fan on the floor that looks more like a footstool. On top of it is a manila envelope containing a magazine for L___. Against the wall, next to the outlet, is a brown natural wood chest of five drawers. On the floor leaning against it is a clipboard, because I don’t know where else to put it. On the other side of the chest are two “Oklahoma” posters, a ukelele in a box, a plastic bag, and an accordian folder. All this is leaning against some metal shelves, four of them. On the top shelf is a globe, a fish bowl half full of pennies, and a beanbag frog. On the second shelf are a lot of stuffed animals, 17 to be exact. On the next shelf are a lot of nicknacks. On the bottom shelf are a lot of box games. Then the wall turns the corner and there is the radiator. On that is a box of stationery, a cigar box full of letters, and a bunch of paperback books. Next to the radiator is a white dresser with 9 drawers, that reaches exactly up to the windowsill. On top of it are some nicknacks. Then there is a tall, skinny, white bookcase with seven shelves. It contains books, a jewelry box, and junk. And a straw hat. Then the wall turns the corner again, and there is the closet door with a full-length mirror, with a blue frame. The closet is a mess. Then there is the bed, which is white. Next to it is the night table with one drawer. On top is the clock radio, set on WFYR, 103.5 FM. Then there is a little short wooden keg, with a tupperware box on top of it holding a lot of old notebooks. Then the wall turns, and we’re back to the desk. Now, the walls: There is a chalkboard, 18” x 24”. On that same wall is a little wood fold-up thingy with ten pegs, to hang things on. Above that is a Sgt. Pepper poster. Next to that, above the blackboard, is a Muppets poster, then there is a magazine-page picture of the Bee Gees, then a picture of a guinea pig. Above that is a car cartoon by Kliban. Next to it is a Bee Gees poster, then on the next wall, another Bee Gees poster. Then another Kliban cat, a picture of Peter Frampton, another Kliban cat then a picture of the Bee Gees and a picture of the Beatles. Then, way down past the window, is a Seattle poster, then a Kliban cat, then a Bengal tiger, then two Koala bears, and on the door is a “Beautiful Chicago” poster. TA-DUM!

March 16, 1980
I think about the most disgusting thing in the world is the way L____ revolves her life around clothes. I am not kidding. Today she said she doesn’t want it to get warm out for awhile because she has no warm weather clothes, and she doesn’t like the changing seasons because you “have” to buy new clothes. Also she very often says, in so many words, that it seems like a lot of her problems would be solved if only she had lots of nice clothes. Sickening! She also “feels so scummy” in things that practically everyone wears, like her spring windbreaker.