On Journaling, with Christina Dennison
We asked Christina Dennison, illustrious author of the "Paparazzi" Trilogy, to give us her view on journaling and its cathartic properties, whether you're on top of the world or in a dark place. Read on for more...
Christina Dennison, ready to write
"I was a childhood insomniac. I’d get out of bed at regular intervals to tell my parents I hadn’t slept at all; I’d torture myself imagining car crashes, non-fatal but disfiguring accidents, essay questions I didn’t know how to answer. At the age of 12, I was a worrier.
I sleep better now, and rather than having outgrown my nocturnal anxiety, I’ve found a way to mitigate it. Since I started college (20 years ago), I’ve been keeping a daily journal. It’s a way for me to process my emotions before turning in for the night, and it keeps them from haunting me when I should be sleeping.
The diary started because I didn’t want to forget a moment of my college years--I was expecting excitement, greatness, true love, and academic excellence. If you read my diaries from those years, you’ll find a fair number of unrequited crushes, ice cream outings, and poetic odes to J. Crew wide-legged chinos. But writing had become a habit.
I thrive on habit. Ritual, maybe, is a better way to say it. And the ritual of climbing into my top bunk, applying Oil of Olay, and writing a page in my diary indicated to my body it was bedtime. Fifteen or twenty minutes of unwinding and reflection, even if it was only reflection on the flowing locks of a certain classmate in my fiction seminar, helped ease my mind.
When I graduated from college I set out on a series of adventures--a summer in Europe, a move to New York for a job in the fashion industry. Of course I had to chronicle them all in my journal. Over the years, my writing became more focused; the night before my birthday, I would do a year-end “review” (categories included “best place I traveled”, “song of the year”, and “something true I wrote”, which, in 2008, was: “I want someone I can trust more than I trust myself.” That was also the year I saw Adrien Brody at Taverna Kyklades and brought a White Castle Crave Case to a carful of vegetarians.)
Christina's stack of journals in her New York City apartment
But there were difficult things, too. My grandmother had died that year, and it was shattering. I wrote it as one word in my review: Yiayia. What writing has taught me is that naming the thing that hurts me is a way to start.
During the pandemic, especially, my diary has been a refuge. I moved back in with my parents for three months. I started addressing my entries to Doris Kearns Goodwin, since she said in a TV interview that we need oral histories of this time in America. “Is it boring, Doris,” I wrote on March 24, “only to write about coronavirus in this diary? Should I write about other things, like how Dad and I started watching Schitt’s Creek from the beginning and it is a COVID-19 cure. When the family has to live all together and they are no longer rich--that felt so real to me.”
Keeping my journal during these times has taught me gratitude. Like on April 23: “Today was a day full of small surprises. The mail came early and I received TWO items.” Or May 5, a day near and dear to my heart: “I’ve had 4 frozen margaritas plus 1 Corona so I feel no emotions right now. Except, maybe, love. Love for my parents, love for my brothers, love for tequila.”
My journal is a physical reminder that in darkness, in despair, in a time that seems insurmountably difficult, there are always things to appreciate and be thankful for.
Maybe you want to focus on gratitude. Maybe, like me, you need to sift through your emotions before you go to sleep. Or maybe you’re just starting and want guidance. You don’t need to stare down a blank page--there are journals that will nudge you in the right direction. And when you look back, whether it’s after days or years, you’ll see how much stronger you’ve become."
Enjoy the read? Check out more from Christina Dennison here!
And don't forget to browse our array of journals here. They are the perfect addition to any care package.