My grandpa, Bill Hurst, was a journal writer his entire life. His journal was quite simple. He just kept a small notebook in the pocket of his pearl snap shirts and jotted down a short description of the things he did and the people he did it with. This is something he did pretty much every day for his entire life. He also kept extensive diaries of his time as a forest ranger in the Wasatch Range.
About 12 years ago, my grandpa took all these diaries and daily journal entries and began to write his memoir for his children and grandchildren. The finished product was a 500 page behemoth filled with stories from my grandfather’s life. Here’s just a few of the interesting things I learned from reading it:
My grandpa met my grandma by hitting on her while she worked as a telephone operator.
My grandpa helped pay for college by playing pool.
He worked as a sheep herder during the summers in high school and college. He gives a very descriptive account on how castrating sheep is performed. He did it just like this.
He has a scar from when he was hit by a car while racing his horse through the streets of his boyhood town. The horse died.
As a boy, his family traveled by horse and buggy.
That’s pretty cool. I once interviewed both my grandparents as part of an in-depth research project on on pre- and post- Second World War culture in the region they’re both from. The war had changed a sense of locality in the minds of people and the rural culture became less conservative after the war. Anyways, I was shocked to hear the stories of what they’ve been through, people they saw dying or laying dead in the streets. One of my granddads was forced to work on the Atlantikwall by the Germans.
There’s more. Lots more. But while the stories are interesting, what I found more interesting was the commentary my grandpa gave on different events in his life. In these moments, he passed on some insights and lessons on what it means to be a man. My grandpa’s memoir is a treasure trove of knowledge and wisdom from a life well lived. By writing his memoir, he guaranteed that his legacy will live on indefinitely.
But his life story would have been but a few pages long had he not kept a journal.
There are a myriad of other benefits to keeping a daily journal besides remembering what you ate five years ago. So today’s task is to start the journaling habit.
On the other hand, my father, a graphic designer, routinely is made to design self-published memoirs written by retired people. Shocker, a 800-page book about your life may not be that good of a read. I know that’s rather confronting, but perhaps you’d also be surprised with the mundacity of life in the ’50s, the bigotry and rampant homophobia of those times really define its Zeitgeist.
However, the presumption here is that we will all be Great Men. And,
Great Men Keep Journals
In studying the lives of great men, I’ve noticed a common trait: they were all consistent journal writers. Now, I’m not saying that their greatness is directly attributable to their journaling. I’m sure Captain Cook would still have been a bad ass even if he hadn’t kept a diary. But I figure, if great men like these thought it was important to keep a journal, maybe I should, too. Heck, if it weren’t for their journals, we probably wouldn’t know much about their great lives and deeds.
Here’s a short list of great men from history who kept journals:
Lewis and Clark
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Sir Edmund Hilary
Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton
All Great Men. But, more concretely, why should you want to write a journal?
Your children and grandchildren will want to read it. I know it’s hard to believe right now. Your life probably seems quite ordinary and of little interest to anyone else. And every generation believes that life will pretty much continue on like it is now. When your great-grandpa was kicking it in the 1920’s, he thought to himself, “Who would want to read about this new fangled radio or how I get my food out of an icebox? Phhht! That’s boring stuff!” But it’s not boring anymore; to this generation, such a peak at the olden days is fascinating. And so it is with you.
When your grandkids are talking to people via hologram, they are going to be absolutely fascinated by your impressions of those ancient things like the alta vista and cell phones. And unfortunately, they’re not going to be curious about it until they get into their 20’s, realize you’re going to die, and start asking you questions.
Well, first of all, I do plan to live at least until my hypothetical grandchildren are way into their 20s. Having said that, I don’t know what the deal is with this recurrent romanticisation of the last century. What is it with these times that we so longingly look back upon the past? The simpler life? The breaking of frontiers that are less scary than the ones we are breaking now?
I believe that during the highlights of the Industrial Revolution the elite first started romanticising the life of the country side. Of how much more meaning life had when everyone lived on the farm. How fulfilling it must have been to connect to the Earth in that fundamental way all day long out on the fields. Of course, these were highly priviliged people who, like us, have the luxury of reinterpreting particular elements of the past that had been lost in the industrialization process. The issue with romanticisation, however creative of an output it may be, depicted reality in paintings, other works of art, pictures, and texts will never live up to the actual past. Farmers really had quite crappy lives before the Industrial Revolution, generally speaking.
However, what do you write about, really? The mundane experiences that make up most of our lives in the hope that our everyday reality will be fascinating in 80 years? These Great Men mentioned above all had stuff to write about, that’s after all the point of being Great: having something to say.
Every writer who ever wrote anything worth reading had something to say. We increasingly have very little to say, I feel. I think Brett and Kate would agree with me, since all of these Great Men have long gone, and evidently no other Great Men have journaled.
So, what do you write about?
This is where a lot of people get hung up on with journaling. They feel like they don’t have anything to write about so they end up not writing at all. There are hundreds of books that give you “suggestions” of what to write about in your journal. Usually they’re cheesy and inane things like, “If you were a cloud, what shape would you be.”
Just write about your day. No need to get fancy with those cute little journal prompts. Some days might be pretty routine, but other days you might be feeling philosophical or have a problem that will require you to write more in-depth entries. Just write what comes naturally to you on that day.
And as we mentioned above, while you might think your life is boring, your great grand kids won’t. They’ll be just as fascinated about you driving a car that runs on gasoline as you are about your great grandpa driving a horse and buggy. If your life really is boring, perhaps keeping a journal will give you an incentive to take on more adventures so you have something to write about.
It’s time to get started. Your task today is to start a journal. Pick your medium and begin. If you already have a journal, but haven’t written in it in awhile, write an entry today. And if you’re one of those few consistent journalers out there, bully for you! Keep up the good work and use today’s journal entry to give yourself a pat on the back.
This does sort of contradict earlier references to Greatness and Great Men. Apparently, imitating the methods of Greatness will get you there. Doing the same thing that people you admire have done, even if you start at a very mundane and simple level, will ultimately get you *there*, and you can consider yourself amongst the lineage of Great Men.
Man-meter: I decided against starting a journal. I write enough other things and after all I got this blog that my grandchildren can read. It’ll give them a fascinating insight into my mind as a twenty-something struggling with the modern era. They’ll love it. Hi there! This is grandpa writing to you!